"Do you ever wonder why there is no Santa Claus?" He blurted out in in a frosty haze that smelled of cheap booze and bad breath. The man looked like a used dish rag, dirty, wet, cold, washed up and rung through. The kind of dish rag that you don't ever wash because it is just not worth saving, just toss it in the garbage. That ratty old thing overstayed its welcome. His eyes hung like Droopy Dog's face. The sickly pale face's only color was the purple his sagging eyes had. This dish rag has not slept in week. The bags under his eyes carried enough luggage to outfit the entire Russian Army. All purplish sagging drops stretched his skin to age him far past his years. His eyes were blood-shot and glassy with a far off stare. As if his eyes yearned for a better face or longed for a different sight. Because his eyes seem to grow weary of staring at the bottom of a bottle. This man was not that unusual sight for the midnight round on a Tuesday night in a crummy dine bar. The tired old scene was stagnant and stained. The bar counter was chipped and cracked over the many years of wear and tear without the proper upkeep. Nothing rested on that old counter except the empty glasses of the shamed, broken and empty hearted. Along with the harden snacks of beer nuts and pretzels. The only thing staler that the snacks was the stiff cigar smoke of the bar.
But tonight was quiet. The glass was empty and my time was up. I paid tab and enter the lonely streets of the night. The drunkard was released on the streets with me. Fixing my collar of my jacket and set to walk home in when he entered my life. They bar tender shoved the man out into the cold. Unable to stand and drunk off his ass he fell to the ground. The man was a dime a dozen, drunk and helpless. Hundreds of these suckers are thrown out of bars at closing time every day. Nothing was special about this man. He was crawling on the ice covered sidewalk looking for his hat. The slurred speech under his breath and blurry vison. Life has kick him where the sun don't shine. You can't help but the feel bad for him but you don't dare help him. I do not know where his has been. Besides I have my own problems. At least a can hold my liquor. The chill runs down my spine and I turn away.
"Hey!" the bar tender exclaimed. Frightened that he was potentially talking to me I turned back. "You forgot this." The bar tender threw a red Santa Claus hat at the drunk in disgrace. For the life of me I have no idea why he was dressed as Santa. The drunk that is, he came into the bar dressed in the red woolen costume of a beloved children's character. The hat hit him in the face and fell to the icy streets dead. His face was unchanged by the blow. He looked sick and unaware with his mouth gaping open and eyes wide. As he stumbled and struggled to get up. Plop, he sat on the sidewalk defeated. I have seen a drunk like this a thousand times before. But I will never know what inside of me moved but I walked over to help him up. Shocked at first by the grip on my hand on his arm he was reluctant and then accepting of my help at I pulled him to his feet.
"Thank you." he said in a grimy dusty voice. As if he had forgotten how to speak and that was the first sentence he uttered in months. I bent over to pick up his hat. The red cloth felt soft and plush in my hands. The hat was mainly red with a white brim and a snow puff ball at the end the common attire for a modern Santa. Without words I handed him the hat. He looked at my extended arm confused his eyes dance from my hand to my face and then with a quick check of his head he realized that the hat was his and then he grabbed it, "Thanks." The bitter chill had turned his ears red. But the sight of his ears went away when he placed the cap over his head and hide his freezing ears. "My ears always get cold." He said. "That and my hands are the only things I ever worry about in the winter." He continued. "That's why I always have me trusted gloves." He pulled some worn leather glove from his back pocket. A smile wiped across his face as he slipped them on. "Do you ever wonder why there is no Santa Claus?"
"No, why do you ask?" It was a curious question indeed. He had asked the bar tender the exact same question only moments before.
"I don't know."
"If you don't mind me asking but you asked the bar tender that exact same question. Why are you so concern with Santa Claus?"
"I don't know."
"You must have a reason."
"I know that he's not real. It's just parents trying to do a nice thing for their kids. But a small part of me hopes he is real. Only because I really want something for Christmas."
"Really?" I was shocked that a man in his age could not just and buy what he wanted instead of asking a made-up myth. "What do you want for Christmas?"
"Not what but who. I want to wake up to a family, a wife in a house that we lived in as a family." He looked done and kicked a stone then looked up at me, "Say what is your name, Son?" An odd question because I'm just a man that happens to be freezing with him on this sidewalk.
"Clemson? That's an odd name." It is. My parents were really big college sports fans which explains the name of my brother, Duke. Me I never cared for it. There are a lot of things our parents teach us when we are not thinking but their love for college ball never rubbed off on me. "Well, Clemson what brings you out here and a cold winter's night?" He said lighting his cheap cigar. "You smoke?" He asked offering me a drag on his cigar. I shook my head no. But in the interest of full disclosure I was growing rather fond of cigars. I smoke one a few years ago and knew it was not for me but now I think it can be safely called a habit. "So…?" he looked at me, "Aren't you going to answer my question?"
"I'm here to forget."
"Oh." He placed the cigar in his mouth with a face of knowing. As he was re-lighting the cigar I had this feeling that he was done talking to me. He said nothing as he struggled to re-light it. So that's it? He is just done talking to me? Like he knows who I am? He knows nothing! I am not a cookie-cutter diagnosis! I'm different and special, how dare him! He does not know me. "Sure I do. A man who comes to a bar to forgot is one and same with me. Something broke inside you and know your filling the void with alcohol."
