A creature was stirring Essay

What do you give a woman who has everything?–with me to boot.
Which she does. Frequently. I keep thinking of a friend who tried to
get out of Christmas shopping by giving his wife a pound box of
Brach’s miniatures and a paperback edition of How to Keep Your
Husband Happy. She gave him an electric golf cart. This gave him such
guilt pangs that he risked life and limb in the gift-exchange mob the
day after Christmas and blew $695, plus tax, to buy her a washer and
dryer.



Fortunately, we don’t need a washer and dryer. I married a
washer and dryer. But to avoid my friend’s costly pitfall, I have
been resorting to a little pre-Christmas strategy that, for want of a
better word (I do wish I could come up with a better word), we’ll
call snooping. What it does is give me a chance to match–size-wise, at
least–gift for gift. And it has worked so well that you’d have
thought someone smarter would think of it. Until last year, that is.



I even had last year in the bag, right until store-closing time on
Christmas Eve. What happened then, I’d rather forget. But if you
insist…



Now, I am not the typical last-minute male shopper I used to be.
There’s nothing like those last-minute, half-price bargains to
arouse the competitive spirit in the human breast. And when it comes to
the thrill of victory, nothing can top winning a tug of war over the
last size-36 sleeveless sweater on the counter.



But I gave up Christmas Eve competition years ago. It’s so
hard to convince some women that you didn’t know the sweater
originally had sleeves. Or that the third sleeve on a blouse will make
a dandy matching neckpiece. I had a worse time explaining how a jigsaw
puzzle with seven border pieces missing offers an even more exciting
challenge. As for the exercise bike with the missing seat, which I
patiently pointed out would take pounds off even faster because
she’d have to stand while pedaling, I got it in the end. And she
made me exchange the retarded parakeet for two goldfish and a tank. For
my money the fish are even dumber than the bird.


But as I was saying, I had last Christmas all wrapped up. I had
located her neatly wrapped cache of “To Maynard from Lois”
packages and taken a guess at what they were. The 2″x7″ box,
surely a Cross pen, I balanced with one of those thermometers that let a
woman know when her turkey is cooked. The 2×3-footer that I guessed to
be a shirt-tie combo I counteracted with a nightgown and a box of
matching Kleenex. The square package that I concluded must be an
electric pencil sharpener I equalized with an electric can opener. The
fishing rod, with an umbrella. The dozen golf balls, with a dozen soap
balls. But you get the idea.



So, with the score at least tied (or I might even have been
ahead–the can opener also had a convenience for sharpening shears), I
was cavorting about the living room, shouting encouragement to the house
plants, joking with the goldfish, occasionally splashing into their tank
a bracer from the glass with which I was toasting my success.



Then, as in pride goeth before a fall, Lois suddenly screamed that
the cat had caught a fish. But the fish had escaped and was flapping
toward the bedroom. In trying to intercept it before I’d be called
upon to render mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, I found myself plunging
into the jungle of Lois’ closet deeper than I had ever plunged
before.



You guessed it. Behind the moth motel that had once served as a
fur coat was a “To Maynard from Lois” package four feet long
by two feet wide. I measured it. In retrospect, I should have torn the
paper, peeked and blamed it on the cat. But stores would be closing in
30 minutes, and I still had to make the cat cough up the goldfish before
dashing out to grab up a 4×2-footer. Or better.



Trying to avoid office-party celebrants weaving their way homeward,
I had little time to concentrate on the kind of gift I would have to
beat. Maybe she’d gotten me one of those boards on casters that
would let me roll under the car to check the valve compression, or
whatever it is other men roll under the car to do. Naw. I couldn’t
tell a valve compression from a piston replacement and Lois knows it. A
grandfather’s-clock kit? Not when she’s still waiting for me
to figure out how to install the knob on the kitchen door. Too short
for a toboggan, too long for a cribbage board, it hadn’t rattled,
glugged, bent, jingled, jangled, snapped, crackled or popped. I’d
just have to go by size and hope that, cost-wise, I wouldn’t be too
far off.


By dint of a final, all-out sprint across the parking lot, I
managed to beat closing time at the drugstore by a full five minutes.
The manager, however, probably wanting to begin his own Christmas
shopping, was letting people out but not in.



“I left my grandson in the comic-book section!” I
gasped, whipping past and heading for the turnstile.



I remember quite clearly flinging myself against the arm of the
turnstile. But after that things get foggy. All I know is the
turnstile failed to turn. I vaguely recall hitting the thing groin-high
at about 15 miles per hour and being catapulted into a display of
Christmas-tree ornaments across the aisle.



The manager, who heard the crash and came running to help me out of
the merchandise, said I was lucky the ornaments had been reduced to half
price. Even at that, the bill came to $18.45. The $20.00 I had brought
with me left but enough for a marked-down bottle of Maybe Tonight
perfume.



“And just why did you buy this, whatever it is?” Lois
asked upon unwrapping the first sack of busted ornaments on Christmas
morning.



“They’re to glue on your blue evening dress,” I
said. “I thought it would look even prettier with a bunch of
sequins.”



Before she could ask about the second sack, I said,
“You’ve been wanting something to put under the glass top of
the coffee table. There you are.” And when she couldn’t talk
at all after opening the third sack, I explained that the goldfish tank
needed a little brightening up. I said it would cheer up the fish the
cat had intercepted.



And for what had I sacrificed the serenity of my Christmas Eve, to
say nothing of risking internal organs on a wrong-way turnstile? A
mirror! A lousy hall mirror!



“I’ve been wanting a mirror in that hallway ever since we
moved here,” Lois said, as soon as she was able to talk.



I still don’t know if I was out-gifted or just plain hustled.
It’s not easy to believe that when a man and a woman have united
their plights in the trough of holy wedlock, or however that goes, for
as many years as we have, the woman would resort to out-and-out
deception, fraud, malfeasance or otherwise dirty pool at this season of
the year.



I’m taking no chances, however. What I’m doing this year
is wrapping an electric typewriter that I’ve wanted ever since we
moved here, labeling it “To Lois from Maynard” and hiding it
on top of the bureau. Maybe a couple of weeks before Christmas. That
should give her plenty of time to come up with a comparable gift for me.
Provided she’s caught the spirit of this thing, of course.



If she matches it with a portable sewing machine, I’ll have
the answer.

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