by Rory McCain, from the Portrait of Crime Mysteries.
"A penny for your thoughts," said Zeke, housemate, business partner and ghost extraordinaire. He joined me at the kitchen table where I was trying to come up with some original,Christmas gift ideas for my family. There were only a handful of shopping days left, and the paper in front of me was as blank as my mind. My father had every electronic gadget yet invented. With Christmases, birthdays and Fathers' Days, technology was no longer keeping pace with my gift-giving needs. Clothing held no more interest for him than a bag of groceries. Correction - he'd seemed pretty happy one year with a shipment of frozen steaks. But that was no longer an option, according to his cardiologist and my mother who'd assumed the role of dietary enforcer.
Speaking of my mother, she wasn't much easier in the gift-giving department. Jewelry had long been my go-to present for her, at least until she took me aside that Thanksgiving and told me she didn't have enough wrists, necks or earlobes to wear all the beautiful things I'd already given her. And she didn't want a tiara, not even a simple, tasteful one. Her safe deposit box at the bank was getting too hard to close and she didn't want to pay for a larger one. I'd given up on buying her clothing too. Although she loved clothes as much as any woman, what she enjoyed most was the hunt.
I looked up at Zeke with a sigh. "My thoughts aren't even worth a penny," I replied, explaining my predicament.
Zeke leaned his chair onto its back legs and hefted his imaginary cowboy boots onto the table. "I've never known you to be at a loss for ideas. Even if some of them are ill-advised."
"Fair warning," I grumbled. "This isn't a good time to be needling me."
"Appreciate the heads up, darlin'. So, you've run out of things to buy your parents for Christmas, huh?"
"I know - not the weightiest of problems. But I hate it when someone opens a gift and you can tell they're making an effort to be excited about it."
"Judgin' by the ads on TV, everyone is runnin' around lookin' for the perfect gifts to give. So you're not alone."
I fixed him with my sternest look of exasperation. "Fascinating, but I don't see how that helps."
"Okay, then let me tell you a little story," he said.
I tried not to groan out loud. Although Zeke's stories were often entertaining, I didn't have the patience for one at that moment. I opened my mouth to say as much, but he looked so earnest and determined to help that I swallowed my words and tried to look interested.
"Back when I was a kid, life was hard," he began. There were years when we barely scraped by. My Christmas present one time was a figurine my father carved from scrap wood by candlelight after I went to bed. Another year my mother wrote me a story about my grandparents who'd all died before I was born. I treasured those things even after I was a grown man."
"Is there a moral to this story?" I asked.
Zeke shook his head. "All I'm gettin' at is that presents from a store are the easy way out, your current dilemma notwithstandin'. Now comin' up with somethin' original that requires actual work on your part, just might be the best gift you could give your folks."
I thanked him even though his story hadn't sparked any epiphanies for me. Satisfied that he'd helped, Zeke went back to doing whatever it was that occupied his time when he wasn't visiting with me. When I crawled into bed that night the paper for my list was still blank, but while I slept an idea that had taken seed, germinated. I awoke the next morning knowing exactly what I would give my mom and dad. As an only child Christmas had always revolved around me, and now I wanted to give those magical feelings of love and joy back to them in the only way I could. Over the next few days, I wrote down all my memories of Christmases past, which turned out to be an amazing experience for me as well. Then I found an online company who put it all together in a book with a collage of our old Christmas photos on the cover.
When I returned home Christmas night, Zeke was waiting for me. "Well - did they like the book?" he asked.
"There wasn't a dry eye in the house, I replied. "Thank you."
"I aim to please," he said, his mouth hitching up in a smile.
"Now I just wish I could think of a gift for you." If thinking up gifts for people was hard, it was next to impossible for ghosts.
"Don't you worry, darlin'," he said with a wink. "You never know what tomorrow will bring."
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