Picture the North Pole
Ice crystals sheered by the winds plastered against exposed cheeks and foreheads while a whisper of a scent lingered on the air. It smelled of a chill colder than the depths of the devil’s heart. Both burning and freezing the nose, it scraped against the skin as if trying to exfoliate with every breath. And the light. Radiating against the pristine drifts and hills, a white brighter than the birth of a star encircled out to the very horizon as if there was naught but snow to cover the entire world.
“Now sniff,” the cheery voice commanded. Nadire, her eyes dutifully closed, took in a deep whiff. Cloying peppermint stung her tastebuds leaving an oil slick of the thick scent upon her tongue. It was not reminiscent of the North Pole as she was asked to imagine. There was little by way of mint where nothing but ice grew.
“Makes you think of a crisp winter day, doesn’t it?” the clerk smiled bright. She bobbed her flimsy, felt santa hat — which it seemed as if nearly every one on the floor was gifted to wear. Festive.
Putting on an indeterminate smile, Nadire nodded to the woman running a Room Spray booth. Small perfume spritzer bottles decorated with home printed labels covered the table. To distract from trying to cough out the last of the peppermint she took to her sinuses, Nadire inspected the label of one named “Roasting Chestnuts.”
All around her roared Christmas in every permutation imaginable. Twenty-foot-tall inflatables of the fat man in the red suit danced around a plastic pine tree. Twinkling lights of red and green assaulted the eyes from so many corners, Nadire feared she could smell the heat wafting off them. And, after day two of the convention, enough decor fell from booth walls and trees that roaming tumbleweeds of tinsel rampaged about the halls.
A larger woman wearing a sweater with a blazing fireplace on the center nudged in between Nadire and the spritzer woman. She dangled her requisite plastic bag between the two, which was already bulging with various pamphlets and business cards. The sweater seemed a bit much for the day. While there was a chill in the air, it wasn’t due to Jack Frost but the A/C blaring a freon breeze through the convention hall in Saint Louis for the Fifteenth Annual Santa Con.
“Ah, there you are…!” a harried voice called from somewhere beside the Deep Fried Christmas Tree stand. Nadire brushed a speck of lint from the cuff of her suit jacket, watching what was probably someone’s fake beard fur trail into the wind.
“Please,” a female voice panted if she’d been running the length of the building while coming to a stop before Nadire, “forgive me. I just got word of your arrival.”
The woman wasn’t dressed in the tackiest outfit Christmas kitsch could offer, though she did put on a scarlet blouse to keep in spirit. She clutched a sheaf of papers to her chest as if she needed a shield to survive her walk and eyed up Nadire.
“It’s no problem, Ms…?” Nadire smiled, extending her hand to the woman.
“Uh, Johnson, Penny. No, Penelope. Uh, Penny’s fine I mean. Sorry. Just we really weren’t expecting you this year,” the poor woman babbled as if she’d been informed a movie star walked through the door and it was her job to make them happy.
Wanting to put her at ease, Nadire slipped away from the lingering scent of every aromatherapy oil in Christendom. “It’s all on me,” she assured poor Penny. “My schedule unexpectedly changed and I had the opportunity to visit personally.”
Usually by June, Nadire would send a few of her assistants to work the rounds at the cons but this year was proving to be strangely lighter than typical. A fact that she should be savoring with a deck chair and a cocktail by a beach instead of working. But someone had to keep abreast of the changing tides of the holiday.
“Ms. Myra,” Penny pleaded, “you’re too kind. We should have, we intended to have an official greeter for when you arrived but…” She waved her hands around the ever increasing din of people shuffling through the festive offerings.
Nadire chuckled, glad that the growing capacity could serve as an excuse for her faux pas of failing to use the front door. They knew her as Nadire Myra, COO of purchasing for Myra Enterprises. Which was itself a subsidiary of Klaus Holdings. It made her important to those that wanted to sell their goods, while no one aware of who she really worked for. Though, with her chestnut skin and roasting fire eyes instead of the assumed peach and blue, it stopped surprising Nadire centuries back when no one could trace her lineage. That damn Coke ad certainly cemented it for the family.
“I imagine you have the list of most important vendors,” Nadire whispered from the side of her lips while nodding at a pair of tourists with Santa head-shaped lollypops adhered to their tongues.
“Ah,” Penny shuffled through the papers which hopefully held the booth numbers and a map. “Yes.”
“Then, it is tradition we start with them.”
Penny chuckled as if a weight lodged off her chest. The woman fabled to have more money than Croesus was not vengeful at her. After picking a starting point, Ms. Johnson muttered to herself, “You Myras are sticklers for tradition.” Her eyes flared at the thought of speaking her mind and she glanced up in terror at the poised woman. “I mean…that wasn’t…it’s not—”
With a laugh, Nadire curled her arm through Penny’s and took the lead. She turned the pair towards Fir Real Trees, which was often a sponsor of these events. “You are more right than you can ever know.”
