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It's easy to get caught up in the hubbub of the holiday, and not so easy to slow down and put some thought into our giving. We may not be so lucky as to have a push from the "imaginary friend" in Joyce Hertzoff's story, but maybe this little tale itself will inspire you to give from your heart, not just your wallet. Read on and please leave a comment...
When I was young, I had an imaginary friend. Every Spring, as the first tulips colored the flower beds in our backyard with purples, yellows and reds, he arrived to add multihued plaids, stripes and polka dots. He brought a breeze of fresh air to cool my scorched skin in the heat of the Summer. And when Autumn leaves carpeted our yard with their musty scent, he joined me for tea under the bare boughs of the apple tree.
But it was at Christmas that he brought the gifts I cherished. One year, it was a poem, weaving my favorite words, serendipity, abalone, squash and whirligig, into a verse that made sense. Another time, he gave me the image of a fairyland, filled with unicorns, flying fish and stars that sparkled like diamonds.
It was the song he gave me that stayed with me the longest, the melody haunting my dreams long after his visits stopped.
I'm not a child any longer. I share a flat with two other young women who work in the same solicitor's office. We each started as a temp until we'd proven our worth. We'd become friends, companions, much more than coworkers and flatmates.
Three more different women you'd never find: little Emma with her short, golden curls and bright blue eyes, tall and slim Deirdre, hair as black as midnight and eyes like chocolate-covered raisins in her mocha face, and I, pale with brown eyes and hair.
We'd known each other less than a year when December rolled around. It was a busy time of year at the office, preparing for the end of the year.
“Liza, please say you're coming with us to Banfields' sweater sale tonight,” Emma begged during a coffee break three weeks before the holiday.
I shook my head. “Not interested.”
“Why not?” Dierdre's forehead creased. “I love hitting the shops before the holidays. The decorations, the great smells of perfumes on offer, Christmas music filling the air, and especially the bright displays of clothes and shoes.”
I shook my head. “The crowds these days are overwhelming, and somehow the spirit of the holiday is missing in the stores. No, I'll do all of my shopping online.”
Emma blinked. “Where's the Christmas spirit in that?”
“Among other things, they ship for me and I don't have to stand in line at the post office.”
“But don't you love to wrap gifts?” Deirdre's eyes were wide. “That's as much fun as picking out just the right thing for everyone.”
I had fond memories of wrapping presents for my parents and my sister, but I was a kid then.
So, while they were out braving the crowds, I fired up my laptop and surfed the web, finding almost everything I wanted for my loved ones, including a warm robe for Mum, a scarf and gloves for my dad. a gift card for my sister to her favorite jewelry store. It should have been easy to find something for Emma and Deirdre, but nothing caught my eyes. I looked up when I heard someone's key in the door. It would have to wait for another day. I closed the site I was on and prepared myself for their tales of their shopping spree.
The next few days were a flurry of activities at work, completing projects before Christmas. I was too exhausted each evening to even think about any more shopping. Next thing I knew, it was December 23rd. I'd caught Emma and Deirdre whispering a few times, and I guessed they'd gotten me something, a surprise. I had to get them gifts in return, but I was still at a loss.
I was on my way home from work that day, alone because Emma was delivering presents to her family, and Deirdre was having dinner with her Gran. I couldn't believe my eyes when he suddenly appeared, no warning, not even a whooshing sound I'd come to associate with him.
“Hello, Liza.” He didn't look exactly the same, but I knew it was him.
“You've picked a fine time to show up.” I wasn't really as angry as I sounded.
“Actually, I think it's a perfect time.”
“I'm not a child anymore. I don't believe in you.” I pressed my lips into a straight line and stuck out my chin at him.
“Well, that's debatable. I think what you don't believe in is fantasy and fun. You've lost your imagination and with it your enjoyment of life.”
“What's that supposed to mean?”
“You're a realistic young woman, but this is the perfect time of year to let that go.”
I narrowed my eyes, but he said no more. As suddenly as he'd appeared, he was gone. I continued on to the flat, deep in thought. When I opened the door, I realized the place lacked something. Emma and Deirdre had attempted to make it festive with a wreath on the front door and a small artificial tree on the kitchen counter, surrounded by the cards we'd received.
I went back to the street. The shops around the corner were crowded. Their shelves were practically empty. No more decorations to be had, but I remembered what I'd done when I was young. A bag of popcorn, some string, food coloring and candles to start. I gathered my purchases, paid for them, and returned to the flat. By the time I heard a key in the door, I was done.
Deirdre was the first to see my creations and grin. “You've been a busy little elf.”
Emma was also impressed when she arrived home.
Christmas morning, amid my homemade decorations, we opened our gifts. Emma gave me a pink V-necked jumper, soft and warm, and Deirdre a buttery leather purse with separate pockets for cellphone, credit cards, and keys. “For our practical roomie!”
I smiled. My gifts for them weren't so functional, music boxes that played their favorite tunes. In each I'd tucked a poem made up of their favorite words.
Bio: Joyce retired four-and-a- half years ago after a professional career in the fact-based scientific literature industry. With grown children in New York and California, she and her husband moved to the sunny and scenic Southwest where she took up writing fiction. Her wins in the last five NaNoWriMos, two sessions of F2K, and WVU courses and writing groups have helped her produce two fantasy/science fiction series and two romantic mysteries. Joyce is preparing the first novel in her Portals series, A Bite of the Apple, for submission to a publisher in early 2013.