"How…" dumfounded I struggled to express my point. How did he know? How could he see my thoughts? Read me like a book. How? I looked at him confused.
"I'm Santa Claus." Placing the cigar back into his mouth, "Come here let me show you something." Slowly he walked away. I was faced with a difficult choice. I could let him walked out of my life just as easy as he came. Or I could follow. I chose the ladder. Even though the former is the easier choice and after he was gone I could have gone home and to bed without a second thought. But something inside me knew that I must go forward. I needed to follow. The man walked to the edge of the city at the bridge that leads into the bustling metropolis. The bridge was the only passage way from the rural suburbs to the main city. The stone bridge was icy and dangerous to drive on but there seemed to be no cars in sight the man went to the edge of the curved structure. Standing on the sidewalk he looked over the edge at the following water. The water was moving but very slowly and very hard to see. Because the flowing water was under a sheet on ice that only gets thicker every day. Cold and buried I know how that feels.
"Look at the water." Santa Claus said pointing.
"What about it?" I asked.
"It very gives up. Even though it is colder than the ice age out here. That water is not giving up. Then the ice forms over top of it and still the ice never gives up. That's a good lesson."
"To never give up?"
"Yeah, don't you think?"
"Sometimes. But there are situations where giving up is perfectly acceptable."
"Well you can't change how others feel. If you can't get them to your side then what is the point? Some people are just too stubborn and giving up is the only option."
"Sounds like you have experience in this?"
"I rather not talked about it."
"I'll take that as a yes."
"Who are you? You can't just ask me a few questions and think you have me summed up. You don't know me at all."
"Oh, I know you."
"Well now I'm insulted!" The stranger took a bottle out from his jacket pocket and took a swig.
"Calm down you fruit cake. Relax. Did you ever think that you are the one judging me? You making snap judgements when you barely know my story." His said with another sip.
"Perhaps you're right. Who are you?" He place the cigar back into his mouth and leaned over the wall of the bridge. His black leather gloves that were so worn and old. I can't imagine they hold much warmth anymore. If so why keep them?
"You like my gloves?" He said sarcastically. "These were a gift some twenty odd years ago. I had never been one for gloves. But after a few months of my complaining about my poor circulation she got me these for my birthday. I kept them ever since. Most people would have given up on these gloves. Sure they have their problems but if I buy a new pair they too will eventually have their problems. But I like these gloves me and they have been through a lot together and memories are something that you can throw away. It all I have left of her. Don't you recognized them?" I walled to the end of the bridge to peer out at whatever he was looking at. Why would I recognize them? What is he looking at? I don't recognize anything he is looking at. "No, no, no, not the scenery the gloves." I glanced at his gloves and they indeed looked familiar they looked just like my pair. Looking down at my hands, indeed the gloves were a perfect match. But how? "Freaking right?" He said. "Now it gets weirder…" he drank another sip and then offered me the bottle which I refused. "I'm you." The stranger turned to face me and smiled. "I'm you twenty years in the future." What? No! I am going to be a success, a great man, a father, a husband. I'm not going to be a drunk. No! I will not allow it! "You can keep telling yourself that." He said.
"How do you know my thoughts?"
"I'm you remember? You're thinking with our brain."
"Then why can't I read your thoughts?"
"I don't know. Are you trying to? Because it's fairly easy for me."
"Nothing is impossible."
"Nope! Nothing is off limits."
"I can think of a few things."
"We both know what you're thinking about so just say it." Then in unison we both said the name, "Emily."
"So what she dumped you get over it." He said looking out at the suburbs.
"Get over it! Get over it! Don't you think I have tried?" I snapped back.
"Hey! I'm you I know you tried. You develop an elbow problem trying to get over her."
"An elbow problem?"
"Yeah, it keeps bending." He drank another swig from the bottle.
"So you're not even over her."
"No, and it's been twenty years. I can't think of another woman. I can't be with another woman. All I want is her. I even entered the Seminary to get her out of my mind."
"How did that go?"
"Great! I'm a mother fucking priest now that's why I'm on a bridge with you!"
"Nah, you're fine. I got kicked out for drinking too much. I drank myself out of every job I had. She would never take me back now."
"So we never get a second chance?"
"No kid we don't. She is gone. Don't get your hopes up because she will never come back. That's what happens when you screw up. There is nothing you or Santa Claus to fix it. Just pain."
"I never found out. We had a good thing with Emily and then she just ended it. I'm sure we had our problems but what couple doesn't? I never found out what theory was true. I'm pretty sure the reason she gave us was bull shit. You know what I mean it wasn't the whole reason she was definitely hiding something. I never found out what. It probably was another guy. And we were just the rebound and the place-holder until she found someone else."
"Hey man you can't say that about us."
"You can't prove me wrong?"
"I also can't prove you right."
"You're thinking the same thing."
