Finding a birthday present for my mother is never easy. After all, she can make anything she wants. My sister always comes up with something inventive. She’s like that. For example, on Mother’s 125th, Maggie gave her a dozen rubies that turned into roses, which threw off a fragrance of an Italian spring, and then all the petals flew up, forming Mother’s name, Alosinatiania, and disappeared in a rosy cloud pierced by a rainbow. I don’t have her gift. We’re half and half, and I got the wrong half. I am reduced to shopping for a present. There are no magic shops, contrary to what humans think. Why would there be when they, and I say they advisedly, can do it all themselves. And I am also reduced to working because when you can’t make anything, you have to buy it. As a result, I am in Walmart this morning, along with many other magicless people, in a crush of eager shoppers looking for big discounts, of which there are none, though there is plenty of junk. How can I possibly find a present for Mother here?

Face it, kid, I think, you’d better get out while you can, and I push and shove my way through the scurrilous crowd to get to the exit. From here I have to find my car in the parking lot because I am dependent on fuel burning transportation. Well, that isn’t any different from my sister, except that the fuel she burns is a steak dinner. I, on the other hand, have to be a vegetarian, because meat packs on my thighs. When I finally get out of the parking lot, having endured honking horns and thrusting fingers, I drive in a random direction, knowing that I’ll eventually come to a mall. Humans never get tired of malls.

My situation is precisely what Grandmother warned my mother about before she hooked up with Dad. He was a great guy, and I wish I could talk to him, but he’s long dead. The only legacy I have from Mother’s side of the family is longevity. I am eighty in human years, and look about thirty. Nobody knows whether my life will be somewhat foreshortened because of my paternal heritage, so I’ve always taken my life on its own terms, one day at a time. The days have mounted up, and I wish that I had taken some of them to update my medical degree. Unfortunately, I obtained it before antibiotics were discovered, and leeches are no longer a recommended treatment.

I’ve asked my family not to give me any magic gifts for my birthday or holidays. They’re beautiful, but I have material needs, and as they say, cash is the universal gift certificate. Unfortunately, my family understood that to mean flying cash or disappearing cash or cash that turns into rainbows. And when I said cold hard cash, they gave me exactly that, meaning dollars made of ice, which they thought very amusing. Maybe I’ll get Mother a nightgown on ebay, I think, and begin to head for home, a modest apartment in a modest drab suburb. I miss Dad. We had a laugh together when the stock market crashed. He even laughed when people started jumping out of buildings. He was a bit odd, my Dad was, but a handsome man. Everyone agreed on that, even Grandmother, who said that as humans went, he couldn’t be bettered on appearance.

Grandmother wasn’t angry with mother for falling in love with Dad, not even for getting pregnant, not even for having twins one of whom is, how shall I put it, not developmentally delayed (that is human speak—denying the facts, I’ll never catch up). Crippled I should say. That’s what my sister called me in her worse moments: Cripp.

Worse, now she feels sorry for me, and if I called her, she would make something from me for Mother in a flash. However I have no means to call her because she doesn’t have or know how to use a phone, landline or cell. I have to wait for her to pop in, which she does whenever she infrequently thinks of me.

When I get home, I park my car in the underground lot, and take the elevator up to the 20th floor. I do have a landline, a cell, and a laptop, which I presently boot up. How much is a used nightgown, anyway?

Cold Hard Cash: mini-fiction
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Lilian Nattel

Lilian Nattel