The Gift

Should she open it? she asked herself.

Who had sent it, and why? What on earth could it be?

The package lay innocently on the dining room table as she paced about her flat, gnawing on her thumb cuticle. From the lounge to the dinning room, her pacing was measured, deliberate. It was about the size of a shoe box, if you had size twelve feet. She was back in the dining room, peering at the box from behind her chair. The postmark indicated her home town, but there was no return to sender address.

It wasn’t her birthday, and, as far as she could recall, no other special occasion. She hadn’t ordered anything. Nothing was expected. Nothing. Still with her thumb in her mouth she stomped into the kitchen to verify those facts on the calendar stuck onto her fridge door.

Since I am here, she thought, a nice strong coffee might help. Concentrating her mind, she filled the kettle, turned on the gas and prepared the cafetiere.

Well, what else am I supposed to do with it? she concluded.

Back in the dinning room with her dolphin-shaped letter opener in her hand. Precisely, cautiously, she loosened the clear tape which bound the box. Careful not to tear the brown packaging, she eventually removed what turned out to be indeed a shoe box. A glance on the side revealed size eleven and a half. Don’t often see half sizes, she thought.

She chuckled, and the kettle joined in with a shrill whistle.

Returning once more to the dinning room, she set the cafetiere and mug down next to the box, and seated herself in the chair closest to the shoe box. She looked around her. She saw very little. Her mahogany table and the other three matching chairs; gifts from her mother when she moved in. The old side-dresser in the corner, a find at a charity fate. The plain glass vase with a bunch of supermarket quality flowers its only decoration. The bowl of fruit; 3 pears, some white seedless grapes and a lonely banana partially hidden behind the shoe box. Nothing out of place, nothing to fire the imagination.

The thought returned; should she open it? Her disciplined and tidy mind had almost convinced her that no, she just bin it and simply go about her day.

But she had no plans for the day. She had thought that she might go shopping later, or she might do some work. She had no contracts at the moment, but there was no harm in creating something on spec. Or if the weather permitted, she might just take a sandwich and her notebook, and spend some time in the park.

With the caution of a child brought up in a village visiting a great city for the first time she lifted the lid a fraction, then slammed it down again. She rose, stood back for a moment, stepped forward to pour her coffee and sat once more. The thumb had returned to the mouth.

She considered her options. Throw it in the bin, put it in her shed and forget about it, reseal it and send it back to the postman, or open it and satisfy her growing curiosity?

It was now just after 11am.

Ten minutes later she closed her eyes and lifted the lid.

She cocked her head fractionally to the left, birdlike. She could hear a feint murmur, as if she was on a beach with thousands of holiday-makers, and the sound of the ocean was breaking on the sand, and it was all wrapped in cotton wool.

Bravely, and with her second finger been given the teeth treatment, she opened her eyes.

The box contained what appeared to be a light mist, and nothing else. It was still, she perceived. It was almost certainly the source of the sound.

That sound was joined by that of her own breathing and the rhythm of her heart pumping blood around her body. The sounds were slowing, slowing, slowing.

There was silence.

The mist began moving, vague patterns appeared. She could not move, her gaze transfixed on the mist. Each passing moment brings clarity.

Was she seeing atoms? Clusters of particles moving in elliptical patterns, revolving around each other. What else could the be? But how? And why?

The silence continued.

She watched, unable to move. Her thought patterns slowed down. She can do nothing but observe. She saw much more clearly now. The patterns took on familiarity. There were distinct regions of particles; she could see single arm spirals, starfish, elliptical masses and a myriad of different colours and forms. The colours struck an instinctive awe in her, ancient reds and purples, distant yellows, and a distinct colour she had no word for. This colour appeared to move with forethought, intelligence, purpose. It was everywhere yet no-where. It was the mist. It was the shoe box. It visited clusters and individual particles, moving with ominous purpose. On occasion, it left a tangible change in its wake.

Much later, nothing had changed. She watched as the patterns move,  the colours evolve and change (the ones that she knew), and that colour go about its business; being all and everything.

Some time later she began to see more detail. She knew what she was seeing was not a representation of atoms. What she was seeing was real. She knew what that colour was, and she knew Its name, and Its purpose within the shoe box.
She was getting used to the silence now, she was comfortable. The hot coffee stood untouched next to her, the rising steam caught motionless. A photograph.

