It was the first Christmas since their reconciliation. Each of them had had an addiction, and it had driven them to the point of divorce. What with his constant gambling, she never had enough money to go to the shopping centre. And with her compulsive shopping, he never had enough money to go to the track. The only things that saved their fractious marriage from complete collapse were their recent vows to each other: he to give up gambling cold turkey, she to give up her addiction to clothes shopping. It had created some tension initially, but by the time December rolled around and the sounds of sleigh bells were in the air, their marriage had resumed normalcy.
So it was with a certain amount of expectation that Della and Jim woke up on the morning of the 25th, for this Christmas would be the one to affirm their vows to each other: both the vows they had made on their wedding day and the vows they had made in the not-so-distant past.
Flush with anticipation, Della produced a sealed envelope, exclaiming, 'Merry Christmas, my dear!'. Jim took the envelope and opened it at once with a smile on his face. Upon considering the piece of paper within the card inside, however, Jim's smile faded.
'What's this, Della?' he inquired sceptically.
'It's a gift certificate from a shoe store, Jim! So you can buy whatever you want!'
'Della, what did you promise me? We said no more unnecessary shopping, didn't we?'
'Oh no, Jim', Della pleaded, 'it's not for me - it's for you! You know you could use a new pair of shoes. Or maybe boots. I swear I won't use it for myself. It's for you, honey!'
Not entirely convinced, Jim hesitated before forcing a smile and stepping forward to embrace his wife. 'Okay, Della. Thank you. And now here's your Christmas gift.'
Unable to control her excitement, Della snatched the envelope from her husband's hand. Tearing it open, she pulled the piece of paper out from within the Christmas card and proceeded to examine it. 'Uh, Jim...', she said slowly.
'Jim, this is a lottery ticket...'
'Why yes, honey. You know the big lottery that they have on New Year's Eve? I thought you'd like it if you had a ticket for that lottery.'
'But Jim, you promised me...'
'Oh, Della,' said Jim quickly, 'it's not like that. This lottery ticket is for you, not for me. You know I don't gamble anymore. But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the excitement of the New Year's Lottery!'
'So if I win something, it's all mine?'
'Of course it is,' Jim said with a feigned angelic look.
Unsure of his conviction, Della decided to offer him the benefit of the doubt and stepped forward to embrace her husband. 'This has been a great Christmas. It's wonderful how close we can be when we overcome our personal problems, isn't it?'
'Yes it is, Della. That's what a marriage is about: sacrifice.'
The cold winds were howling outside the window as Jim closed the shop window behind him. 'Happy New Year, sir,' called the cheery voice of the shop assistant, 'are you here to return a Christmas present?'
'Uh, no', he replied, distractedly glancing at the newspaper in the shop assistant's hand, 'I'm here to redeem a gift certificate.'
'Very well,' replied the assistant. Following the path of Jim's eyes, the assistant added, 'Amazing, isn't it? "Local resident wins lottery, vows to move to Brazil to start a new life". The paper says she was married and she's abandoning her husband. Some people...'
Still distracted, Jim merely mumbled, 'Yeah, some people' in response.
Sensing that her customer might not have been a conversationalist, the assistant decided to get down to business. 'Well, sir, what can I interest you in today? The weather is terrible; perhaps you'd like some boots?'
Jim glanced at his watch. 'Uh, no, actually. I'd like some shoes, please. Shoes with thick soles if possible.'
'Thick soles? You mean platform shoes?' replied the assistant, 'I'm afraid we don't normally carry platform shoes in men's sizes...'
'Well, give me the best you've got,' Jim said, fingering a small package in his coat pocket. 'The style isn't really that important. I just need thick-soled shoes. And be quick, please.' He looked at his watch again.
'Are you in a hurry, sir?' asked the shop assistant.
'Yes I am, in fact,' Jim said as he returned his hand to the small package in his pocket. 'I've got a plane to catch.'
With apologies to O. Henry. And to Richard Reid.