The Gift Giver – A Short Story by…
Rina Brundu. Fräulein Katja, my lipstick, please! I couldn’t do without a D&G “serious shot of color” on my lips! “Cherry-lips” that’s what Michael used to call me, or was it John? John, who? Merryweather? Perhaps. I’ll be damned if I remember his family name, It was long ago anyway, shortly after World War II. Also, my heart belonged to Mr. Greenwood at that time.
“What do you know about World War II, Bessy?”
Aunt Mary? How weird: for a moment I smelled her violet perfume, French, très chic, and thought I heard her stern voice. But she died in 1954, thanks be to God. Mr. Greenwood kicked the bucket in 1955, aged 65. I inherited the White Sky, a diamond ring that I had always coveted, and a precious collection of Eugène Ionesco’s works. “There are more dead people than living. And their numbers are increasing. The living are getting rarer”, this reflection by the famous Romanian playwright was written on the card that came with the books. Mr. Greenwood had always been into philosophy but being a learned man did not make his life less miserable nor did the family firm wealth to whose management he had dedicated his entire lifetime, before transferring all proceeds from its sale to the newly created Greenwood Foundation aimed at helping the neglected in some faraway corner of Africa.
Stingy old fool! Never got married, never proposed, he stole ten years of my life. Luckily, life starts at 34, if you know the ways of the world, and if you are a socialite belle with no close family ties, as you cannot call a “family-tie” an elderly distant auntie named Mary who dressed and looked like a Victorian démodé spinster.
And indeed I was beautiful; still am. “The most beautiful woman I have ever seen” Captain Mark Prendergast shouted out loud, claiming to be an expert of some sort in the field, one day eons ago, in the main hall of the Rotary Club. He was tall and handsome too but ironically standing next to his far too-young wife, a shy brunette whose pale skin and small eyes wouldn’t make a man look at her twice.
Fräulein Katja, my lipstick, please! Where’s that damned woman? Never around when one is in need! With the amount of cash I wired to the clinic’s bank account she should never leave the room unauthorized. Payment in advance – it was clearly stated in doctor Doerflinger’s Letter of Acceptance. Gruesome sense of humor, I thought at that time, but I do not feel so jolly now…
Beauty is only skin deep! This is babbled by every glossy-p magazine editor when answering their readers’ existential crisis queries. “Beauty is a precious trace that eternity causes to appear to us and that it takes away from us; a manifestation of eternity, and a sign of death as well.” Once again Ionesco knew better but I don’t buy this sort of doubt seeding statement. Life is a bitch but beauty never fails you, or so I chose to believe at that time. Anyway my life wouldn’t have been worth living otherwise.
Fräulein Katja? Doctor Doerflinger? Where’s my make-up kit?
Now that I think of it I would need my nose powdered as well, it has always been too shiny and red. I left my makeup bag on the table next to my bed last night after dinner but Fräulein Katja must have already put it away: fast as a shark when it pleases her. I am suddenly feeling too weak to turn my head but it cannot be lost anyway, my make-up kit, I mean.
The clinic management provides its guests with a single room, tiny en-suite bathroom, a bed, a small table, a chair, a four shelved cabinet where all our belongings are carefully lodged and accounted for. Doctor Doerflinger was pretty adamant: “We do not invite confrontation with the families”. Or welcome lawsuits, I translated mentally.
My room is big enough and white. Everything is white in color: the walls, the ceiling, the floor, my bed, my cabinet, my table, my chair, just like most of my things had always been at home. And Mr. Greenwood’s diamond ring too. Looking back I never wanted to marry that old man but I thought a family life would give me some kind of psychological and social stability and was captivated by his beautiful mind. An orphaned girl, with no siblings to turn to, is entitled to bargain back some affection.
Mr. Greenwood’s beautiful mind…
Nurse? Doctor? Where the hell are all of you? And why am I feeling so dizzy now? Jet-lag symptoms I guess. How long did it take to fly over yesterday morning? Ten hours including that short trip up these snowy mountains by taxi. I wonder how long it will take to… well, never mind, it is early days for sure…
Mr. Greenwood’s bitchy beautiful mind! Now that’s been the only rival I never succeeded in defeating! Still I wonder why bother with Ionesco’s quote. Did he mean that I was not good enough for him? Or, that I was not worthy enough? Was the message some sort of post-mortem pay back because I had eventually left with younger John… Merrysomething…. Or was it, Michael? I have never paid attention to details.
I was too much into my looks and not responsible enough to be Mrs. Greenwood, Mr. Greenwood had finally explained his thoughts about our curious ménage à deux one beautiful summer morning in response to my constant complaining. That was the last day I saw him and those were the last words I have ever heard from him until his driver delivered to my doorstep my… inheritance. I distinctly remember the elegant package … within which the White Sky and the books were contained. Suddenly all was forgiven and forgotten; and peace, once again.
Had it not been for the memory of his last gifts I wouldn’t be here; it was only a month ago, that all those recollections suddenly came back to me and gave me the final push I needed to start setting my long-planned project in motion…
Fräulein Katja, my lipstick, please! Too frail a voice I have, perhaps it is not reaching her… She will be in here soon; and the good doctor too.
A distinct advantage of not having close relations is that they never bother you that much: one Christmas card, the odd Anniversary card, your and their birthday wishes. My only living relative is a nephew named Charles who I have not seen in twenty years. We exchanged polite letters from time to time but that was it. I happen to know though that he has always kept a discreet eye on me.
Sadly for Charles all gains made from the recent sell off of my properties, cars, jewels (except for the White-Sky which I can still feel on my left fourth finger), have already been lodged into the Greenwood Foundation bank account: now, Mr. Greenwood, wasn’t that a gesture responsible enough?
Still, once I am gone my nephew will receive his own gift to be treasured for a lifetime just like I did with my ring and books: I am one hell of a beautiful woman who knows how to make an exit when necessary and am not a stingy old fool either.
Fräulein Katja is that you? Where’s my lip… Aunt Mary? What are you doing in here?
From Geneva, Switzerland, it read on the still elegant but ripped wrappings of the small package left months before by the postman on the doorstep of the abandoned cottage. George, the new estate grounds man, chased away the neighbors’ fat cat which had been using the wearied cardboard like a warm nest for some time now, cleaned up the overgrown bushes next to it and kneeled to pick up the garbage. Some sort of small urn laid broken in pieces on the ground, deeply encrusted with mud, feline urine and feces. The writing on the yellowed greeting card had been almost entirely erased by the sun and rain.
Mrs. Greenwood? Who was she? Was she the previous tenant’s mysterious gift-giver? The old man shrugged his shoulders; he couldn’t really make out the faded signature. “Too late, anyway” he muttered. George dragged his cart closer and threw the litter in. The cottage would have to look spick and span before the arrival of the new occupant that very evening and he was going to make sure it would be so, no matter what.
In Dublin, May 2015