Give and Take

a parable by Caris O'Malley



"What happened to your thumb?"

"Nothing. Just a paper cut."

"Let me see it." He extended his hand toward her and she took it delicately in hers. "It's all red."

"It'll be okay."

"At least let me get you a bandage." She hurried off toward the bathroom. He let himself into her apartment and closed the door behind him. She returned with a box in her hand.

"Thanks," he said after his thumb was taken care of.

"You're welcome."

She sat the box down on the counter and led him into the living room. Once they were seated, he reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope.

"I actually cut myself sealing this," he said. "For you."

"For me?" she asked, though it really wasn't a question. She opened the envelope, careful not to tear the paper. "What is this?"

"Just take it out."

She lifted it from the envelope, holding it as if it might break into one thousand pieces at the hands of a merciless breeze."Is this your sadness?"

"Keep opening," he said.

She pulled some more, noticing that the material was quickly getting stronger.

"Oh my God. Is this your resolve? And your joy?"

"And my happiness and my sorrow."

"You're giving these things to me?"

"I want you to have them."

"I don't know what to say."

"You don't have to say anything."

"Wait right here," she said. He looked hopefully up at the photographs on her wall as she rushed off to her bedroom. There weren't any of him, but there could be.

She came back holding a shoe box.

"Is that a first-aid kit?"

"What?" She looked confused. "No."

She dug around inside, spilling ribbons and ticket stubs to the floor. She finally found what she was looking for beneath a hospital bracelet and a swatch of blue cloth.

"Here," she said, extending her hands toward him.

He reached out and let her drop a small pewter cup into his outstretched hands. The edges were tarnished and dingy. It looked like it hadn't been touched for a long time. It smelled of dust. "Look inside," she said.

He did as he was instructed and noticed something clinging to the bottom of the cup. He reached his fingers inside and tried to grasp it.

"Be careful," she said.

His fingers instantly relaxed. He turned the cup upside down and reached in with his thumb and forefinger. He pulled it out in one steady tug. It clung to his hand like Saran wrap.

"Is this...?"

"Yeah."

"Your pain?"

"Not all of it, but it's all I have left."

"Where's it from?"

"I got it when my dad passed away. It was his, but he gave it to me. He got it when my mother left."

"This is all you have?"

"Is it not enough?" she asked.

"No, no. Nothing like that. It's not that at all." he said. "Are you sure you want to give this up?"

"Yes. I gave away nearly everything I had when I was too stupid to know any better. I should have saved it all for you."

"This is perfect," he said. He put the pain back in its cup and slipped it into his jacket pocket.

She smiled at him, and he smiled at her.

"What do we do now?"

"Do you want to watch TV?" she asked.

"Okay."

She walked over to the television and picked up the remote, replacing it with the envelope. She returned to the couch and turned on a game show.

A gentle breeze came in through the window. Neither of them noticed when it pushed the envelope from its place, nestling it securely between the television and the wall.

"This is nice," she said.

The pain in the cup got a little stronger.