Christmas was fast approaching, and Bartholomew was looking to make a little extra spending money to buy Oliver and Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey some presents. Bartholomew saw an ad at the local coffee shop for someone to wrap Christmas presents. It was a three day job, and it was pretty good pay, so he called to inquire about it.
“Hello,” said a man’s voice on the other end of the line.
“Hello, this is Bartholomew,” said Bartholomew. “I would like to inquire about the present wrapping job.”
“Bartholomew? Is this the Bartholomew who is dating my daughter Geraldine?” asked Gerald who owned the man’s voice. Gerald did not know that Geraldine and Bartholomew had stopped dating five months earlier.
“Uh, yes, I did date your daughter for awhile. How are you, Gerald?” asked Bartholomew.
Gerald coughed so loudly Bartholomew had to hold the phone away from his ear.
“Yeah, why don’t you come by. Wrapping starts tomorrow and I need one more person. Maybe you could join Geraldine for dinner afterwards.”
“I don’t think…” started Bartholomew.
“You know the house. Just come on by tomorrow morning at eight and you can get started.”
“Well thank you, Gerald,” said Bartholomew.
“Yeah, and say hello to your parents for me,” said Gerald as he hung up the phone.
Usually, Gerald was as tight as a swollen door when it came to money. But there was one time each year when he would shower his children with gifts. That was Christmas. Gerald was so generous that each of his four children: Xavier, Mo, Khua and Geraldine each had their own special room, decorated with their own Christmas tree and presents.
Bartholomew showed up at Gerald’s mansion ready to wrap presents and hoping to avoid running into Geraldine. Thankfully, she was in school most of the day. Bartholomew arrived at the same time as three other young people who were to help wrap. The Butler showed each wrapper to a room in which they would spend the next three days wrapping and decorating for one of Gerald’s children. Bartholomew was worried that he would end up having to wrap Geraldine’s presents and decorate her Christmas room. Thankfully, he was assigned to Xavier.
Bartholomew walked through the wooden double-doors and found a gigantic room filled furniture and several tables piled high with items to wrap. In the corner was a ladder and boxes of lights, ornaments, and wall decorations. In the middle of the room was a thirteen-foot-tall evergreen tree.
“There are some directions over by the boxes on what to do with the decorations,” said The Butler gruffly, “and the wrapping paper, tape, and materials are over on the table. There are directions there, too. Certain presents need to be wrapped with certain paper. If you have any questions, you can push this button on the wall here and The Nanny will come and tell you what to do.”
Bartholomew turned to ask a question, but The Butler had already left the room.
Bartholomew felt a bit overwhelmed by all the presents, so he decided to start with the decorations. On top of the boxes of decorations was a sheet of paper with very neat hand-written directions accompanied by a detailed sketch of the room with the decorations in place. On a second page was a drawing of the tree with all of its ornaments and strings of lights. Bartholomew thought this would be easy.
He took out the lights and ornaments and walked over to the tree and began stringing the lights. Each time the lights wrapped around the tree the string was to be one foot higher than the last string while spiraling up to the top of the tree. Bartholomew spent the next half-hour completing this task. He unpacked the first box of ornaments and began to place round, shiny globes on the tree. When he was done with that box of traditional ornaments, he moved on to the next box, which included more personal items. A few ornaments had the words “Baby’s First Christmas” on them. Apparently, each year, the bottom of the Christmas tree was cut off before being placed in the base full of water. Each of these cross-cuts of the tree had a ribbon threaded through a drilled hole and the year written on it in permanent marker. There were eighteen of these ornaments, one for each year of Xavier’s life. There were other home-made ornaments and ornaments with photos of Xavier and his siblings in them.
One ornament in particular caught Bartholomew’s eye. A dried milkweed pod was splayed open (having released its milky-white seeds) and lined with red felt. On the edges, where the felt and the pod met, there were little hot-melt glued jewels, giving the impression of the pod being encrusted with diamonds. In the middle of the felt was an old photograph of a young woman in a simple dress. On the map of where to place ornaments, this ornament was highlighted and the directions were very specific about placing it at eye-level in the middle of the tree when viewed from the door. It was as if this was the first ornament Xavier was to see when he entered the room.
Bartholomew spent the rest of the morning finishing the tree, including placing the tinsel, three strands at a time, over the tip of each branch. At noon, The Butler came through the door and loudly informed Bartholomew that lunch was being served in the dining room. Bartholomew had just put the empty ornament boxes back in the corner and was glad to take a break.
During lunch, Bartholomew met the three other wrappers: Ned, Topping, and Claire and found out about the other rooms and the presents for Gerald’s other children. He didn't care much for the food provided - a plate of Donkey Burgers and fries with milk shakes. He ate a just little and then decided to wait until he got home.
