Fifteen gifts, all placed in boxes of identical size, were wrapped and lined up side by side on my couch.
I’d completed the task with my usual meticulous efforts. After finding fifteen identical white boxes and inserting the gifts into a bed of gold tissue paper, I had wrapped red ribbon around each box using five pieces of tape, and topped each dead center with a red bow.
I stood, hands on my hips, gazing at my work and admiring my efficiency. Even though they looked identical, I knew who was getting what based on its place on the couch and my family’s alphabetical names. My sister Amy’s gift sat on the far left, my nephew Zeke’s on the far right. All I had left to do was write the names on tags and place them on the presents, something I couldn’t have done as I wrapped, for then my process would be out of order. I’d even marked the precise spot on each box where I would place the tags.
I considered myself simply splendid, even as I knew my obsession with order was the reason for this precision. A troublesome thought rose of how my family would ask whether I had taken my medicine lately. Shrugging it off, I proceeded to the next step.
The tags lay in an orderly stack on my writing table with my gold felt pen placed perpendicular to them. I sat and lifted a cup of ginger tea to my lips, sipped delicately, then set the cup back in the its matching saucer with the handle pointing at three-o’clock.
I lifted the pen and removed the cap and set it to the left of the cup. Zeke’s name would go onto the first tag, then William, then Thaddeus, Sarah, and so on until Amy’s tag sat at the top of the stack. From there, I’d start with her tag and work my way down the couch, taping each tags to its box.
As I wrote Zeke’s name, the doorbell rang. Startled, I messed up the ‘k’. It looked like a capital R. No, his name was not ZeRe. I would need to redo this tag, but I had brought only fifteen out of the storeroom. I couldn’t proceed without making Zeke’s tag. Everything would be out of order, even if I made it later and tucked it on the bottom of the stack. No, I needed to get another tag right now, and write his name. Zeke was first in the tag stack because it would be the last to go onto the present. That was the way it had to be.
The doorbell rang again.
Frowning, I capped the felt pen and set it above the tags, then corrected the slight angle. At the door, I peered out of the peephole to see the UPS man. I liked the UPS uniforms; they were such a pleasant shade of brown, and everything matched. I opened the door and signed for a wrapped package that held my medicine. I’d run out the week before. Later, I would take a dose.
The man nodded and bade me happy holidays. Even his eyes were brown. How nice. I watched him get into his truck, which was the same shade of brown as his clothing. He pulled away, and I shut the door and tested the deadbolt several times. Well, maybe half a dozen times. I don’t know how long I stood there turning it one way and then the other before remembering I needed an extra tag.
In my neat and tidy storeroom I took another tag from my supply, making sure everything was in order before leaving the room. I wrote Zeke’s name in my careful handwriting, then went through the rest of the tags in order. Amy’s name was on top. Perfect.
The doorbell rang again. I glanced at my watch and realized it was time for the family to arrive. And the tags were not on the gifts. I stood for a moment, my gaze darting from the door to the tags to the gifts on the couch. Panic rose within me and my breath hitched. Okay. I was okay. I would let them in and then finish my task.
Opening the door, I ushered in my sister, Janelle, and her husband and small children. Behind them came William and his family, then my parents, and the rest followed. All carried in gifts and food. Amidst the hugs and the greetings and conversation and directing the food to the kitchen and gifts to the tree, I forgot about the tags until I heard a ruckus from the family room.
Only then did I notice my empty couch.
In a daze I watched my young nieces and nephews stacking up my presents like bricks, seeing how high the boxes could go before they fell into a jumbled pile on the floor.
Gasping, I grabbed the tags and ran to the gifts and stood with both hands over my mouth. The children must have seen my expression, for they bolted to their mothers.
I held out the tags in despair, and sobbed.
My family surrounded me and sat me down. Each box was presented to me and I placed a tag on it in haphazard fashion, not knowing if it was teenage Greg’s favorite sports team jersey or Mom’s perfume or William’s scarf. Tears ran down my face. Christmas was ruined.
But then, with gentle smiles, each of my family members took a box that had the name on the tag. One by one, they opened their gifts, and laughter filled the room as little Beth tried on the jersey and William sampled the floral perfume and Dad held up a toddler’s pair of pants and declared them a perfect fit. Then came a merry exchange as each gift founds its true home. Afterward, everyone claimed I had started a family tradition and requested a tag mix-up every year.
And I was okay. Yes, I went to take my meds, but I knew that I had experienced the best medicine of all, and it was called laughter.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, dialogue, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to a person, living or deceased, events, or locations is purely coincidental.
The idea for this story came from a writing contest I entered where I needed to insert the concept that laughter is the best medicine. I combined that with my penchant for compulsive ordering of objects and maintaining organization. One weekend, when I was cleaning the basement and going through quite a few boxes and bins to organize everything, I kept finding adaptors (those things that plug into an outlet and connect to an electronic object). All the adaptors I found went into one drawer. Later, my husband stood, mortified, and asked where the items were that went with the fifteen or so adaptors I had put into the drawer. I had no answer for him since everything had been put into its own place all over the house. Three years later, we still haven’t re-matched some of the adaptors with their electronic mates. Oops.