‘What do you get a man who says (frequently) that he has pretty much everything he has ever wanted? It is Francis’ fiftieth birthday, so I have to get my husband something very special to mark his half-century (a term I will not use). I had almost given up, when I got an idea, a crazy one, sure, but I believe it will do the trick. It is a gift that he would never think of giving himself. It is something that goes deep into his past, when he was a child riding on the subway to school and was feeling invisible and unimportant. It involved a fantasy that did not fail to make him smile, as he still does when he invariably talks about it after having a few drinks. I just have to figure out how to get the object in question. It shouldn’t be too difficult, and I don’t think that it will cost much. It is decidely bizaare, but then so is the man who I am going to get it for. I can picture Francis with it now - big smile on his face, thinking about how the child he was would have loved to have it, and make use of it on the subway.’
‘I know that Sheila is getting me a special present for my fiftieth birthday, but she is keeping it a deep secret. She has even told me that there is no way that I would ever guess what it is, but that ‘the child within you will certainly appreciate it.’ That covers a lot of territory. I have no idea what it could be. The child within me is hiding well on this one.
Sheila is Frustrated
‘I am so frustrated. Every place I have called, e-mailed or even visited in person has told me that they do not have what I want. Some have hung up on me. And if an e-mail could have a ‘are you crazy’ tone to it, I would have heard it several such over the last few days. I really thought that it would be easier than this’.
Francis walks into the room, and she tries to think of something else, so that her face will not show her frustration.
‘I know that face. Sheila is bothered by something, probably frustrated that she can’t get or achieve something that she wants. If I ask her about it, she will probably say, “Oh it’s nothing at all,” and shake her hands at me as if I am a bad smell that she is trying to wave away I guess I’ll keep my opinion to myself, at least for now. She will eventually let me know.’
Sheila on the Phone
Sheila is on the phone, talking to a neighbour who is in a field related to the gift she wants to give her husband.
“Ah, so you know a place that has one. Thank you so very much. I was beginning to dispair of ever being able to find it. This is great news!”
Sheila looks up the name of the company online, and gives them a call. They do have what she wants. She tells them that she will come over, pay for it, as long as it is okay that they keep it until her husband Francis’ birthday. Then she will surprise them with it. The voice on the other end of the line says, “That certainly will be a big surprise. I hope it is a good and not a disastrous one.”
Francis’ Fiftieth Birthday
Francis woke up early, as he often did as a child on his birthday. Anticipation of the gift that Sheila was going to give him made early morning sleep particularly hard for him to come by. She woke up soon afterwards (he was moving around the bed a lot), and said to him, “I will go pick up your present at eight o’clock. Then I will bring…it home.”
The time from six o’clock to eight passed by slowly for both of them. When Sheila returned with the present, Francis was ‘over the moon’ to use his expression, “I couldn’t be happier. This is beyond thoughtful. This afternoon, around 3:30 I will ride the subway, bringing my gift carefully hidden with me. I know that I won’t be disappointed with the result.”
On the Subway
Riding a subway like this brought back many memories for Francis, many of them unpleasant. He felt in those early years that he was socially invisible, ignored, not worth noticing. No one looked at him. He was just a boy poorly dressed in a shabby jacket and wornout pants. He was a nothing. But not now. It would be different, not just with the decent clothes that he wore. He had his birthday present in a large bag, and he several times reached into the bag and patted her on the head. The train had just stopped at the station he knew was separated by the next one by a long way. The time was right for him to make the move that he had imagined so often some 40 years ago. He reached into the bag and drew his present out. Then he put it on the floor, and yelled out ‘skunk, skunk, bad smell, bad smell!’. He got the reaction he wanted to have all those years ago. Some screamed. Some ran. Some cowered in their seats. Then he reached down and picked up his new pet, softly stroked it and said “Don’t worry. She’s harmless. She has been de-scented.”
He noticed a boy of ten or eleven years old across the aisle whose eyes showed wonder at the little animal. “Come here, and pet her. I think she likes you.” The boy came over. The moment was perfect. “Now you can tell people that you touched a skunk and didn’t get sprayed. They will think that you have some kind of superpower. Don’t tell them that you haven’t.”
After the boy had petted the soft furred creature, and went back to sit down, Francis held her close, telling her, “I will never abuse you like this again.” They got out at the next stop, and caught the train headed back home. He held and comforted her all the way back to their home station. Most of those few who caught sight of her face thought she was a black and white cat. One asked her name, he replied ‘Milli-scent’, a deliberate pun unrealized at by his listener.