This story was written for the December 2016 Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month.
Diane Oh surveyed the stack of presents. They were wrapped in bows and shiny paper and each one had a name tag on it so there would be no mistakes when she was handing them out.
It was peppermint perfect!
She had something for everyone. For Mom, she went to the bank and the nice teller in the red jacket with the green plaid tie gave her a holder for Mom’s checkbook. The holder was made of black plastic, and it felt smooth and smelled serious. Mom could do some good business work with this!
For Dad, she went to the cooking store and bought a wooden spoon. It wasn’t the big one with splinters in the handle, or the little one that felt smooth. It was middle size, and it felt just a little bit rough but also soft. Dad could use it to stir the hot chocolate he made on Christmas morning!
For Cathy, she found an old bird book in the used bookstore. The book had a leather cover and hand-painted drawings: An Illustrated Guide to the Birds of the Orient, the title read. In the same old musty bookstore, she also found a very old seed catalog with hand drawn illustrations for Cathy’s roommate, Bay.
She found a box set of Rex Stout mysteries for Sebastien, a CD of Arlo Guthrie songs for Jade, and a bird feeder for Liam and Naomi.
She couldn’t decide what to give Sasha, so she gave her everything: a bronze horse with a fierce silver mane, a bottle of rose-scented bubbles, a tiny edition of The Hobbit, and a Jane Austen action figure. While she wrapped the action figure, she imagined Sasha’s smiles, and that got her thinking of Liam and Naomi’s smiles, and Jade’s smiles, and Sebastian’s smiles, and Bay and Cathy’s smiles, and her mom and dad’s smiles.
But what about Dr. Jasmine!
“All done, Honey-pie?” her mom asked when she came in the room.
“I thought I was,” said Diane. “But I don’t have anything for Dr. Jasmine!”
“I’m sure Dr. Jasmine will love anything you get her,” said Diane’s mom.
Her father joined them. “You’re the gift fairy!” he said. “I don’t know how you do it, Little Di, but you always manage to get exactly what somebody wants!”
“Besides,” said her mom, “it truly is the thought that counts, especially for someone like Dr. Jasmine, who already has everything. No matter what you give her, she will love it!”
“But I don’t want to ruin my record,” explained Diane, carefully, so that her parents would understand. “You see, each person’s gift was chosen specially for them. And when they open it, they will know that somebody–me–knows how special they are, so I got them the gift that was special for them! See? It’s perfect!”
“I’m sure you’ll think of something perfect for Dr. J,” said Diane’s dad.
“And even if you don’t,” said her mom, “whatever you do give her will be perfect because it came from you.”
But Diane wouldn’t settle for anything less.
What makes Dr. Jasmine happy?
Dr. Jasmine got very happy when they drank tea together. But Dr. J always said, “This is the best tea in the world! It comes all the way from Darjeeling, where it’s grown on a biodynamic tea plantation, where even the tigers are free to roam and the smallest grasshopper is respected as a perceiving being! This is the only tea I’ll serve!”
And Diane realized she had no idea how to get tea from Darjeeling where tigers roamed and grasshoppers meditated over the growing plants.
Dr. Jasmine became very happy whenever she made cookies for Diane! “Do you know that the sugar in this recipe comes from dates that were grown in an oasis in the desert in California, nestled behind the Sierras? It’s said that the bees that pollinate these date palms fly all the way down from mountain meadows for the express purpose of collecting the desert pollen.”
Diane certainly didn’t know how to get desert dates pollinated by mountain bees, or organic oats grown by shepherds with long white beards, or walnuts harvested by squirrels with tiny hands and Scottish caps, or moonlight chocolate made by Leprechauns.
Diane thought of Dr. Jasmine’s smiles. When did she smile the widest? Why! She smiled the widest whenever Diane stopped crying or pouting and began to smile herself!
If a gift was something that made another person happy, then Diane suddenly figured out the best gift for Dr. J!
She would make herself as sad as she could possibly be, and then, she would visit Dr. Jasmine, and when Dr. Jasmine served the tea, dished up the cookies, and sat with Diane to listen to her troubles, as the troubles would begin to vanish, Dr. J would begin to smile, and then, Dr. Jasmine would have her gift.
The next day, as Diane sat through math and reading, history and recess, she thought of everything she could to make herself sad. The numeral 3 looked very forlorn, sitting alone on a scrap of paper. Of course 4 would tease it for being a prime! And 5, though a prime herself, was far too proud to play with little 3. Such a sorry little number.
