The Gift from Maggie

I know I keep you amused, but I feel I’m being used. All I needed was a friend to lend a guiding hand. I couldn’t have tried anymore. You stole my heart.

The Gift from Maggie
By Angela Rasch
(with inspiration from O. Henrietta)

Can it really be our fifth Christmas together? I asked myself while I added a touch of eyeliner to my left lid. The look and feel of the cool, shimmering liquid never failed to deliver that “Taylor Swift” moment I craved.

Our relationship seemed to be tied to Christmas and Christmases past. Maggie and I met at a Christmas party at a friend’s house and hit it off immediately after we were teamed for a Noel trivia contest and kicked ass. There were quite a number of people playing the game that knew eleven pipers were piping, but apparently only Maggie and I also knew the meaning behind the song.

She whispered in my ear. “The eleven pipers symbolize the eleven faithful. . . .”

“. . .apostles,” I excitedly finished for her, while we both grinned like hand-painted, wooden nutcrackers.

We started planning our Christmases in early October. The truth be told -- and if you want to be on the “nice” list, truth is mandatory -- the day after Christmas the two of us started thinking about what to give each other for the next Yuletide.

The previous year Maggie had given me a carved nativity scene she had purchased during our trip to Germany. Somehow she had made the buy and brought it home without me knowing. I had given her an evening a week learning ballroom dancing through a twelve-week course, because she loves to dance and I have more than my share of left feet.

Our lives were truly devoted to bringing goodwill to one another. Maggie’s activities were a quilt of caring: her volunteer work at the animal shelter, how she could never go by a homeless person without sharing, and a thousand other acts, including her job -- editing for a publisher who specialized in self-help books.

“Baby, you belong to me, you belong to me,” I sang to the mirror, delighted by my transformation from an average-looking guy to a semi-knockout babe. When I went to my monthly support group meetings I always felt like the only one of the eight of us who really made a fantastic-looking woman. The others probably try as hard as I do, but they just don’t have the raw material. I grinned impishly at my refection, and then pivoted on my three-inch heels admiring the soft curves of my hair-free legs flowing from beneath the hem of my knee-length skirt.

A week before our second Christmas I had come out to Maggie.

She reacted like the girl I love. “No one’s perfect,” she said with a delighted smile. She went on to explain that her father had been a closet alcoholic for years, drinking himself into a stupor each night in his den, and ignoring his family. “My mother put up with the loneliness he caused her; what’s a little makeup? Besides, your perfume is intoxicating. Do you have a nightie for when we go to bed?”

I had bought a ring and was ready to propose that evening. . .depending on how she reacted. We were married the following December 26th, our nuptials forever linked to our favorite holiday. We had even made our wedding announcements look like a Currier and Ives Christmas card.

What a mess! Two days before Christmas I still hadn’t found something for her. I stopped myself halfway through running my Braun 5270 Silk-épil X'elle Body System Epilator over my legs -- something I did every other day. Combined with a once a week shaving -- my hair-plucker kept most of my body smooth as a peach. I couldn’t get at everywhere, and since Maggie had never asked to help I had never requested that she do my back.

I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in weeks, worrying about finding “the” perfect gift.

I threw myself down on our bed and despite all the time I had spent getting my eyes perfect, allowed myself one self-pitying, hellacious cry. After ten or so minutes I felt a little better and redid my makeup, paying close attention to make sure Maggie wouldn’t know I’d been crying when she finally got home from work.

We had the same work schedule, but she had been putting in a lot of overtime at her firm for the last several weeks, so I usually had two hours to myself when I got home to change into my “Cherie” clothes, clean our house, and start dinner.

“You’re being a ninny,” I chided myself in the mirror by our front door. “For gosh sakes; think of Georgette and Patrice.” Two other girls in my support group were going through messy divorces.

At our last meeting, Georgette had described the last few months with her spouse. “Things just started to spiral out of control after I introduced her to my femme side. She became less and less interested in spending time with me — finding excuses to be out with her friends. And then came her list of demands.”

