A MAGIcal Christmas

This short story is an adaptation of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” I dedicate this story to Ginny and Brad Caldwell–two godly examples of sacrificial love.

Beautiful. Gentle. Gracious. These are the three things Bradley loves most about his newlywed wife, Virginia. This would be their first Christmas together since the accident.

About six months ago for the 4th of July, Brad suffered a freak firework’s injury, which left him temporarily deaf in both ears and permanently blind in his right eye. For nearly three months, he lay in a hospital bed not knowing if he’d ever see and hear again.

Ginny came to see him every day. She made it a discipline to leave teaching ballet early to be the first visitor to greet him and the last to leave. If she could’ve slept there, she would’ve. It was an ongoing joke between nurses that they could’ve set their watches by her consistent keeping of visiting hours. What was most remarkable about Ginny was the love in her heart that never wavered toward her once physically active yet now debilitated husband.

She never let bitterness or anger set in. She didn’t even question God—the contemptuous questioning of all our problems—over the grief she was feeling. If anything, the hapless incident could be considered what theologians call “felix culpa” or “happy fault,” which is when an apparent disaster yields happy consequences. In this case, the accident made her love for her high school sweetheart deepen and widen more than she could’ve ever imagined.

If she weren’t next to his bed holding his hand and stroking his strong fingers, she could’ve been found kneeling at the altar of the small chapel in the hospital worshipping God. Most people, including those who don’t consider themselves religious, go there to pray for healing for a loved one. Even atheists, in time of desperation, could be found there negotiating with God demanding a divine signature of a conditional contract of repentance at the evidence of a prescribed miracle. But not Ginny. She went to chapel to worship freely and thank God for one more day with her crippled spouse. Brad however did not share her enthusiasm.

Matter of fact, he took the loss of his hearing and sight quite hard just as anyone would have, not suspect of imminent trauma. And the fact that the accident wasn’t his fault added insult to injury. An incorrigible white spark from a child’s Sparkler landed into the paper bag of professional grade pyrotechnics, which was carelessly placed adjacent to Brad’s armchair as he sat outside on the lawn enjoying the patriotic festivities on a hot, humid summer night in Georgia.

If there’s anything in this world Brad loves nearly as much as Ginny, it’s his grandfather’s piano that’s been passed down to him in the family will after his grandfather’s premature death. Brad never met his “Papaw,” as he would grow to call him, except a few times when he was a newborn. Whenever Papaw spent time with his only grandson, he held him on his lap tucked securely under his wing. And with the other arm, he played the most beautiful classical music in the entire South. Brad’s infamous colic would disappear the moment his grandfather’s fingers touched the piano. But Brad remembers none of this except the feeling of being close to his Papaw whenever he played “Good Ole May” as Papaw liked to call her.

Unfortunately, over time, the law of entropy has spat, chewed and clawed at the rickety old box of wood causing it to decompose like a banana peel left in the hot sun. In jest, Brad likes to say, “The wood wouldn’t even make good fuel for fire.” But what he always says immediately following shows where his heart truly lies: “But I wouldn’t get rid of this heap-a-junk for all the peaches in Fort Valley.” And he hasn’t.

Good Ole May stands proudly against the wall of Brad and Ginny’s living room, which is also their dining room. The only thing that’s been unsalvageable is the piano bench that Brad has tried thrice to fix, unsuccessfully. He’s been using an upturn bucket as a cheap substitute for now until he can save up enough money to buy a new one.

No one else in the family shares Papaw’s affinity for music but Brad. As a child Brad was touted by many in his hometown of Macon as a “piano prodigy” but his “pride prevented him from making something of himself” as people with small minds like to say of other people they’re prejudiced toward. The truth is that Brad doesn’t like to play any instrument other than May. He says, “It takes all the fun out of playing when I can’t feel Papaw playing with me.”

There’s another reason Brad loves to play the piano—for the joy it brings Ginny whenever his fingers confidently strut across the ebony and ivory keys. She can never help herself to his extraordinary gift. Every time he takes to the piano, she dances and dances like a smitten schoolgirl. Now he would have to wait–only God knows how long–to see Ole May and his tiny dancer again, not to mention suffering the loss of hearing Ginny’s voice as she sings the tunes his fingers hum.

On Christmas Eve, Brad was nervous the way a bride is nervous the night before her wedding day. He wanted everything to be perfect for Christmas even without the use of his eye. Surprisingly, he’s gotten along quite well without it—the way a tenant grows accustomed to the workings of a dilapidated building by an absentee landlord. It’s been Ginny’s upbeat attitude that has steeled his mind and nurtured his soul back to health.