Diane was reading Heidi, and it was very easy to feel sad about Peter and Grandfather, and even little Heidi herself.
Oh, her plan was working out peppermint perfect! Diane had to laugh to herself at how well it was going to turn out! And then, in history, they learned about the Yahi in Northern California, and that was enough to draw real tears, not just from her, but from several kids. Poor Ishi! The last of his tribe. And to be made ill by eating candy and other sweets! So very sad. Kept like a specimen in a museum.
She felt sure that recess would provide lots of fodder for sadness, for recess nearly always made her sad. If she wasn’t the one sitting alone on the Kindness Bench, it was sure to be some other teased and disregarded kid, and just listening to the other kid’s story always made Diane feel like crying–or like punching somebody.
But maybe it was the Christmas season, or maybe it was thinking about poor Ishi, but this recess, all the kids were nice. Diane was even specially invited into the line at four-square. “Come on! You play, too!” Jenn said, pulling her into the spot in front.
After school, Diane skipped all the way to Dr. Jasmine’s house. She was so excited about her plan. But before she rang the doorbell, she found she couldn’t stop smiling. She thought about lonely numeral 3. She imagined Heidi’s grandfather. She remembered Ishi. She thought about the Kindness Bench, but for some reason, she couldn’t imagine anyone sitting on it.
“Oh, this is no good!” she said to herself. She thought of cats with no eyes, frogs with extra legs, kids with no presents at all, bombs exploding in far away countries, horrible gremlins that stole misbehaving kids and dragged them down where it was always dark and miserable. Now she was feeling a little bit scared. When she thought of Dr. Jasmine, ready to serve cookies and tea, she smiled widely, in spite of herself.
This wouldn’t do!
Just then, she saw a man dressed all in blue walking down the sidewalk, right in front of Dr. Jasmine’s house. He looked like a Blue Genii.
And he was frowning.
“Excuse me, Mister,” she asked him. “Are you sad?”
The Blue Genii answered that he was, very sad. At this time of year, everywhere he looked, he saw people with their families, children laughing and smiling. He couldn’t help but think of his nieces and nephews, all nineteen of them, halfway across the world, while here he was here all alone, with only his mother. “And she is feeling sad, too,” said the Blue man.
“I think you’re just what I’ve been looking for!” said Diane. “Would you come with me to visit Dr. Jasmine?”
The Blue man laughed. “I would be delighted to accompany you to visit your friend.”
The front door was open, and Dr. Jasmine called to Diane to come right in. She’d been expecting her.
Diane motioned to the Blue man to sit in the dining room, while she went back to the kitchen to fetch Dr. J.
“I’ve brought someone to meet you,” she said. “Someone who needs cheering up.”
They sat together in the dining room, and Diane explained all about the nineteen nieces and nephews clear across the world, and how the Blue man and his mother were here, all alone in a foreign land. “It’s tragic,” said Diane, “and very, very lonely.”
The Blue man began to laugh. “It is far from tragic!” he chuckled. “And I hardly feel lonely at all, at the moment, here in the presence of such cheerful and gracious new friends!”
“Don’t!” whispered Diane, as she tried to kick him under the table. “You’ll ruin it!”
“What will he ruin?” asked Dr. Jasmine, whose hearing was very sharp.
“My gift!” said Diane. “My present to you! I was going to get sad, and then you could cheer me up, but I was too happy and excited to be sad, even when I thought about lost puppies and dolls with no legs, and so then, by a stroke of luck, I found the Blue man, who was very sad, so I thought you could cheer him up, but now he’s happy, and you didn’t even get to share any of your special words, so my gift was ruined! I’m so sorry.”
And now, Diane felt very sad, indeed.
Dr. Jasmine laughed. “It’s true that it makes me happy when I cheer up you or anyone else who’s feeling sad,” she said.
She went into the kitchen and fetched three bowls of peppermint ice cream, setting a bowl before each of her guests and keeping one for herself.
“But do you know what makes me even happier?” she asked, as they ate their ice cream. “When everyone is already happy, without me having to do anything at all! And so, you see, Diane, you actually did give me the perfect gift!”
“Peppermint perfect?” asked Diane.
“Oh, absolutely,” replied Dr. J.