The Gifts of the Magi
Originally written by O. Henry, December 1905.
Verse and epilogue by Filip Hnízdo, December 2016.
There’s a little house on a bigger street,
Where two deep in love barely make ends meet,
But they smile at each-other and their joy’s complete,
For their hearts can beat with little food to eat
When there’s LOVE on the table,
The house would hardly sell if it were sold as a stable.
But there’s love on the table by the broken plates.
Her name is Della, Jim’s her love-struck fella,
They do (pretty much) everything they can together.
Except work work work til the sun is down,
They come home to each other and their frowns flip around
Then they dance all over their single room,
To the neighbour’s music lit by only the moon.
Round-eyed, smiled-wide, glow inside,
Reflected in a broken window they’re dancing beside.
What does he like about her? Her hair.
What does she like about him? EVERYTHING.
Every kindness that a man could bring.
Now he thinks he might have missed out a couple of things.
And thoughtful and funny!
No he wouldn’t, trade
For another or money.
She thinks he only likes her hair,
but when she’s stood up with her hands out and just talking there,
He’s home and he’s never going to give that up. Don’t you dare.
Jim dresses in brown but has a watch shined in gold,
It was his father’s own father’s it’s often been told.
It lights up the world, detailed, timeful and bold,
At least compared to its home, the poor and over-worked’s hold.
Della’s Hair’s so flowing and thick,
The bristles fell from her brush now she’s using a stick.
While Jim looks to the ground as he’s feeling quite sick,
Dropped The Watch on the floor again, phew, still got a tick…
If only he had a chain,
It gleams like his wildest dreams… he’s dropped it again.
Both know the gifts,
They’d buy for their lover…
But they’ll soon discover the greatest gifts are each other.
It’s Christmas and the shoppers shove and shout.
But accessories cost money and the money’s running out.
Della’s at the watchmakers, this chain is platinum heaven,
But it’s 21 dollars, she’s got 1.87.
Her hair droops on the counter in a downhearted frizz,
But she locks her eyes in and whispers “you will be his”.
Still she barely makes it out before her eyes become pools,
As she spies a wig maker by her old primary school.
No don’t even think that. But it’ll grow back.
He’ll hate me undate me. But it’ll grow back.
He loves me much more, yes, it’ll grow back.
What if it doesn’t grow back? What if it doesn’t grow back?
I’ll scream at my image. But it’ll grow back.
It’s my dearest possession. But it’ll grow back.
There’s no point in obsession, it’ll quickly grow back.
It always grows back, what if it doesn’t grow back?
She blinks and they’re already cutting away,
Locks all unlocking she’s starting to pray.
Against the snipping, slicing blades screaming in shimmering grey.
20 dollars for her sacrifice is all they would pay.
Now she’s clutching it tight in her purse,
She sees her reflection, I guess it could be worse.
She trades it in and now she’s only got .87,
and that Pocket Watch Chain made up from platinum heaven.
She’s tidying what’s left of her hair,
As Jim opens the door and he freezes right there…
“It always grows quickly, so it’ll grow back,
I hope you don’t hate it, still it’ll grow back.
I did it for you look! And it’ll grow back.
Try The Chain out I’ll wear a scarf until it grows back.”
“Why are you laughing dear?”
She’s flits dizzy between perplexment and fear,
Her heart sinks as his answer hits her uncovered ear,
“I sold The Watch to get you this, take a look over here”
She’s scared to go near it,
But also quite close to snapping.
So she tears softly away at the brown paper packing,
She lifts off the paper and cannot take what is happening.
The thing of her dreams useless under the wrapping.
“THE COMBS!”, the box,
she saw in the window with Jim,
He noticed! She knows,
She only wants him.
He looks at The Chain, the one he wanted for years,
Matched against the hand clutching it the want disappears.
She looks at him,
He looks at her,
Realise they were fine with things just as they were.
Their love costs nothing and it’s here to stay,
So they put aside the other gifts for another Christmas Day.
An Epilogue for The Gifts of the Magi
It’s one of those wardrobes you never went into. Old things you’d always mean to clear out but never got around to. Not even your old things, other people’s old things. It was an old house. There were new things in it but an old house can never completely be made new. There are always old things in it waiting in the walls and the wardrobes. The kinds of wardrobes you never went into.
But one day you’re looking for that wrapping paper you didn’t tidy away properly the previous year. You look in places you know it couldn’t be but try anyway. It’s got to be somewhere so you might as well look everywhere until you find it. Like that wardrobe you never went into.
But then you hear a sound and the search for wrapping paper is exchanged for curiosity. It’s quiet but clear enough and sounding at a pulse so regular you can get your bearings and figure out where it’s coming from. It’s sharp, precise and getting nearer as you look. It’s ticking.
You find a stool to stand on and reach to the very back of the dusty top of that wardrobe you never went into. You can hardly touch it but you find a handle and pull the shoebox-sized case over the shelf edge. The ticking is loud now as you gently take it down.
You put the case on the dressing table where the light is better and open it. Inside you find the source of the ticking. A beautiful golden pocket watch that for some reason makes you feel dizzy when you look at it. It sits in the middle of a soft, spiralling fabric that it takes you a moment to recognise. The two objects, so different in form and function seem perfect together. A beautiful golden pocket watch without a chain and a wig of the richest hair you’ve ever seen.
You reach into it and your body falls under the grip of the box. Your mind flashes back to memories that don’t belong, down dusty streets in a city older than the one you’re in. A couple in a window, embracing and exchanging gifts in over-made theatrical gestures while laughing and glancing longingly at each-other. A box of brushes for her, comically mismatched with her short hair and for him a chain with nothing on it. They hold out the gifts behind the window, smile and then everything changes.
She brushes the air with her seemingly pointless gift and the very nature of the room swells and sways beneath the bristles. His chain starts moving in a pendulum motion and he disappears.
The flashbacks become more short and sudden. Or are they flash-forwards? Your mind wishes you were back on the wrapping paper but you’re tangled in this and can’t let go.
Only three things are constant in the images. Her, him and that same longing look for each-other, never waning though the times and places change. Brushing through space and spinning through time, both travelling on through other people’s problems. You can let go at last so you catch your breath and look behind you to catch two silhouettes cast onto the wall by the single light of the dressing table.
They’re with you. She’s clutching a comb that bends her fingers around it. He’s spinning a chain that moves both forward and back. They look at each-other, then at you and finally at the opened case on the dressing table.
She giggles as he puts his arm around her and they both hold out their hands towards you.