Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Elephant in the Room (12/05/13)
TITLE: Bigger Than You Think
By Jack Taylor
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The pain hit hard, like an errant Yankees’ fastball to the knee cap. The sensory pathways inside Cyril Baxter lit up like a switchboard in New York after the first impacts of 9/11. There was nowhere to go and no one left to help.
Feona was merciless. Her leering smile perched just below those squinting eyes. Her tongue launching the dart that pierced deep into the heart.
And no one had warned him along the way.
From the tenth floor ward sheltering his hospital bed, the beaten warrior glanced at the Santa outfit lying deflated and discarded on the cheap plastic visitor’s chair. The snow was clogging the skies and blocking the view of other towering buildings that still stood in place. A wilted poinsettia, with two red leaves nestling the base of the green wrapped pot, sat abandoned on the window ledge.
He should have seen it coming.
The incessant beeping coming from the hallway testified to the overworked staff who couldn’t get everyone medicated quick enough. The rattling of a meal cart banged its way off the wall as its driver abandoned it for deliveries next door. Chatter from the nursing station tried to keep up with phones that kept screaming for attention.
There must have been hints if he had been watching for them.
Cyril scanned the sighing machines standing guard next to his headboard. He was stable. The intravenous poles snugged in close for support to remind him he was still in no shape to go anywhere else right now.
The day had started like all the other days with Feona. She stepped out of the shower and primped herself up like a primrose on a spring day. She approached the bed, bumped up against his back with her knee, and announced, “get up Santa, the kids need another lie to get them through.”
He’d groaned and moaned his way until the shower was done. He practiced his smile and chuckle. He donned the garb required for a mall Santa and shuffled his way onto the Subway as one of the five million souls rumbling like earthworms through the heart of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan and New York City itself. There must have been a thousand in similar attire. None of them were smiling.
Feona had taken a taxi and met him as he slumped down in the office chair. His second Starbucks was already finished.
“Do you remember Francois in admin pushing you to tell him the truth about Christmas?”
“Something like that.”
“And do you remember Harminder in sales asking you whether it took more room for the Santa palace or the nativity set?”
“And do you remember Fatima in human resources asking you if you believed in multi-culturalism?”
“And do you remember Pepper down in communications talking about all the complaint letters because kids weren’t getting what they asked for.”
“And do you remember Ephraim from ethics asking you if you considered it harmful to lie to children?”
“I think so. I said something like ‘everyone lies to kids’.”
“And do you remember Steve asking if this job was enough to support me through the year?”
“Yeah. Wait, isn’t Steve your lawyer?”
“Yes. Thanks to you, Francois, Harminder and Fatima have decided that Santa and baby Jesus could be spray painted on a window as a good will gesture for the season. They need room for more kiosks in the mall. As your manager, I’m here to tell you that you’re out of a job. As your wife, I’m here to tell you that you’re out of a marriage. Read the fine print on this very carefully. Merry Christmas…”
Not once had Cyril considered the lies he told little kids or his wife to be anything significant. The management had been circling like piranhas and he hadn’t seen it coming. He’d tied up Santa so closely to Jesus in his discussions with the mall’s new owners that when they decided to get rid of one it wasn’t hard for them to get rid of both. And him as well.
The notification of divorce proceedings was probably back on the office floor where he had fallen during his heart attack. A strange thing – this Christmas season. All this giving and getting. All this pretending and make believe. All this celebration. For what?
Cyril saw a New Testament sitting squarely on the bedside table. ‘I wonder what God thinks of Christmas nowadays.’
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