Word Count 500
The Gift of Giving
By Sam McManus
The bin stood empty by the door to the hall, with a big sign plastered on its face, but not much
else to recommend it to the masses. It wasn’t his fault, Ralph told himself so as to not feel guilty.
After all, this reasoning had worked when he left Marcy with nothing more than a Post-it Note,
three contrite words penned on it in his hand. He hadn’t returned her calls. He was sure she had
also left voicemails, but he hadn’t checked.
No one at Delightful Décor had any inkling what kind of man Ralph was. To them, he was Head
Conceptualist, the man who transformed empty space into something worthwhile and sometimes
transcendent, the man who worked with Jenna. The bin had originally been her idea. The sign
tacked to the bin said “Donate,” the words starkly black against the white of the sign itself.
Theirs was a three-walled office so the door was just for show, standing idly in the middle of the
open space on what would have been the fourth wall. Dotting the empty space to the left and
right of the door were synthetic butterflies. Ralph had always surmised that they were meant to
liven up the space. They moved in seemingly random patterns, except where the door separated
“Perpetual taupe is out,” he told Yolanda Johnson, one of his clients, looking to liven up her
freshly built cape cod.
“But Francis will throw a fit if we don’t use his palette,” she replied, pouting.
“Francis won’t be living in the space,” said Ralph; to him the matter was solved. He had an
ability to size up anything in a matter of seconds; he was utterly inflexible after making any
decision. That’s how he had assessed their relationship in the end, and why he hadn’t bothered
himself with the fallout.
“Well, if you say so,” Yolanda agreed, however grudgingly.
“Be sure to donate when you leave,” Ralph said, gesturing toward the empty bin between the
butterflies. Her eyes narrowed, but she took out her purse anyway. The butterflies slowed their
pace, as if suddenly swimming through syrup. Yolanda Johnson rose from her seat, crossed the
space, and dropped two one-hundred-dollar bills into the bin before exiting.
When she was gone, the butterflies sped up again. Ralph called Francis on the personal intercom
system, and asked him to come down.
“We will no longer be cataloguing perpetual taupe,” Ralph said, and Francis nodded his silent
acquiescence. He had learned long ago to defer to the older man. “Be sure to donate,” Ralph
said, as the younger man started to rise. Francis took off his silk shirt and placed it carefully in
the bin, then left. The butterflies flew maniacally for a few seconds before settling down again.
They mesmerized him. He wondered what would happen if he invited Marcy to come down. He
imagined what she would donate, and found he really wanted to know.
He called her number from memory, and waited.