She hated buying gifts.
It wasn’t that she hated giving gifts, she loved giving gifts. But, she hated feeling obliged to buy gifts for occasions, like a birthday or Christmas. She loved stumbling across the perfect gift, a book of poems by a favourite author in an old hard-backed edition in a second-hand bookstore, or a postcard with just the right message blazoned across it. Gifts for no reason, she liked those gifts. But she hated giving gifts to people when they were expected. When everyone else was giving gifts. When her gift was going to be sat next to all the other gifts and judged. And rated. And potentially found wanting.
She didn’t like to give junk. She didn’t like to give things that would clutter a person’s house. She hated stores that were labelled ‘Gifts ‘n Things’. Stores that couldn’t specifically name what they sold were invariably stocked full of knick-knacks that nobody needed and would never in their right mind buy for themselves. She suspected, in the best scenario, most ‘knick-knacks’ were wrapped up and passed on to the next person to need an obligatory gift for an obligatory holiday. In the worst scenario, they went straight into the bin.
But, here she was again, ‘Cardiology’. She felt slightly nauseous walking in amongst all the pastel, the kittens done up with bows, the sparkles, the glitter, the over-powering lavender smell that was pulsing through the air, sticking at the back of her throat and making her gag.
She picked up a ceramic dog that was crouching, wagging its tail and looking up at her invitingly. She had an insane desire to smash it on to the black and white tiles right there in front of the sales assistant. Surely that would be worth…. $34.95??? For a ceramic painted dog??? Jesus. She put down the dog gently, jumping slightly as it knocked the glass display cabinet.
She turned around and saw the sales assistant glaring over his wire glasses at her. A male sales assistant? In a store like this? Closeted gay, she though involuntarily. He sniffed disapprovingly as if he had heard her and looked back down at his magazine.
She sighed and looked back at the display cabinets. There were a variety of ceramic objects, baskets with bows, playful kittens with red balls, a smiling pig. The pig was cute, but surely giving someone a smiling pig for a birthday present might send the wrong message? Even if it did have a festive straw bow around its neck?
She moved on to the next display cabinet. This was full of plastic toys, ones that could be wound up, walk on their own, or be made to sit or stand in various ways. Around the back of the display cabinet were the risque wind-up toys, walking penises, the sort of hilarious things people gave for 18th birthdays and hen’s parties.
She walked over to the wall, a selection of photo frames, coloured, metal, decorative… who uses photo frames anymore these days, she thought? And turned back to the store.
The sales assistant was glaring again. She smiled hesitantly at him, which he didn’t return. ‘Can I help you?’ His voice was like ice. What on earth drew a person like this to ceramic kittens with balls? Or did staring at ceramic kittens all day long turn a normal, happy person into this? This, glaring, sniffing, disapproving grouch.
‘Just looking’, she chirped in her perkiest voice. She enjoyed the wince her reply drew from him. She wondered what his reaction would be if she started whistling. She began to swing her arms, a slight bounce in her walk, and started whistling, ‘Tomorrow’ from Annie. If he was going to inflict pain in the form of ceramic kittens on her, then she would inflict bad musical theatre on him. He kept glaring and sniffing.
On the other wall were signs to hang around the house to make it look cozy. ‘There’s No Place Like Home’ on metal painted to look like wood and far too many hearts and birds surrounding it. No, no, no, it was all so bad. But she’d visited every other single store in the shopping centre, and there was nothing there.
She had to admit she had no idea who the person was she was buying a gift for. Well, of course, she knew who they were. It was Kathy, the receptionist from work. But who was Kathy? What did she like? Did she like to watch romantic movies on a Saturday night with tissues on one side and a box of chocolates on the other? Or did she spend her weekends going hiking and rock climbing? Was she the sort of person who would enjoy a Cecilia Ahern novel, or would she look down on anything that hadn’t won the Pulitzer Prize? She didn’t even know if Ruth was someone who would like to receive a card that was sincere or with a joke on it? If she got a card with a joke should it be dirty or insulting or tacky?
She turned back to the first glass cabinet. The smiling dog was smiling at her again. Screw it. She had better things to do with her time. She picked up the smiling dog, and then, for good measure, she picked up the wind-up penis. Hell, everyone needed a walking penis in an office as bad as hers. She took them over to the glaring middle-aged sales assistant, who suddenly broke into a wide smile which meant she knew she was being overcharged for her ceramic dog and wind-up penis by at least 50%, but she couldn’t care less at this point. She was going to get a fresh bread roll and sit in the park and enjoy the rest of her lunch break.


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