After lunch, Bartholomew decorated the rest of Xavier’s room. He strung garland over the curtain rods and across the fireplace mantle. He hung two stockings (one with Xavier’s name written in glitter) above the fireplace. He placed Christmas themed blankets and pillows on the furniture and window-clings of Santa and his elves on the windows. Also in Xavier’s collection of decorations were a series of posters of popular animated Christmas television specials. There was Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Kris Kringle, the Grinch and a few others Bartholomew did not recognize. These posters were hung on a large windowless wall. By the end of the first day he had completed the decorating of Xavier’s Christmas room. He slipped quietly out of the house so as not to be seen by Geraldine. Little did he know, she was miles away and focused on someone else.
The next day, Bartholomew arrived at Gerald’s house at eight in the morning. When he walked into Xavier’s Christmas room, the first thing he noticed was the milkweed pod ornament on the tree. The bright red felt burst off the tree in an explosion of color that one could not avoid. He also noticed that, over night, someone had come into the room and slightly altered some of his decorations. These were little changes only the person who decorated would notice; the draping of the garland was a little less loopy, the posters were in a different order, the pillows on the furniture were fluffed and more upright. It made Bartholomew think of elves coming into the room at night to fix it up the proper way– like in the tale of the cobbler. Perhaps the window-cling elves were coming to life at night, or maybe The Nanny. Bartholomew laughed.
Bartholomew began his wrapping activities with a stack of small items and books on a table near the fireplace. There were several books, which surprised Bartholomew as he didn’t think Xavier read very much. The books had titles like; How to Survive on a Deserted Island, Wilderness Survival Skill, and Camping On the Land. Bartholomew flipped through a couple and enjoyed the detailed instructions on how to build a fire, build a lean-to out of snow, dress a deer hide, and how to orienteer. He noticed that the instructions for wrapping the presents and decorating the room had a similar look as the instructions in the survival books; all capital block letters, little arrows pointing to things and simple line drawings.
On this table there also was a compass, water bottle, maps, a couple different Swiss army knives, a manual-crank flashlight and other camping gear. Bartholomew wrapped all these presents, placed the appropriate ones in Xavier’s stocking and the rest under the tree in the correct order. He then moved onto another pile of presents near the door to the room.
In this pile there were computer games, DVD’s and accessories. Again, there were a couple of DVD’s about nature survival skills and camping skills. But there were also some movies: Alien vs. Predator, The Deer Hunter, Scarface, the Saw movies, and an old David Bowie movie, The Man Who Fell to Earth. When he had completed this pile, Bartholomew heard The Butler’s voice bellow from the hallway informing him lunch was ready and waiting in the dining room. Bartholomew quickly placed the presents under the tree and ran to the dining room to eat with the other wrappers.
The Nanny stopped by during lunch and asked how things were going. The wrappers and Bartholomew were surprised that The Nanny was only a few years older than them. During their conversation they learned many things. Apparently, Gerald gives each of his children a credit card with a $5,000 limit and then lets them go shopping for themselves. Then each of Gerald’s children creates instructions for someone else to wrap the presents and decorate their rooms. Xavier’s instructions were the most detailed and exacting of all the children’s. Mo’s instructions seemed to be almost non-existent. Khua’s instructions were filled with little doodles of fantastic animals and people. Geraldine’s instructions were extensive, but written with such bad penmanship that Claire couldn’t read half of them.
That afternoon, Bartholomew moved to another pile of presents to be wrapped. This pile had items that were sports related: a sport bow with metal tipped arrows, shooting targets, a membership to a shooting club, cross-training DVD’s, and some camouflage and athletic clothing. It took the rest of the afternoon for Bartholomew to finish wrapping these items. It took him four tries before he successfully wrapped the bow without ripping the paper. He was instructed to wrap each arrow individually, but Bartholomew had used so much paper on the bow that he had to wrap three of the arrows together. He placed all of the presents under the tree and went home.
On the third day, Bartholomew entered Xavier’s Christmas room and again noticed the milkweed pod ornament. Then he noticed that Santa’s window-cling elves had come to life again and had slightly rearranged things. Presents were stacked under the tree in a different order and the three arrows had been separated and rewrapped. Bartholomew also noticed that a string of lights was added around the family crest above the fireplace mantle. He laughed and thought that tonight he should leave a couple of things out of place so the elves would have some work to do. He wanted to do something small, something that wouldn’t take much time or effort. He noticed the stockings above the fireplace. The stocking with Xavier’s name written in glitter was bulging with small camping gear. The stocking next to his was empty. Bartholomew took one present from Xavier’s stocking and placed it in the empty stocking. Then he moved to the tree. Yes, of course. Bartholomew moved the milkweed pod ornament up one branch. It was only five inches but enough to occupy the elves. Feeling satisfactorily mischievous, Bartholomew moved onto the last pile of unwrapped presents.
