A dozen or so years ago, I volunteered to come up with a story for a white elephant party. This is the game: participants each take a wrapped gift from the pile, sit in a circle, and as the story is read they pass the gifts to the left or the right each time they hear the words "left" or "right." When the story is finished, participants take turns opening or trading the gift they end up with.
Here's what I wrote. Special thanks to O. Henry and "The Gift of the Magi" for the plot. Feel free to use it if you need to liven up a white elephant party this year!
The Gift of the Left Eye
Harold rubbed his eyes with the heel of his right hand and sighed. He looked across the kitchen table at Agatha in despair. "We've managed to pay our bills, but there isn't any money left. This is downright depressing! Especially with Christmas right around the corner."
"Oh Hairy Bear." That was Agatha's pet name for her beloved Harold. "It's going to work out all right. It always does!"
"But Aggie, I wanted our first Christmas together to be truly special. At this rate, we're going to have to eat left-over macaroni and cheese for Christmas dinner."
Despondent, Harold got up, left the table, and headed outside to think things through. He found his baseball and glove right where he'd left them. He put on his glove and started tossing the ball. But it wasn't the comfort he'd expected. Harold lived for baseball. Every year he scraped together enough money to play in an amateur league. This year, he'd hidden his stash in a box in the tool shed.
Even though he lived for baseball, Harold had never had enough money left over to get the right kind of glove. You see, left-handed Harold had a glove designed for right-handed players (it was a hand-me-down from his older brother). That meant he had to wear his glove on his left hand and throw with his right, instead of wearing the glove on his right hand and throwing with his left. What he really needed was a left-handed glove that he could wear on his right hand. It may sound confusing, but Harold knew it was the key to improving his game.
As he tossed the ball, Harold had a sudden realization and headed right to the tool shed. He found the box, opened it, and stared down at the money that he'd carefully saved all year. "Tomorrow I'm going to take this money and buy just the right present for Aggie."
Meanwhile, Agatha was getting ready for bed. She always made a point of going to bed right at 9:45 every night and getting up right at 6:45 every morning. And she always went through the same exact routine. First she'd brush her teeth, then she'd wash her face, and so on. She always did things in the same order, and she never left out a step. She believed in living a very orderly life.
But tonight was different. A couple of days earlier, she'd lost the contact lens for her left eye. So she had to wear her glasses instead. She hated wearing her glasses. She supposed the only benefit was that she didn't have to take her contacts out to clean them, first the left one and then the right one. So she skipped that step and went straight to her moisturizer. First her left leg, then her right, and so on.
As she climbed into bed, Agatha thought about her contact lenses. It seemed she'd waited her whole life to get them. She'd finally saved up enough money to buy them in time for her wedding. And now she'd have to dip into their precious bank account to buy a replacement lens for her left eye. While they were paying bills, Harold had insisted on setting aside just the right amount of money for her to visit the eye doctor the next day.
"Of course," she murmured to herself as she drifted off to sleep. "I know how I can get a present for Hairy Bear."
The next day was Christmas Eve. Just before Harold and Agatha headed off to work, they promised each other that they'd come right home and have a candlelight dinner to start the holiday off right. Candlelight always made their peanut butter sandwiches seem more romantic.
Harold got home first and started getting things ready. He hummed Christmas carols to himself as he hung a string of lights on a potted plant, carefully wrapped his gift for Agatha with the comics from yesterday's paper, and left it under the plant. Just as he was lighting the candles, Agatha came through the door. He swept her into his arms and kissed her right on the mouth. He noticed that she was still wearing her glasses. Maybe she was just waiting to get home before putting her new left contact lens in.
The gloom they'd both felt in their hearts the night before had left. In its place the spirit of Christmas grew. They talked about how happy they were as they ate their sandwiches. When the last crumb was finished, Agatha spied the package Harold had left under the potted plant.
"What's that?" Agatha asked.
"What do you mean?" Harold said innocently.
"That package." She pointed. "Right there!"
Harold picked up the gift and looked at it. "It must be for you. It says so right here on the tag."
Before he could hand it to her, Agatha jumped up and ran into the next room where she'd left Harold's present when she sneaked home at lunch time. Breathless, she plopped it into his lap and said, "You go first!"
Harold grinned from his left ear to his right as he tore off the wrapping, and then stared at her with amazement. Gently he lifted the new glove out of the box and put it on his right hand. It fit perfectly. So what if he'd have to wait another year to test it out in a league game. She had given him just the right gift.
He thanked her, kissed her right on the mouth again, then said, "It's your turn!" He couldn't wait to see her face.
Agatha carefully opened her present. First she took off the bow. She undid the tape on the left side, and then on the right. Though Agatha's orderliness was something Harold loved about her the most, he got impatient. "Hurry up!" he cried.
She pulled the paper away and found a beautiful pair of new sunglasses. "You can wear them now that you have contact lenses," Harold explained, beaming. "By the way, why aren't you wearing them?"
A tear trickled down Agatha's left cheek as she looked into Harold's eyes. In an instant he knew where she had gotten the money for his baseball glove. As they kissed right on the mouth in the glow of the potted plant, they both knew in their hearts they had married just the right person.