by Char 🌈
Short story based off of a writing prompt about receiving terrible gifts
| Leah Wallace shifted the heavy box in her hands, running her lithe fingers along the smooth snowflake wrapping paper. Her family sat around her, each with their own gift. Their family had adopted a tradition of Secret Santa for the holidays after Leah and her two sisters reached adulthood. What could this possibly be? It was bulky and so heavy that even her father had a hard time carrying it over to her from beneath the Christmas tree.
This wasn’t a day Leah exactly looked forward to each year, the way most people do. Even living within ten miles of her parents and sisters, she only saw them every few months for a quick dinner. She couldn't relate to them at all, about anything, which was something that plagued her childhood. Her sisters were a year apart while she was four years behind the youngest one. They didn’t really need her to hang out with as kids. Her parents had begin taking expensive trips and talking about what wines paired with what cheeses since she left home for college. They were finally free, both physically and financially.
Across the room, Leah’s sisters, Nicole and Alison whispered things to each other that were clearly hysterical. They aren’t laughing at you, Leah attempted to convince herself. She had decided she was lucky to draw her dad for recipient this year. What could she possibly get Nicole and Alison that they couldn’t already get themselves? She didn’t even know enough about them to attempt. Their mother had made a rule after last year that gifts could not be gift cards or certificates of any sort. They had to come from the heart. Leah figured a book about World War II was perfect for her history buff of a father.
“Is everyone ready to open their presents?” Mrs. Wallace asked in her motherly, overexcited voice.
Another rule was that no boyfriends were allowed for dinner, probably because Nicole and Alison were in and out of relationships every month. Leah just wanted to hurry up and get this over with so she could go join her boyfriend at his parents’ house for dinner. “Yup, ready,” she replied, starting to tear into the wrapping paper.
As if on cue, everyone else opened their presents and held them up with a joy that Leah couldn’t even be bothered to try to match. Her present was a big brown box that had been duct taped in every possible direction. She searched around for a pair of scissors or a knife while everyone compared their gifts as though she wasn’t there at all.
Mom had gotten a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle that she would pore over for the next few weeks. Dad flipped through his book, looking at the pictures and trying to show everyone the medical supplies they were using during the war. Nicole got a matching pair of fuzzy pink slippers and a terrycloth bathrobe, undoubtedly a gift from Mom or, at the very least, a gift from Dad bought by Mom. Alison was in awe of a makeup set and a pair of emerald earrings. That had to be bought by Nicole; she was the only one who insisted on going over budget every year.
All at once, the family looked up at Leah with their expecting eyes and noticed that she hadn’t even gotten her gift open yet. “Oh, honey! Let me get you a pair of scissors,” her mother offered, rushing toward the kitchen while Leah’s father walked over to her with a hunting knife.
“Oh, Leah, I didn’t know you were still trying to open yours,” Alison said, in her natural condescendingly sympathetic way.
With her father’s help, Leah got her box open and pulled out another smaller box, which luckily did not require a knife. She opened that box to find another box, and looked up exasperated at the situation while her mother, who was now back from the kitchen, laughed loudly in the doorway. “How clever!” she exclaimed. There were two more boxes like a Matryoshka doll.
Finally she got to the actual gift, a heavy black elephant sculpture. “That was made by a child street vender in Marrakech, Morocco,” Alison quipped before Leah even really got a look at it.
“Oh, how wonderful! How was your trip to Morocco anyway? You went with Steve right, that pharmaceutical rep? Oh, I bet it was beautiful. You know, your father and I have been wanting to vacation there; we just haven’t gotten our fill of Europe yet!” Mrs. Wallace spoke using her hands when she was excited, and right now, they were flailing about in front of her.
“An elephant? I don’t even like elephants,” Leah noted, turning the heavy beast over in her hands. It wasn’t even well crafted. “It’s missing a foot.”
“You guys would just love Steve. He’s such a sweetheart. You’ll have to meet him. Oh, Morocco is amazing. Please do go there. I learned so much.”
“Is Steve the one that’s balding?” Nicole asked, modeling her robe for the room.
“I mean, I could see if it was a cat. I like cats…”
“What? No, that was Ethan. He turned out to be a real creep. You know he wanted me to pay half on everything after our first day?” Alison looked completely bewildered.
“I don’t think it will even stand up straight with only three legs. I have no idea where I’ll put it.”
“See, now, that’s not right,” Mr. Wallace started in. “When your mother and I were dating, I paid for everything. I still do!”
The whole room laughed a good hearty laugh. “See, men these days just don’t have the common decency the way they were when you guys were young,” Nicole pointed out.
“I guess I could put it on the kitchen counter. I mean, on its side or something. I don’t know.”
“I’m just happy that all of our girls have a good head on their shoulders. You know when you’re getting in with the wrong kind of guy and you get out. That’s the smart thing to do,” Mrs. Wallace stated, admiring Nicole and Alison with a proud beaming smile.
The attention shifted again, as though Leah had just entered the room. “So, do you just love your gift?” Alison asked, peering at her sister from the love seat with Nicole.
“Yup. I do. It’s special.”
“I knew you’d love it!” the oblivious girl responded as the equally oblivious parents peered on, proud as could be of their close-knit family.