Twelve-year-old Gayle Middleton set a thin volume, Gift of the Magi, on the librarian’s returns counter.
Gayle had read O. Henry’s tale for Mother, whose listless eyes brightened when the storybook husband secretly sold his watch to buy his wife a hair ornament. And she, all the while, was peddling her hair to purchase a watch fob for him—such selfless love.
It was a joy to get such books for free at the library, provided you brought them back on time. Gayle had no money to spare, nothing to waste on tardiness. Her books were never overdue, even now when she had more responsibility with Mother ill.
Gayle wished she had something to sell to give Mother a cheery Christmas. If she could pick out the Bethlehem star in the sky, she’d wish on it.
A soft voice drew Gayle from her reverie. ‘On time as always.’ It was Mrs. Lawrence, the village librarian and mother’s friend, who was like a plain brown wood thrush. And like a wood thrush, she went unnoticed until her voice sang out in beautiful music. ‘I’ve had requests for it, and it’s nice to know I can always count on you,’ she said in a tone Gayle had grown to love.
Mrs. Lawrence pointed to a new fountain pen in the glass display case beside the poster for the school story contest. ‘This award is for the winning writer when the judge picks on Christmas Eve. With your gift of storytelling, it could be you. I hope so.’
‘Thank you.’ Gayle, a grade eight student, appreciated the sentiment. She’d entered a story called The Voice with no expectations, as high school students could also enter. But a fountain pen, how wonderful not to have soiled fingers from the inkpot.
Gayle’s eyes travelled past Mrs. Lawrence to a large display of glossy-coloured baking magazines.
‘I’ll drop by for a visit with your mother. I hope she’s up and about soon.’
‘She’ll look forward to that.’ Mother would enjoy the company but out of bed soon—doubtful.
‘Don’t they look delicious?’ Mrs. Lawrence said, turning to the arrangement that had drawn Gayle’s attention. ‘I thought people might need to make their own treats since the bakery closed.’ She held up a baking journal. ‘Easy Peasy Christmas Cookie Recipes’ blazed in gold on the cover.
‘I’m sure you could make some of these.’ Mrs. Lawrence handed the magazine to Gayle.
That was it! Something to sell. Gayle’s mind raced. She could bake some cookies with ingredients already in the cupboards. Buy more fixings with the profits. Repeat as often as possible from now to the holidays.
Gayle practically skipped out of the library, the magazine tucked in her bookbag, dreaming of Christmas.
The Middleton house became a makeshift bakeshop. Gayle sold what she had prepared. Word of mouth spread throughout the village, and her gingerbread men practically walked away on their own.
Gayle worried about Mother’s pale cheeks and bought meaty soup bones to simmer a hearty broth. Mother sat upright in bed and said between sips, ‘What a feast, my darling.’
Broth a feast? Gayle smiled at the thought of the Christmas celebration she was planning. She had enough for a small turkey and a gift, perhaps.
Her enterprise put Gayle in a festive mood. She brought evergreen branches from the yard and arranged them with ornaments around the mantle. Their fragrance filled the air with holiday cheer.
On mother’s bedside table, Gayle nestled the nativity scene. Her eyes often settled on the wise men in their colourful turbans.
Christmas Eve Day, Gayle answered a knock on the door. Mrs. Lawrence said, entering, ‘Smells delightful. You did save some for me?’
‘There’s a box on the counter.’ Gayle put her hand up as Mrs. Lawrence started digging in her purse. ‘They’re a Christmas Present.’
‘How generous.’ Mrs. Lawrence placed coins on the table. ‘For ingredients.’ She clasped Gayle’s hand and pressed an embossed bookmark into her palm. ‘For the runner-up. If I were judge, it would be the pen, but I love your smudged fingertips signalling a new story.’
Gayle ran her fingers over the raised Nativity scene on the slim but thick gold marker and smiled. ‘I’ll be inky soon.’
‘Is that you, Lydia?’ Mother called.
Mrs. Lawrence made her way to Mother’s room, and Gayle served the two women tea there. She turned the chipped creamer to the back of the tray to hide the flaw as best she could.
With Mother engaged, Gayle took this time as an opportunity to sneak out to buy groceries for Christmas, leaving the two women visiting. Happily walking along the sidewalk swinging her arms, she sang We Three Kings.
That night, after Gayle stowed her shopping away in the larder, unaccustomed to such wealth, she stood smiling, beholding the splendour of all the plenty. Her eyes twinkled as she wrapped a tiny rose-coloured cream pitcher in tissue, thinking of hairclips and watch fobs. No worry about the teapot and sugar bowl; they were home on the shelf, not sold.
Later she sat with her mother and read the nativity story. She thought of the Magi’s gift.
O. Henry’s ‘Gift of the Magi’ mirrored the Bethlehem Magi. Give your all, find love, and find salvation.
True wealth is love. In giving, we receive.
Christmas morning, she prepared her gift of a meal. It roasted, filling the whole house with the savoury odour of turkey and sage stuffing.
Setting the table, Gayle heard a rustling. Mother was standing in her bedroom doorway.
‘You’re up!’ Gayle hastened to her side.
Mother’s eyes shone as she passed a tiny package to Gayle. Through the tissue, Gayle felt ink nibs, the lovely long ones.
Standing arm in arm, they turned to gaze at the nativity scene, and the spirit of Christmas enfolded them in its majestic mantle of love.
About the author
Mary Daurio is a grandmother who likes to fiddle with words when she isn’t playing her flute, walking the dog or spending time with family and friends. Her work has appeared in print and online, and she was surprised a friend found one of her stories by googling Mary’s name.
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