Three Gifts

Submitted by Deborah Mercer to Contest #19 in response to: Write a short story about someone searching for the perfect gift for their partner.... view prompt


Dominic would love that, thought Anita, looking at the window display. He’s always saying he wishes he could find just the “right” case for his new phone. The funny thing was, Dominic, who had been her significant other since they met at a friend’s wedding in June, wasn’t a remotely fussy or picky man. If they were eating out he always said, “You choose,” and was just as happy with KFC as a smart little restaurant serving fusion food. He wasn’t scruffy, but made no secret about getting his clothes from the man’s range at Primark and thinking that while it did him no harm (he was fond of the phrase “I know it does me no harm”) he couldn’t understand why anyone was fixated on designer labels. “And that’s not being sexist,” he said, “Men can be worse than women, trust me!” Well, I can forget about looking for a Hermes handbag on Christmas morning then, thought Anita. Not that she really wanted one, but she undeniably did need a new handbag. Still, right now she was thinking about her gift to Dominic. He did love that phone! He didn’t use it inconsiderately and always had time for face to face proper conversations, but it was his pride and joy, and his only regret was that he hadn’t managed to find the right case for it. 

     Anita didn’t want to use the word “boring” about Dom ever, in any context, and loyally bridled if anyone else did, but perhaps he came the nearest to it when he was pontificating – er, expressing his opinion! – on the matter of the ideal phone case. It had to be a dark colour, but not black. Nothing fancy, but not plain either, some little motif on it would be ideal. And leather. It had to be leather. In fact, she only needed to look at the case from his old phone, but that didn’t fit his new one. He still kept it, though he had long since given the phone itself to charity. “But I doubt I’ll find one,” he sighed, “A mate gave it me as a present after he’d been on holiday to Australia.”

     Well, plainly, going to Australia in pursuit of a phone case was not one of the options. But Anita told herself it could not be coincidence that just as she stood by that shop on the high street a couple went past who were speaking in what was undeniably an Australian accent!

     She did a double take. It was leather, maroon, and had a little motif of a golf club on it (why did men who never played golf or even watch it much on the TV like golf-related motifs on their accessories?) very similar to the one on his old case. And also, though she generally didn’t have especially good spatial awareness, she somehow just knew it was the right size!

     The only trouble was, what would it cost? It was the kind of shop that didn’t put prices on items in the window. Anita wondered if any shop ever had had a sign saying “If you need to ask the price you can’t afford it” or whether it was just apocryphal, but some shops made no secret of the fact that it was their philosophy! And if a shop also sold Rolex watches (which it did) then it was hardly likely to offer bargain prices. 

     She steeled herself and went in, noticing they also sold lighters, though more discreetly displayed. She supposed that in a way, with fewer people smoking, the mobile phone case was almost the successor of the cigarette lighter or cigarette case. She had half-expected someone looking like a refugee from a costume drama about a Victorian business and managing to be obsequious and supercilious at the same time. But instead of the intimidating and ingratiating man of indiscriminate age in a black suit, there was a smiley, motherly woman in a Fair Isle sweater behind the counter. “I was looking at the phone case – the maroon one with the golf club on it,” she said.

     “You have an eye for quality. But you need to touch it to fully appreciate it – absolutely no obligation!” Anita only just stopped herself asking how she knew she wouldn’t decamp with it. Pleasant as the woman was, she somehow suspected she would be either stern, or hurt, or both, at such flippant remarks.

     Anita had worked in a shop herself, and knew what she called a “coaxer” when she heard one. But in this instance, she had to admit, the woman was right. She did need to touch it to fully appreciate it. Though she didn’t object to leather on moral grounds (she wasn’t a vegetarian and wasn’t going to be a hypocrite) she had sometimes thought it was over-rated. But now she understood why people waxed lyrical about it. This leather was soft and strong at the same time, and incredibly tactile. There was a velvet lining to protect his pride and joy, and even the little silver golf club (she didn’t doubt it was real silver) felt just – well, right! And just the right size – a goldilocks motif, she thought, remembering that phrase about inhabitable planets. “One of our premium gentlemen’s range,” the smiley woman said, “though no reason ladies can’t use it too. I like a plain phone case myself.” Anita’s phone was currently ensconced in a pink and white stripy case with a picture of a cat on it, so she hoped it wouldn’t ring while she was in the shop.

