It’s Beginning to Look A lot Like Christmas murmured through the store as the few shoppers who perused the shelves tried to ignore it. He couldn’t stand the bright aisles of a grocery store after the sun had gone down. One of the lights above the fridges flickered. He absolutely had to get milk. He had been told that not getting milk that very night would end in tragedy. He had to get the milk.
The cheery tune crackled through old speakers and mocked him as he sauntered across the back of the store. In every aisle he passed there was a shopper who would see a flicker of red in their peripheral vision and stare at him for a moment. Most shook it off and looked back at whatever it was they were looking at; spices, or chocolate, or crackers. No one regarded the red suit with much attention. Or the beard he’d pulled off and stuck to the underside of his chin.
He parked himself in front of the rows of milk with his hands on his hips and let out a sigh, ignoring his reflection in the fridge door. All of the milk in front of him looked the same, and all of them had different labels. He was questioning the integrity of the fat free milk when there was a tug on his sleeve.
He looked down, wishing to see the shiny surface of the reflective floor, but instead seeing a girl standing with her hands clasped behind her back and her head stuck forward like she had something important to say. Oh, and she had pigtails. She was about 6. He knitted his eyebrows at the girl but she just kept swaying where she stood. Neither of them said anything, so he turned back to the fridge of milk with hesitant suspicion.
There was another tug at his sleeve and he pulled his arm away. The girl just stood and smiled at him.
“What?” he mumbled.
“Your Santa,” said the kid with wicked finality, like she was imposing the role on him. “Where’s your hat?”
“I took it off.”
He opened the fridge, leaned down and picked up the whole milk, disregarding the fat free milk entirely.
“Santa doesn’t take his hat off,” she said in a matter-of-fact way. He paused with one hand on the door and one holding the milk as the girl stared up at him with big eyes. There was a hint of evil in those eyes.
“I’m not Santa,” he slammed the fridge door closed.
She looked him up and down. She looked at his black work books, and at the white hem of his costume which was stained with dirt. She saw his flat stomach—he’d left the pillow in the car sitting on the passenger seat. She couldn’t have missed the dark stubble that covered his face instead of the fake white beard, or the elastic that held it around his neck. She looked him in the eye and said with rigid certainty,
“Yes, you are.”