A Gift

­­Selwyn didn’t notice when the gift showed up in his hands. His feet were pounding the rubber of a treadmill track and his eyes were watching Ian Kissoff mouth the news from behind the anchor’s desk on a muted TV when the woman beside him in flower-print tights stepped off her elliptical machine. “Lovely gift!” she said.

Only then did Selwyn look down and awaken to the item, which was about the size of a toolbox and wrapped in bright green paper. An intricate weave of black and white ribbons gathered at its top in a flamboyant poof.

The woman lowered herself to touch her toes in a way reminiscent of a bow. “Looks like you’ve been running a 10k with that thing in your arms, keeping at it ever since I got here. Bravo!”

Selwyn’s surprise was great at discovering such a conspicuous item in his possession, but his eagerness to appear in control proved even greater. He ventured what he thought might be a winning line. “I’ve been carrying this thing around all my life.”

“I don’t doubt it,” replied the woman, pulling up from her stretch. She set off across the gym in the direction of the women’s locker room, and Selwyn wondered what, if anything, he could make of her comment.

He reached forward and used the gift to hit the stop button on the treadmill. He felt a powerful urge to nibble at his fingernails, as he sometimes did before going out on a sales call or tucking himself into bed at night. But he would have to put the gift down on the floor to satisfy the impulse, and he knew, for a reason he couldn’t explain, that he wasn’t going to do that. He let go of the urge more easily than thought he’d be able to, and soon enough he left the gym with his gift.

“Lovely gift!” said a man on the street.

“Lovely gift!” said a woman who was out walking her dog the next morning.

“Lovely gift!” said his mostly decent colleagues at the office.

“Lovely gift!” said his somewhat more decent boss.

“Lovely gift!” said the woman he took out to Escudos by the River and who eventually became his wife.

For years people complimented Selwyn on his gift, which he had taken to carrying around with him always. He adored the attention it brought him, and more often than not, fortune seemed to smile on him when he kept it snugly his hands. But he also secretly feared that should he open the box to see what was inside, he would break the spell.

One day, years later, with the scent of honeysuckle in the air, his seven-year-old son Alan looked up to him and asked, “What’s your gift?”

“Oh, nothing much. Just a little secret.” Despite Alan’s protests, Selwyn insisted on leaving the matter at that. But it also became clear to him that a day would arrive when he wouldn’t be able to deny his son a frank answer. He decided to get his act together. He took the gift to his study and locked the door behind him. Slowly, deliberately he untied the ribbons, taking care to note what he was doing so he could weave the threads back together again.

With the paper unwrapped and the flaps of the box open, he found staring up at him an electric yellow sunflower blossom floating on the surface of a thick, red liquid. After a moment’s hesitation, he had to concede that the liquid was blood. The sight left him more than a little unsettled. He started gnawing at his fingernails with a kind of vigor that seemed to make up for lost time, as he had let go of his old habit so long ago. In an escalating mental spasm, he found himself fretting about the now apparently imminent task of always needing to lie to his son about his gift, something he now sensed he didn’t have the wherewithal to understand anyway.

He left the study, locking the gift inside, too jittery to even contemplate tying the ribbons back together again. He went outside to kick the soccer ball around with his son, fallen honeysuckle flowers dotting the ground. He found Alan standing in the shade. When Alan saw his dad approaching, he smiled with the glowing of embers of pride. In his hands he held a box. It was wrapped in lush red paper and ribbons, and he held it forward for Selwyn to admire. “Look what I got!” he said.

© Thad Fowler. All rights reserved.

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