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I beg your pardon? The aged man had just walked in on their conversation.

Oh, we are going through the criteria for a good Santa Claus. The mall director peered at the man, sizing him up. You, sir. Do you laugh, sir?

The man sighed heavily. He had Santa's description in its entirety. Large, jolly looking, white beard and hair, even the pipe.

It's been known to happen on occasion. A wry grin creeped across his lips.

Perfect. You're hired! The director was happy, as she had much better things to do than waste her day on this.

But what if I don't...? He never got to finish the sentence. What if he didn't have the time? What if he didn't like children? What if he didn't believe in Santa Claus? These things don't matter to commercial buildings. They had a believable looking Santa Claus. All they needed was a camera, a "helper" and a fee of five dollars a picture, and they had some extra revenue. Children didn't matter so much as the money their parents carried did.

...and occasional belly laughs. Indeed. Disgruntled, the man set about the task of pretending to care about the hopeful lists of children being whispered, screamed, begged into his ear. It was hard to laugh when his beard was tugged and his shins were kicked and the babies shrieked in terror. It was hard to laugh when the suit started to cling to his sweaty self. It was hard to laugh at the sad eyes of parents who couldn't possibly afford whatever the child had just dictated in their list.

It was hard to laugh when he knew he was dying. When he knew this was the last Christmas he would ever see.

But laugh, he did. And smile, he did. For the children. It was always for the children, wasn't it? Poor, brave Santa.

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