That glimpse of the truth brought a frown to Penny’s lips, but Nadire shook it away as she said, “After the rounds I’d quite like to try one of those Christmas tree waffles.”
“Cinnamon butter’s the best topping,” Penny grinned, her momentary concern forgotten.
With a blinding white smile, Nadire gazed across the maze of Christmas. “I can’t wait to sample it.”
It was, no doubt, a wonder what a child of Saint Nicholas himself would be doing attending conventions and conferences across the globe devoted to the very holiday he was supposed to embody. Her father certainly found it pointless, often scoffing when Nadire would return exhausted, her luggage seams bursting with red & green themed brochures. Most days, she had a good explanation for her travels, but after six hours on her four-inch heels walking 2.5 miles up and down the length of a convention center she was tempted to side with him.
Penny had managed to corral Nadire in with a trio of businessmen who, in their three piece suits, looked as if they belonged as well as she did. The men would offer occasional glances her way but little more. They certainly didn’t think her worthy of their names. She assumed they were all together until one asked the other where he was headquartered. So it was going to be that kind of a day.
“Okay, everyone got your badges?” Penny rushed to them, her hair growing more frazzled by the day. Nadire’s fingers twitched to present her with a jar of coconut oil to help, but this wasn’t the place. The want faded on the A/C wind as Ms. Johnson guided the VIPs through a set of curtained doors into a ballroom.
It was elegantly adorned, which surprised Nadire. Most places were more clearance Christmas decor and blaring public domain carols, less soft candles and linen tablecloths. Nadire was about to comment on the lack of Jingle Bells when she caught, buried under the harp, the far too familiar refrain. Shrugging off the sigh before Penny caught it, she followed their guide towards a table tucked near an open dance floor. For now it was empty save a projection of old fashioned Christmas bells dancing over the tiles.
2014, created by the company Holidaze along with a handful of Santa-In-The-Window animations and some rather humorous ghosts. Or was that the update in 2015?
An elbow bounced against Nadire’s shoulder yanking her away from her retail puzzle and she turned into eyes as crisp and sparkling as frost by early morn. The candlelight fanned their flames against his silvery blue irises, ensnaring her full attention in a breath. She tried to pull her gaze anywhere else, noticing that he wore the sort of proud but chiseled face one expected to find in Italian marble. The hair was nearly a mane, thick as a bear’s, black as midnight, and tumbling slightly past his ears. But with every attempt Nadire felt her eyes honing right back to his, the flames growing more enticing with each flicker.
“Ms. Myra, your table?” Penny called, sundering whatever spell fallen upon her.
Scurrying away from the man, guilt etched in her face as if she’d had her hand in the cookie jar, Nadire pawed at her hair to try and eclipse those haunting eyes. “Entirely my fault. Please, excuse me,” she mumbled, unable to meet the stranger’s look for fear she could never escape it.
How he took her less-than-graceful exit she couldn’t tell as she spun her back to him to take in a proper breath. For the lord’s sake, Nadire. She graced the back of her hand to her cheeks only to find them a brighter red than the spotlights. While falling to her chair, she wrenched up the glass of ice water and drowned her embarrassment.
When the water failed to wipe away the burn, she cast her eye over the wineglasses. Alas, no one had been by yet to help her drench her concerns in alcohol. Shaking her head, she conjured up a million excuses — it was a long day, she was still suffering jet lag, she hadn’t been intimate in… They didn’t really help, but she convinced herself they did while Nadire steepled her fingers and tried to wedge into the gentlemen’s conversation.
One was on his phone, as he had been since Penny pulled him into the group. The other two were debating the finds of the day.
“That price point though.” The man in a dark blue jacket whistled through his teeth. “It ain’t gonna get the tubby Tammys through the door.”
“Still, pretty amazing what they can come up with. Animation in the customer’s hands. I can see it blowing up for the Walmart crowd,” the other man, slightly older and trying to hide his bald patch, commented.
“Not at that price. They’d have to cut out beer or diapers.”
Nadire sidled closer, accidentally rattling her knife with her elbow. “They’ve had that technology for a few years now. That one we saw was a copycat of the original creator, a company called…”
Both men’s eyes narrowed to slits upon her daring to tread upon their important business. “Uh huh,” blue suit snorted, already having forgotten whatever she said.
Nadire swallowed down her snarl with the knowledge that the original company was cheaper and how great of profits they just lost by not listening to her. Not that it mattered much to her, the retail side wasn’t of concern to Klaus Holdings. At least not in the way it was to everyone else here.
“Yeah, yeah.” Phone man finally yanked it down from his ear and spoke to the table. “Fuck man, boss has me heading to that toy expo up in Cincinnati next week. Who the shit wants to go to Cincinnati?”
