Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Spring 2009 Results




It’s a Wrap

Copyright © Gary McHugh 2009


He was the type of person who rode his bike on the road despite the cycle path that ran alongside it.  He sprinted down airport travelators, added up the prices on a shop receipt and worst of all, wore belts and braces at the same time. 

In a word, he was a twat.

But like most of us, there was one thing he was good at, in fact, he excelled at it – you see, Henry Dixon was an incredibly good present-wrapper.  In fact, he could have won gold in the Present-Wrapping Final had it been an Olympic event.  Unfortunately it wasn’t, and the only thing in life Henry was any good at was something usually done at home, far away from the public spotlight.  But this didn’t worry our Henry, because when all was said and done, he was only really happy when he was wrapping.  Henry was born to wrap.

Not only was Henry good at wrapping, but he was also fast, very fast.  He often set himself wrapping tasks to test his speed and skills in the privacy of his suburban townhouse that he shared with his cat, Clause.

“Righty-ho,” he would whisper into his upside down hairbrush addressing his imaginary audience and his somewhat skittish cat.  “Next up, from Australia, we have Henry Dixon who is widely expected to take out this event given his dominance in previous first-class competitions.”

 “An excited hush descends over the arena as Dixon takes up his spot on the wrapping dais.  This is the man they’ve come to see.  The red light flashes, (the hairbrush goes down), the green light comes on … and he’s wrapping!”

It really was something to behold; Henry in full flight.

Flick went the wrapping paper, screech said the sticky tape, slice whispered the scissors and the rest was just a blur of paper, fingers and tape until he reached for the ribbon and tied the best god-damned graduated loopy bow you have ever seen in your life.

“Clock stops at … ONE MINUTE, TWENTY FOUR SECONDS, A NEW WORLD RECORD!  Now, all that’s left is for the judges to check the integrity of the wrap.” 

“One, two, three green lights!  It’s a legitimate wrap ladies and gentlemen, and you can put away your form guide, we have our winner, surely that wrap cannot be beaten!”

Sometimes, he invited a friend over to do the timekeeping, but that didn’t happen very often, mainly because he didn’t have many friends and those that he did have weren’t overly excited about the prospect of manning a stopwatch while Henry cut, folded, taped and tied.  You can imagine how the conversation went:

“Fancy coming over on Friday night, Brian?”

“Sure, what you wanna do?”

“Thought you might be able to run me through some timed wrapping practice.”

“Shit, sorry, just remembered, I have to go see my granny Friday night, it’s her birthday.”

“Oh, okay, but wasn’t it her birthday in July?”

“Uhm, no that was my grandad’s.”

“But he’s dead.”

“Yeh, I know, we still celebrate it, strange isn’t it, heh, heh …”

Last Friday, after again being unable to get Brian to help him with his wrapping drills, Henry found himself in town, wandering around the department stores with hundreds of other Christmas shoppers. 

He didn’t have many people to buy for, in fact, there was only his parents, his mate Brian, and, of course, his cat Clause.  He pulled a crumpled list from his pocket:

Next to “Dad” was written “pipe” and a large tick had been scrawled alongside that.  Beside “Mum” the word “apron” was followed by a tick, as was “book” next to “Brian” and “rubber mouse” next to “Clause”.

Hmm, all done, he thought to himself as, for the umpteenth time that day he added up all the figures on the receipts and made sure he had been given the right change by the respective shop assistants.  “Surely I must be forgetting someone,” he said and stared at the leftover notes in his wallet.   He racked his brain for anyone he may have left out, but nope that was it, the sum total of people he had to buy for was a paltry four, two down on last year, and now his shopping was done.

Not wanting to go home, even for a bit of impromptu real-time wrapping practice, Henry headed to Myer to wander around the perfume and make-up section.  He liked to give the impression, to anyone who might see him, that he was shopping for his girlfriend or wife. 

“Have you got any Vat 69,” he asked the young woman at the Chanel counter.

“I beg your pardon, Sir.”

“Vat 69, you know, your mob is famous for it, been around for years, everyone loves it.  Smells like flowers.”

“Oh, I think you are referring to Chanel Number Five, Sir.”

“Oh yeh, ha, erm, never was any good with numbers, yeh, Number Five, you got any?”

The assistant took a tester from the counter and sprayed the perfume onto a strip of cardboard.  She wafted it in the air and passed it to Henry

Glancing casually around to see if anyone was looking, he stuck the strip up to his ample nose.

“Mmmm, that’s the one!” he shouted.  “Thanks!”

And off he walked, leaving a confused shop assistant in his wake.

After a few more perfume inquiries at various other counters, he headed to the escalators in search of the soft furnishings section.

 And that’s when he heard it:

“Good evening shoppers, just a quick reminder about our Christmas gift-wrapping service that you can take advantage of for just a gold coin donation.  Make your way to the second floor, near the information counter, and have your presents wrapped by an expert.  Let us take the hassle out of wrapping.  All proceeds go to charity.  Thank you.”

EXPERT, Henry thought to himself.  We’ll see about that.

Once he was on the second floor it didn’t take him long to find the wrapping counter.  There were what seemed to be hundreds of shoppers milling around the desk waiting to have their presents wrapped.

