Crap from the magi, p.1
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       Crap from the Magi, p.1

           Brent D. Seth
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Crap from the Magi
Crap from the Magi

  By: Brent D. Seth

  Copyright 2011 Brent D. Seth

  ***Please review this story whether you enjoyed it, hated it, or simply had problems with the formatting.

  ****

  Crap from the Magi

  It was only a few days before Thanksgiving when Caroline tripped over the box on her front porch. She had just passed this way, only moments ago to drag the trash to the curb. With the pounding rain, she failed to notice the mailman’s delivery. Caroline swore under her breath as she picked herself up and gathered the damp package, bills and seasonal catalogues.

  Once in the kitchen, Caroline set the box on the counter. There was no return address, but that was hardly needed. This box had been sent before; the old address, crossed out with a dull Sharpie, still visible: Roberta, of course.

  Carline sighed. Her Mother-in-law seemed to delight in sending used gifts so it was no surprise she would send something in a used box. Flat-Rate box from the Post Office; if it fits, it ships. Surly Roberta knew she could have gotten a new one for exactly the same cost--nothing. But it’s the thought that counts, and it was clear how much the thought was worth.

  Since the garbage would not be collected until tomorrow morning, there was plenty of time to inspect the contents and deal with them accordingly. Last year’s gift had been a chipped ceramic lotion dispenser, complete with hard, yellowed lotion. The year before had seen a plastic cookie jar in the shape of a cow—exactly what every woman wants. A cow to contain something which will make its owner look like a cow. The Kid’s use it to hold Lego’s.

  There was enough packing tape on the box to wallpaper a small den. This was another of Roberta’s perverse joys. The only thing better than getting a lousy gift was the work it required to unwrap. Mother would have been disappointed; the damp cardboard allowed the tape to pull away with ease.

  Caroline did not react when she found the metal water pitcher inside. She was not expecting anything in particular, but knew in-general it would be ghastly. The pitcher was strangely large, and apparently did not quite fit in the box, as it had been noticeably flattened. Roberta must have placed it in the box, closed the flaps, and leaned her considerable weight to force the box into a condition acceptable by the postal authorities.

  The pitcher rocked on its warped base when Caroline set it on the counter. There was no way to guess why Roberta had chosen this particular item. Perhaps her own home had been completely purged of unwanted material, forcing her to seek new sources. More likely, someone else had sent this trash to Roberta, who in turn had promptly resealed the box, changed the address and paid it forward. That would also explain why it had come so early.

  A better question, and one that Caroline soon found herself evaluating, was why would someone make this thing in the first place? No one uses water pitchers anymore, and this piece of hammered tin was far from decorative. There was an image on the body of the pitcher, a pastoral scene with a rooster pecking under a sprawling elm. You had to squint and tilt your head to one side to see it; at a quick glance it looked more like a bagpipe superimposed over an autopsy table.

  At least the pitcher held a large volume of space, and could certainly stand the pressure of a few pounds of Lego’s. Caroline quickly reconsidered. The rolled edges of the tin were too sharp. Her initial solution had been the best one, and without hesitation, Caroline dropped the pitcher back in the box, and deposited them both in the recycle bin out front.

  Howard Brady had been working the next block as he watched Caroline dash back to her house. As Port Huron’s most accomplished trash-picker, Howard could spot scrap metal at three hundred paces. Abandoning his dissection of an aluminum storm window, he pedaled his reclaimed bike up the street.

  Howard, still wheezing from the trip, examined the new treasure. Yes, it was tin, and in perfect condition. Why would anyone throw this away? Alma could put this on her sideboard.

  The pitcher was a little too large to fit in the milk crate Howard had duct tapped to his handle bars. He had already snagged a crumpled piece of downspout and several inches of copper wire, still soldered on the printed circuits they had once powered. But you can’t let good metal go to waste, so Harold shoved the wires into the pitcher, slicing his finger on its rim.

  Whether it was the fact that his hands were filthy from the day’s work that launched the Tetanus infection, or maybe just a natural attribute offered by the pitcher was never known. Mrs. Brady certainly didn’t blame the pitcher three weeks later when she filled it with daisies sent by a neighbor. This was a big bundle of daisies, like the one’s Alma had often admired in the cold case at Wal-Mart.

  Too bad it takes a tragedy to get nice things, Alma thought as she carried the pitcher to the table. There was already a large selection of food in place; mostly casseroles inspired by the fine people at Campbell’s. Mrs. Brady would need all the space when family started arriving before the service. She took the daisies into the living room. Here, people could enjoy the fragrance while they ate. The pitcher sat nicely on the doily atop the television. It had been one of the last console televisions ever made, and even though the color had faded, it still worked to watch Springer or the Wheel.