It was not a big pile, and Bartholomew felt that he may be able to finish before lunchtime. The presents in this pile were an odd assortment of things that scared Bartholomew. He did not feel good about wrapping these presents, but he figured he could finish them and then be done and go home. The first present he picked up was a very large Bowie knife. It was in a sheath. Bartholomew took it out to look at it. It was very sharp and had jagged edges and a very long thin point. He put it back in the sheath and wrapped it quickly. The next few items included a bag of gun powder, some metal pipes, fuses, a clay-like material and a booklet titled How to Make Bombs and Blow Things Up. Bartholomew thought that these items might be illegal and that maybe he should call the police. But he also figured if he wrapped them quickly he could just get out of there and go home. It took quite awhile to wrap, because, again, each pipe was to be wrapped individually. There were a few other items Bartholomew could not identify, but they looked just as nefarious as anything he had wrapped thus far. Finally, under a pair of brass-knuckles and nunchucks lay an unmarked wooden case. Bartholomew picked up the case and wondered what was inside.
He knew he shouldn’t look. He should wrap it and be done. But he was curious. Bartholomew dawdled while wrapping the brass-knuckles and nunchucks. Then all that was left was the wooden case.
Bartholomew ran his fingers along the surface of the dark red mahogany. He felt the latch with his right pointer finger and undid it. He slowly opened the case. Inside was a gun; a black cold, evil looking gun. Bartholomew had never seen a pistol before.
“Lunch is served!” bellowed the voice of The Butler.
Startled, Bartholomew lost his grip and the case fell with a crash and the gun skidded across the floor. In fear, Bartholomew looked to the doorway but The Butler was not there. He had made his announcement and moved on, unconcerned about Bartholomew’s doings. Bartholomew felt a moment of relief, until he looked down at the gun case and saw the cover hanging by one hinge and splinters on the corner. Bartholomew scurried across the floor for the gun. He was scared to touch it, as if he might become infected with doom. After some hesitation he grabbed the gun and placed it in the wooden case. Bartholomew laid the case on the table and decided to deal with it after lunch. After all, it was the last thing he needed to do – he had all afternoon.
He would have enjoyed his lunch with his new friends and The Nanny if he wasn’t so preoccupied. He had a sense that The Nanny was interested in him. She sat next to him and talked quite a bit with him. But Bartholomew had no attention for these things at the moment, although he did remember the food was quite tasty today and enjoyed eating some very good onion soup. How was he going to fix the gun case? Maybe he could fix it the best he could, wrap it and write an apology note with it saying that he accidentally dropped it and that he’s willing to pay for a new case. Maybe Santa’s window-cling elves would come tonight and fix it for him. Wouldn’t that be convenient? Bartholomew also thought that he should put the present he moved back in Xavier’s stocking and move the milkweed pod ornament back to its rightful place. Yes, that’s it; move everything back, wrap the case and write an apology note. Everything would be fine.
Lunch was over. The Nanny was saying something to him as Bartholomew quickly left the dining room and headed back to Xavier’s Christmas room. He opened the door and walked in the room to find Xavier standing by the table with the gun. He held the case in his hands and was surveying the damage.
“Oh, Xavier, I’m so sorry. I dropped the case when I went to wrap it,” said Bartholomew.
Xavier said nothing, but looked at Bartholomew with anger in his eyes. Bartholomew lowered his eyes.
“I picked it up and didn’t realize it would be so heavy. It just fell out of my hand. Look, I’ll gladly pay for a new case. Really, it was an accident,” said Bartholomew.
“Its enough that I have to come in here each night and correct your inability to follow simple directions, but this is just so incompetent, so stupid!” said Xavier. He looked away from Bartholomew in disgust. “You will pay for a new…”
Bartholomew looked at Xavier to see why he stopped talking. Xavier was staring in the direction of the fireplace.
“What…why did you…why is that present in that stocking?!” yelled Xavier as he pointed at the stocking and glared at Bartholomew.
“I’m sorry, Xavier. It just looked so empty and there really wasn’t enough room in your stocking for all of your stocking presents. So I just put it in there. I’ll put it back.”
Bartholomew moved toward the fireplace to correct the situation. Xavier stepped in front of him. “You won’t go near that stocking,” he said in a low growling voice. Changing his mind, Xavier said, “On second thought, you will go over to that stocking and remove the present and put it back in my stocking. And you will do it without touching that stocking.”
Xavier grabbed Bartholomew by the t-shirt and shoved him over toward the fireplace.
“Hey!” shouted Bartholomew, “I’ll change it because I shouldn’t have put it there, but you don’t have to start pushing me around.”
“I’ll do to you what I want to,” sneered Xavier.
