This year’s donation came two days before Christmas – a single large box with a red bow on top. Usually the gifts weren’t right for Dina, since they mostly included toys for younger kids. Dina was 12 and past the age most people pictured when their heart ached enough to unzip their wallets.
To Dina’s surprise, this year’s box contained a large tin of Werther’s Original, her favourite treat, and since her mother didn’t like sweets, the whole tin was hers. The box also contained a plump teddy bear, caramel-coloured as well, and Dina placed it beside the tin of Werther’s on her bedside table. She smiled to herself as she gazed at them together, a tiny nook of her world that looked like a display she’d seen at the mall.
Though school was out for another two weeks, Dina sat on her bed and started a writing assignment. She swished a hard, smooth caramel over her tongue as she imagined the teacher’s praise, the thing she thirsted for every day, and as she tried to block out the sound of her mother in the kitchen, yelling at her boyfriend, Tim. She hoped they weren’t arguing about tomorrow’s dinner – her mother’s surprise promise to take her to Red Lobster as a combined Christmas-birthday gift. Dina hadn’t expected any gift at all and she felt giddy as she remembered her last visit to that restaurant when she was five. How the server had come around with a giant treasure chest and let her pick a toy from inside. Dina knew she was older now, but an excited hope jumped around in her stomach – maybe she wasn’t too old just yet.
At the restaurant, Dina sat across from Tim as he glared at the menu and declared the prices outrageous. Dina made sure to pick the cheapest meal and to shake her head quickly when the server came by to ask about dessert. They ate mostly in silence as her mother drank the beer she had brought in her purse and Tim took gulps from a flask of whiskey. Every few minutes, Dina scanned the restaurant, hoping to catch sight of the treasure chest. But only the bill came at the end, and Dina was too shy to ask.
On the bus ride home, Tim went on about “what a fucking waste of money that was”, and her mother didn’t disagree but tried to make him stop. Dina stared hard at nothing out the window and pretended not to hear.
At home the fighting started again and Dina went quickly to her room. She sat at her desk beside the Christmas display and wondered about the person who donated the tin and the bear. She wondered what they’d thought about when they chose those two items, and whether they had imagined a girl like her. She felt a sudden ache, a longing to meet them, just to tell them in person that they were nice. But mostly she wanted them to tell her yes. Yes, they had imagined a girl like her.
Andrea Lynn Koohi is a writer from Toronto, Canada, with work appearing or forthcoming in Streetlight Magazine and Emerge Literary Journal. She has also had work short-listed in Hippocampus Magazine’s 2020 Remember in November Creative Nonfiction Contest.