SANTA DOESN’T SWEAT
The manager sighed as he watched the bead of sweat drip off the old man’s nose.
“Let’s get some air on him,” he hollered at the woman dressed as an elf.
She scurried over to the fan and pointed it at the bearded man in the red suit. Santa doesn’t sweat. He grimaced as he watched the old man take deep breaths, trying to suck in the wind from the fan.
“All right, next kid,” he said.
The fat man pasted on a pathetic smile as the next bouncing bundle of joy walked up and bounded onto his lap. A groan almost escaped, and a look of panic shot into the old man’s eyes, hoping his manager hadn’t seen. But he had. He always saw. He’d already burned through two Santas today, and it was only one o’clock.
After the kid had given his unbearably long wish list and been wished a Merry Christmas, the manager stepped in front of the long line of hopeful children. “Santa’s going to take a short break for some milk and cookies, and then he’ll be right back to hear your deepest Christmas wishes!”
There were groans and not a few tantrums, but they had stopped phasing the manager a long time ago. He walked over to the old man.
“Please,” he whispered, tears in his eyes.
“You’re done,” he said. “Let’s go. It’ll only be worse if you make a scene.”
The old man’s eyes traveled to the mass of children. His lower lip quivered. But then he steeled his face into one last, wonderful grin. “Ho, ho, ho!” he bellowed. “Merry Christmas!”
The manager rolled his eyes, and then he escorted the man in red off the platform and into the back room.
The old man took off his hat and handed it to the manager. There was a look of defiance in his eyes. There nearly always was in their last moments.
“You know where to go next,” the manager said.
The old man said nothing and simply walked bravely through the door with the exit sign blaring above it. A moment later, a scream, and then nothing.
The manager turned around. Behind the bars sat three other old, white-bearded men — enough to last through the day hopefully.
He pointed at the most robust-looking of the three.
“You’re up,” he said. He keyed open the door, and the new old man walked out. “Suit up.”
He handed over the hat. The old man took it, sparing a glance at the men he was leaving behind, and headed toward his last chance.