Parting Gifts, a fable

I disembarked from the train in a new town and saw a house that was nothing special, except in the highest window was a golden glow. It glimmered and enchanted. I wanted to live there. I knew it. The door was unlocked, and I walked inside.

Walls were whitewashed and beset with artwork that seemed to sparkle like pyrite. Two young women greeted me with the flirtatious sophistication of fame — like the men and women who walk along red carpets everywhere they go.

Having trouble finding the words, fumbling and stuttering, I complimented them on their home: “I saw your house from far off, and I was drawn to it. It was just so — “

“Cool,” one said with excitement and intentional speed. She seemed proud to complete my sentence, particularly delighting in her emphasis on the hard K sound. “SO cool,” she repeated.

The other chimed in rhetorically asking, “Isn’t it great?” I began to answer before she interjected with passion (that sounded so well rehearsed), “We moved in here our first year of college. I saw it and knew it was the coolest place we could live.”

Radiating beauty and a pristine clean. Warm woods and minimal design. Such a place is photographed and published and simulated throughout the world. A subtle haziness kept the room aglow, and the space felt inspired — enchanted or haunted like an ancient aura inhabited its atmosphere. I took a deep inhale of its oaky aroma and followed my nose.

“What’s upstairs?” I grabbed the banister, began climbing the floors of the home. Just two steps up, and I glanced back to the first floor.

I saw the mess inside — so unlike the first floor I remembered. From an elevated position, I saw clearly the smoke stains on the wall and broken designer artifacts. There were clothes on the ground, and they seemed expensive and cheap at the same time, but they almost seemed to be stitched with a golden thread that reminded me of the top floor’s glow.

“You don’t want to go up there,” one said, or maybe both. They seemed to speak with one voice, undifferentiated. They were both talking marionettes whose ventriloquist forgot them long ago.

“Up there is just more cool stuff — and also lots of pain.”

“Yeah, we hate living here. The farther up the stairs we went, the thinner the air. Nobody up there can breathe easily.”

“We’re down here because we breathed wrong.”

“We got kicked out of the third floor.”

And their practiced-in-front-of-a-mirror love for their home faded. Their eyes drooped, tired and lonely.

But I still wanted to go up the stairs, and I took another step.

I looked back down, and the first floor looked even messier than before. Trash on the floor, a corner seemed to be on fire, and the young women looked more tattered. They looked younger, far more helpless.

Upstairs a glow and harmony called my senses, blew perfume in my direction. I knew I couldn’t breathe in through my nose, or else I’d keep walking those stairs, ascending and ascending while those young women grew more and more helpless.

I returned to the first floor to find the excited young women, so well-dressed and made up to look like it was effortless — smiles framed by bright red lipstick, like Madonna or Marilyn.

“You hate it here, don’t you?”

They looked at each other. No words exchanged.

“Let’s go,” and I took their hands, which felt as small as six-year-olds’ palms and fingers — equally as squirmy, similarly at rest when enveloped in a larger grasp.

We walked out the door, and a package for each of us fell down a garbage-chute-like passage from above. Each was so beautifully wrapped in matte-black paper.

The papyrus-like labels were embossed with Thanks for stopping by! along with each of our full names.

We ravenously opened the gifts. I didn’t care to know what the others received. I opened a watch with a golden face kept in a black velvet bag. The light reflected off the watch face and reminded me of the glow atop the home — to be forever cuffed around my wrist. A reminder.

I looked down and to my right to a screen just outside the front door. A crowd of people watched it. A feed of endless content, posts and tweets about the home, by the home, for the gold to maintain its glow.

“They stole our stuff… Bitches.”

And I knew that line was about us. The parting gift was intended to frame us for a crime, as though we stole treasure from the highest floor.

The young women knew as well, so we walked to the burly bouncer with a shaved head.

“We don’t want these.”

He received our stolen gifts and held them above his head and bowed. It was a sacrifice to appease the golden glow. The crowd along the street watched as he held the gifts. They wanted to take what he held and wanted to give him more to hold all at once.

The two young women and I walked toward the train station. No train would depart for quite some time so we opted just to walk in the dark along the tracks and the murky marsh beside it.

We had to get out of that town.

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