Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas Short Story Competition - The Winner

“Hugh Beckett Never Was Much for Santa Claus and Ho, Ho, Ho”


By: Michael Bekemeyer


When Hugh Beckett was in his forties he somehow got the bright idea that it might be a nice idea to dress as Santa Claus and let all the kids sit on his lap and ask them what they wanted for Christmas. He wasn’t much for the idea of children, not even his own son, really. But, he owned a convenient store called Everything Convenient and thought it might be a good way to bring in some business. True, the idea of a convenient store Santa Claus seemed a little cheap, but it was his idea and his store, so stick to the plan he would.
He stood in front of the mirror in his upstairs office, half dressed in his Santa suit. He had been staring at himself, thinking about the emptiness in his life for damn near twenty minutes. He had a wife that he loved and a son that he loved. Or, did he? He thought he loved them, but it didn’t feel like the love he would see in movies, television and books. He felt like a shell, hollow and emotionless. He had always been a reticent man. But, he knew on the inside that he wasn’t just quiet, or soft spoken. He was withdrawn...to a fault. He knew it would one day be the end of what life he had.

There was a deep fear running through his blood. He had never taken the risks that others would take. Even his business was something he had inherited from an uncle on his Mother’s side. He spent all of his time wondering when life would fail him. He wondered when he would have to close the store and get another job. He wondered when his wife would realize he was a nothing and leave him for another man. He wondered how long it would take his son to grow up and decide to hate him.
He had journal after journal where he wrote about his thoughts and fears, but no one, not even his wife knew about them. He would never let her see them, or read anything he had written. In these journals could be found long, flowing passages about his view of the world and his true feelings about life and love. Hugh didn’t exactly know what these journals were, poetry or not. Either way he knew that they were the link to his own sanity and just writing about these things kept him feeling like maybe, just maybe, he was in fact a human being. He wrote to prove to himself he had a heart and a soul. He wanted to prove, even if only to himself that he was someone who actually did care, even if on the outside, it didn’t appear to be so.

He remembered one of these passages he had written years ago and was mumbling it to himself as he continued to apply the huge, fluffy, white Santa beard that would make his costume complete, so he could go dance his dance and lie to all the little children.

***

The Lies We Lead
By: Hugh Beckett

We lie to them their entire life and wonder why they do not believe us when we tell them the truth. We lie to them and pretend we are only playing games. But, what of the real things like love, hate and anger? When will they decide we are lying about those things too? When will it be our fault that the world is in denial? When will it be our fault that the children of this forsaken world give us truth instead of lies? When will they tell us we’ve fucked this planet beyond reality and thrown the byproduct of our Santa Claus game into the ocean of doubt and fear and loneliness and despair? When will this horrible race of people be honest with itself and admit they have no idea what they are doing here, or what they should be doing, or what they need to do to survive this evil thing called life?

***

He wondered if he believed the words he had written in his journal so many years ago. He actually wished, for once, that he could merely live for just one day as one of the blissfully ignorant. He wanted to smile with his eyes and not just his mouth. With this as his final thought, he donned his bright red Santa hat, flipped the top with the fuzzy white ball over to one side of his head, looked at himself one last time in the mirror and left the bathroom.

***

The store had not yet filled with eager children and parents, but the crowd was growing and people were buying things while they were there, so Hugh’s plan was actually working. As much as he loathed the idea of dressing up as Santa and selling the commercial brand of Christmas to unwitting kids, he had to admit that as a business gimmick it was a sound decision to do this.

The mothers and fathers and bright eyed children were lined up at least ten customers deep to talk to the begrudged Santa Claus, so the mothers and fathers could hear what the bright eyed children wanted to get for Christmas.

“Hello little one, what’s your name?”asked Hugh of the next little girl in line. She was an adorable little thing with strawberry blonde hair, round baby cheeks and while was not chubby in the slightest, she had a slightly pronounced pot belly poking out of her t-shirt. Something about this little girl in particular struck Hugh and he felt his checks brighten, at the first sight of her. He sat up, rigid back and perfect posture, for what may have been the first time in years.