Bartholomew adjusted his t-shirt and moved to the fireplace. He very carefully pulled the present out of the stocking and placed it into Xavier’s. At that moment, for some unknown reason, the window-cling elves decided to play a trick on Bartholomew. The empty stocking fell from the fireplace.
Bartholomew ran for the door. Xavier caught up to him and grabbed him by the arm. He pulled Bartholomew around and threw him onto the floor by the table. Xavier was immediately on him.
“Stop it!” shouted Bartholomew, “I didn’t make it fall. You saw that I didn’t touch it.”
Xavier wanted to punch Bartholomew but Bartholomew had covered himself up with his arms.
“Stupid, you are stupid!” yelled Xavier who began to slap Bartholomew hard on the arms.
Although Bartholomew was under heavy duress, he began to get his wits about him and realized that Xavier wasn’t that big or that strong and that eventually he would get away from Xavier and get out of there. The goal was to prevent as much damage as possible. He also thought that it was good that Xavier hadn’t noticed the milkweed ornament. Bartholomew hoped to get out of there before he did. While Xavier continued to yell odd derogatory things and slap at him, Bartholomew’s eyes looked over at the ornament to see if the change was obvious. Xavier stopped and followed Bartholomew’s eyes. Suddenly, a loud scream filled Bartholomew’s ears. Xavier started to shake and tears streamed from his eyes. At that, Bartholomew became very scared.
With one hand on Bartholomew’s chest holding him down, Xavier reached up on the table with his other hand, opened up the wooden case and grabbed the gun. He forced the muzzle through a small opening in Bartholomew’s arms and pressed it against his head. Some small part in Bartholomew’s brain thought that new guns don’t have bullets in them and that same small part of his brain did not recall wrapping a package of bullets. So, that small part of his brain reassured Bartholomew that he was not in grave danger. The rest of his brain, however, made him squinch his eyes as tight as possible, cry and almost pee in his pants.
“Xavier,” came a woman’s voice, sounding kind of bored.
Xavier continued threatening Bartholomew.
“Xavier!” the woman said more emphatically. “Get off him now, or else!”
Xavier’s muscles seemed to relax some and his attention was drawn away from Bartholomew.
“Xavier, you know your father won’t let you have any bullets. Now, stop trying to bully Bartholomew and leave him alone.”
That small place in Bartholomew’s brain said, “I told you so,” and he began to open his eyes and stop crying. He gratefully noticed his pants were still dry.
Xavier punched Bartholomew in the shoulder and then got off of him.
“Look at what he did! He broke the gun case, he put a present in the wrong stocking and…and…he moved…the ornament,” Xavier said pointing at the tree.
“Oh, you are such a baby. Now put the gun back in the case and get your butt out of here. You’re not supposed to see this room until Christmas morning,” said The Nanny.
“But he keeps doing things wrong!” Xavier whined as he put the gun in the case.
“He can’t even follow simple directions!” Xavier whined more as he moved toward the door.
“What do you say?” asked The Nanny.
Turning around and restraining his anger, Xavier spat out, “Sorry, Bart.”
“It’s Bartholomew,” said The Nanny, smiling at Bartholomew. “Now say it right and leave the room.”
“Sorry, Bartholomew,” said Xavier and he walked out of the room like a smoldering piece of coal.
The Nanny turned toward Bartholomew, who had gotten off the floor, and sympathetically held his arm.
“Don’t worry about Xavier. He does this stuff to his brothers all the time. And don’t worry about the last present. I’ll take care of it.” The Nanny looked at Bartholomew for a moment. “Are you all right?”
Bartholomew didn’t really know what to say. He had just been in a fight with someone who held a gun to his head. He also felt responsible because he shouldn’t have purposely misplaced things. Of course, Xavier’s response was extreme, but Bartholomew made Xavier mad by messing with his stuff. At the same time, when The Nanny touched his arm, Bartholomew was surprised by something emotional. He sensed a deep desire to be with her, to share everything with her.
“I think I’m fine,” said Bartholomew. “Thank you, thank you very much,” he said to The Nanny.
“Like I said, don’t worry about this too much. This kind of thing happens around here every day. I tell you, some day these kids are going to kill me.”
“I can imagine,” said Bartholomew.
“It’s nice meeting someone normal like you, Bartholomew. It reminds me everything in this world isn’t crazy-curvy topsy-turvy. It reminds me that a girl can still find a guy who might be good to her.” The Nanny smiled at him, put her hand on his shoulder and guided him to the door. Again, Bartholomew felt a desire to open up to her. Once he was out of the room she said, “Wait here a minute and I’ll walk you out.” The Nanny walked back into Xavier’s Christmas room and hung the milkweed ornament back on the right branch. She kissed her fingertips and placed them on the photo nestled in the red velvet. The Nanny, with concern in her heart, whispered “Oh, Xavier,” and headed back to Bartholomew.Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrations by Mary Esch