The only problem facing this extraordinary couple, who love to give more than to receive, is that they are penniless for Christmas. (It’s quite unfortunate that sometimes the people who could do the most good with money are the poor. That’s probably because they know from experience what the poor truly need. But the cruel irony is that greed coupled with the law of cause-and-effect have prevented it from happening.)

Brad and Ginny have sold almost every personal belonging to pay the hospital bills. The happy couple was barely making a living before the accident, so they were not in a position to afford health insurance. Besides, Brad has always been remarkably healthy. He wasn’t anticipating being laid up in a hospital bed for months without work and pay. Now Brad found himself struggling to put food on the table. But what made matters worse was that this is their first Christmas together since the accident, and Brad wanted to contribute something of material possession for his tiny dancer to show her how much he adores her.

Christmas for Ginny is the most important day of the year. It’s a magical day when everything and anything is possible. It’s when God became man; it’s when a star led the magi to God; and it’s when men met God in a manger and bowed down to Him in adoration. Ginny loves Christmas for both its truth and beauty. She understands however that this sacred day has been tarnished with folklore and commercialism, but she wisely understands these gilded traditions as a way to bridge the gap between the sacred and the profane. For Ginny, a gift for someone special on Christmas is a reminder of the greatest gift ever given. So naturally Ginny wanted to give Brad something special for Christmas. But she too found herself without two pennies to rub together. Then an idea flashed across her mind that made her eyes water instantly feeling the internal warmth that comes with giving generously.

“I know the perfect gift!” she shouted in her own mind. “A piano bench. Brad desperately needs one.” She began to fantasize about how he would well up with pride sitting on a stool purchased just for him and his piano. “But how am I going to afford it?” Her facial expression shifted from one end of the emotion spectrum to the other, from enthusiasm to discontent. “I have nothing and I own nothing,” she reminded herself.

It was Christmas Eve morning and Brad had left for the day. She paced around their tiny apartment twirling her long, beautiful brown hair. Inevitably she ended up in the bedroom facing the vanity mirror as women do when they want to talk to themselves about something important and private. Her reflection was the inspiration she needed. A delicious thought made her sing out loud: “Yes! Thank you, Lord!”

Instantly, she grabbed her wallet and left the apartment so fast that she nearly forgot her coat and hat. Since they don’t own a car, Ginny had to walk five blocks to a place that buys hair for children with cancer. Thankfully, the owner had not left for the day. Ginny rapped on the door with all the impatience of a child on Christmas Eve. She explained her situation.

“Let me see it,” requested the woman. “The longer and healthier your hair is, the more money I’ll give you.”

Ginny took off her hat and her long brown locks cascaded down like a chocolate waterfall nearly touching the floor. The woman blushed when she saw Ginny’s crown of glory. “Oh, sweetheart! Are you sure you want me to cut it all off?”

“I need all the money I can get,” she told her.

“Okay. But I’ve never seen such gorgeous hair in all my life.” As the woman struggled to cut Ginny’s thick, prolific mane, she kept saying, “You’re husband better appreciate the sacrifice you’re making for him!”

No one saw, not the woman nor the heavenly angels, the sparkle of light that accompanied each tear in the young girl’s eyes. Two wet lines streamed down her face with tears made of joy and fear. For a moment, which felt like an eternity, she felt the paradox of emotions that people experience when making such a grave sacrifice. The reason for this is that Ginny swore to never cut her hair again since she was an orphan. It was her only escape from her apathetic foster parents. They didn’t abuse her but, then again, they didn’t show her love either. She would hide behind brown curtains and play games that she made up.

As the tears fell, so did her hair. When the scissors keyed the last lock of her hair, she put on her hat, grabbed the money and ran out. Ginny knew exactly where to go.

Every night after dinner they took a walk by the music store. And every time she would catch Brad eyeing the piano bench in the window. She would beg him to come inside with her but he pretended he wasn’t interested. The price has always been out of the question, until now.

“I’ll take it!” she cried impulsively the moment she opened the chimed door. The salesman’s baffled look forced her to clarify: “The piano chair in the window. It’s not sold, is it?” She walked straight to the counter and opened her hand above the glass case. The wad of money came rolling out. She didn’t even have time to count the hundred dollars in tens, fives, and ones. “Would it be possible to put a bow on it?” she asked already sure of the outcome.

“Of course,” said the salesman. “It’s Christmas!”

Meanwhile, Brad was bartering about price with the owner at the second-hand store.

“I need the money! Please give me the full price I’m asking for.”

The man would not budge above $100.

