Would You Be Mad
if I Got Store Credit Instead

by Christine Aucoin

“Do you like it?” I ask as if there’s still a tongue in my mouth. There isn’t; it’s in the box she’s holding. I swaddled it in green tissue paper. She likes green.

What comes out is “Ahh ahh ahhh ahh?” She glances at me from her spot beside the tree. The string lights reflect a rainbow in the snowbanks of her eyes. Love surges in the hole where my heart unfortunately must stay.

“Wow,” she says, tipping the box into her palm. “It’s, uh. Wow!”

She doesn’t like it. Some red has seeped through the green paper—messy, unattractive—I should’ve dried it better, assembled it tighter, but gift-wrapping a hell of a challenge without thumbs. She has to understand.

“Thank you, darling,” she says, and I relax a little. Opened presents span the vast expanse of the floor. Teeth, nails, fingers. Rookie stuff. As if she wants another pinkie! None of her other suitors pay attention. They don’t have the common sense to notice what she already has.

I do. I notice everything. The way she’s hung the string of earlobes around the back of the tree, nearly out of sight; the way an arm is proudly stuck on top, fingers splayed like a five-pointed star. It’s not so much the gift as the thought behind it. She wants something you’ll miss.

“I figured since you didn’t have one,” I say. A soup of consonant-less sounds dribble out.

She looks at me again. Bright as the sun screaming off fresh-fallen snow. My eye waters.

“It’s great,” she says. “Really. Thank you. I’ll see you next year.”

But there’s nothing left for next year. If I give any more there’ll barely be enough to let me qualify as the subject of a sentence. “If you just told me,” I say, “I know it ruins the surprise, but if you just told me what you want. Whatever you want. Say the word. Get a knife. I’ll bring my own. Please, my love—what would be enough? When can we set a date?”

The severed root of my tongue flaps uselessly, but I think she understands. She definitely understands the velvet ring box balanced in my outstretched hands.

A deep sigh, visible in the frosty air. It looks like steam ribboning off hot chocolate. “When I marry,” she says, “I want someone who I can really talk to, you know? Someone who can talk back.”

There’s a knock at the door; the next suitor, smoothing down her hair and clutching a dripping parcel of newspaper. I move to snatch my gift back, but it’s impossible to find among her other presents—subsumed by the piles of tinsel and meat.

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