Saturday, May 6, 2017

13 - Lunch Wrap

The dining room was almost as big as Bartholomew’s house. The table was twenty feet long with six chairs down each side and two large high-backed armchairs at the ends. Sitting at the table were the three other present-wrappers with a big plate full of Donkey Burgers and fries and milkshakes.

Hi, I’m Topping,” said one boy with brown touseled hair.

Hi, I’m Bartholomew,” said Bartholomew.

Hi, I’m Ned,” said a tall boy with blonde dreads and wearing a light blue shirt with a button-down collar.

I’m Claire,” said the only girl at the table.

Bartholomew sat down, tucked a napkin in the collar of his Rampage t-shirt and picked at a Donkey Burger. He wasn’t sure if he would touch the fries or the milkshake. Perhaps he could wait until he got home to eat.

Ned, Claire, and Topping continued a conversation they had started before Bartholomew walked in.

I can’t believe it, really? She’s getting sex toys for Christmas? How bizarre,” said Topping.

Yeah, I just feel creepy wrapping her presents. They’re so…ugh. I just can’t imagine it. And to think that her dad is buying her these presents. Ish!” said Claire.

Bartholomew kept his head down, taking a big bite of the burger, afraid they might find out that he had once dated Geraldine.

Her dad might be paying for them, but I don’t think he picked them out,” said Ned as he adjusted his glasses. “My directions and lists seem to indicate that the boy whose presents I’m wrapping picked them out of catalogs and shopping supplements.”

That seems like my lists, too,” said Topping. “Besides, I can’t see anybody’s parents buying them sex-toys. That would be just weird.”

Yes, but you saw her father,” said Claire. “I mean, that was a rather odd outfit he was wearing – a fur collar on a sleeveless t-shirt and pants with zippers all the way up the sides?”

What is your room like, Bartholomew?” asked Ned.

Bartholomew finished swallowing the bite of burger and then delayed by taking time to wipe his mouth and secretly spitting the chewed burger into his napkin.

Well, nothing too strange, so far. But I was just decorating the tree. I haven’t gotten to presents, yet. What’s your room like?” asked Bartholomew.

There are a lot of music related items,” said Ned.

Oh, like instruments?” asked Claire.

Ned and Claire’s eyes locked for a moment and then, talking to the table in front of him, Ned said, “No, he has CD’s, mostly rap, hip-hop and then some videos of spoken word performances.”

Any InJustIce or R.A.V.Dog CD’s?” asked Topping.

Yes, there were two InJustIce CD’s, I believe, and a video of their concert.”

Awesome,” replied Topping.

Bartholomew wanted to ask about the bands because he had never heard of them, but he sat quietly.

I like their song ‘Dead Pony,’ but not much else,” said Ned.

Oh, c’mon!” said Topping, “You don’t like ‘Large Karma’ or ‘Rage of Summer’ or ‘Ballistic?’ You gotta like ‘Large Karma!’ That’s a great song!”

Ned didn’t answer. He just kept eating his third Donkey Burger.

Bartholomew, you must like them. You’re wearing a Rampage t-shirt. They toured together about three years ago.”

Their pretty good,” said Bartholomew, hoping that Topping would drop the subject. Bartholomew liked his Rampage t-shirt, but he bought it at a second-hand clothing store for the image and the color. He had no idea Rampage was a band.

Claire, you like ‘em?” asked Topping.

Oh, their pretty good. What are the presents in your room?” asked Claire changing the subject.

There are a lot of joke books and practical joke things,” said Topping.

Practical joke things?” Claire asked.

Yeah, you know, joy buzzers and exploding cigars and shit like that.”

Bartholomew winced inside when Topping swore.

Can you believe that they each get a tree and a room full of presents? That is like nothing I can imagine,” said Claire as she blew a strand of brown hair out of her face.

It does seem to be a bit excessive,” said Ned.

Some people just don’t know what to do with their money,” said Topping.

At least he’s willing to spend his money on us. I haven’t been able to find a job, and I’ve been looking since the beginning of summer when I graduated,” said Claire, “I don’t know if I’ll ever get a job in my field.”

What did you study?” asked Ned.

Psychology,” said Claire.

Bartholomew thought that was interesting, but he didn’t know what to add.

I graduated last year with a degree in business and all I’ve been able to get is a low-paying internship that most likely won’t lead to anything,” said Ned. “I’m getting paid better doing this. I’m calling in sick for these three days.”

Yeah, this economy sucks!” added Topping, “What do you do Bartholomew? You got a job?”

Just odd jobs here and there.”

You still living with your parent’s?” asked Claire.

Yeah. I never would have imagined I would still be living with them. I thought I would be living with some friends and making money after graduating. But, obviously, that’s not what happened. Instead, I’m living in the same room I grew up in and I’m here wrapping sex-toys for some spoiled rich kid.”