     “No – it’s for Dominic – I mean, it would be for Dominic,” she amended, hastily. “We’ve been together since June.”

     “Your first Christmas together, then,” she managed to look indulgent without looking silly. “That’s always something special.”

     Though of course, Anita had no intention of decamping without paying for it, she was still reluctant to put it down. It really did feel lovely. Giving it to Dominic would be another matter. She was already imagining his face on Christmas morning. But there was still the little matter ….. the smiley woman was following her train of thought. “I expect you’re wondering about the price,” she said, “Well, no point to pretending otherwise, something like this doesn’t come cheap. It’s £100.” It was more, though maybe not that much more, than Anita had expected. She had always thought the £99.99 business (recently mysteriously almost supplanted by £99.98) was a bit silly and gave the shop credit for not engaging in it. She wouldn’t have been deceived by thinking it was under £100 – would she?

     She suspected that though the shop would have had a public urinal in it before it had one of those signs about not asking for credit as a refusal often offends that asking for it would only end in entirely futile embarrassment. 

     “I expect you want to think it over.” She was thinking it over. She could afford it – just. She’d had some overtime lately and her car had passed its MOT, thank Goodness. She might have to cut back on other presents, but people shouldn’t tell her it was the thought that counts if they didn’t mean it. And unless she saw a handbag she liked on the market on Monday that would have to wait, too. 

     Like many people who aren’t generally impulsive, Anita had rare moments when she went to the other extreme. “I’ll take it,” she said.

     The smiley woman offered to gift wrap it for her – all included in the price. Anita hesitated. There was something rather impersonal and, well, cowardly about having the shop wrap your presents for you. But she was, to put it mildly, not one of life’s expert wrappers, and that gold foil wrapping paper she could see looked extremely classy. It didn’t have that brassy sheen that cheap foil wrapping paper had. “Yes please,” she said. 

     She wasn’t surprised that the Smiley Woman was an expert wrapper. She added a subtle little maroon ribbon – that exactly matched the colour of the phone case – and said, “Here’s the gift card – you’ll want to write your own message, of course!”

     Anita had hoped it would be a White Christmas, but the forecast wasn’t optimistic, and was proven right. Christmas day dawned grey, drizzly, and unseasonably warm. But it didn’t really matter that much. Family on both sides had been gratifyingly tactful and understanding about them wanting to have at least some time to themselves on their first Christmas together. Neither of them liked turkey, so they weren’t going to have it. Their Christmas lunch would be salmon with baby new potatoes and asparagus spears. But there were things to do before lunch! 

     After thinking things over, Anita had written, simply, on the old gold and maroon gift card, “Hope this fits the bill! You certainly do for me! Love ever, Anita xx”

     Does any brief time span ever seem as long as when you’re wondering if something will turn out as it should, and as you’ve played over in your mind hundreds of times?

     That time span ended when Dominic wrapped his arms around her, muttering, “It’s perfect, sweetheart.”

     “I’m afraid this isn’t nearly as good,” he said, bringing out his own present, “And certainly not wrapped as beautifully as you have,” (I’ll fess up later, thought Anita, no point to spoiling the moment over something so trivial!) “Though in my defence, it was an awkward shape.” He was right, and Anita knew at once what it was. A handbag! She chuckled as in her mind the words came out like Edith Evans in The Importance of Being Earnest. But it was a lovely handbag. True, not quite a Hermes, but she’d never really wanted one, anyway. It was almost the same colour as the phone case, and was also just the right size. 

     Unlike the famed bag found on Worthing Station, there was no baby in it, of course, but Anita realised there was something in it. She smiled – a book! Dominic knew she always had a book in her handbag.

     “I remember your saying about that story you always loved, but you’d mislaid your book with it in” he said. “I bent the ear of the lady in the Oxfam book shop, and she didn’t let me down!”

     She didn’t need to see the title to know what it was. The Gift of the Magi, and other Stories.

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