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One of the recent Christmas stories that I have shared was one of our student’s version of The Gift of the Magi (original story by O’ Henry). That is a popular story about the true meaning of giving—and the selflessness in putting others’ desires ahead of our own.
In my Meaningful Composition series of writing books for students, I have a type of project called “the twice-told tale” in which students rewrite a classic story in a different setting with different characters. This is a popular assignment, and we love seeing students’ creativity through this project.
One student in particular had a somewhat comical, modern twist on O’Henry’s tale that I think families with teens and young adults would especially get a kick out of…so here it is, Michaela Miller’s spin on The Gift of the Magi. In this twist, our student has her characters doing the opposite of what O’Henry’s characters did—they sell the other person’s greatest possession in an effort to hurt the other person, not bless the other person. However, the results were not what either one expected….
The Gift of the Magi: Retold
Eight hundred and eighty-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents. That was the sale price of Tracey Jepson’s 55 inch Samsung LED HD TV. Camped outside of Best Buy one year on Black Friday, she tore through the doors and beat her way through crowds to lay her hands on man’s greatest invention.
Anyone brave enough to try to pry it from her claws would have savagely lost their arms. There was nothing Tracey was more passionate about than her soap operas- except maybe the hatred she felt for her husband.
Tracey couldn’t remember the last time she and Erik had been close to each other. She couldn’t remember why she had married him. What she did know was that their favorite pastimes clashed magnificently, and spurred an ongoing war between the two.
Erik’s most beloved possession was his electric guitar. A Gibson Custom Les Paul 1959 Murphy Electric guitar with Bigsby Aged Sunburst. He came home every day from work, locked himself in his cave, and spewed earsplitting squeals and screeches until bed time. Nothing drove Tracey crazier. Especially since the painful noise made it difficult to hear her favorite soap operas. Oftentimes, she would turn the television up louder, causing Erik to complain about interference with his concentration and Zen. The night continued as a competition to see who could be louder, finally ending with a house that was a battleground of cacophony.
With one arm lazily propping her head, Tracey sighed and flipped through the channels absentmindedly. With nothing good on, she tossed the remote aside and gazed through the window. Snow was falling with peaceful grace, reminding Tracey of that annoying holiday that comes once a year: Christmas.
Early on in their marriage she used to take great pride and pleasure from buying Erik gifts. She would spend hours looking for the perfect present. A guitar stand. A new tuner. A spider capo. And she always basked in the anticipation of what he would get her.
Once they realized how much they disliked each other, Christmas was more like a bitter pill. He put no thought into her gift, so she put none in his.
Around 5:15, the door opened, letting in the frigid snow and Erik. Tracey sauteed onions in a
pan and the delicious smell of garlic and rosemary chicken wafted from the oven. A small candle of hope flickered up in Tracey that Erik would notice her effort.
“Hello.” said Erik.
“Hello. How was work?”
“It was good,” he said blandly and tossed his suitcase in a chair before hanging up his coat and disappearing to his room.
The small candle of hope was immediately snuffed, and Tracey chided herself for entertaining the possibility that Erik might notice her. And her heart took its normal stony form once again.
When Erik stepped into his music cave, he could already feel the stress leaving him. As he hooked a chord from his guitar to his amp, he tried not to dwell on what he had done to make Tracey so cold.
He provided for her. He bought her stupid TV. She much preferred that inanimate object over him, and the thought was painful. Erik grabbed his pick and began his evening routine: numbing himself by getting lost in music.
That evening after supper, Tracey curled up on the couch for her favorite hour of the day: the next episode of These Days of Our Lives. Why couldn’t Erik be romantic like Dani’s husband? Always buying flowers, smothering her with gifts, and working on his six pack? This thought took a sharp turn to pure anger when Erik’s guitar hit a long squealing note that stopped her from hearing an important line in the show. Two can play at that game, she thought, and turned the volume up to one hundred.
In response, Erik’s amplifier started blasting so loud the china was shaking in its cabinets.
Tracey had had enough. This Christmas she would buy him a gift and put in lots of thought. A plot that would end the aggravating noisy, turmoil.
