Thursday, 14 December 2017

The Gift

'I need to buy rhinestones,' my wife told me. 'I'm going to glue them to the pumpkin.' It was the most profoundly Texan thing I'd ever heard her say. She was decorating a pumpkin for Halloween. She'd painted it black with a grinning muertito skull on one side, embellished with floral patterns; and now she was going to cover it in rhinestones.

She bought a large bag from Michaels, our local arts and crafts superstore. It was a big pumpkin but she still ended up with some rhinestones left over, so she glued those to the novelty wooden plaque which Mary had given us.

Mary is my dad's partner. She would have been his third wife but he didn't want to remarry after the second one passed away. He didn't seem to think it would be appropriate. Mary means well.

In 2009, I packed in my Royal Mail job in London and moved back to Coventry. The plan was that I would stay at my mother's house, generate some money by selling off my accumulated crap on eBay, and apply for the fiancé visa which would allow me to move to America and marry Bess.

Mary was initially sceptical. 'Never mind, lovey,' she told me, as though it had already all gone tits up. 'You can always move back here if it doesn't work out in America, and I think you'll find Coventry has a lot to offer.'

Nevertheless, I stayed at my mother's house, generated some money by selling off my accumulated crap on eBay, applied for and was granted a fiancé visa, following which I moved to America and married Bess.

Mary was very happy for me, once it seemed as though it had worked out after all, despite everything. She seemed to like the sound of Bess, whom I had described as having blue eyes, reddish hair, and a generous build, because I don't believe in the ideal female figure, and if I did it wouldn't be a lettuce-scoffing stick insect.

'They're very jolly, aren't they?' Mary observed thoughtfully.

'Yes,' I said, scarcely able to believe my ears, what with it being the twenty-first century. I suppose if she had been black, Bess would have been praised for her natural sense of rhythm.

'Here,' Mary said. 'I bought this for you.'

She'd been shopping at Morrisons and had apparently called in at some sort of retailer of nick-nacks on the way home. She gave me a heart-shaped piece of wood painted white and embellished with the words Love laughter & happily ever after. I wasn't sure if it was missing a comma and couldn't tell whether the words represented a list or an instruction, although both readings probably amounted to the same thing. There was a piece of string at the back by which I would be able to hang it in my home in America, now that it had all worked out, despite everything.

'Thanks,' I said.

Mary went back into the kitchen and my dad leaned across to stage whisper, 'Listen - if that doesn't make it into your luggage when you fly back, I understand.' He glanced towards the kitchen. 'You know she means well.'

'Yes,' I said, relieved to discover that my father and I were on the same page of this particular book.

A few years earlier one of Bess's friends gave us a thematically similar piece of wood for Christmas. It resembled a wooden baton, about a foot in length, painted black with always kiss me goodnight printed along its length. I suppose the point is that you leave it on top of something as a reminder. If left on top of something near a doorway or entrance it could perhaps also be used to strike an intruder. I don't know why such a thing would need to exist. Were our marriage headed down the toilet, advice printed on a piece of timber wouldn't make much difference one way or the other; and because our marriage is going pretty darn well, despite everything, we don't really require physical restatement of the fact.

Love laughter & happily ever after was hung from the dimmer switch in the front room because I didn't know what else to do with it. I would have felt bad excluding it from my luggage because, as my dad pointed out, it was meant well; and I would have felt awkward just chucking it to the back of some cupboard for the same reason.

'Gross,' my wife commented, trying not to laugh.

'I know,' I said, and we left it there because it was sort of funny, and it saved us having to think ill of those who give freely despite having no taste, because that would in turn lead us to think ill of ourselves, ungrateful pair of snarky cunts that we are.

The dimmer switch in the front room connects to an annoying chandelier type affair of five lights, a massive lump of swinging metal with which I frequently brain myself when doing anything on that side of the room. I don't even know why we have a dimmer switch. Pissing about with the voltage seems to dramatically shorten the life of the bulbs, and at one point we seemed to be replacing one of them every couple of weeks. Furthermore, it's not like there's ever anything to be gained from having the lights low. We don't indulge in romantic dinners because we're not fucking teenagers and we usually watch Wheel of Fortune whilst eating from folding tray-tables at the other end of the living room; and for all its fine qualities, Wheel of Fortune is seldom arousing.

Then a month ago, the dimmer switch began to emit a worrying electrical fizzing sound, so we stopped using it. Bess looked at the cost of getting an electrician out.

'Fuck it,' I suggested. 'Let's do it ourselves. How hard can it be?'

We watched a couple of YouTube videos, bought a multimeter and a new light switch - the regular on/off kind, not a dimmer - and I made the repair. It took about ten minutes and the replacement switch cost something like sixty cents.

Love laughter & happily ever after lost its home and went to live in the garage, because otherwise it would have fallen to the floor whenever we turned off the lights in the front room. Then Bess rescued it and hung it somewhere else because she said it seemed right to do so seeing as how she'd speckled it with leftover rhinestones and all. We no longer have to spend so much money on light bulbs, and I've learned how to use a multimeter. I am now able to stick the prongs into electrical sockets so as to check the voltage with casual abandon.

That's your happy ending right there.

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