  Alma didn’t notice the trickle of water slowly soaking the doily. Aunt Pat didn’t see it either when she leaned over for a sniff. In fact, no one in the family knew what to tell the fire department six hours later as they stood in the snow, warmed by the glare of the raging inferno.

  Neighbors and friends were very consulate to Mrs. Brady, bemoaning the tragedy of losing both her husband, and the collection of antiques he had built for so long. But Mrs. Brady was okay. Harold had not approved of insurance, certain it was just a big scam by those college boys, but Alma had known better. She had secretly put away small portions of the monthly disability checks Harold had been getting from the railroad for the past forty years. With this and the illicitly purchased insurance, she would be able to buy herself a brand-new double wide, and even some good furniture from IKEA. Merry Christmas to me!

  The fire burned most of the night. Harold had collected so many antiques, all for free, that once it started the fire had spread quickly. The family had been at the funeral home, saying goodbye to father, so no one had noticed the sparks, the exploding vacuum tube, or sudden engulfment of every issue of the Ladies Home Journal published since 1983. From there it had been a short journey to the curtains and beyond.

  By morning, the source of the blaze had easily been identified. The melted plastic of the television had buckled, tossing the pitcher of charred flowers into a pile of periodic ash. It was spotted by junior fireman Daniel Walsh. He had overheard some of the neighbors talking about how this house had been filled with valuable antiques, but most of what he saw was the remains of old junk, much like the house itself had been. But something about this pitcher grabbed his eye. The heat had warped the tin even further, and burnished it with a truly aged-looking finish. There were no words stamped on the bottom, nothing to indicate mass production in Taiwan, so this could have been legitimate. Besides, it depicted a chicken. Everything in his wife’s kitchen had a chicken motif, so it would probably be appreciated.

  Daniel knew this was technically stealing. But as he slipped the pitcher under his raincoat, he reminded himself how happy the widow had been when the accidental nature of the fire had been confirmed. Actually, she had cheered and vowed to begin shopping immediately—which should be a chore as today was Christmas Eve.

  And that was the real reason for stealing the pitcher. Today was Christmas Eve, and he still had not gotten a gift for his wife. Oh, he wanted to, but shopping is such a pain, especially this time of year. And
she does love chickens.

  He would have to wrap it though, and that would mean shopping. As Daniel sat in his truck that afternoon, cleaning the smoke and ash off the pitcher, he came up with a better idea. On his way home, he stopped at the post office and picked up one of those Flat Rate boxes. They let you have them for free, and you don’t have to pay anything if you don’t actually mail it. They even let you use packing tape.

  Daniel carefully wrapped the pitcher in bubble wrap—which he did pay for—and placed it lovingly in the box. After telling the desk clerk he had forgotten the address and would be back on Monday, he returned to his truck. With an old Sharpie from the glove box, Daniel addressed the package to himself c/o the fire station. There was no postage, of course, but he was sure his wife wouldn’t notice. He would just tell her he bought this lovely antique on E-bay and it arrived today.

  From that point, things didn’t go exactly as planned, including Daniel’s actual return to the post office on Monday afternoon. After explaining to the guys at work how he had spent most of Christmas Eve at the emergency room for a Tetanus shot and treatment for a deep cut on his forehead, Daniel still didn’t understand why his wife had been so instantly pissed by his gift. She still wasn’t speaking to him, so the mystery might linger for days or weeks yet to come.

  Since his wife apparently hated the pitcher, Daniel had decided it should go to someone who would appreciate it. At the little table in the post office, Daniel crossed-out his name on the box and addressed it to his mother, Roberta Walsh…

  ****

  About the Author

  Brent Seth was born in Bloomington, Illinois during an ice storm which, with the benefit of hindsight, seems to have been something a peak. As a self-destructive, cynical nihilist, Mr. Seth has always displayed a peculiar affection for comedy, especially when used as a club to beat-up that which was never actually alive.

  His first novel Short Fuse is currently available on Amazon and Barns and Noble.

  When he isn't busy tapping the keyboard, Brent spends his time dusting the cello in his office, indulging in extreme (and sometimes vindictive) gardening, massing even more LEGO bricks to an already insanely large collection, and wishing he knew how to play the cello.

  Mr. Seth now lives in Michigan with his husband and several spoiled cats.

 

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