Tracey and Erik went to bed early on Christmas Eve. She lay wide awake until she was convinced by Erik’s even breathing that he was asleep. Carefully and quietly, she got out of bed, slipping on boots and gloves before stealthily exiting the bedroom. Her first stop was Erik’s music cave where she glanced around until her eyes fell upon her unlucky victim: the Gibson guitar. She packed it up and stole from the house like a sly thief. She drove to Guitar Center and sold the guitar for close to ten thousand dollars. She hadn’t realized how valuable it was but managed to force down the small pang of guilt when she remembered how much angst this object had caused her.
“Would you like to look at our Epiphone selection?” asked the tatted-up owner.
“I would like…” Tracey thought for a moment. What was something she could buy Erik that would seem like a gift but actually solve her problem? What was an instrument he couldn’t play or annoy her with?
“Where are your ukeleles?” she blurted.
A ukelele! Of course! Perfect. It can’t be hooked up to an amplifier, and Erik doesn’t know how to play it. Tracey chose one adorned with tacky blue and white Hawaiian flowers and eight strings just to be safe. She bought the most expensive one just to get under his skin.
Tracey drove home gleefully and stumbled through the door exhausted. She placed the wrapped present under the tree, next to a small rectangular box with a bow.
Erik’s present for me, thought Tracey bitterly. It’s probably more Soft Scrub and spatulas.
The room was so dark she had to find her way by memory before sliding under the covers next to Erik and dreaming about tattoos.
When Tracey awoke the next morning, the bed covers were open like a lip, revealing the empty spot next to her. Erik was clearly awake. She could smell bacon, eggs, and toast.
Rubbing her eyes, she trudged in a sleepy stupor to the living room. She first spotted Erik on the couch eating. The her eyes darted to the empty wall in front of him. Her pupils dilated in horror.
The TV was gone.
“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?”
Erik looked at her defiantly. “I disposed of a mind-rotting irritant to get you your Christmas
“You did- you did- what?” Her hands were on her hips and her head jutted out accusatorily.
“I had to be able to afford you present,” he said simply.
Fury overtook her when she realized she had done the same thing.
“You’re just trying to get back at me!” she shouted.
“Get back at you?” he barked, obviously confused.
His fake bewilderment made her livid.
“Yes. For selling your guitar!”
“YOU SOLD MY GUITAR?” So he didn’t know.
“For- your- Christmas present,” she hissed, jabbing a finger in his chest.
His eyes flashed, then almost in a whisper he spoke, “Well, then, we better like our presents.”
“Yes!” She wailed hysterically. “We better.” She grabbed her box and tore viciously at the wrapping.
She slipped her hands between the box flaps and pulled so hard the box split in half. Something silky spilled to the ground.
Tracey froze and stared at the pile. Her eyes flickered to Erik then back to the blue silk. Slowly, her fingers clasped the fabric and pulled it up to eye level, revealing a knee length party dress. Most would have found the dress unattractive, but this wasn’t any dress.
This dress was the dress that Dani had worn on the first episode of These Days of Our Lives. This was priceless! This was…
“The best Christmas present I could have asked for.” Tracey clutched the dress to her heart and started to tear up.
“Tracey, why are you crying?” asked Erik, placing a loving hand on her shoulder.
“Just open your present and you’ll understand.”
Erik took the remaining package from under the tree and held it gingerly. He slowly tore the
wrapping and slid the tacky blue ukelele from its case.
He just stared. Tracey’s heart plummeted when she realized what she had done. She had sold her husband’s most treasured item for a selfish, petty reason.
“I’m so sorry,” Tracey sobbed.
Erik’s face shot up, but instead of disappointment or anger, his eyes were full of compassion. Then a boyish grin spread over his face.
“How did you know I could play the ukelele?” he asked.
Tracey about choked. “I didn’t- you never- what?”
Erik traced a flower with his finger before tenderly replying, “It was the first instrument I ever
learned. I just kind of- stopped… but this is such good quality… and I miss its sound…”
And sure enough he could play. He played a song that reminded Tracey of palm trees and oceans, sand and peace.
Tracey and Erik held each other for a long time, vowing that things would be different. And they were. From that moment on they took great care in each others’ comfort and always showed affection.
Tracey knew she was wrong when she said the dress was her greatest Christmas present: it was the love she had regained from and for her husband.