The Wrapped Gift
Every so often, I'm not sure how often, Aimee Bender posts a Writing Exercise. The latest one is: "There is a wrapped gift at the bus stop." Here's my pass at it.
There is a wrapped gift at the bus stop, Maureen said. Next to her, she could feel Pauline stiffen. Pauline ruined everything. Panicked during bus rides. Screamed loudly if others stood too close. Fainted dramatically if storm clouds gathered overhead. Maureen took a step forward, daring to leave Pauline behind. Pauline gasped loudly. You can't, Pauline was saying. But couldn't she? Maureen considered and took another step. The wrapped gift tantalized. It didn't make sense. It was mid-April, and nothing interesting happened in mid-April. It wasn't Christmas, or Valentine's Day, or even some kind of special day. She took another step. It appeared the box had been wrapped in some sort of gauze, the kind she used to see when she was a nurse at the hospital. YOU CAN'T DO THAT, she heard Pauline shriek suddenly from somewhere in another world. Maureen watched as her hand floated out in front of her and wrapped its fingers around the box. The package was light, not heavy, and emitted no particular smell. She resisted the urge to shake it. What if there was something alive in it? She heard a noise behind her, which was probably Pauline either fainting or pretending to faint. And who could blame her? When Pauline was a toddler, her mother had shot her father in front of her, and then Pauline's mother had shot herself. All of this had happened as Pauline had eaten a bowl of SpaghettiOs in her highchair. I remember the drawing of the giraffe at the bottom of my bowl like it was yesterday, Pauline was fond of quavering every time she told the story, which was sometimes once a week, or even more during the holidays. Death was the rope to which Pauline clung, the thread by which she hung. Maureen slid the box into the front pocket of her coat. Briefly, she wondered if she should give it to Pauline. If whatever was in the box would fill up the hole that Pauline's mother had left inside her daughter. Maureen could see the bus coming in the distance. Probably, the bus wasn't even big enough to fill up the bottomless pit of want and need that was inside Pauline. She would open the present later, when she was alone, Maureen decided. Maybe it contained a jewel box filled with rhinestone necklaces, or a pet mouse that had been trained to stand on its back legs and beg for small bits of cheese, or a tiny golden gun with Pauline's name engraved on the side of one of its miniature bullets. You never knew, Maureen shrugged and stepped on the bus, not sure if Pauline was coming or was still prone on the dirty sidewalk, where she belonged.