What about you, Topping?” asked Ned.

I have an apartment with my girlfriend and I’m working for my uncle. He paints cars. But things are slow right now. So I’m picking up a little money here and there.”

Things were quiet for a moment as everyone decided it was too depressing to talk about jobs and money.

Topping noticed a tattoo on Bartholomew’s arm as he handed him the plate of french fries.
Nice tat!” said Topping.

Bartholomew was a little embarrassed but held out his arm to show everyone the moon tattoo on the tender underside of his right wrist. Then he showed them the sun tattoo on his left wrist.

Cooool,” said Ned.

Wow, I like how intricate they are,” said Claire. “Did you design them yourself?”

Sort of. I worked off of some designs I liked. They were originally drawn by Aristotle. But I did change them quite a bit,” said Bartholomew

What do they mean?” asked Ned.

Day and night,” said Bartholomew.

Well, duh!” said Topping with a mouth full of fries.

Why is the moon on your right wrist? Is there some meaning to that?” asked Claire.

Well, actually, yeah.” Bartholomew wasn’t sure how much he should tell them. He hadn’t really explained the tattoos to anyone before except to Uncle Jeffrey, Aunt Josephine, and Oliver his cat. Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine did not approve of tattoos, and especially of these tattoos.

Uh, the moon is on my right wrist because I am right handed and… at the time I got them… uh…my life seemed more dark than sunny,” Bartholomew said not looking at anyone.

Why was that?” asked Claire with a sympathetic look in her brown eyes.

Well…I got them soon after I lost both my parents.”

The other three wrappers sat stunned for a moment. Everyone heard the sound of a half-chewed french frie hitting the floor as Ned opened his mouth in disbelief.

Oh, I’m sorry,” said Claire as her face blushed red for having asked earlier if Bartholomew lived with his parents.

The room got quiet again.

The Butler walked in and began to remove empty plates and glasses from the table. He disappeared through a swinging door, returned promptly, and waited to the side of the table for Bartholomew to finish his lunch.

The four wrappers talked about a few recent movies they had seen. When Bartholomew had indicated he had finished eating The Butler grabbed his plate and announced, “Lunch is over. You may continue wrapping.”

The sound of chairs scraping on the floor reverberated throughout the room and Bartholomew, Claire, Ned and Topping filed out the door.

On the second day of wrapping, Topping was the last one in for lunch. He quickly sat down and said hello to everyone. Everyone said hello back and then Ned continued their discussion about the lists of presents.

In response to your question, Claire, about Mo’s presents, I believe Mo is short for Maurice, well, his instructions are very poorly written. His handwriting is almost illegible. Fortunately there isn’t very much for me to do. So, I take my time deciphering his instructions.”

Well, the coolest thing is a really cool keyboard that you can hook up to a computer and edit songs. Then he has a lot of fake gaudy gold jewelry and some videos about money and finance. Oh, and there was something, I’m not sure what it was, but I think it might be a bong.”

Whoa!” said Topping

Anything interesting in your room?” Ned asked Topping.

Do you guys know any of these kids? This Khua has magic and performing stuff. He’s got juggling torches and knives. There are some magic books and ‘how to’ books on tying knots or something. Oh, the coolest thing is some Chinese stars and a big saw and what I think is one of those magical cabinets where you saw someone in half. Although it’s not painted very fancy like usual. Oh and a nice bull whip. You ever see that when they whip a cigarette out of someone’s mouth?”

What’s in your room?” Bartholomew asked Claire.

Before Claire could answer, a young woman walked into the room. She looked about the same age as the rest of them. Her blonde hair came to the middle of her back in a ponytail. She was wearing what resembled a Goth horse-rider’s outfit; black leather boots, light brown pants that gathered at the knee, a short black
lace skirt over the pants, a white blouse under a fitted black jacket, lace gloves and a small bowler hat. She had heavy black eye-liner
and her lips were a red so dark it was almost black. Her fingernails were painted black, and hanging around her neck was the biggest cross necklace Bartholomew had ever seen. She was pretty. Ned fidgeted in his seat.

Hi,” she said.

Everyone said “Hi” back to her.

I’m The Nanny,” said The Nanny. “I hope present wrapping has been going well.”

Everyone nodded and responded in some positive fashion.

Well, if you have any questions, feel free to ask. I did a lot of the decorating previously and can give you some pointers. As you have probably noticed, some instructions are very detailed. If you do what the instructions say, you’ll be fine. The kids whose instructions aren’t as detailed, well, they aren’t so particular.”

Excuse me,” said Topping, “how old are you?”

The Nanny looked at him a little odd.

I’m twenty four. Why?”

