Waiting in Line for a Picture With Santa, Late on Christmas Eve

by Diane D. Gillette


A damp warmth spreads under my hand as Lila’s diaper gives out. The dark stain conquers the red and green striped tights of the elf outfit my mother-in-law Geraldine gifted us: a contract for peace mere months after Lila’s arrival into this world. One I’ve ignored for too long.

We’re almost there. Only three more families to go. The woman in front of me curls her nose before pressing her loosely curled fist to her face and looking around for the offending smell. I want to put Lila back in her stroller, make my apologies, and escape. But tomorrow will be too late for pictures with an authentic department store Santa. I must hold out. I reach one-handed into the diaper bag for a blanket to wrap Lila in. She coos and grips a corner of the blanket and tries to stuff her whole fist in her mouth. She seems dazzled by the flashing lights and holiday music that has taken over the mall.

The teenager dressed as a sexy Mrs. Claus has a manic smile that doesn’t waver for one second as a group of man-boys hoot in her direction. Santa looks ready for a stiff drink. I consider inviting him to meet me at a bar after. Surely his day must’ve been harder than mine. I imagine trying to explain to my husband Michael why getting a picture with Santa took so long. I then imagine telling him if he really wanted to know, he should have been with me instead of working on Christmas Eve—work that was more than likely drinks with clients, possibly pretty, unattached ones. Both scenarios end in a fight with Geraldine butting in—because somehow she’s always there—and telling me how ungrateful I am for everything Michael has worked so hard to provide for me and Lila.

I sniff the top of Lila’s head. Even the soiled diaper can’t hide the way she reminds me of ginger cookies and icing. I think that maybe it’s not so bad. Maybe if I hold her and just stand next to Santa, I won’t have to duck out of line and change her into the back-up outfit that was not hand-picked by my mother-in-law. I convince myself that maybe I won’t have to give up my spot, even as I hear the criticisms Geraldine will surely use to slice apart any picture I present where Lila is not firmly on Santa’s lap. I think if Michael was here, he could have, at the very least, served as a warm body to save our spot.

I consider pretending nothing is wrong. Just marching up when it’s my turn and plopping Lila onto Santa’s lap without making direct eye contact. I could be that person who ruins it for everyone else. It’d be easier than coming home without Santa pictures. I sigh, heavy with the certainty that this moment of hell is eternal.

I remember two Christmases ago when I went to Mexico alone and drank on the beach. I swam with dolphins. I decided that when I got back home, I’d make Micheal finally leave his wife. That way, I’d finally have everything I’d ever wanted. Michael was younger than my previous conquests. More successful. Sexier. Better in bed. While I lay on that beach sipping my margarita, I imagined how much better it would be to be his wife instead of his mistress.

Lila’s face is flushing and her nose is doing that little crinkle that means she’s about to scream bloody murder. I close my eyes and remember the dolphins.


Diane D. Gillette lives, writes, and teaches in Chicago. Her work has appeared in over 60 literary venues including the Saturday Evening Post, Blackbird, Hobart, and the Maine Review. She’s a founding member of the Chicago Literary Writers. You can find more of her published work at www.digillette.com.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Waiting in Line for a Picture With Santa, Late on Christmas Eve”?

“Late on Christmas Eve” was born in a holiday-themed flash fiction workshop I took as a birthday gift to myself last December. The prompt was to write a story about a character trying to do a typical holiday activity while experiencing some kind of conflict. The mall during the holidays always feels ripe with conflict, especially on Christmas Eve, so naturally, I took my character to the mall to meet Santa! All I knew when I started was that the diaper was going to give out. The narrator revealed more and more about herself and her situation as the story unfolded, and I enjoyed teasing that out through later drafts.


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