Henry muscled his way to the front of the queue, much to the chagrin of the crowd.  “Excuse me, coming through, need to see the wrapping, excuse me,” and so on until he reached the front of the crowd.

At the counter three middle-aged women were armed with huge rolls of red, green and gold Christmas paper, and large dispensers of festive sticky tape.  In front of them were packages and presents in various states of wrap.  Henry watched a while as they painstakingly folded and cut and stuck and turned and eventually handed the package back to the waiting owner. 

As one package was held out to its respective owner, Henry snatched it from the wrapper’s hands.

“Hey, that’s mine,” said a man on Henry’s left.

“Hmm,” Henry said, paying no attention to the fellow who was staring at him unbelievingly.

“Folds not too bad, fair bit of crumple but, tape cut too long here, here and here, left flap longer than right, and who uses a three-loop reversible bow on a Christmas present?”

“Four out of ten,” he said handing the present onto its rightful owner.  “Next!”

After a few more similar inspections and with a crowd thinking he must be from management checking the quality of the wrappers’ work, Henry shuffled his way to the other side of the counter. 

“Righty-ho, give it here,” he said to a customer patiently waiting with a box of crystal glasses.  The three women shrugged their shoulders and stood back, interested to see if this know-it-all really did know it all about wrapping.

Henry looked at the box and then back at the crowd. 

“Not the most challenging wrap but we’ll see what we can do.”

His fingers set to their task with relish.  When he was finished, he placed the package on the counter in front of a hushed and amazed crowd. 

In the background the Christmas muzak droned on:

“Hail to the King, Blessed is He …”

A deep voice from the back of the line of shoppers called out.

“Young man, a word.”

Oh dear, thought Henry as he came back to the here-and-now.  Time to go.  But as he gathered his packages and pushed through the still gob-smacked shoppers, he felt a strong hand on his shoulder.

“Got to go,” Henry muttered.  “Got to shop, presents to buy, plenty of presents.”

But the hand remained where it was and as its owner spun him around he found himself staring into the suited chest of a large, middle-aged man.  He slowly looked up, expecting some angry shop manager or store detective ready to haul him away. 

But instead of a stern-faced official, Henry found himself staring into a beaming, red-face framed by a brown beard that joined its owner’s hairy head to his chin.

“That was quite a display,” the man said.  “Quite a display, indeed, you ever wrapped anything bigger than a small box?”

Such was Henry’s infatuation with the art of wrapping, he could never walk away from a question concerning his passion.

“I regularly wrap big things, mainly boxes.  Wrapped a few big boxes in my time.”

“Bigger, what about something bigger, I mean something really big?”

“Once wrapped my Dad’s shed when I was a kid,” he told the man.

“A shed!  Really, how interesting, any other unusual objects?”

“Tried wrapping Clause once, that’s my cat, but he was too fiddly.”

“Hmm, I want you to take a look at this.”  He passed Henry an upside-down picture.  Turning it the right way round, Henry saw it was a photograph of Sydney Harbour Bridge.

“Very nice,” he said.  “Hope you have a nice holiday,” and he went to pull away but the hand remained, firmly clutching his shoulder.

It turned out that the red-faced, strong-armed man was not an employee of the store after all, nor was he a tourist about to visit Circular Quay.  In fact, he was in marketing and his agency had just been presented with a big challenge.  To wrap Sydney Harbour Bridge in a huge Australian flag as part of Australia Day celebrations.

Once he heard this, Henry looked at the marketing man through wide eyes. 

“That’s quite a wrap,” he whispered.  “Quite a wrap.”

“Indeed it is, young man.  Which is why I’m talking to you – I think you may be the person I’ve been looking for.  Think you are up to it?”

Henry fell over.  He didn’t 'nearly' fall over, the clumsy sod actually fell over.  He pulled himself back to his feet and gaped at the stranger.

“I don’t know what to say,” he said, proving himself a liar.  “You want me to do this?  Me?  Well, I’m, I, I’d erm, of course I can do it.”  He thought about it a little more then looked back at the marketing man with a snigger.  “Put it this way, heh heh, I’m wrapt that you asked me!”

The marketing man laughed politely, removed his hand from Henry’s shoulder and passed him a business card.

“Come to my office tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock and we can talk.”

Henry looked at the card and read the address.  “Hey, just down the road from my place, I’ll be there at five to, I’ll ride my bike.”

*****

“I swear, I didn’t see him, I just didn’t see him,” wailed the driver through a shower of tears and snot.  “He wasn’t meant to be there, why wasn’t he riding on the bike path?  WHY?  There’s a perfectly good bike path just over there?  Why didn’t he use it?”

The paramedic nodded and shook his head simultaneously.

“Some people are just like that, I guess.”

As the officers lifted the lifeless body into the back of the ambulance, a brace clip slipped off the belt and hit one of them on the forehead. 

“Shit!” he yelped.  “That bloody hurt – who the hell wears belts with braces anyway?”

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Bio:
Gary joined the Royal Australian Navy from school (Bunbury SHS), served six years as a Radio Operator and then went to Curtin University of Technology when he got out, majoring in Journalism and minoring in Creative Writing. He has worked as print journo, sub and editor and is now working for the WA Govt as a Media and Communications type.