“But I need another hundred to buy my wife a set of beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims,” cried Brad. “And you haven’t even seen the piano in person. You’ll love it! I promise! It plays remarkably well for being so—.”

“I’m sure it does,” interrupts the gentleman, who’s quite kind for being a businessman. “Look, I’ve already got two pianos that are just sitting here in my tiny shop collecting dust since January.”

Desperation flashed across Brad’s face. The man could see it in his eyes—a young man intoxicated by love willing to sell his soul if possible.

“I’ll tell you what—I’ll take the piano but I want you to take a look at something. I received this as a donation from a friend. It’s a Tarina Tarantino Trinket Hair Corsage and it retails at $200. It’s yours if you want it. But no exchanges.”

Hesitatingly, Brad looked at the jewelry in the man’s hand and then noticed something quite extraordinary about the corsage. Every trinket is something Ginny loves—a strawberry, a star, a cameo, an elephant, and her favorite flower, a peach rose.

“It’s made of Lucite, opals, Swarovski crystals, silver, and suede,” said the man.

“I’ll take it,” answered Brad surprised by how fast he fell in love with her replacement gift. “I think she’s gonna love it more than the combs,” he said to himself.

After they shook hands and exchanged pleasantries—“Merry Christmas!” Merry Christmas to you!”—Brad was out to the door like cheerful child.

It was getting late and Ginny was home cooking supper–Brad’s favorite Christmas Eve dinner—pork chops. She had already filled their stockings with their favorite fruits and nuts. The house had been cleaned and vacuumed, twice. The decorations were paltry but heartfelt. There were no presents under the Christmas tree. Ginny had just enough time to shower, style her short hair, and put on Brad’s favorite dress before he came bursting through the door.

With both hands on her either side of her petite hips, she stood blocking the bench that was tucked under the piano.

“Merry Christmas Eve, darling,” she said happily.

Brad stood speechless. Ginny smiled again hoping to excite him out of his silent torpor. His eyes were fixed on his wife, but there was an expression in them that she’d never seen, and it terrified her. It wasn’t anger or disapproval. It wasn’t even surprise. Quite frankly, she would’ve preferred them to the peculiar expression on his face.

“Brad, please don’t look at me that way. I cut and sold my hair because I couldn’t have lived through our first Christmas together without giving you a present—something I know will make up for my stupid, impulsive decision to cut my hair. Oh darling, please don’t be upset,” she pleaded. “I had good reason. And my hair grows fast! You’ll see… Oh please say, ‘Merry Christmas’ to me! Let’s be merry!”

“You cut your hair,” he spoke in disbelief.

“Yes, I cut it and sold it for a good cause, too!”

“You cut your hair?” he asked as if he had still not arrived at the fact.

Ginny didn’t know what else to do. So she stepped out of the way to expose her sacrificial gift. Still, he said nothing. She moved toward it and nervously started talking, “The guy at the music shop said that it’s the most comfortable and durable seat he has or had…”

Slowly, he started to come out of his trance.

“But—” he started.

She intervened, “It’s made of solid walnut. And the top is cushioned with premium leather,” finished Ginny emotionally exhausted.

Brad didn’t know what to do. His instinct was to walk toward his wife but he also felt drawn to his present. He stepped toward the bench wrapped in a silky red bow and smiled. Ginny couldn’t see the expression on his face for she was behind him. Brad turned around and enfolded his tiny dancer.

“Let’s stay here and never leave each other’s arms,” he whispered in Ginny’s ear.

“Are you still mad at me? Do you hate your gift? Am I silly girl?”

He pulled away from her to look into her sad eyes.

“No, my dear. Thrice no! You’re more beautiful to me now than ever before.” He paused and covered his face with his hands and then threw his arms down: “I’m the one you should be mad at. I’ve been a silly boy.”

“What in heavens do you mean, my darling?”

“I sold Ole May to buy you this. I was going to wrap it—”

He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the hair corsage. It glistened in his hand. Ginny peered at it as if nothing else existed. Instinctively, she went to twirl her hair. She stopped with her arm in mid air and slowly raised it to her tightly curled hair.

From a deeper level of love, she spoke, “You sacrificed May for me? To gift me this handsome hair clip?”

Brad smiled and walked toward the piano.

“Let me sit and play for you one song so you can dance for me one last time before it’s gone.”

Sacrificial love is the ultimate gift. The magi—the wise men—gave wisely because they started the tradition of presents at Christmas. Like the magi, Ginny and Brad gave two wise gifts because they gave from sacrificial love. Now, every time this story is told, the list of the wise men will grow.

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Chester Delagneau


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