Patrice rolled her eyes. “Let me guess. No perfume. Dress only when she’s out of your house. Keep your things where she can’t see them. Am I on the right track?”

“Uh huh,” Georgette moaned. “And that was only the beginning. Then she added that I had to ask for her permission each time, in writing, and give her at least a week’s notice. But that was just her screwing with me, ‘cuz she’d already found a shark of an attorney to file for irreconcilable differences.”

“Holy shit,” Sylvia commented. “Don’t tell. That’s my policy and it always will be.”

Three other perfectly coiffed wigs bounced up and down, signaling the even split in our group over the matter of spousal disclosure.

I hadn’t paid much attention to the chatter after that, because the thought of Maggie and I ever getting divorced was ludicrous.

“But is it?” I asked myself, taking a red pepper out of the refrigerator to chop up for a tuna wrap I was making Maggie and me for dinner. I haven’t been able to find a decent Christmas gift, which might mean I’ve lost some of my ability to read her wants. Is this the beginning of the end?

Maggie and I both believed in the magic of giving. One year she had said to me, “It’s unthinkable that anyone could love someone without giving to them, but it does seem possible to give without loving.” She was bemoaning the commercialization of Christmas — and how some people were ruining Christmas by forgetting its true spirit.

“I believe it’s essential to give to someone who can’t possibly give as much back to you, in order to really enjoy charity,” she added. “But don’t you hate the mindless gifting where people buy whatever is on sale and stacked on the endcaps at Macy’s?”

I might just have to settle for an “endcap” present for Maggie. It’s as if my muse has run out of creative things to give her.

Maggie arrived home a half an hour later than she had promised and announced she needed to go straight to bed.

She didn’t even give the dinner I put together much consideration.

“I need sleep,” she said. “If you’re coming to bed within the next couple of hours please do what you can to get rid of that perfume you’re wearing so I can sleep. You look extraordinary tonight. Sometimes I wish you would give me a little notice when you’re going to get all dressed up. Gosh, I was looking through your girl things — perhaps we need to think about storing them in the spare bedroom.”

She turned and walked from the room, before I could answer. “I’m going to take an aspirin and dive into bed. I need sleep and. . . .” Her voice drifted off.

My mind went into panic mode. Two minutes before my biggest problem had been not having a “wow” gift for her for Christmas, and then I was looking down the barrel of d-i-v-o-r-c-e. My eyes both started dripping and all thoughts of eating evaporated. What had seemed like a delectable meal, now seemed inedible.

I spent the next three hours sitting in the dark in our living room going over everything she had said -- in detail.

She doesn’t like my perfume. She used to love my perfume. She used to bury her face behind my ear where I’d dabbed it and inhale like it was the last oxygen on Earth.

She thinks I look “unusual” tonight. Where did that come from? Maggie never said anything like that before. I wonder of Georgette and Patrice’s exes told them they looked “unusual”?

It’s no wonder I didn’t see this coming. All the time she was berating my cross-dressing, her eyes and body language sent out messages of love.

Ohhhhhh my; she even said she wants me to give her notice before I dress in my girl clothes. Sometimes I don’t even know beforehand when I want to wear a dress or a skirt. I wonder what she considers girl clothes and what she considers boy clothes. I’ve got some things even I can’t put a label on. Does that mean I can’t wear panties under my boy clothes? I always wear panties. That’s just mean.

Why would she want me to move my clothes into the spare bedroom? Does she want me to move with them? This sounds horribly like one of those scary stories I’ve read online by Vickie Tern. Does Maggie have a secret boyfriend she wants to bring home? I shuddered.

Why now? That’s so like Maggie. She lives on eggshells, often so wrapped up in others that she doesn’t get around to herself. It appears she finally has. Am I just now seeing the real Maggie? Did she get me to think I can’t get along without her so she can totally control me?

