The satire of Christmas is revealed when he watches his mother ransack the secret stash of her already wrapped gifts in the back of his father's closet, vulgar language and shreds of paper flying everywhere, searching for something she can divert to her friend Marcy, who just stopped by with a gift for her. It is imperative that she project the appearance being just as thoughtful and giving. And the clock is ticking -- her remark as she excused herself implied a quick hop upstairs. Clutching a roll of gift wrap, she hisses at Ben to fetch the tape and scissors from the home office. He tiptoes off to obey, rattled by what he just witnessed -- his mother breaking so many codes of Christmas, bastardizing the surprises his father had in store, demystifying his concept of Santa Claus. At age 9, he had begun to waver on the mythology of Christmas but stuck to the ledge. Now, because of his mother's relentless competitive spirit, he lets himself fall into the abyss of disbelief.
Back in the kitchen she gushes over the necklace as she helps Marcy with the clasp. It's so you, she proclaims then dives into a dramatic rant about the shopping errands she must get to before the stores close. And just like that, their previously set plans to play Christmas records, bake cookies and bask next to a warm fire are replaced with a desperate mission to the very last place anyone wants to be on Christmas Eve -- the local mall.
While Ben bundles up and mutters his reservations about this plan, his mother rewraps with vampire speed the desecrated gifts -- perfume, cashmere sweaters, expensive shoes, a luxurious robe -- and crams them back into hiding. She meets him at the front door overdressed in a cocktail party gown and knee high boots. Her bright red lipstick is crooked. Ben chooses not to tell her.
Somehow his mother lucks out and vultures a prime parking spot. The mall, with throngs of sour faced people crashing into each other like angry atoms, still has the Santa station in the atrium. The absurdity of this smacks Ben in the face like a hard packed snowball. Shouldn't Santa be the North Pole finalizing his flight path and loading the sleigh? How can he be here and still have time to do his thing tonight? Ben wants answers and takes advantage of his mother's frantic preoccupation with replacing that necklace to convince her to let him get in line for a quick chat with the old man. She plants him in line, greases his palm with a 20 then shuffles off to Saks Fifth Avenue without looking back.
The elves are efficient tonight. Each kid in front of Ben is prepped to employ brevity with their last minute requests for Santa since he has to get to work soon. When he reaches Santa's lap he wastes no time telling the story about his mother and the gifts and how he came to be here today. Santa looks over Ben's shoulder to an elf who shrugs and taps on his wrist watch.
I know you're not real. Ben can't hold eye contact when he speaks.
Ho, ho -- I sure feel real. Santa pinches his arm and grins.
I mean, I know you're not really Santa. Ben whispers, careful not to alarm the younger kids waiting impatiently. And that's okay -- it's our secret. But I need to know. Is Santa real?
Santa offers a poker face that comes across like constipation then draws Ben closer. Santa is anyone who delivers joy and hope to people they love, and to some people they don't even know. He strokes his beard for effect and continues. Santa is very real, Ben.
Ben's eyes ignite and his mouth gapes. Behind Santa the elf smiles and flutters his hands to move him along. He smiles and nods at Santa and floats away in the direction of Saks. A hand on his shoulder snaps him from the warm and fuzzy trance -- one of Santa's elves. Immediately Ben realizes that he failed to pay for the session and reaches into his pocket for the crumpled bill.
The elf waves him off and asks, Do you want to see Santa's sleigh on the roof?
Ben looks at the entrance to Saks, decides there is time and takes the elf's hand. Together they blend into the crowd and head toward the parking structure.
Is it a real sleigh or just a prop? Ben asks but does not get an answer. The elf seems to be in a hurry, and Ben assumes this is a clandestine mission, that kids are not allowed to see the sleigh, so he hustles along.
In the parking garage, Ben thinks it odd they do not head to the elevator and notices the elf's grip on his hand has tightened. He tries to pull his hand away but the elf, now with a hateful look on his face, yanks him along.
Stop, Ben cries. I want my mom.
I want my mom, I want my mom. The elf mocks him and jerks his arm hard.
They reach the far corner of the lot where a grey van is parked. The side door slides open as they approach. Out steps a short man dressed in black smoking a cigarette. Ben goes numb, dragging his feet on the ground to slow the progress. The elf bends to gather Ben from the pavement and catches a shiny black boot in his teeth. He immediately goes limp and crashes to the ground where his head bounces and rests. Ben pulls himself up and sees a blur of red advancing toward the van. Santa makes quick work of the smoking man, dropping him to the ground with one punch then delivering a knockout boot to the head. Ben watches in awe as Santa retrieves a pack of cigarettes from the unconscious man's jacket and lights one.
In the security office, Santa gives Ben's mother a terse lecture about leaving her kid unattended and tells her that he would arrest her if it were not Christmas Eve. She wails and grips Ben too tightly. Santa is an undercover cop. He pulls Ben aside and tells him that he may be the key to busting a regional kidnapping ring. It's all too much for Ben to process, especially since he's still wearing the Santa Claus costume, so Ben just nods.
When Santa asks if he has any questions Ben pulls away from his mother, leans in and whispers: Do you still believe what you said to me about Santa?
Santa removes the red hat and fake beard and hands them to Ben. Tonight these belong to you, kid.