Well, isn’t it hard to be their nanny when you’re not much older than they are?”

Well, Mr. Nosey-boy, I’m older enough. And besides, these kids need someone looking after them and that’s me. Been doing it for six years. Gotta problem?”

Topping didn’t reply and went back to eating.

Ned raised his hand. The Nanny smiled at Ned and nodded at him.

I was wondering, when Maurice says that he…”

Who?” asked The Nanny.

Ned blushed a little, cleared his throat and then said, “Maurice. Mo. I assumed Mo was short for Maur…”

The Nanny started to laugh. “Maurice! That’s funny. I never thought of that.” She laughed a little more and then said, “No, Mo isn’t short for Maurice. Mo is short for Moe. He was named after one of the Three Stooges. But he couldn’t ever remember to write the silent ‘e’ so now he is just Mo. Well, except to his aunts, they still call him Moe. Oh, and when his dad is mad at him. Then he calls him Moe Theodore.”

Everyone looked at The Nanny. She blinked back.

Ned decided not to finish his question.

Topping cleared his throat and asked, “Do they pick out all of their own presents?”

Oh yes, they do. Gerald gives them each a credit card with a $5,000 limit. Then they go out and buy the presents they want,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone.

Then why are we wrapping the presents for them, if they already know what they are getting?” asked Claire.

The Nanny looked at her quietly without blinking waiting.

Yeah, why do we wrap their presents, then?” Ned asked after a moment of silence.

The Nanny turned to Ned. “Because that’s their family tradition. I don’t quite understand it myself, but who am I to question a family’s traditions? It seems to work for them. I’m just here to help them however I can.”

The Nanny walked over to Bartholomew and sat next to him.

Could you please pass me the burgers?” The Nanny asked Bartholomew.

He reached out and grabbed the very large plate with images of roses on it, and two burgers left as well. When The Nanny grabbed the plate from Bartholomew, their fingers touched and he felt warm inside.

Thank you,” she said.

Why does Geraldine buy so many sex-toys?” asked Claire.

The Nanny had just taken a bite of her burger and slowly and calmly chewed it while looking off into space.

Yeah, getting sex toys for Christmas seems kind of weird,” said Topping.

The Nanny nodded at Topping and lifted one finger to indicate that she was almost done chewing and was about to respond to him. Ned stared at her watching her chew.

She buys so many sex toys because she wears them out so fast,” said The Nanny.

At this, Bartholomew spit out his Donkey Veggie soup. He began to cough and took a moment to collect himself.

Are you okay?” asked Claire.

I’m fine,” said Bartholomew as he wiped off his mouth with a napkin.

What’s the matter? Does it surprise you that Geraldine is into sex?” asked The Nanny.

Bartholomew smiled a little and said, “No, not really.”

You would be surprised what these kids are into,” said The Nanny.

Everyone looked at her with puzzled looks on their faces. The Nanny began to eat soup, and whenever she leaned forward to put a spoonful of soup into her mouth, her large cross necklace would clang against the bowl. Bartholomew, seeing how big and heavy the cross was, thought the bowl might crack.

After lunch, when they were leaving the room The Nanny said, “It’s only day two. You haven’t gotten to all the presents yet. We’ll see what you think tomorrow at lunch. Have a good day.”

* * *

On the third day of wrapping presents, Claire was the last one to enter the dining room for lunch. The energy in the room was heavy like a late night fog. The others looked at her and acknowledged her, but they did not say anything. Claire sat down and began to sip some cream of kale soup. The only noise was the sound of spoons striking bowls and the four wrappers chewing and swallowing. Claire finished her soup and then, under her breath, said, “I never would have imagined.”

What was that?” asked Topping.

Oh, nothing, did I say something?”

Yeah, you said something. All I heard was the word ‘imagine,’” said Topping.

Claire seemed to be in a stupor and didn’t respond. A moment later, under her breath, she said, “I never would have imagined.”

What? You said it again. What’s the matter?” Topping asked a little annoyed.

What? Did I say something, again?” asked Claire.

YES!” said Topping obviously annoyed.

Topping breathed heavy, flexed his hands and then balled them into fists.

This guy is a fucking weirdo,” Topping said to no one in particular.

What?” asked Claire.

My guy is a fucking weirdo!” Topping repeated.

Yours, too?” asked Ned.

Is your guy a total whack, too?” asked Topping as he turned to Ned. Everyone’s fog seemed to be lifting.

Quite frankly, I am wondering if I should be calling the police,” said Ned.

Why? What’s the matter?” asked Claire.

I… I just can’t believe anyone would ever do this stuff, especially at Christmastime!” said Ned while shaking his head.

Bartholomew sat at the other end of the table away from everyone else and did not engage in the conversation. He seemed to be deeply occupied. Claire noticed that he was sweating and seemed to be worried.