My thoughts went on and on. It was clear to me after consideration that things had been going downhill for quite some time. All that overtime and weekend work she’s been putting in may have been a cover-up for an affair. Who is it? Jerry — the guy at the grocery store she thinks is so cute when he gives us a special cut of meat? Her boss, Oscar? That can’t be. She doesn’t even like him. . .but I only know that because she told me and she also told me she liked my perfume when she really hates it.

I stewed. . .trying everything from wringing my hands to pounding my temples with my fist. Nicholas! Nicholas Vaaroni, our handyman. Maggie’s in love with Nicholas. He could do all those things I just didn’t have the aptitude to take on. He could fix anything and could lift twice his weight above his head. If the temperature got above sixty-five — off came his shirt -- showing off a perfect six-pack. Hell! I had even had a few sexual fantasies that involved him and what I assumed was below his belt. Not that I’m anything but hetero . . . but once in a while. . . .

“I can build anything you can imagine,” he had bragged. . .and from the things we had seen him erect around the neighborhood, he hadn’t overstated his abilities. Erect? Three weeks prior he had been in our house alone with her -- one Saturday when Maggie had sent me on an errand. They had both acted mighty strange when I walked in having forgotten my wallet and returning much earlier than I had planned. Why hadn’t I been more attentive?

My eyes hadn’t dried the entire evening. It was around eleven when I called Georgette. Our support group had a system in which we picked one person to be our “buddy” and gave them our real first name and a phone number where we could be reached. It was a cell phone each of us had that was used . . . strictly for that purpose.

She didn’t seem at all surprised when I explained my situation.

“Welcome to the club, Cherie,” she intoned. For the next fifteen minutes he commiserated and offered me advice on how to best position myself for my inevitable divorce. He said her lawyers would try to scare me with “dragging” me through the mud. At first I didn’t get his pun, so he repeated it. “Drag. Get it?”

“Oh shit,” I said, feeling total despair. “She’ll clean me out.”

“You got that right. Have you thought about taking her up on her offer? I’ve often wished I had just given in to what my wife had suggested.”

“I suppose I could,” I said. “I love to dress and I have a right, but that and five bucks will just barely buy me a latte.”

Georgette chuckled. “You know, Cherie. If I had it all to do over again I would have cleaned up my act. I love my wife and she never understood and probably would never understand my dressing. That wasn’t her fault — society’s bias is overwhelming.”

“Huh?’

“Sure,” he said. “I wish I would have purged.”

Our group had talked a lot about purges. I had never done it, but six of the eight had at one time or another thrown away their entire wardrobes. One of the gals had tossed all her things in the trash -- on five separate occasions.

We talked about a number of other concerns. Mostly Georgette expressed fear about my mental state and made me “promise, promise, promise” I would call her if I couldn’t handle things on my own.

When I went to bed, after showering to remove all my perfume, Maggie was fast asleep. I tossed and turned until four in the morning . . . when a solution hit me. I have two problems. The minor issue is giving her a perfect gift. The major problem, the only one I can care about now, is saving our marriage. I can kill two birds with one stones. I’ll give her the gift of purging my female side!

It all clicked into place and seemed so right that I finally went to sleep.

When I woke it was eight in the morning on Christmas Eve. I had the day off, but Maggie had to work. If that’s really where she is? She could easily be off with Nicholas.

My solution stood the light of day. It’s the only way. She’ll be overwhelmed by my gift and will remember the love she once felt for me. We can restore our marriage without my femininity standing in the way.

I called Georgette; she suggested I give everything I could to charity. The rest of the morning was spent boxing things. The drop-off at Goodwill went without incident. I tossed the three boxes of cosmetics, perfumes, and other items Goodwill wouldn’t take in a dumpster behind a hotel on the beltline.

When I got home I wrapped an empty box with a note in it explaining to Maggie that I had turned a page in my life leaving Cherie behind.

Six hours later we had completed all the little rituals that we always enjoyed on Christmas Eve, including eating oyster soup, which we both hated.