"Ture. So why are you here? Is this some It's a Wonderful Life shit where you come and tell that I'm special and loved and that life worth living. Or are you a Christmas Carol bull shit where you show me the future so I change my ways."
"I don't know."
"Then why are you here?"
"I don't know."
"Who sent you?"
"I don't know." A smile flashed across his face.
"Look." He pointed to a house. It was a house of the other side of the frozen stream. A small rancher with the wide open window and Christmas tree in sight. There was a roaring fire in the background. Seven stockings were placed other the fire and with names sewn into them. Four children gather around the tree to see what Santa Claus had left them. The father was holding off the children and handing out presents from under the tree. The large black dog was there too as Santa left the pooch a crew toy. Then she came in, Emily. She looked older than when I last saw her with a baby on her hip. She was a part of the family. A mother and a damn good one like I always told her she would be. The future me, was crying. "In all my years I have never seen a more beautiful sight."
"How can you say that? She rips your heart out of your chest and you're happy when she finds another to love?"
"Look closer." He pointed at the father and it bared a striking rebalance to… us. "Look its Anastasia the oldest girl, Benjamin, Eliza and Terrance Patrick. And the dog, Lucy! It's just as I always dreamed it to be, just as we always dreamed it to be. Four kids and a dog. This was my Christmas wish for twenty years… maybe there is a Santa" The vision faded and disappeared. A rare glance at a possible future for me. But for him it's a long and distance dead dream.
"It's okay man. Dreams die that's a part of life." I said.
"For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been.'"
"Are you okay?"
"John Greenleaf Whittier said that. No truer words have even been spoken."
"Do you blame her?"
"No. It was my own damn fault becoming a drunk. She just gave me the reason I used to drink. I don't think she ever cared for me. I meant nothing to her…" He broke down and cried. "The only thing that women ever taught me was don't waste your time trying to open up. Because no matter how much you open yourself it's never good enough and she will still leave. Now I just bottle everything. The greatest lesson she ever taught me, hide. Because when you keep yourself bottled no one can hurt you. Now I let no one in. I'm hardened to the bone. I'm forever just not good enough." He swallowed hard and finished his bottle. "It's funny the only bottle I don't open is the one that holds my feelings. The rest of the bottles I have opened and seen the bottom of them all. Well as long as she is happy." He reached out his hand, "give me the gun in your pocket."
"How did you know I have a gun?"
"I'm you remember. Hand it over."
"Not when you're like this."
"How noble of you. Do you remember when we bought the gun?"
"We only purchased one bullet."
"So unlike the one shot I got with Emily… I can't miss." He reached into his back pocket pulled out a dusty old revolver and placed the barrel in his mouth, bang. He just disappeared. He exploded into pixels of light and vanished.
"That's going to be you."
There was a silent whisper of mischievous origins. I wait for it to talk again but it never did. I placed my hand into my pocket and pulled out the revolver and stared at it. I'm not going to let her do that to me. She does not hold that sort of power other me that my life would end because she is not in it.
There it is again. What is that noise?
I looked down but there was nothing there but the revolver in my gloved hands. Nothing is talking to me. I'm just sleep deprived. Heavens knows ever since she broke up with me I just haven't sleep a minute. Just watching TV and hanging around in bars until I don't feel anymore. Numb is better than pain. So I would rather drink myself to an early grave than sit around and feel sorry for myself. Nothing is talking to me that's final.
"Wrong you numskull I'm the bullet."
The bullet? I opened the revolver to get the chamber and removed the bullet. I looked at the tiny piece of copper and steel, "What do you want?"
Fuck. What am I doing? I can't be talking to a bullet?
"Says the guy who just have a conversation with himself from the future."
Damn he's got me there. It's already been a weird day for my mental health. "Just tell what you need to say bullet."
"Ah, now you recognize me?"
I scoffed at his remark.
"Well, the way I see it you have two options."
"What would those be?"
"You can either kill yourself now or drink yourself blind and kill yourself in twenty years. What will it be?"
"I don't like those options."
"Come on man you know that is it over. Why going on living when you are dead inside? What kind of life is that?"
"It's my life."
"You can end it now."
"Because of hope. One day we could we back together. Maybe if I call her! Yes! That's what this whole thing has been about! I just should not give up. My future self, gave up and drank himself to death. But not me no!" I pulled out my phone and dialed. It's ringing. It clicked me through.
"Hello?" A man answered… The phone fell into the frozen stream. Why would a man answer her phone?
"You know why."
Tears rolled down my face and froze to my cheeks. I started to load the pistol with the bullet. I cocked it and placed the gun in my mouth ready to fire. When I caught a glance of the vision. Me and Emily surrounded around four kids and some dogs. She leans over and kisses my cheek. My finger slowly comes off the trigger. If I pull it then she wins. I'm an evolved man. Even if she can't see that. Suicide is not the answer. Then the gun fell from my hands.
Off the bridge like my phone fell before it the gun hit the ice. Maybe so. Maybe I am just a chicken who can't kill himself. Maybe I'm a man after of his own feelings. Maybe hope died that day. But then again, maybe not. I fixed my coat and walked away. But as I was leaving I heard one last thing,
"Have another drink…"