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Category Archives: People Suck

The Gift


Once upon a time there was a girl who lived in a little cottage on the edge of the sea.  She spent much of her time painting and sewing and dreaming.  She was known in her village for her talent with a paintbrush, but she was awkward and did not fit in with other girls although she tried to be as pleasant as she could. One warm day, a neighbor kindly showed her the way to the market in the next town, and because she was lonely, she began to visit often.  The girl haunted the book shop and spent quiet afternoons amongst the stacks of dusty pages and cracked leather spines.  The shopkeeper, a woman named Betsy, soon took her under her wing.  Betsy spoke loudly.  She was quick to anger, sharp-tongued and critical of her customers.  The girl wasn’t sure what to make of her, but because Betsy said they were friends, the girl began to call her “friend” too.

One day, the girl realized that it would soon be a year to the day that they had met.  The girl wanted to mark the special day, and invited Betsy and her spouse over for lunch.  She gleaned what she could from her meager pantry and worked throughout the morning to make a meal fit for her friend.  Lunch was a boisterous affair, and the girl was proud that her guests enjoyed their meal, marveling to herself as she watched Betsy polish off a second loaf of bread with the last scrapings of the girl’s best jam.  She reached for a cookie, but found that Betsy and her husband had already emptied the plate between them.  As the girl cleared the table, Betsy sat back and announced that to celebrate the day she knew of something perfect for the girl back at the market and wanted to give it to her.  The girl, of course, told her friend that she didn’t have to do that, although she was pleased by the idea.  Betsy insisted that the gift was too amazing to pass up, and the girl began to wonder what it could be.

The next afternoon, the girl visited the market and stopped in to see her friend.  Betsy once again told the girl of the magical gift that awaited her.  The girl smiled and hugged Betsy.  She wasn’t used to receiving presents and something so magical would surely be a special treat!  That morning, she had woken from dreams filled with all the wonderful things that could be found at the market and she was eager to see what Betsy had for her.

She followed Betsy out of the shop and through the crowded street into a little corner store the girl hadn’t noticed before.  She was curious, but didn’t want to be rude and seem too eager, so she quietly carried the basket Betsy thrust into her arms and waited to see what would happen next.  Betsy began to fill up the basket with foodstuffs and things she needed.  As the basket became heavier and heavier, the girl began to doubt whether or not this was the shop that contained her gift.  She took an uncertain step back as Betsy stepped up to the counter to quibble over price with the shopkeeper.

The shopkeeper pulled a small mirror out from behind the counter and informed Betsy that she had spent so much he wanted to her to have the mirror.  It was a pretty thing, and the girl wondered if that was meant to be her gift.  A free trinket seemed an odd choice for a gift, after all that Betsy had said, but it would still be a nice thing to put on her dresser.  Betsy turned the shopkeeper away and told him that she would rather save his kindness for a future purchase.  The girl was beginning to think there was no gift and she was confused.  She wondered if perhaps Betsy just needed someone to fetch and carry.  The shopkeeper produced a small bag of sample spices, and tucked it into Betsy’s basket with a smile and a “won’t take no for an answer!  You try these out!” On the way back to Betsy’s shop, she tossed over her shoulder to the girl “oh you can have the spices,” and carried on her way, leaving the girl to trail along in her wake.

The girl was disappointed but held her tongue because she felt that it would be rude to exclaim her sadness over such a paltry gift.  After all, she knew well that friendship couldn’t be measured in the things given to one.  Once they returned to the shop, the girl reached into the basket to claim the spices, but Betsy’s hand was faster and she snatched the bag and began to rummage through it herself.  The girl watched in silence as Betsy pulled one packet after another out of the bag and piled them in her lap.   This one was her favorite tea, the next one used for her famous stew, another was her husband’s preferred seasoning for his morning porridge.  The pile grew larger as Betsy found more and more things she liked.  In the end, there was one small packet of salt left.

“I have plenty of salt.”  She muttered to herself.  “Here, you can have this one.”  She flicked the packet in front of the girl and smiled as if she were bestowing a great gift.

The girl stared at the packet.  She squirmed, feeling smaller than a thimble in Betsy’s presence.  She wasn’t sure what to say, but Betsy seemed to be waiting for the girl to speak.  She watched as Betsy tucked the rest of the packets into her pocket with a smirk, her eyes on the girl as she waited for a reply.

“Thank you.”  The girl said, her voice quiet and polite.  She left the packet on the counter and walked out of the shop, working hard to walk straight and tall, even though her feelings were hurt.

She went back to her cottage, and she did not visit the bookshop again.  Upon occasion, a bit of town gossip would trickle back through the village and the girl would hear about the “silly girl who fancied herself a painter”.  She was certain the silly girl was her, but she went on with her work and did not let the ramblings of a shallow woman trouble her.

Summer faded, the sea winds blustered against the walls of her small home and the girl knew it was time to bring her stacks of painted canvas to the market to sell before ice and snow made the path to town too treacherous.  She was surprised to see the bookshop windows dark, the door barred though it was nearly midday.  She stopped a passerby to ask what had become of the shop.  He peered at her bundle of canvases and scratched his head.

“You the painter girl?  Heard about you.”  He laughed and stomped his cane upon the cobbles before continuing.  “Well.  She’s gone.   The schoolmaster heard tell that Betsy was filling his student’s heads with rumors of a dalliance with the baker’s son and decided to go elsewhere for his paper and pens.  His students now get their school books by parcel.  The grocer learned that Betsy has been warning customers that he weighs his thumb and will no longer do business with her.  Neither will the butcher or the baker.   So many people have been dealt harshly by the woman’s waggling tongue that she can no longer find anyone to even talk with.”  The girl thanked the old man for his time and pressed on to find a spot to display her wares.

Throughout the market day, the girl asked the people who looked at her paintings what had become of Betsy, and each story was the same.  Betsy’s whispers, pettiness, and penchant for dramatics had earned her no friends and many enemies.  The girl sold all of her paintings that day and came home with a full purse, food for thought, and a renewed resolution to do her best to treat the people she met with kindness, no matter how they treated her.

The girl had also learned a valuable lesson:  not everyone is meant to be a friend.