Pitying looks crossed the table from the other two who were both trying to snag a waitress to help getting them plastered. Men of their ilk usually attended these types of conventions for two reasons. At least they didn’t seem to expect Nadire to assist with either option. The phone man continued mourning into his empty soup bowl, “Thinks the next it toy will be there. I tell him to just buy up some stupid-ass doll that talks and walks. That’s all they ever are.”
“Imagine the fortune you could rake in if you knew before all the hype built up. Guaranteed raise, shit, maybe even a company car.”
“I’ve got no damn clue what it is this year,” blue suit sighed in agony as if he too dreamed the impossible dream.
Nadire tapped her chin, her eyes closed as she spoke, “It’s a Goop-Glon, a hollowed out plastic shell that’s human shaped and comes with various hued polymers. The child can fill the shell with their choice to create a personalized figure to play with. There’s also an app to animate it.” She smiled at the three men with her pronouncement but they blinked slowly as if a dog barked at them.
Phone man buffed up his greying hair and groaned. “They got focus groups involved. Get all the kids and their parents to pick. Shit like that. Won’t tell us though, only the toy companies.”
A frown percolated on Nadire’s brow, dragging her hand-plucked eyebrows deeper into the trenches. They could question her knowledge on Christmas decor and paraphernalia, but if there was one truth in this world the Myra family knew inside and out, it was childhood wants. Her clipped nails bounded against the table, summoning the three men to stare daggers at the woman who dared to sit near them.
The phone man gave her a snarl, his face plastered with a “What?” He spun back to speak to the blue suit while showing his back to the stewing woman. It was only the old man who snickered to himself.
In a voice that reeked of patronizing, he said, “You know, dear, you’d be a lot nicer if you…”
Mercifully for the man about to tell a strange woman to smile, an airhorn replaced the elegant piano music. Every head in the ballroom spun to watch as Penny stepped into the middle of the dance floor. She looked more flushed than usual, her fingers pawing at the microphone.
“Hello. Thank you. I wanted to once again welcome you all to the Fifteenth Annual Santa Convention. A round of applause please for the kind people at Jupiter’s Hotels for hosting us.” She tucked the mike into her armpit and made a show of bringing her hands together. A smattering of others joined in, no one ready to hurl accolades around before they had a chance to sample the food.
The rotating bell projection warped across Penny’s face, causing her to wince from the light. In doing so, she bounced the mike against her teeth sending ear-screeching feedback through the speakers.
Forget the coconut oil, that woman needed a ten day vacation to someplace without wifi. And a warm cabana boy.
“For your entertainment this evening, we have with us DJ Klaus.” Penny pointed towards they typical twenty-something man in baggy layers of t-shirts, pseudo-gold jewelry, and sunglasses. Though, he did get into the spirit by putting tiny antlers on his baseball cap. The DJ clicked his fingers at the attention and spun a few bars of Joy To The World overlaid against O Fortuna. Nadire had certainly heard worse.
She chuckled at the old memory of a snowed-in village trying to impress the royalty in their midst. With bells knotted to their ankles and wrists, the entire contingent of aging men tried to hop and dance to the tune of Silent Night. It was the most fascinating display of bouncing stomachs, off-key bell jingling, and old knees popping she’d ever seen. Her father demanded they visit every year on the 8th after that first show.
With the memory of Christmas pains past, Nadire settled back in her chair. She eyed up the menu left at her place setting. A winter pear and radish salad to start, roast duck on a yam puree for the main, and a finish with a mulled wine chocolate torte. Much better than the rash of tacos and kebobs from food stands she’d been relying upon as of late. She could suffer some horrible puns and ear-scratching music for that.
Penny wasn’t finished with the surprises, her eyes gleaming as she commanded the ballroom. “May I present to you…”
Her hand waved towards what was usually the kitchen entrance. All the heads swiveled to follow, curiosity rising. As the doors blew open, five men in long red suits stepped forward.
“The All Santa Dance Troupe,” Penny declared, clapping madly as she stepped aside to let the men with white, polyester fur strapped to their wrists and ankles pivot onto the dance floor. They’d even made certain to stuff a pillow in for their gut and painted red circles on their cheeks.
As each man got into place, gloved hands slotted behind scarlet backs, they turned to Penny and winked. At that moment, all of the tops of their Santa caps flipped from one side to the other. The audience laughed at the single jingle, and the men flailed the tips of their Santa caps back and forth while mugging for attention.
Nadire hurled her napkin off her lap and rose to her feet. She could handle the inflated, nearly featureless plastic sheeting of Santa Claus. The signs hand painted on barn wood about “Santa’s Rules To Being Naughty & Nice.” Even the groan worthy wine puns that associated every activity humanity ever invented. But this…
Shuddering, she dashed away as the men began to spin around and twerk while the refrains of that Christmas classic “I Like Big Butts” accompanied them. No one saw the door slam shut in her wake.