A Santa Claus walks into a bar…
All he wanted was to host a “real” Christmas party, the sort of gathering fit with heated pans of cheesy bangers and spiked cream drinks rimmed with cinnamon dust. He wished only to hear Johnny Mathis croon over a flock of innocent children eagerly awaiting the arrival of St. Nick.
After a decade of disappointments, Wallis would finally partake in a comprehensive conversation with other sober civil servants. An exchange, he hoped, rooted in a real sense of purpose.
Instead, Wallis tossed the invitation announcing such a Christmas Party onto the taverns worn wooden bar. A bar which he had rented at a rate of $300 for the ambitious four-hour celebration.
Three bartenders stood waiting to serve festive patrons, wearing their early into the shift smiles, wiping down dusty bottles of well whisky.
“This is just sad,” Wallis said, walking over to the large bay windows encased in tinsel and blinky, blue and red lights, looking out onto the main drag of Last Breath, NH. Looking, well, for anyone.
“Relax, honey.” Lou Ann, his wife, said as she positioned gingerbread and tubes of frosting onto a table for all the kids to dig into when they arrived. “People like to be fashionably late. Makes em’ feel like a Real Housewife.”
“Nah, you’re wrong…again.” Wallis said. This time his tone had some bite to it, something underlined with panging doubt and resentment. “Don’t know why I try. I’m such a donut.”
Just then, Dunbar walked out from the backroom of the tavern, smiling with a glow in his eyes. This was the ragged stranger Wallis had longed to see, his stroke of fine luck, his long lost friend, Dunbar. Dunbar had been out of the fold since mid-summer. There was rumor he’d taken work running a courier service up North in Lancaster. Then, others said he was hiding out on the seacoast, busted up from being thrown out of love, drunk on pain killers.
Come to find out, Dunbar’s social life had been cut in half because he snapped his leg in two places thumb wrestling with his landlord down at the Legion Hall. He had to have a plate and several screws implanted in his ankle. That shouldn’t hurt that much at 65, his landlord assured him.
Still, Dunbar, with stride, came out that backroom with his jimmy legs a wiggling, feeling right about the night. “This is the one, I tell you, Wallis,” Dunbar said. “This party will be known as the best Christmas party anyone’s ever thrown here in Last Breath.”
Wallis faked a smile in agreement.
“This place is a dead zone,” one of the staff was heard whispering to the shots girl fingering through her I-Phone at the corner bar. “Untrue!” Dunbar shouted. “Look at this invitation. Now this is class!”
“The invitation is beautiful, baby doll.” said Lou Ann as she chatted up a bored busboy named Tool at the service station. “I love you in a Santa suit.”
Wallis, reaching out for a tentacle to hold onto, decided right then that “Yes!” this would be the Very Best Christmas Party Ever In Last Breath. Or definitely close. Dunbar was here. Lou Ann was here. He had the pub rented till 2:30 in the afternoon. The people would come. How could they not? Not again.
Dunbar started screaming inspirations from a barstool.
“Now go get that Santa suit on, my Man!” he cried. “Rock that Holly! Go be Jolly!”
“Do it, baby. Just do it,” Lou Ann was saying, we think, to Wallis from behind the bar partition where Tool was, we hoped, wiping down tables. “Oh, that’s just perrrrfect.”
Off Wallis went to drape himself in St. Nick’s garb. In the men’s room mirror above the bathroom sink, Waldo studied his pose, smiling, grabbing at his belly, scratching at his white beard, ho-ho-ho-ing his way to the best Christmas Party ever.
“Not bad,” one of the kitchen help said to Wallis as he straddled the urinal in a steamy mess of relief.
Dunbar was at the bar, finishing up a pint, studying the invitation for maybe the last time because soon, ah heck, soon this place would be crawling with friends, booted women, cinnamon drinks and a definitive way of thinking when it comes to getting a job done. He was sure of it.
Still, looking down at the invitation, Dunbar now seemed to be peering through it, as if locked into a game of eye maze. “Hey, Lou Ann, come here a sec.” Dunbar said. A second goes by, then another second, then another. “Lou Ann! Where you at?”
Lou Ann poked her head up over the partition. “Hey, hey, what?. What do you need, Dunbar? I’m just, ah, repositioning these tubes of frosting.”
“What’s the name of this place?” Dunbar asked her.
“Then why does the invitation say “Shaskeen Pub?”
“Don’t know,” Lou Ann said with a giggle as she ducked her head back over the partition, mumbling and giggling something that sounded like, “Should say Tool’s Place.”
Right then Wallis walked out of the bathroom dressed like Santa Claus.
And the whole night was shot.