His Eyes, How They Twinkled by Richard Dickson

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He pushed up one of his sleeves. A circular scar stood out on the skin of his forearm. "Last Monday. Kid latched on, wouldn't let go. Never dropped him. Even smiled for the picture."

The other Santa just smiled. He held up his hand, flexing his wrist with an audible grinding pop. "Dislocated it at 9. Didn't realize it until 10:30. Popped it back in and kept going until 5." He paused. "Today."

"Amateurs! The both of you!"

Heads turned to the short fat man sitting at the end of the bar. He never took his gaze away from his glass as he spoke. "Dislocated wrists. Bite marks. Child's play. Try frostbitten cheeks that'll never be flesh-colored again from too many nights too high and too cold. Try a back that won't let you sleep at night because it hurts too much from carrying around your giant stomach. Your ass gets numb from sitting in that seat all night. You hear kids asking for the same toys over and over and over again, and you know a good half of them won't be happy even if they get what they want. And to top it all off, you know damn well most of them won't even think you exist anymore in a few years."

He turned to face them now. "But every year, you do it. You put up with aches and the pains, and not so you can stand in front of your friends and show off your scars. You do the job because it's worth it for that one kid who really gets it. Who smiles up at you like you just made them the best promise in the world." He pushed his stool away from the bar and stood, wiping his mouth with a gloved hand. "And if that's not what puts you in that chair or puts that bell in your hand, well, then you're not worthy to wear the beard." And then he quietly walked out into the snowy night, leaving behind half a glass of milk and a plate full of cookie crumbs.

Rock stared after him, then looked up at his rival.

"Buy you a drink, pal?"

The big man nodded. "Name's Earl. And sure."

And with that department store Santas drank with Salvation Army Santas, and while one side still tried to out-boast the other, it was out of camaraderie rather than competition. But one Santa simply stood at the door, staring at the tiny footprints in the snow that appeared to vanish a few yards into the street. And in his mind, one thought rang out, louder and clearer than all the others:

"I still bet he's never had anyone pee on him."