The Perfect Gift: The Final Part of a Four-Part Holiday Fable

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alice in wonderland.jpg"It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour."
- A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens


Read Part 1, Part 2Part 3

The text message read: "Meet me at the Alice statue at 5PM" and, as Harriett made her way through the icy path to the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park, the lamplights were coming on and the hazy winter sun was acquiescing to a full moon. There was plenty of traffic still there, on the footpaths, on the snow-covered grass, over and under bridges that would, late at night, become the gathering places of rodents, both animal and human. Nonetheless, it was disconcerting to be walking alone at dusk in Central Park, especially after what had happened to her the other day. But when she got to their appointed spot, Harriett knew it was going to be all right.

Standing next to Alice was Charlie, dressed in his normal everyday clothes, jeans, teeshirt, hoodie, corduroy jacket. Harriett surveyed him as she got closer--he was holding something in his hand, something small. And as she looked back up at him, she noticed that Alice, too, was looking different, too. Charlie stepped away and revealed the middle section of the statue--it was completely surrounded in a large red bow. Charlie reached his hand out to Harriett and drew her towards the bow.


"I have a series of things I'd like to give you," he said, kissing her hand. His gentlemanly gesture caught her off-guard and she laughed. "Merry Christmas!" He threw his arms in the air and Harriett stood back, confused.


"Did you buy the statue?" she asked. "Did you win a lottery or something?"


Charlie just replied, "Nope, this is just one of the things I have for you this evening."


Still confused, Harriett followed as he walked past the statue and on down the walk. She caught up with him and grabbed his hand. He smiled at her and together they walked along, quietly, for a while in the cold. Harriett kept going over the words she wanted to say to him in her head, the part about what had happened last night, the part about the money, the part about the great gift that was never going to be now. She kept opening her mouth as if to speak but the moment felt awkward and she stopped trying to talk at all. When they got to Belvedere Castle, Charlie stopped and twirled her around to look up at it.


"Here's another one," he said, grandly gesturing towards the tower. "How do you like it?"


Harriett decided to play along. "Yeah, it's swell," she said, "really great. When do we move in?"


"Later," he said. "There's something on the other side of it for you."


They walked up the hill, along the old paths lit by the modern bulbs hidden inside the turn-of-the-century lanterns. Harriett considered for a moment how she and Charlie could be the poor but in-love Tim Crachit and his wife--their love came from beyond that place where money makes all the difference. How true that would be, she thought, considering her horror of the night before. She had talked to Charlie when she got back home late last night, but tried to hide the quiver in her voice with the television in the background turned as loudly as possible without drowning her out completely. He had sounded downright peppy and she had even mocked him a little for his overflow of Christmas spirit. "I can't help it," he had told her. "You bring out the good in me." She squeezed his hand now as they walked and he turned and winked at her. The glow she got from thier proximity to each other showed in her face--the red of her cheeks looked more like sunburn than cold, like she harbored a roaring fire inside her.


After walking a while again, passing scurrying workers on their way home, shoppers with bags and bows, nannies with strollers filled with tired children, Charlie stopped. Harriett noticed that they had come to Strawberry Field, the spot outside the Dakota on Central Park West where Yoko Ono had declared her unending love for the slain John Lennon with a beautiful mosaic and the most famous word he had ever uttered. Etched into the sun-shaped design was the word "Imagine." Charlie knelt down and touched the tiles.


"And this is the last gift," he said. "This is for you."


Harriett knelt beside him and threw an arm around his neck. "Imagine," she read.


Charlie looked at her. "It's all ours, you know," he said, his blue eyes serious. "It doesn't matter if it's in your house or your wallet or just in your sights. It's all ours. All of this is ours to enjoy and share. But the one thing in this city that I absolutely can't share with everybody else is you." He took her hand and reached into his pocket.


She gasped, the sound louder than she meant it to be since a few passersby took an extra glance to make sure she was okay. Harriett couldn't take her eyes off Charlie's face, which in this low light seemed to grow more handsome, his scruffy beard making him seem resolute, powerful and in control. There was something in his hand and, as he held it towards her, she said, "NO!"


The words jumbled out of her in a rush. The selling of the book, the perfect gift, the perfect moment to tell him what he meant to her. Charlie laughed and pushed the tiny wrapped item into her palm.


"It's all ours, Harriett, there's no reason to define it or challenge it or put bars around it. Now that I've found you, life is the perfect gift." And, as corny as it may sound to you, dear reader, it was the most true statement Harriett had ever heard. She knew he was right and, without another wasted breath, opened the little gift. It was a key, like a diary key she had had when she was ten years old, when moments like this were just fantasies in her head, when the boy she loved treated her badly and she would write of her deep and abiding sadness at his rejection on the diary's fine blue lines. This wasn't rejection, finally--it was quite the opposite.


"It's the key to my heart," she replied, laughing. "Is that what it's supposed to be?" Harriett was hopeful that he reply with the right thing, the moment as delicate as the flakes of snow that had started falling around them.


But Charlie wasn't a fool--he knew that nothing else that he could say would have the right impact so he grabbed her face with both of his hands and pulled her towards him. He kissed her like he had never kissed anyone before, with abandon and sheer joy and all the things he read about but had never actually felt before. Harriett in turn threw her arms around him and returned the favor. And, after a round of applause from some skateboard punks who had whizzed by just as the clinch got serious, Harriett tucked the key into her pocket and took Charlie's hand. She realized that nothing that she could have given him and nothing that he could have given her would be as necessary, exciting and as perfect as this. A hand in a hand, a tiny key, the wonders of a beautiful place, taking a breath, moving forward.


They walked down Central Park West together as the snow fell on Christmas Eve, the perfect gift presented, appreciated, enjoyed. It was, quite frankly, the most perfect holiday either of them had ever spent, maybe even the most perfect night that had ever happened in the whole of time, and, as this is a fable, it is only fitting to tell you that this gift brought them happiness for years to come.


Dickens wrote, "It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and, if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death." May you all go forth into the new year with renewed hope and brave spirit.

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