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Monday, January 14, 2013

The Buyer's Remorse of the Magi

"Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first."

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.  
For there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims--just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone. . . .  
Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.  
"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."
Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.
"Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."
--O. Henry, "The Gift of the Magi"
And Della flitted lightly into the kitchen and so did not see Jim's smile slowlytransform into a pensive grimace.

"Dinner, Darling," said Della, flitting lightly back again, carrying the Christmas dinner she had lovingly prepared that very afternoon.

Jim sat up, determined not to ruin Della's happiness with any hint of dissatisfaction, but when his eyes fell upon the serving platter, he could not stifle a flash of despair.  "What has happened to the chops, dear Della?"

"Oh, Jim!" wailed Della, flitting lightly about the room.

"Della, please stop flitting.  It's quite distracting."

"After I purchased your chain, I had no money left for the promised chops!  I had hoped you would appreciate this special Christmas dinner nonetheless!"

"It's not that I don't appreciate it, Dell.  But. . . It's porridge."


"We have porridge every night."

"But this is Christmas porridge!"

"What makes it 'Christmas porridge'?"

"The candy cane!"

"Ah, yes, of course. . ."

Della wrung her hands anxiously.

"You don't like it!"

"Well. . . Peppermint-flavored porridge. . . " But seeing his wife's trembling lip and fearing she would start flitting again, Jim straighened up, smiled broadly, and declared, "It shall be our new Christmas tradition!"

Della relaxed, and they both sat down to a Christmas dinner they would remember through all the days and nights of their marital bliss.  As they finished, Jim let out a sigh.

"What is it, my love?"

"Oh, Dell. . . it's nothing."

"No, darling, please tell me."

"Well. . . It is just. . . You understand, I truly appreciate the watch chain."

"Yes, darling!  And I love my combs!"

"Wonderful, my beloved!  But. . . Well, you know. . .After all, your hair will grow back.  And then,
you've got these beautiful combs. . . ."

"And. . . ?  What is your point, my sweetest?"

"Well. . . .I just have this. . . .well, let us face it, useless watch chain."


"I just think you've gotten quite the better of the situation here."

"Well, Jim, I could hardly know that you would go and sell your grandfather's gold watch, could I?"

"No!  No, of course, my love.  Of course. . . "

Della began to flit lightly back to the kitchen.  Then, remembering that this might annoy Jim, she abruptly stopped.  She stood quite still in the small apartment.

"What is it, Dell?"


"No, no, something is clearly bothering you.  Let us have it."

"Well, since we're discussing the gifts. . . ."


"Your grandfather's watch.  That was a GOLD watch.  And all you were able to purchase was a single box of combs?"

"What are you implying?"

"I just think you could have held out for more!"

"Look, I was in a hurry!  I didn't have all day to haggle!  You know how those people are!"

"What do you mean, 'those people'?"

"You know!  The pawn broker!  Meyerowitz!"

"Beloved! I had no idea you could be so petty!  And, frankly, anti-Semitic!"

"I'm not--"

"You know, I am half-Jewish!"

"You are?"

"On my father's side."


"Does that present a problem?"

"No.  No, not at all, my precious."


"You could mentioned that before I spent all that money on a Christmas present."

"Oh, really!  Well if that is how you feel, I will return the combs!"

"No, Dell, no, I won't hear of it. . . ."

"Or perhaps I shall just wait until my hair grows back and sell it again!"


"Why, what shouldn't I do to keep my beloved husband festooned in timepiece accessories!"

"Now who is being petty?"

"You know, James, there is a word for women who sell their bodies to maintain the lifestyle of their men--and a word for the men whose lifestyles are thus maintained!"

"Della!  I am no whoremonger!"

"And I am no whore!"

"Don't I know it!"

"And just what is that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing, dearest, nothing at all."

"No, no. . . You obviously have something to say."

"Well, it is just that, we have not had relations--"

"I have had a headache!"

"Since Halloween?!?"

"Darling," Della said, a placatory note suffusing her dulcet voice.  "Let us not do this any longer.  It is Christmas, after all.  And we are together.  And what matter combs or chains, watches or hair, when we have each other.  And life.  And love."

And Jim, mollified, and resigned to another night bereft of relations, smiled at his bride.  "Agreed, Dell.  Agreed."

And with that, the pair reclined together on the worn davenport, a sanctifying snow falling gently on the city streets outside.

"Darling?" Della spoke after several minutes.

"Yes, my love?"

"What time is it?"

"Oh, fuck off."

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