Her grandfather understood. Others not so much.

Maggie was a bright child, though one difficult to understand. I’ve known her for some 20 years, and the riddle of her existence in all that time has gotten no closer to being solved. Now there’s kids, beautiful kids, aging parents, an ex-husband, monthly rent and unemployment.

Yet she’s fierce, and competent. She’ll land on her feet, again, and likely some of that agility, that feline ability to twist mid-air and land on the balls of her feet as if preparing to launch into a Kung Fu roundhouse, can be credited to the old man.

Grandpa was her special friend. And he left her the gift of a lifetime,

Really. It’s wrapped tight in paper, stowed in some safe place so the kids don’t unwittingly unwrap this relic of an innocent time, and it’s as alive with mystery today as it was those many years ago when grandfather assembled the individual ribbons and bows, wrapped them meticulously under a dim living room lamp after stuffing one of the decorative boxes with a hefty something that would mystify Maggie for years.

She’s been tempted, of course.

This hasn’t been a life of plenty. No one’s starving, and the heat bill mostly gets paid, but day to day the struggle to fund a family, especially on your own, is exhausting. Meanwhile, the detritus of daily living piles up all around — books and toys, dishes, the cold regard of that chipped coffee mug, a cereal box long raped of its sugary contents.

The daydreams tickle her waking thoughts — maybe it’s a lump of gold, fat enough to pay all her bills this month and send her back to Humboldt County for a week-long visit with loved ones?

Maybe it’s a diamond, cool as ice, set to melt in the palm of her hands until it turns into a slushy mound of hundred-dollar bills that’d offer her kids the best Christmas ever?

Maybe it’s a cufflink he wore the night he married grandmother? Maybe it’s a coin cherished by hoary collectors and worth 1.21 jigawatts, or — better yet — a key to some undetermined future where the world worships possibility and life has yet to lose its ambition.

Once a year, she might pick up that package and turn it around and around in the palm of her hand, its bright paper as full of shine today as it must’ve been those decades ago when Grandpa taped it shut for the final time. A decorative flourish meant for the mantle, this trifling present has in many ways come to define Christmas.

Brother, mother — they think it’s probably a bolt to weigh the box down, a dead weight to keep the tiny vessel from skidding off the tabletop and falling forever into the unknown.

Shaking it just so, holding it to her ear, Maggie knows it’s more than that. It’s anything she’s ever wanted, the world as it should’ve been for a girl of her types ands talents, its limitless possibility and hope shrunken down enough to fit in a hamster’s rolltop desk.

She’ll never unwrap it. As long as it’s safe, stowed on high away from kids and pets and the bad attitudes life always seems to carry along, as long as it’s whole and unmolested, it can be whatever the hell she wants it to be.

Grandpa understood: Could there be a better gift?


James Faulk is a writer living in Eureka. He can be reached at faulk.james@yahoo.com.