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art by Richard Gagnon

The Gifter

By day, Torrey Podmajersky writes science fiction, fantasy, and stereo instructions for the 21st century. At night, well, she's good for nothing. Give her a cookie and send her to bed. Torrey lives in Seattle with an antique cat, a new-minted adult, freeloading chickens, and a cutler.

He looked at my year's work, listed out on paper. He drew breath through his long nose. He stretched his neck. It looked like his collar was trying to bite his head off. "Let's talk about your gifting, shall we?"
He didn't wait for me to answer. He stabbed the middle of one page with a pudgy finger. "Seventeen candy canes. Let's start there."
"Start with that giftee? Or just about the candy canes?" I hoped I sounded innocent.
"Why would anyone want seventeen candy canes?"
"She's new at her work. Her team was all excited about decorating a tree. It's not her holiday, but she still wanted to. So then she had the candy, and could join in."
"Ah! So that was a nice gift. Glad to hear there's one of those on here." He looked down again, then his head tilted to the side. "A rock. You gave a child a rock. On her birthday."
"It was one she didn't have. She's collecting them."
His finger moved to the next red-underlined word. "Worms."
"He wanted to start a garden."
"Bat researcher."
"Chicken pox."
That one had been difficult. And itchy. "He met another little boy with chicken pox at the doctor's office. They got to play together, and now they're good friends."
He steepled his fingers together, and spoke slowly. "A bag of garbage split open on a kitchen floor."
"She's an archeologist. It gave her a different perspective on the Pompeii ruins."
"A faulty transmission."
"He learned how his car works. And that he doesn't really want to be an engineer."
His neck turned purple as he read the next item. I knew what he was about to bring up, and braced myself.
"Two cases of gonorrhea?"
I cringed a little. "She needed proof he was cheating." I had my moments of doubt about that one. It was disgusting, but I'm thorough. I do good work.
He pushed away from his desk, frustrated.
"You're a gifter, Clarabelle. You're in the union--you've taken the Oath. We're supposed to be in the business of being kind."
He pushed aside the papers to lean toward me, across his desk. He was eager, pleading.
"Don't you want it? Don't you want to see that moment when they pause and take a breath, right before the mouth curves up, but after the eyes have widened, when the eyebrows have lifted and the cheeks have started to pull up at the corners? When they realize what's happened, when they start to hear the gift's promise to their senses or their mind or their heart or all three? Isn't that why you do it?"
I was already nodding.
He cleared his throat. "That's why I did it. There's nothing like fieldwork, Clarabelle. Being a gifter--that's the real gift, the real treasure, right there. It's a privilege."
His wings barely fluttered. It had been years since he got to go out and do the gifting, and it showed.
Tears stung the inside corners of my eyes. I do love my job.
He sighed. "I've got to put you on suspension, Clarabelle."
I didn't say anything. He pulled out the document, already mostly filled out. His eyes skimmed over it. He lifted his pen and signed the bottom. He turned the paper to hand it across the desk. He put his own pen next to it. "You'll want to read it through, then sign in the other blank."
I nodded. I read the paper. It didn't seem to have changed since last time. I signed it, the sparkly ink as good as milk for bonding a faerie to her word. I put the pen back on the table, and picked up my bag from the floor.
"Thank you, Clarabelle. I appreciate you understanding." When I got to the door, I turned around. He looked genuinely relieved.
It was time. "Sorry to leave you with so much work." I turned back to the door, and then back to him, as if I had just thought of something. "I don't think there's anyone to pick up my giftees for the next month, but you."
His heart beat once. Then his eyes widened, his eyebrows pulled up, his cheeks started to pull up at the corners. Right before he smiled, I grinned back at him. I couldn't help my wings from fluttering; I half-flew, half-skipped down the hall, totally ignoring the "no flying" sign.
I'll have to check in with the union rep, of course--there's always paperwork.
I don't care. It's worth it.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, September 3rd, 2012

Author Comments

I wrote this story on my birthday morning, before I started work for the day. Around that time, I had reason to contemplate the challenges I've presented to managers and co-workers (and friends, and family) over the years, and felt particularly lucky to have found the fantastic people I work, play, and live with now. This story came out as its own wonderful birthday present; I happily broke the pre-dawn stillness with my giggles as I wrote.

- Torrey Podmajersky
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