*with apologies to O. Henry
Absolutely skint. That was what she was. After smashing every piggybank and rooting between all the couch cushions, Perlie collected exactly zero dollars and zero cents. And Christmas was tomorrow.
She would have cried about her situation but that would have only ruined her complexion. She was made of gingerbread, after all. Also, she realized that things could have been worse. At least she was not homeless, the rent on the flat had been paid for the month and there was food in the pantry, which was more than could be said for a good many gingerbreadians.
But what she lacked in wealth, she was more than compensated for in love. She was married to the molasses man of her dreams, Mr. Gantry Cooki, a gingerly fellow who never complained about his lot in life even though he slaved away at a job that barely kept a roof over their heads and food in their bellies.
Although her husband asked for nothing for the holiday season, Perlie could not let the special day pass without giving her beloved a gift. In her mind’s eye, she pictured all the lavish things she would purchase, a mountain of presents that could not fit beneath even the tallest redwood tree, which would not begin to show the worth of her Gantry.
The fact of the matter was there would be no present under the tree, in fact, no Christmas tree at all because there was not one blessed thing in the house that could have been used as collateral for a loan to buy even the tiniest most inexpensive gift. There were only two things The Cookis were proud of owning, the first being Gantry’s icing eyes, made by a master craftsman baker who passed away several years ago, and the other was Perli’s limbs. She was a prototype gingerbread woman designed as a risqué novelty item for adventurous and hungry lovers.
When Perli walked the streets, she turned the ginger heads of men and women alike. When she was feeling particularly saucy, she would strut past the gaggle of gingergossips, proudly displaying her stunning legs and letting her arms swing wide, captivating the looky-loos with her enticing patterns. Her only competition was Gantry’s eyes, which held the power to mesmerize anyone foolish enough to gaze upon them for too long.
Perli looked herself over in the mirror a long while before sighing and fetching her coat. There was only one thing to do.
Her exquisite legs carried her to the storefront of Madame Dent Sucrée’s Salon des Délices Épicuriens, the one place in which no sane gingerbreadian would be caught dead, figuratively. The literal sense was an entirely different matter.
Upon entering the boutique, Perli’s senses were assaulted with treacly fragrances a human being would consider delectable, but to her, it smelled like a gingerbread abattoir. She was promptly greeted by the shoppe’s proprietor, Madame Dent Sucrée, who was known locally as simply Sweet Tooth.
Sweet Tooth was a big-boned woman with a pale complexion and juicy red lips that glistened to the point they appeared to be iced. She eyed Perli suspiciously.
“I—I need money,” Perli’s voice nearly caught in her throat. “To buy my husband a Christmas present.”
“You are in luck, for I have money,” said Sweet Tooth. “Are you aware of my conditions?”
Perli’s head dropped. “I am.”
“Then take off that ridiculous coat and let me get a good look at you.”
Perli did as instructed and Sweet Tooth’s cold gaze instantly turned ravenous. They bargained and haggled for the better part of a half-hour and eventually arrived at a price that Sweet Tooth was hesitant to agree to and Perli thought was still not enough. Mrs. Cooki did her level best to hold back the tears as sweet teeth dug into her gingerbread flesh.
The rest of the day dragged on as Perli visited shop after shop in search of the perfect gift for her husband. During her travels, she attracted the usual number of stares but this time for an entirely different reason.
As was the way of the world, Perli found a gift practically tailor-made for Gantry in the very last shop on the High Street, and even though it cost her all the money she received from Sweet Tooth, she paid to have the present wrapped in lavish gold leaf paper and tied with a crimson silk ribbon.
When Perli arrived home, she stared at herself in the looking-glass, inspecting the true cost of her husband’s Christmas gift.
“Will he understand?” she asked her reflection and waited for a response, some sort of reassurance that she had done the right thing. When none came, she began preparing supper.
Among Gantry’s many positive attributes was his punctuality, yet this day he arrived home forty-five minutes late. Perli spent that time nervously propped up against the table nearest the front door with the wrapped Christmas gift in hand.
When she finally heard his footsteps in the hall, she whispered a silent prayer, “Please let him understand.”
The door opened and Gantry stepped in, slowly, carefully. He was wearing a pair of dark sunglasses and looked very serious, not at all like his usual cheerful self. He stopped just inside the door and stood there quietly. With the dark glasses on Perli could not tell if he was looking at her but there was an expression on his face unlike any she had ever seen before and it made her afraid.
Was he so shocked by her appearance that he had no idea how to react, or was a fit of anger percolating inside him that had yet to reach the boiling point to register on his face?
“Oh, Gantry,” she cried, “Please don’t look at me like that. I had to do it. I could not bear spending the holiday together without giving you a gift. It is Christmas. Let us be happy. You have no idea what a beautiful nice gift I got for you.”
“What did you do?” asked Gantry slowly. He seemed to labor to understand what his wife was talking about. He seemed not to comprehend what was staring him in the face.
“I visited Sweet Tooth’s shoppe today and sold something valuable in order to buy you a present. Please tell me that you understand, that you are not angry, that you still see me as the same cookie you fell in love with.”
“What did you sell?”
Was he mocking her, or trying to humiliate her by making her speak her shame out loud? “I let her take my left arm and right leg.”
“Your arm and leg are gone?”
“Bitten off and consumed,” Perli said, balancing herself on a crutch. “Please do not look at me differently, I am the same woman without those limbs. It is the night before Christmas, my love, so be kind to me because I sold them for you.”
Gentry roared a hearty belly laugh from the depth of his soul.
“I visited Sweet Tooth as well in order to get you this,” Gantry said, digging a wrapped present from within his overcoat. “And all it cost me was…”
Gantry removed his dark glasses and the space on his face below his hairline and above his nose was icing free.
“Your eyes,” Perli gasped.
“Traded for your gift on this most special of days,” Gantry said, extending the gift in the direction of his wife’s voice.
Perli set her gift down, hobbled over to Gantry and put her arms around him. As her husband had no eyes, she cried for both of them, complexion be damned; tears of loss which eventually turned to tears of joy. And in that long embrace they consoled one another; a new arm and leg could be baked and a new pair of eyes iced and while they might not be crafted with the same skill as the originals, they would be made with love.
And for the reader curious to know what gifts were given, this author offers that the presents were personal in nature, objects of value only to the recipient. What was important was not what was contained within the wrapping but that the gifts were born of love and sacrifice, both of which were appreciated by the giftee.
Sally forth and be gift-from-the-heart-givingly merry this holiday season!
Peace be upon you.