The Nanny walked into the room and sat down at the table. She reached for an avocado and kale sandwich, which she requested from The Butler for Bartholomew’s sake.

Hello everyone, how are you all today?” said The Nanny who seemed very cheerful and relaxed-- as if she was on a vacation. “Oh, I see things are different today,” she said after surveying the room.

How do you let them do this stuff?” asked Topping.

The Nanny chewed on her sandwich while looking at them. “Bartholomew, could you please pass me the cookie plate?”

Bartholomew hesitated, still in his daze, and then reached for the cookies. As he passed The Nanny the cookies their fingers touched again and he felt a warm calm pervade his mind for a moment. Once their fingers separated his mind went back to his crisis in Xavier’s Christmas room. The rest of the wrappers stopped asking questions.

After a while The Nanny said to nobody in particular, “Everyone is on a journey. Everyone is doing the best they can. These are the presents they feel they need to learn about themselves, about life, or about others.”

“These presents are disgusting,” said Topping.

“Yeah, all these sex-toys are really weird,” said Claire.

“Sex-toys?! Try weapons of torture!” said Topping.

“Yeah, and drugs and weapons of…of weapons,” said Ned.

They all looked at Bartholomew. He was unaware. He was thinking deeply about what to do to avoid the crisis in his own Christmas room. They turned back to The Nanny.

She just looked at them and blinked.

“Agh!” said Topping.

“What is it you want, Topping?”

“I want to get out of here.”

“You can leave anytime you like. You will be paid for your time and I will finish the wrapping and decorating, if need be,” said The Nanny.

Topping took a bite of his sandwich and chewed angrily. “Ugh, what’s in this sandwich?”

“I believe that one is sunflower butter and beets,” said The Nanny.

Bartholomew woke up from his stupor. “I’ll eat it if you don’t want it,” he said.

You can have it,” said Topping and shoved his plate toward Bartholomew.

Bartholomew bit into the sandwich, and for the second time during lunch felt more at ease. The Nanny looked at him and smiled seeing him enjoy the sandwich. She pushed the bowl of fresh hot corn on the cob and apple and red onion marmalade to him. He looked up at her like a five-year-old presented with his first banana split. She then presented him with a bowl of caramelized onion soup. Bartholomew did not know what to think about this. He scratched his chin and then tasted a half spoonful. He looked up at The Nanny again and then began to devour his now favorite soup. Although his need to set things right in Xavier’s Christmas Room was still preoccupying his mind, he was more at ease and looked up as Topping announced,

I’m leaving then. I’m not being a part of this, this…sickness. But I wanted to give each of you an invitation. My girlfriend Charlotte and I are having a New Year’s Eve party and you all: Ned, Claire and Bartholomew, are invited.” Topping handed out the small hand-calligraphied invitations while briskly ignoring The Nanny.

I hope to see you there. Maybe we can get to know each other away from this…this…” He shook his head, turned and left the room as Claire and Ned both said thank you and indicated they would probably make it to the party.

Anybody else feel like leaving?” asked The Nanny.

Actually, I’m done,” said Ned. “There really wasn’t that much to do once I deciphered his writing. I will leave after I have a few more cookies.”

Claire cleared her throat, wiped her mouth and stated that she was done as well.

The Nanny did not respond to her but looked at Bartholomew.

And you Bart, are you going to keep wrapping presents?”

My name is Bartholomew. I have one more small item to take care of and then I will be done.”

I’m sorry…Bartholomew…I won’t make that mistake again,” said The Nanny.

The chairs scraped back on the floor. Ned shuddered, thinking about the items he had been wrapping that morning. He stared at The Nanny and quickly looked away when she looked at him.

There are people in this world,” said The Nanny, “who will hurt you. It’s not because they want to hurt you specifically. They just want to hurt someone because they have been hurt. They may be people you hardly know – people you wrap presents for – or it could be someone close to you. Please don’t go away thinking ill of these children I oversee, or of me. We are all doing the best we can. Becoming whole can be a long and difficult process.”

Claire and Ned looked at each other with a WTF expression on their faces.

Hey, Bartholomew,” said Claire, “Are we going to see you at Topping’s party?”

Bartholomew had not been invited to a party for what seemed like forever.

Yeah, I wouldn’t miss it!”

The three of them walked out the door of the dining room. Ned and Claire headed toward the front hall together while Bartholomew turned quickly to finish up his last present and then head home. He was excited to think that he made some new friends and he was going to see them again. The Nanny yelled down the hallway, “I’m going check on Geraldine’s room and then I will come help you, Bartholomew.”

Bartholomew heard her voice but not her words as he headed into Xavier’s Christmas room.

Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrations by Mark Granlund

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