I reluctantly pulled the gold watch from the carrying case and blew the dust from its face. My hand trembled as I prepared to allow him to examine it. His icy fingers snatched it from me with a coldness I found difficult to stomach, but what did I expect? A good pawn shop owner didn’t know the meaning of sentiment; he only dealt in the hard reality of commodities. Hard times for individuals were simply an opportunity for a business transaction, one that he most certainly would reap an obscene profit from.
He rolled it over in hands several times before speaking. “Hmmm, appears to be in excellent shape, son.”
Of course it was. During the last twenty years the keepsake had never been subjected to the light of day, safely kept in the case inside a lockbox, awaiting the transfer to another generation.
I preferred this was a quick transaction, one that didn’t allow me to reconsider. He looked me up and down several times, as if he might somehow determine my level of desperation.
“Tell you what….I wouldn’t normally offer this much, but seeing as I’m full of the Christmas spirit—I’ll give you fifty bucks.”
Full of something I thought, but Christmas spirit wasn’t what came to mind. I wasn’t an idiot, just an average guy that had fallen on hard times. I had inquired at every other pawnshop in town and fifty was all any of them was going to offer. I knew that someone would gladly buy it from them for twice that much, but what choice did I have? Christmas day was less than twenty-four hours away and as yet I had purchased nothing for my daughter, Eliza.
“Nice doin’ business with ya, the stingy old codger yelled from behind the counter. I exited the pawnshop with fifty dollars that I had not entered with and only a slightly bruised ego. Truthfully my inner spirit had already been mauled a couple of months earlier. Our company had announced “across the board cuts”, just until the market has recovered they said. I only prayed the downsizing monster had not gorged himself sufficiently on peons like myself. I envisioned him making his way up the corporate ladder and finding a nice fat CEO for dinner!
I walked past the red kettles at the door of the toy store, averting my eyes as if I didn’t see them and was deaf to the constant ringing of the bells. I knew what the ringers were thinking of me as I slipped passed. Their thoughts were the same thoughts that crossed my mind as I stood in the cold with the best volunteer smile I could muster, wondering why folks weren’t more generous. I realized some shoppers truly could ill-afford to give, and I hoped this year the ringer somehow knew my circumstance.
Once inside I immediately made my way past the indignant last-minute shoppers, which this year purely by circumstance, I was a part of. I quickly found the aisle that contained the baby dolls. Eliza was now five years old and one doll in particular was all that her beautiful lips could speak of. In light of tenuous circumstances I had to make this a special Christmas, surely one doll was not too much to ask for.
I courteously pulled my cart to side of the isle and began my search. Suddenly I spotted her; the curly blonde locks and blue eyes matched that of my daughter when she was three. Noticing that there was only one remaining on the shelf I raced there to lay claim to it. My outstretched hand met with another, but I quickly ensured that mine had a firmer grasp and put the doll in the cart.
A large woman stood there glaring at me, as if I‘d actually just stolen something from her. I supposed in a strange way I had, and quickly attempted to make amends.
“Ma’am I’m sorry, but I just have to have this doll for my daughter. If the circumstances were different, I’d gladly let you have it. You see….”
“Oh, I see,” she retorted. “You think your daughter’s special? Well, let me tell you buddy, what goes around comes around! You’ll get yours, you miserable son of a bitch!”
I stood there stunned at the violent outburst.
“Really ma’am you don’t understand,—I.”
My apologetic words fell to silence as she maneuvered around the end of the aisle. My simple attempt to explain had met with an icy reception, so much so I almost wished I hadn’t offered. After a couple of moments of standing in the aisle slack-jawed, I decided to dismiss the whole episode. Obviously this was an example of a Christmas Eve shopper’s attempt to release some of the stress the holiday brings forth. Truthfully, I myself was finding it difficult to muster much Christmas cheer this particular year.
I patiently waited my turn in line at the cosmetic counter to purchase my wife a small gift. After my job loss she assured me she needed nothing, but I knew that out of the fifty dollars I should have enough to purchase a very small bottle of her favorite fragrance.
