Birthday Gift

“You don’t like it. That’s what your tears are saying to me now, boy, that you do not like this wonderful gift from your loving father. I bend over backward for you — backward — and all you can do is cry. I’m heartbroken. If these are tears of joy, please say so.

“What is it? It’s a bag, boy! A fun-bag, a big bag of fun. Can’t you see that? Would I, your loyal loving father, give you a birthday gift that was not fun? I’m hurt, boy, hurt you think I would give you just ‘a fat old leather bag.’

“No no, you don’t open it. That’s what the chain and padlock are for. This ain’t that kind of bag.

“Oh, but the question is, what doesn’t it do. It moves, and makes fun noises, and talks — talks, boy, a talking bag I give to you, yet still you cry. What did I do to invite this ungratefulness? Please, God, tell me now.

“Look, I’ll show you. You just give it a kick — eh — and there, the bag rolls all over the place, groaning. And look at those shapes it makes, boy! You mean to tell me this isn’t fun? Eh. Look at it go! Eh. The fun is unbearable. I am overwhelmed by this fun for which I bent over backward to give you.

“And yet tears stream down your face. Yet my child cries. This is the sound of the knife in my heart being twisted just so.

“Now . . . now you’ve done it. I’m smoking again. Your ungrateful crying has driven me back to smoking luxurious Cuban cigars. Are you happy now, boy? Was this your aim all along? Was this your scheme? Mmm.

“Okay, I’ll make it stop. Here’s how you make it stop: Hey, bag! Eh. Stop! See? It’s like a switch. And you can’t tell me you’re not having fun. I refuse to believe that you, boy, are not presently having fun.

“Now, you come here and kick the bag — oh yes you are, young man! Get over here. There. Now, do it.

“See, is that not the most funnest fun you have ever known in your nine years? Had I a fun-bag at your age, my gratitude would be unspeakable.

“Oh, no no no! Whenever it pleads, that’s just bag-talk for more kicks. Eh. See? And there’s all kinds of tricks like that to learn. This bag, it’s not just for fun, it’s for learning, too. Is a regular rub-icks cube.

“Yet still you cry. I was wrong: your scheme is to break your father’s heart. Well, you’re succeeding, sonny boy. You are succeeding at wrenching it into two jagged, bleeding chunks of red, by crying at this wonderful thing for which I bend over backward to bring you. Oh . . . there it goes! Snap, right in two. Are you happy now? Your crying says you aren’t, but maybe you’re just making sure the job’s done.

“But wait. Ha! I know what you want, I know what your little wailing noggin desires, I do. Hey, bag! Eh. Dance!

“There . . . there! What a gas! Look out, Fred Astaire!

“Yes . . . ye-e-e-e-e-e-s! I knew that would quiet you down, boy. Dancing solves all problems. Perhaps you aren’t so ungrateful after all, have learned to see the fun in this greatest of gifts.

“Come on, it’s all right, you can get close. The bag won’t bite, no matter what it says.

“What’s this, this little stitched flap here? Oh, but that’s special. See, this flap is like a gas tank in a car, you put in some special fuel and it makes the bag go. Like my lit cigar here. You just undo the flap, and drop in the fuel and close it back . . . and look at it move! Oh my, boy! Oh my! I simply cannot withstand this incredible fun! Just wait till I put the snake in there.

“No no, it’s okay, the smoking will stop. Would I, your most loyal loving father, give you a defective gift? Have a little faith, son. Daddy loves you too much.

“Oh, but that was just for starters! The bag does so much more, boy! I’ll show you, just wait while I light a new stogie here —

“Hey, bag! Eh. Settle down!

“That’s the one thing about these bags, sonny. Got to put it in its place, see, or it’ll just keep on and on.

“Now, where was I — oh yes! Kicks and cigars are just one way to make the bag do its fun. Wait right here, boy. Wait right here.

“Okay, now, see Mommy’s diamond earrings? Look what happens when I flush them down the toilet.

“And there! Ain’t that just the damnedest thing you ever did see, boy? It’s like ten kicks. And you wanted clowns on your birthday.

“Where’s Mommy? . . . You just never mind about Mommy. You just —

“Don’t believe it, boy! The bag lies, that’s the other thing about it. It lies, will lie all day long, just like it goes through credit cards you can’t pay, and sleeps around if you don’t put it on a leash. The bag will go whining to its friends, too, will poison them to you, and gang up on you, and send letters. And —

“Lies! It’s lying to you, boy! Cover your ears! Eh. Shut up! Eh. I never! Eh. Over my dead body! Eh.

“Oh. Oh dear. Please forgive me, boy. Shame on me, losing my temper on your special day. The bag plays tricks, know that the bag plays tricks and you mustn’t let it trick you. It’s good training for life, for the many tricksters in your bright and sunny future. That’s part of the gift, so that you may learn these tricks now, for which I’ve bent over backward all your nine years.

“Yes, yes, you’ll get your cake. But first, we must sing. No child of mine will go without hearing ‘Happy Birthday.’

“Happy birthday to you — sing, bag! Eh — happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear —

“Lie! Lies! That’s a dirty, filthy lie!

“Oh, don’t cry. Please, boy, don’t cry no —

“Dammit! Now you’ve got him bawling again! Eh, eh, eh.

“Sorry, I’m sorry, boy, so sorry. Daddy just lost his temper again. Let this be a lesson: never let the bag make you lose your temper, or you’ll turn red like Daddy now, and have to take pills like these here.

“That? Hmm . . . yep, the bag’s leaking. It’ll do that if you kick it too much, will make its fun run right out. More reason not to let it trick you.

“Okay, okay, all right — so you don’t like the bag. Maybe I don’t either. Maybe the bag’s bad — a curse, a mistake. Maybe Daddy never should’ve let the bag trick him with its short skirts and big bra size. And, anyhow, it looks like the bag is very much busted. Go fetch Daddy the mop.

“And there, the floor’s all clean, all better. So no more tears, hmm? Can Daddy get a smile? There, atta boy. That’s Daddy’s wonderful, grateful boy.

“No, not yet, still one more thing to do before you get your cake. First we have to dispose of this here broken bag, and we can’t do it later so don’t you even ask. But here’s the good news, boy: you get to go out on Daddy’s boat.”

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