During the holiday season James Filibuster works as a Santa Claus—a pretend Santa Claus, if you will. In public display at Hillshire Mall from one P.M. (after his lunch
break, belly bulging appropriately) to nine-thirty P.M. at night, James Filibuster dons a white, curling beard, velvety red and white Santa-attire, and a devoutly jolly spirit.
James Filibuster is, as his interviewers gush, perfect in every way. He is the paragon of a pretend Santa Claus, for overlooking even his suitably squat form and booming voice
one will sense the very aura of Christmas imbued in his being, hearty and wholesome and paternal. There are other Santa Clauses, each with their own quirks, their own jovial
inflections on the famed Ho, Ho, Ho, but all agree that no one commands the hearts of children better than James Filibuster. He could not be better suited for the role, and that is
He is also a pudgy white man in his late sixties, but. Nevertheless.
To be a pretend Santa Claus is an amusing thing. It also tests all conceivable bounds of human patience and perhaps inspires the occasional fit of murderous desire, but James Filibuster hides any torments very well beneath the flashing cameras, parents’ cooing voices, children’s bright-eyed barrage of questions—Santa, Santa, can I have a tractor, am I naughty if I punched Devin in the face, Santa, do you need to pee if you’re always here?
Yes, he very much needs to pee. But at Hillshire Mall there is always a shortage of Santa Clauses, so he endures. Despite this complaint, the children and their curiosity aid the passage of time, for James Filibuster only finds himself needing to open the sudoku app twice during the long stretch of his Saturday shift (it is a practice frowned upon, as Santa Clauses are not typically seen with their noses glued to screens). Some of these children he recognizes from years before—Dorothy with her pigtails and inability to sit still, Neon-Stockings-Aryan with twice the missing teeth, Yanji and her effervescent love of caroling. He greets them and they respond with delight, their parents especially pleased. Most, however, James Filibuster cannot recall, their faces blurred in his memory in masses of color and the excitement of yuletide.
It is approximately five-fifteen P.M., a busy time at Hillshire Mall, when James Filibuster meets the Woman. He has never seen her before, and even if he had he would
not have remembered it. Her face is round, hair and eyes dark, mouth a pinched line, and he forgets what she looks like the first time around. The sole reason he glances back again is because of something he would know anywhere: that universal expression of anguish clawing lines deep into her features.
She leads a child behind her. For them, the crowd parts in unspoken agreement. The child is small, of indeterminable age and gender on account of their shaggy
hair and hunched stature—a pill bug burrowed against the smudging-crushing-cruelty of probing fingers. James Filibuster furrows his brows, tucks his book hastily behind
him. He is no empath, but he senses trouble. Perhaps the kombucha he’s been drinking biweekly has taken effect.
The woman falls to her knees before him—skin and bone meeting unforgiving white tile. She jerks the child down with her. There is snot along her chin. “My Lord,” she
says. The words cradled in gentle hands, reverent. “My Lord.” James Filibuster smiles uncertainly. It is only a reflex, but the woman takes it as admission, nonetheless, shuffling forward to the red carpet before his feet, flinging a ragged head down so that her mop of dark hair splays, fanlike, across his shoes. “S’cuse me, ma’am,” James Filibuster tries, glancing at the crowd. His gaze locks on the child’s: fruit flies, buzzing in fear. James Filibuster tears his own away hastily and tries again. “Excuse me, could you get up—please?”
“My Lord!” cries the woman, a dam now broken. She flings a finger toward the child as if in condemnation, and both the child and James Filibuster flinch at the motion.
“That girl,” she seethes, a venom dripping, the harsh clench of teeth on the t’s. “That abomination of a daughter. Fix her, please!”
The abomination-girl-child tenses with every word. James Filibuster swallows. He does not know what to do with this clearly demented woman, so he turns to the standard procedure. He smiles and asks the abomination’s name. “Alex,” says Alex. A quick little glance toward the woman, words strengthening as they progress. “And I am NOT a girl.”
‘Abomination’ is not denied. ‘Girl’ is, and with such unexpected, thundering certainty that James Filibuster finds himself nodding along. “All right, Alex,” he says, “what would you like for Christmas?”
“A dress,” announces Alex, “so I can rip it up. In front of her.” A head-jerk motion toward the woman.
Cue the woman, head shooting up in outrage. “I—my Lord—my daughter isn’t right in the head!” Teary, pleading eyes. “See? She rejects her—her nature—I don’t deserve this, please, fix her!”
James Filibuster is perplexed. The crowd watches him with bated breath. He glances right, glances left, expects them to object. But they are silent.
He looks to Alex. He likes them, he thinks. They’re someone he would remember.
He looks to the woman. He doesn’t like her.
He doesn’t, and yet—
She bows to him as he lounges upon his throne, pure supplication beneath his feet. The glitter of starstruck eyes, fluttering passions, all who come and go and take wist-
ful glances backward because it is him. The worship of children and adults alike—this is why he loves his job.
He rises and feels—power. He is short, and yet he towers above that shrinking crowd.
“Alex,” says Santa Claus. “Listen to your mother, alright? Or,” a wave of gloved fingers, “onto the Naughty List you go.”
The watching children gasp. Alex’s mother bursts into tears.
Alex looks at James Filibuster one last time. A sad smile.
“Knew you weren’t real.”
Then, they’re gone.