The advert had stipulated ‘Bring your own boots’. Kanti looked at the men’s feet. Most wore wellies. One had work-boots, dusty at the toes. The man at the far end wore Doc Martens.
She referred to the list on the clipboard she’d been given. She was singled out for this task, she was sure, because it was the store’s idea of positive discrimination; she could just hear Mr Armstrong saying, “Put the Paki in charge of picking Santa.” Mr Armstrong had a hat with mistletoe on it, which he kept tipping at all the women on the shop floor: “Pucker up, girls!” Fat chance of that. Nasty bullying creep.
Kanti’s name meant Shine. Her parents said, “She’ll shine in this job!” How exactly anyone could shine, stacking shelves in a department store, Kanti didn’t ask. “It’s only a Christmas job,” she said, “until college starts again.” Sometimes she wondered whether her family didn’t think college was the hobby, while this — clipboard, name-tag — was the serious work. A shuffle of booted feet retrieved her attention. “I’ll see Mr Truman first,” she decided.
Chris Truman had a beard and glasses. It should’ve been a bonus but this was south Manchester, England; he looked too much like Harold Shipman. Megan, Kanti’s co-worker, had advised, “Don’t pick anyone who looks like a kiddy-fiddler or a perve.” Kanti suspected ‘mass murdering general practitioner’ fell under the banner of ‘perve’. She thanked Mr Truman, asked him to send in the next candidate.
Monosyllabic was the only way to describe most of the interviewees. Kanti couldn’t imagine one of them striking up a conversation with an excited child about the impending holiday; most had difficulty speaking their own names.
She was making notes on her clipboard when the final candidate came into the office. He sat, Doc Martens planted apart. Kanti looked up. He was in his forties, white hair buzzcut to scalp, face like a knuckled fist. She considered his actual fists, resting on denim knees. HATE was tattooed across the left one, LOVE across the right.
“Trevor.” The name came out sounding like a bag of nails being dropped down a chimney. “Trevor Snow.”
“May I ask why you want this job, Trevor?”
“To get rid of this.” He tugged at the collar of his shirt, revealed a blue swastika. “They can take it off but it’s expensive. That’s why I need the money.”
She waited, unsure what to say.
“I used to be a bit of an arsehole.” Trevor offered up his fists. “These, too. But I thought I could wear gloves.” A sudden, hopeful smile transformed his face. “I could bring my own, from home? Only I know what it looks like. I’m not, though. Just need a chance to prove it.”
Kanti thought about it, picturing Mr Armstrong’s face. She stood and put out her hand. Trevor followed her lead. His handshake was gentle, despite the LOVE and HATE.
“Mr Snow,” she said, “I think we’ve found our Santa.”
Sarah Hilary won the Fish Historical-Crime Contest with Fall River, August 1892, and has two stories in the Fish anthology 2008. She was a runner-up in the Biscuit Short Story Contest 2008. MO: Crimes of Practice, the Crime Writers’ Association anthology, features Sarah’s story, “One Last Pick-Up”. Her work appears in Smokelong Quarterly, Literary Fever, Every Day Fiction, Ranfurly Review and Zygote in my Coffee. Sarah blogs at http://sarah-crawl-space.blogspot.com/.