“Abigail”, said the little one.

“Abigail? That’s a lovely name. Come sit on Santa’s lap and tell me what you want for Christmas.”

The girl moved slowly, if not shyly towards the Santa. Hugh grabbed her by the shoulders and hoisted her up on to his lap. He slowly put his arm around her and asked, “Have you been a good girl this year?”

“Yes, Santa”, she said quietly.

“Why yes, I’m sure you have. I’ve seen your name on my list.” He looked in to her eyes and felt his face smile at her again. He almost lost his breath, it was a feeling unlike anything he had felt in a long time, if he had ever felt this way. He caught hold of his emotions and spoke again, this time he leaned in and whispered softly. “Tell me Abigail, what do you want for Christmas this year?”

“I want-“

“Shhhh”, he stopped her from speaking, “It’s a secret. Tell me here.” The Santa pointed to the ear closest to the girl and tapped on it gently. “Whisper.”

Abigail leaned in closer to him, cupped her hand over her tiny mouth and whispered, “I want a…”

She continued speaking softly and he flinched at first because the sensation of her warm breath tickled. He smiled as she spoke and gave him her long list of gifts she actually wanted.

Still, there was something about this pretty little girl that made Hugh stop and think. He was unable to put a finger on what it was about her that had him so bedazzled. On the surface, she really looked quite a lot like any other one of the children that had come to see him. She looked no different than any of the children standing in line and he was certain that she was no more spectacular than he was when he was a child.

Then, as Abigail finished her list, the lightning bolt hit him. This little, unsuspecting girl was the splitting image of his sister, Jamie. She was two years younger than he was when she passed and he was just ten at the time. Hugh adored her and he never forgave whatever Godlike force there was driving the universe for taking her so young. It was the whispering that had finally flipped the switch for him. For the first time in all these years he remembered that she would come to Hugh and whisper into his ear, “I love you, bubba.”

When he lost her, he lost the one true thing he had known in his young life. It was a scar that had never really healed. Obviously, on the outside, he put on a masterful performance and pretended to be okay, but on the inside, where the real Hugh Beckett existed, he was not okay. He never had been since the day he had said goodbye to his precious little sister.

Hugh Beckett had never been one to cry. Even when he was alone, it never made sense to him to show any emotion whatsoever. Emotions felt like a weakness to him, so he never allowed them to take him over. But, on this day, the tears flowed. It started with one solitary salty drop and then another. If he hadn’t pulled himself together, before long, he might have been sobbing in front of all the mothers and fathers and bright-eyed children who had come to see him.

He held them back until Abigail finally finished telling him her secret wishes for Christmas. “That’s it Santa”, she concluded. He patted her on the head and hugged her. He squeezed her until he knew she must not have been able to breathe.

“There, there, Abigail. I’m sure we can make all of those things in my shop. Make sure your mother knows exactly what you told me, so she can send me a copy of the list. Okay?”
“Yes, Santa.”

With that he scooted the girl off of his lap and sent her back to her mother with a shiny smile on her face. “Thank you, Santa”, she shouted as they walked away from him. Hugh watched them leave and looked out at the line of children waiting to see him. He took a long deep breath and sighed.

He had not noticed until he had sat himself down again, who was next in line. His wife and his very own son were looking back at him with smiles and excitement. His son, Philip was just a little older than his sister Jamie was when she had died. Philip smiled at the Santa as he stepped closer to him.

“Well, hello there”, Hugh said to his son, “What’s your name?”

Philip smiled a shrewd grin and answered back, “Daddy, is that you?”

Hugh did not know if he was doing the right thing and he was uncertain of all the things he had been uncertain of at the start of the day. He had no idea how his life would change and figured that it probably wouldn’t. But, for at least today, he did not care. Today, he wanted to believe in Santa Claus and dreams come true. And even if he did not believe in those things, who was he to take that dream away from any one else?