The Gift

By Cindy Mundahl

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I wrapped the watch in the old cigar box just as he had when he gave it to me for my twelfth birthday. He said his dad had given it to him when he turned twelve and that he wanted me to have it now that I was old enough to take care of it. The box still reeked of the cigars he used to smoke when he drank. He gave the watch to me a couple of days before he locked me and my mom and my little sister out of the house in one of his fits. That’s what mom used to call them, fits. We had to walk to Grandma’s in the dark that night and sleep on the green shag carpet of her living room that smelled like cat pee that’d been there for twenty years.

Now that I was back in town, I finally had the courage to tell him that I was done with him for good. I was going to rid myself of the years of living in fear of his moods. How many times did I worry he would drive us into the lake or off of a bridge? After a while I secretly wished he would and that I would walk out of the water with no scrapes or bruises or broken bones and he would remain on the bottom of the lake like a stone mired in mud.

When I handed him the gift, he unwrapped it slowly. His shaking hands didn’t let him tear the paper quickly. He opened the lid of the cigar box, struggled to pick up the watch and peered up at me over his glasses. “Thanks, Dad,” he said. “I’ll take really good care of it.” He smiled wide, stood up and put his arms around my chest with a strength that I didn’t think he had in him anymore. He held the watch up for everyone to see then gently tucked it into his shirt pocket as if he was afraid someone would snatch it from his wiry fingers. He leaned away from me toward the table of unopened gifts and motioned for the next gift, his eyes filled with the eagerness of a child. I turned and walked through the crowd of aunts, uncles and cousins gathered around his chair, past the birthday cake and out into the still evening air.

Cindy Mundahl