A Very Short Seasonal Story

Here’s a quick one for you, apropos of the holiday. Lots of people have drawn this connection before, but I’m not sure too many of them really considered how deep it goes. Enjoy!

 

 

The saturnine gentleman in the smoking jacket tapped his fingers irritably on the bar, waiting for the bartender to return with the whiskey. The door opened, giving him a thrill of cold air.

“Ho!” said the fat man as he hefted himself onto the neighboring stool. “Nog, my good sir!”

He got his nog before the whiskey came. In a cleaner glass, too.

The gentleman slid the packet of letters along the bar. The fat man picked them up, and slid across a slimmer packet of letters, wrapped in ribbon and a red bow.

“The post office is getting lazy,” the gentleman said. “I can see someone thinking ‘Old Nick’ is the same guy as ‘Saint Nick,’ sure. But ‘Satan Claus’ is pretty clearly a typo. And this sure as… well… isn’t the North Pole. You shouldn’t have to come out at this time of year for it.”

The fat man shrugged. He never looked tired or angry or anything other than amused. “It’s a good excuse to say hello and take a break from the last-minute rush.” He peered at a letter and lifted open the envelope where it’d been split.

“I didn’t answer it,” the gentleman said in response to the lifted eyebrow. “I was just curious.”

The eyebrow didn’t move, so the gentleman went on. “Well, I deal in bargains, don’t I? Doesn’t hurt to know what people want.”

The fat man smiled, but shook his head and chuckled. “Doesn’t help as much as you might think.”

The gentleman tilted his head. “Whatever they want, I can give it to them.”

The fat man sipped his nog. “Sure, but that’s your problem, isn’t it? You’re a sure thing.”

The gentleman frowned, holding his empty whiskey glass up so the bartender could see it. “What’s wrong with being a sure thing?”

“It’s dangerous. When they know you’ll hold up your end of the bargain, they think about theirs. Makes them defensive, nervous. As for me, I’m hit-or-miss. A one-armed-bandit. Maybe Susie gets the Legos she wants, maybe she gets an awful frilly doll.” His eyes twinkled. “But she’ll keep asking, and hoping.”

The gentleman gave up hope of getting the bartender’s attention, and gave his own full attention to the fat man. “But you never ask for anything in return.”

“Not everyone who asks, receives, and not everyone who receives, asks. That’s the nature of the holiday. What do you really think it means to buy or sell a soul? Oh!” He dug in the pockets of his heavy red coat and pulled out a small wrapped package.

The gentleman raised a pointed eyebrow. “I’m afraid I didn’t get you anything,” he murmured, but the fat man just shook his head and smiled. He snapped the twine with a fingernail and gently removed the red-and-green printed paper. Inside lay a little statue with a miniature pitch-fork. The little red tines caught the light beautifully. “Rubies?”

“Red diamonds. They don’t scratch as easily.”

“Well, thank you, Nick.” He handled the toy gingerly, as though it might bite him. He twitched his shoulders against a vague feeling of embarrassed obligation.

“It’s a pleasure, Nick. See you next year.”

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