Our prompt for the November 2017 writing contest has been:
Sometimes we spend ages choosing just the right gift for someone we love. What happens when that gift turns out to be a disaster in disguise?
And the winner is… Diane Stringam Tolley!
Diane’s quirky voice for this piece has managed to catch our attention with its humor. Well done, Diane!
By Diane Stringam Tolley
Call it a weakness.
I think things through. Front to back. Top to bottom. Side to side.
So you have to know that any choice I make will be painfully slow.
And that is what makes Marcie’s gift such a conundrum. It was supposed to be so perfect.
And, just FYI, I don’t think it was completely the dog’s fault.
Maybe I should explain . . .
Marcie and I attended school together. Journalism. There were six of us that sat through long, boring classes on the off-chance we would be able to someday write stirring, informative, uplifting, hard-hitting, or just simply sweet newspaper articles.
We were focused.
And we were good.
Okay, well, the other five were better than I. I had the creative juices, but lacked the spontaneity—or courage—needed to tackle immediate and high-pressure situations. Let’s face it, no one wants to read a well-thought-out and perfectly-written article about a shocking news story a full week after it happened.
But I found work—and my place—at a small community weekly and became happily engaged in the quiet world of children’s awards, family announcements and civic events.
Then Marcie, she of the rapier wit, extensive political knowledge and prestigious job with the foremost daily in our city decided she had reached a time in her young life when home-ownership was her next hurdle.
Just so you know, I had started along a similar line of thought when she did, but as you probably would expect, was still absorbed in the ‘thinking’ aspect, and had made very little actual headway.
And no decisions.
Marcie, a bit more decisive and immediate, had not only shopped; she had purchased and renovated.
She was ready for her very first dinner party in her very own home.
As none of her fellow Journalism-ians had even been allowed a peek of this amazing and perfect edifice, we were justifiably giddy over receiving an invitation to this first of (hopefully) many soirees.
I even had a house-warming gift. As per my usual (see above), it had been months in the planning. My knowledge of Marcie, her likes and dislikes, her values and life goals, and her very noted and notable love of things warm and furry had led me in one direction alone.
I can see the look on your face and I have to agree that, normally, a puppy wouldn’t be the first choice of gift for someone who had just moved into their new home. Particularly one who also spent ninety percent of their life on the road. And had, in the addition to the cost of the house, just laid out $90,000.00 in beautiful new hardwood and wall decorations.
Just go with me on this.
Puppy (I’ll call her Alice) and I arrived before the rest of the guests. Alice had been walked, drained and instructed in a stern voice that she was to be a perfect lady.
I was ready.
At first, things went as I had planned.
Ecstatic exclaiming and some exuberant face-licking. (Hers, by the pup, not the other way around.) And many, many expressions of thanks and happy planning of future adventures and pet store shopping.
See? I told you I thought things through.
Then Marcie’s guests arrived.
The puppy roamed from group to group, happily absorbing the affection and admiration of everyone present.
Finally, it was time to sit down at Marcie’s new table and enjoy the spécialité du maison: Stroganoff du Boeuf à la Marcie.
You’re right. I don’t speak French and neither does she. But it was a dinner party and I was trying to lend it a little class. I hoped It would make what happened next a little less . . . disturbing.
Marcie seated all of us at the table and carted in a couple of gently-steaming dishes, a platter of warm, buttery bread and a Greek salad to die for. The aroma of onions, spices, baking and slow-roasted meats were making her guests’ mouths water.
Then she entered with the pièce de résistance (French again), pausing dramatically in the kitchen doorway with the massive tureen (the gift of another of her guests) clutched between oven-mitted hands.
As we watched in breathless anticipation, she slowly began to make her graceful way across the floor.
Why is it that some people are blessed with brains, talent, looks and grace? Just wondering. Back to my story . . .
Just as Marcie reached the table, the side of the bowl she so carefully gripped broke.
I am not making this up. It did. The entire side.
The tureen upended, spilling the rich deliciousness of savory stroganoff right into the lap of one of the guests. She took in a large breath, probably redolent of every good thing, then realized something else.
The stroganoff was hot!
She leaped to her feet and Marcie, she of the reporter’s reflexes, dropped the ruined bowl on the table and began scooping hot meat and noodles from her guest to the floor as quickly as she could.
And this is where Alice again enters the picture.
Marcie had barricaded her furry gift in the front room with an intricate framework of books, furniture and bric-a-brac. With the appearance of the pup, however, it became quite obvious that such a structure was hardly an effective means of restraint.
Alice, not one to ignore a bounty so unexpectedly given, immediately began licking stroganoff from Marcie’s new hardwood.
Concerned with her guest’s comfort, Marcie ignored her pet, allowing the small, furry guest to ingest whatever she wished.
Then, as Marcie led her unfortunate friend toward the bathroom, intent on the next stage of repair, the small pup, perhaps fearing some form of well-deserved discipline for her stealthy food steal-age, darted under the table.
Where she abruptly lost control of everything she had greedily consumed.
All over the rest of the guests’ shoes.
Marcie’s boyfriend, as shocked as the rest but trying harder to disguise it, grabbed the pup by her front legs and pulled her toward him.
He succeeded only in extricating her from beneath the table. Not in preventing further disaster.
As he pulled her toward the door, she executed a manoeuver commonly called—in dog parlance— “Blow all tanks”.
And I use the term ‘blow’ intentionally.
Gobs and streaks of partially-digested and thoroughly-disgusting brownish-green material was expelled in a trail all the way into the front hall and out the door.
By this point, the guests had been catapulted into a place painfully beyond even gasps of horror. Where taking a breath is something one considers very, very carefully.
For a full minute, no one spoke.
Then, Marcie re-appeared. Stared a moment at the mess. And said, brightly, “Anyone for a sandwich?”