The Present

She handed it to me in a brown paper bag. It was one of those bags you get from Chelsea delis where you’re served by a handsome man named Pierre or John-Luc while being made to feel inferior about your George at Asda coat which had seemed quite stylish and had certainly not looked like it had come from George at Asda when you’d bought it.

It led me to wonder how she’d been spending her money since she lost her job. Frivolously it seemed. She handed it to me and let out an almighty sigh, like whatever was in the bag was a troublesome child she was finally through with, or because she was breaking wind. I couldn’t tell, but hoped it was neither of these and took the bag from her reluctantly. It was hard not to, she had thrust it painfully into my chest.

Don’t open it yet, she ordered, and when she said this she looked me straight in the eye. Wait til you get home and you’ll see what I mean.

I carried it around all week. I’d had presents from her before and had often been disappointed. An electric carving knife on my 30th had been a particularly low point, leading to weeks of self-doubt and long, lonely hours spent in front of the mirror. I wasn’t sure I could handle more disappointment in my life, so I was putting off the moment of revelation, protecting my oft-let down heart. It sat at the bottom of my handbag, not far from my heart logistically, the paper bag creasing with each journey I made. If I took out my purse in a shop, or reached in for a pen, there it lay, staring up at me, its eyes two dark greasy spots on its side, its mouth a smeared ugly fold.

She called me every night that week, (I was sure she called in the daytime too but unlike her I still had a job) and the whiskers from her upper lip caressed the mouthpiece of the instrument in delicate strokes as she spoke. She’d forgotten how to speak normally on the phone – she had recently divorced and everything had become louder since, the result of years of keeping quiet, I suspected – and shouted everything which made her sound more aggressive than I think she intended.

Why hadn’t I opened it? She wanted to know. I didn’t know, but I didn’t tell her this. I told her I’d been busy, my painting and decorating website had taken off and it had plain slipped my mind. I promised to open it the following day and she seemed appeased by this. OK, well don’t you forget. You’ve got a big surprise waiting for you! I nodded in agreement, though she couldn’t see this over the phone and after a long silence she hung up.

It was late on a Saturday afternoon when I finally opened it. The bag was beginning to disintegrate in my handbag and I couldn’t bear the thought of it revealing itself to me uninvited; I needed to take charge, show the thing who was boss. This was not an easy thing to do with my small frame and weak constitution; I was not normally the boss, even of inanimate objects.

Slowly I unravelled the string that tied the top of the brown paper bag, breathing deeply so as to calm my trembling heart. I peeled back the paper, closing my eyes in fear, already regretting my decision to take control of my life; who needed control in their life anyway? It was an overvalued commodity, I’d heard it on Oprah. A wave of nausea passed through me as I opened my eyes.

In front of me, looking me straight in the face, was a small white teddy bear. Well, I assume it had at one time been white, but this was somewhat distorted by the brown goo that had spread over its tiny, soft body like stale blood, presumably from the chocolate milk that had leaked in my handbag a few days before. On its bottom was a red heart and I could just make out the words in sewn italics which said: ‘You’ll always have me, friend!’

I didn’t need this crap in my life. I picked it up by its tiny, patronising, bear-hand and threw it in one swift motion into the bin. Fuck you Oprah, fuck you.

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