The Gift (Story by Risa Peris)

She was not popular. She was a little chubby, had corkscrew chocolate colored curls, her clothes were often dirty and there always seemed to be jam smeared near the corners of her mouth. Her name was Heidi and I liked that name. I loved the story of Heidi living in the mountains of Switzerland. Heidi was not the Heidi of the storybook. Not quite as bright or even lovely. There was nothing mysterious or foreign about Heidi. She was just a girl who lived in a trailer park and had no friends. I was nice to her but I was careful to keep my distance at recess. Unpopularity was contagious at school. It’s not like I was all that popular. I was good at tetherball and kickball so I managed to get a few boys as friends. Heidi usually sat on a bench eating her jam sandwiches or reading comic books. She always had big smiles for anyone who approached. Micah, the most popular girl in school, knocked a book out of her hands at one recess. Heidi kept smiling, picked up the book, and dusted it off. 

“Hi, Micah. You look pretty today.” Heidi sat down and wiped her face with the back of her hand which smeared more jam. 

In November, my mother granted me my first birthday party at Chuck E’ Cheese. I was so excited. I made a list of people to invite and my mother, who was Room Mother (some strange position parents can have in a classroom), approved. She knew all the students. 

My mother helped me create birthday invitations out of construction paper. We made some extras just in case. When I handed them out on Monday, Heidi ran up to me. 

“Can I go to the party?” She grabbed me with her grubby hand and begged. I knew I had extra invitations and then gave her one. I felt rather sorry for Heidi. Mother didn’t though. She got crazy mad. Like atomic bomb mad. 

“That trailer trash?” Mother slapped me. “What’s done is done. You can’t take it back. But I guarantee she’s going to give you a terrible gift.”

I was crying. “I don’t care about the gift.”

“Well, you should.”

One week before Thanksgiving and the party ensued. It seemed like everyone was having fun and I wore a plastic tiara on my head. We then opened gifts. I was given good gifts. Then Heidi walked forward with a newspaper wrapped gift. She looked so proud. 

“Here.” She thrust it into my hand. I opened it and revealed a banged up small box. I pulled the flaps of the box back and inside was a chipped fairy figurine.

“Thank you, Heidi.” 

She laughed and took another slice of pizza. 

When we got home, Mother was mad. “I warned you. Heidi would give you a terrible gift. I hope you learned your lesson.”

I had no more parties after that. After college, I was digging through some boxes. Mother had died. I opened one box. There was the chipped fairy. I cried. Heidi really had been a sweet girl and Mother hurtful. Tears flooded my eyes. It was Mother and Heidi but also the sloppy endearment of life and the striving for love and connection. The fairy seemed so fragile in my hands.