Upon returning to my cart I noticed it was empty. I quickly scanned the aisle and immediately recognized the large woman’s backside waddling towards the checkout line, with Eliza’s doll in her cart! I ran down the aisle like an Olympic sprinter heading for the finish line. I was certain I knew what had transpired and it made by blood boil, but I did my best to remain composed, at least at first.
“Ma’am, I believe you have my doll in your cart!”
She pretended to not hear a word that I was saying and looked past me, waving her arm is if she was signaling to someone. Just as my voice had reached a fevered pitch and I was seriously contemplating ripping the doll from the cart, I realized a security officer was standing next to me.
“Officer, thank God you’re here,” she shrieked. “This man just tried to steal that baby doll from my cart, didn’t he, sweetie?”
She appealed to what I assumed was her young daughter. Certainly I didn't expect her to participate in the ploy, but I stood in awe as she nodded her head up and down in confirmation. The security guard quickly grabbed my arm and pulled me back from the cart.
“Settle down now, sir, let this woman check-out, while you and I go back to the office to have a chat.”
I protested this horrible injustice by standing my ground. I watched helplessly as the woman left with my daughter’s doll in her cart. She turned back to me long enough to mouth the words “What comes around goes around!”
What horrible transgression had I committed that I deserved this heaped upon my plate? I had done nothing wrong, I was the victim here. I knew even if I could convince the officer my story was true, it was too late. I had let Eliza down.
After answering several questions I was relieved to heard a voice come over the loudspeaker announcing that the store was closing in ten minutes. I wasn’t certain whether the officer believed my story or if he simply wanted to get off on time, but in any case he told me I could leave.
The store was nearly empty now and I reluctantly made my way toward the door. I contemplated how difficult tomorrow morning would be, as I passed the location in the store where the guest Santa was packing up his things and preparing to leave for home. I paused for a moment; the irony was not lost on my troubled mind. How could I explain to my daughter that Santa had not brought the one simple gift her heart desired? I shook my head in disappointment and disgust and continued towards the door.
“Hey buddy, can you give old Santa a hand?”
I stopped and turned to see the old man lugging his large lumpy sack of what I presumed to be supposed toys.
“Doesn’t the store provide props for you?”
He shook his head from side to side as the cotton ball on the end of his cap dangled back and forth.
“Naw—not anymore, cut-backs you know. I have to bring the whole setup myself.”
I laughed quietly, seems not even the North Pole was immune to cut-backs these days. I grabbed the sack and tossed it over my shoulder and quietly walked alongside the old man. As we approached the door I notice the bell-ringers had left their post. Nevertheless I reached into my pocket and retrieved the fifty dollars, folded it neatly and placed it in the nearest red kettle. The old man looked at me strangely.
“My car is just a little ways. If you don’t mind carrying those gifts just a little further--my back sure will appreciate it.”
I was in no hurry to get home any longer. The old man stopped at the trunk of a Cutlass. Not exactly a sleigh, but at it least was red I thought. I placed the heavy bag down on the ground next to the car, while he searched for his keys. He turned to me and greeted me with warm smile, as if he suddenly recognized me.
“Bill, there’s no doubt you’re on the ‘good list’ this year, how about I save myself a stop.”
I looked at the old man with wide eyes, trying to recall if I’d given him my name. I scratched my head, I was certain I hadn’t.
“How did you know my name?”
The old man chuckled loudly and his belly heaved with each burst of laughter. “Come on Bill, Santa knows everyone’s name.”
I stood there in awe as he rifled through the bag and pulled out a gift and placed it carefully in my hands.
“This is for your daughter; it’s the only thing she requested.”
I looked at the gift and found myself speechless. I swallowed hard at the lump in my throat as the tears welled up my eyes. The tag simply read “Eliza Williams”.
“Santa, I suppose you know the situation with my daughter also?”
He reached over and gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze. It was obvious when I looked into his misty blue eyes that he knew Eliza was dying.
“Yes Bill, I know. You hurry home, now. But before you go, don’t forget this.”
Santa placed in my hand a crisp one-hundred dollar bill and winked at me.
“That’s so you can buy your watch back. You see Bill, it really is true; what comes around goes around!”