Covid-Mas Tales #4: “Santa’s Mask”

The fourth in a series of stories about the holidays and quarantine/coronavirus. We all wish it’ll be gone by the next big day, but we should shelve these stories under “fantasy” to be safe. You can read all the stories in this series at this link. Enjoy!

Santa’s Mask

by Dusty Chatwin

Our Christmas Eve masks were always my favorite. Mom soaked ours in peppermint preserve during the year and sprayed them with cinnamon disinfectant after they came out of the dryer the week before Christmas.

A lot of people didn’t like the old fashioned non see-thru kind, but ours were traditional. You’d still see a bunch of people pull out these old cloth things during the season, but it was weird not to see peoples’ mouths again. It totally felt like watching old videos from the 20’s, but that just added to the festive feeling. They weren’t totally air-tight, of course, but mom and dad had that transparent sealant tape you could put around the edges to make sure there weren’t any holes.

We got to wear them early that year because were going to see Santa, and mom said we could wear all of our holiday gear. I had my nylon Ugly Faux Sweater with the attached “mittens” which were bulky but still kept out the bugs. My brother Iggy had his skin tight Elf Suit onesie, complete with power seals around the wrists and ankles so it could look like he wasn’t wearing gloves or socks, just those weird hand molds so popular now in the shape of tiny elf hands and curly toed shoes. He was adorable.

The line for the big Santa downtown wasn’t too bad that year. It only stretched about four blocks of standard distancing, and loads of people weren’t going outside because of the Thanksgiving uptick. But my family had gotten out of quarantine in August after a really bad bout where I actually had to use our home respirator for a couple weeks. We were fine now, and our antibodies wouldn’t weaken until February at the latest, so we were all set for festivities.

When we finally got close to Santa, Iggy got so worked up he peed himself. Mom and Dad were kinda freaked, but the onesie kept it all inside. He cried a bit, but when they told him we’d have to go to the back of the line if we left to clean him up in a Sterile Public Bathroom (a couple blocks away), it’d probably be another hour. So he calmed down and just kinda danced around, complaining about being cold.

This Santa looked amazing. I knew the truth, but we had to play along for my brother, who still believed. Every year, he’d ask why Santa didn’t have to wear a mask, and Mom explained that he was magic so couldn’t get sick. Of course it was all prosthetics and complicated breathing tubes, like all the “mask-free” celebrities worse. Some Santas still wore masks in the malls, but this was the big Macy’s Sponsored Santa in downtown Chicago, so they went all out. Iggy seemed like he didn’t believe us, tho, and kept saying maybe he had a transparent one connected to his beard. But my brother’s seven, so, he had to be right. I didn’t care. The Santa just looked so cool.

I got to go first since I was older, and I got my picture. Santa said he really liked my mask, and that he especially loved kids who respected traditional things, which was cool. The guy wasn’t one of those weirdos who tried to pretend like the older kids were stupid.

Then it was Iggy’s turn. He wouldn’t smile for the picture, and when Santa asked him what he wanted for Christmas, he just stared at the big guy. Iggy was old enough not be scared, and people in line were getting impatient. Santa asked again, and I remember my brother did his thing where he cocks his head, something he always did when he was lying or right before he knew he was going to get in trouble.

Then he reached up, grabbed Santa’s beard, and yanked.

I heard the loud pop and whoosh as the breathing tubes went free from Santa’s real nose and mouth. And Iggy just stared, sitting there holding the lower half of Santa’s “face” while the poor guy jumped up, trying to cover his nose and mouth and grab the mask back at the same time. One of the elves jumped over and tried to help but somehow yanked the tubes out of the respirator you always have to wear with those things taped to Santa’s back. The poor old man ran for the nearest store, and I think I heard him cough once or twice before he made it inside.

So that was the year my brother learned the truth about Santa. I doubt the old man really got too sick. He only breathed unfiltered air for a few minutes, and, hey, Santa’s magic, right? At least that’s what we kept trying to tell Iggy as he cried on the way home.

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