Our gift exchange always happened around nine when we simultaneously opened our presents for each other. I inattentively fumbled with the bow on the small package she had given me while I watched her ripping the green foil paper from hers. I continued to take my time opening mine, watching her furtively to see how she reacted. Her eyes went back and forth across the note she had taken from inside the box, reading my short message. Her face registered. . .shock.

She dropped the paper to the floor. “What do you mean? What does that mean that ‘you’re leaving Cherie behind’?”

I tried my best to smile, even though the finality of what I had done was killing me. “I decided it was best to toss my clothes and things . . . and get on with my life.” And save our marriage.

“I. . . ? Why would you do that?” She shook her head.

Why? You make it sound like I had a choice. “Because I think it’s the best thing for us.”

She groaned. “For us? We’ve had a perfectly wonderful marriage and Cherie has been a big part of it. Why would you think throwing her out was good for . . . us?”

I bit my lip and fought to keep the tears from ruining the spirit of my gift. “Don’t you like your present?”

“I. . . . I. . . . I just don’t understand.” She got up and walked the two steps to where I was sitting and picked up the half-opened package I had unknowingly dropped. “Open your present,” she said quietly. She handed it to me.

What can she possibly be thinking? We’re struggling to keep our heads above water, and she wants me to open a silly Christmas gift. I couldn’t stop the tears that were pouring down my face. She didn’t like my gift. It didn’t mean a thing to her. That can only mean she’s already made up her mind to leave me for Nicholas.

Her gift, like mine was an empty box with a piece of paper in it. On it was a short message telling me that she had hired Nicholas to build a big closet for me in our bedroom so Cherie’s clothes wouldn’t be so crushed.

Startled, I looked up at her. “But. . .you said you wanted me to move my things out of our bedroom into our guest room.”

She laughed lightly. “I was just setting the stage to surprise you even more with my gift. I’ve been working all that overtime to set aside enough money to pay for it. Your Cherie wardrobe is getting larger every day. You need more room. Why would I ever expect you to keep your clothes anywhere but in our bedroom?”

My hands went to my mouth. “But. . .you said you didn’t like my perfume.”

“When. . . ?” Her mouth hung open. “I never said. . . .”

I nodded. “Uh huh. The other night you said I had to take it off before I came to bed.”

“Ohhh.” She sat next to me on the couch. “I meant your Cashmere Mist is so sexy I wouldn’t have gotten any sleep if you came to bed wearing it, because I would be all over you until early in the morning.” She hugged me.

“But, you said I looked ‘unusual’,” I argued, happy to be hugged, but unwilling to be fooled again. “That doesn’t sound ‘sexy’.”

She giggled. “I’m pretty sure I said you looked ‘extraordinary’. I suppose I should have said ‘ravishingly beautiful’, because that’s what I meant.”

I stared at her, dumbfounded.

“Remember,” she continued. “I said I wanted you to give me a little notice if you were going to look like that. In the future, I want a far chance to look just as pretty for you.”

“Ohhhhhh. . . .”

“I’ve told you a thousand times that I love you,” she said softly.

“But. . . .”

“I love you. When you first told me about Cherie I was amazed at the courage it took for you to show me. Then I started to have fun with you when you were expressing your feminine side. It’s been a wonderful addition to the love and fun we already had. That side of you is important to me. . .to us.”

“I’m an idiot,” I said slowly.

“No. . .you’re my wonderful, wonderful Cherie. You’re so beautiful and loving that I can’t believe how lucky I am to have you. Christmas isn’t about giving someone something they need more than you do, it’s about giving the other person something you need more than they do. You thought I needed peace of mind, and were willing to give up that which provides you the greatest release from the frustration of having been born in the wrong body. Your gesture is the greatest gift anyone could ever give.”

I hugged her and smiled, knowing my worst fears were totally unfounded. “I’ll have the world’s biggest empty closet.”

“Not for long, Cherie,” Maggie said. “We’ll fill it before you know it. . .with things that make you look “extraordinary”.

The End



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