She watched for a little longer, unable to do anything else. Unable to move. All thought, all bodily functions had ceased. All she was had become an eye, staring at  an ancient text, awakening knowledge already within her.

Later, clarity in the box improved once more. She can see individual solar systems, larger planets, and a curious large object towards the centre of one of the galaxies. Staring at it makes her eyes hurt. The metal sphere appears to be moving against the grand blue-printed pattern. She has no concept of what she sees. Its meaning clouded, blank. The Colour moves towards the Sphere. Everything else in the box slows to a stop. Everything appears to know it is meant to wait.

There is a small burst of energy, and the metal ball is no more.

Sometime later, after watching life hatch, grow and die on countless worlds, her focus is drawn to a small planet near the rim of a spiral galaxy. She watches as the Colour approaches the planet. It lingers for a moment, then moves on, leaving behind a tiny piece of Itself, which becomes a Man.

She watched that Man for a while before seeing that He has been dead for thousands of years.

She sees a despairing world, full of hate and selfishness. She sees pain and grief, she witnesses famine, disease, disaster and hopelessness. She feels, however, nothing. She can feel, but there is nothing to feel.

Many a year later, maybe a few minutes have passed, another man catches her attention. He appears to be living alone, and she sees that he is not happy, he has never known happiness. She watches him for some time.

The man lives his life in a pattern she is familiar with. He struggles through his day, seeking to be kind, helping those around him whenever he can. However, she also sees his true nature, his selfish nature, expecting the world to revolve around him. He only gives so he can take. He lives a life alone through choice.

He works as a drone, sleeps as a drone.

He has a dream, she can see, that he is the centre of the universe, and that his god created everything to test him. He is a prototype. Different. Which means he is truly alone.

She watches him age several years. Nothing really changes, yet she cannot focus on anything or anyone else.

She sees as he slowly realises his place on his planet. He is becoming a real human at last. She is witness to a new determination, albeit driven by the same selfish desires. He no-longer expects the universe to revolve around him, but is determined to make sure that it knows his name. He strives to become an actor. Attending courses, joining dramatic groups, and using all his savings on self publicity. She watches as his health and self-respect deteriorate as he tries everything to succeed, to make a name. There is no doubt in his mind, or in hers, that he will succeed.

Later, she watches as he finds himself in a popular television show. He has forsaken his life for this moment, and his dreams are real.

Some weeks later, the show is broadcast and the man no longer dreams. He has experienced happiness. Achievement. He realises what he is, who he is. He now knows he is real.

Returning to his former existence; a private life without all the self-loathing, he finds himself free to love, free to feel. He walks with a spring in his step and a smile on his face. His true friendships are solidified, and his life becomes joyous. Returning to his habit of seeking to make those around him happy, he no longer expects gratification in return.

He falls in love.

She can see him falling.

A women on the periphery of his life, someone he has met through his work, someone she cannot see.

She watches as all his fears return, his insecurities and doubts. Driven by something external to his control.

She watched as he tries all he knows to woo this woman. The woman, in return, is oblivious.

A sound. A slight whisper. The hint of breath. A slight motion of steam over a hot coffee cup.

Something has changed. What? she wonders.

Sometime later she notices the sounds again. She realises that she is no longer just an eye. But what is she?

She considers a word: complete.

She can see the man find love and happiness in his heart, but confusion and fear in his mind.

She can feel the love. She knows the happiness. She senses the confusion and fear.

Moving slightly now, she watches as the steam rises slowly above the coffee cup. She can hear her own breath, and feel her heart pump once every few days. She recalls the smell of that hot coffee. No, not a recollection, but a reality. She can feel each evaporated molecule of coffee gently rub over the lining of her nose.

Distracted by these sensations, caught in the current of time as it flows towards the ocean of normality, her attention is distracted from the man she has watched for so long. She is catching up with herself.

She fails to notice the man carefully wrap a shoe box. He licks a stamp and places it carefully, tenderly. He rubs his fingers along the corners of the box, smiling.

Setting off for the post office, the man looks to the sky and smiles.

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