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As seen in the December 15, 1965 issue of The State. I thought perhaps she’d give me a tie or an onyx steering wheel knob or a flask with built-in

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As seen in the December 15, 1965 issue of The State. I thought perhaps she’d give me a tie or an onyx steering wheel knob or a flask with built-in

As seen in the December 15, 1965 issue of The State.

I thought perhaps she’d give me a tie or an onyx steering wheel knob or a flask with built-in hairbrushes or something. But no. On the first day of Christmas, right there in the living room was a potted pear tree with a partridge sitting in it. An odd present. The pear tree might have borne fruit if planted, but I haven’t planted it yet. At that moment I hadn’t any idea what to do with the partridge either. It seemed a bit callous to eat my true love’s Christmas present, particularly when it was given to me alive.

I moved the pear tree to a corner of the living room. The partridge didn’t stir. In fact, it wouldn’t even look at me.

I called her up. “Thanks very much for the pear tree and the partridge.”

“I’m glad you like them,” she said.

“I’ve always wanted one of each.”

“I’m so happy,” she said. “And thank you for the subscription to the Vladivostock Herald.”

• • •

The next day, the postman brought a small box with holes in it. It was from her. Inside the box were two birds. The encyclopedia gave a description that matched them. “Turtle dove,” it said, “noted for its plaintive cooing and affectionate disposition.”

The turtle doves perched affectionately on the back of an armchair and cooed plaintively.

I called her up. “Thanks very much for the turtle doves. They’re making love on the armchair right now.”

“I’m glad you like them,” she said. “I just thought I’d give you something else.”

“What do you feed turtle doves?”

“Try turtles,” she suggested. She has a literal mind.

• • •

The next afternoon, a delivery boy brought a slightly larger box, again with holes in it. Three hens huddled inside. One of them immediately made a mess on the hearth, and all three roosted on the mantelpiece, clucking idiotically.

I called her up. “Thanks for the hens.”

“I thought you’d like them,” she said. “They’re French.”

I gave the hens popcorn, and offered some to the partridge. It ate sullenly, then turned its face to the wall again. The turtle doves cooed with plaintive enthusiasm, but spurned the popcorn.

• • •

“Sign here,” said the postman the next morning. He handed me a large box, again with holes.

“What’s this?”

“Dunno,” he said. “Sounds like more birds. What’re you starting, a zoo or something?”

“No,” I said. “And anyway, the word is aviary.”

The box did, indeed, contain more birds. Four of them. “Mockingbird,” the encyclopedia said, “remarkable for its exact imitation of the notes of other birds.”

Cartoon of French hens and song birds.

illustration by Ed Fotheringham

Two of the mockingbirds joined the French hens on the mantelpiece and imitated them. A third joined the turtle doves and cooed. The armchair was beginning to look streaky. The fourth mockingbird joined the partridge and turned its face to the wall.

I called her up. “There seem to be an awful lot of birds around here. Thanks, though. I like birds.”

“Oh, I’m so glad. Maybe you could start a zoo?”
“You mean aviary,” I said, and went out to buy birdseed.

• • •

The postman rang again the next day.


“Nope,” the postman said. “Sign here.”

The small package contained five gold rings, all different. I thought this a rather broad hint, coming from her. But at least they weren’t birds.

I called her. “Beautiful rings. Thank you.”

Her reply was very demure.

“I don’t understand why you keep sending me presents,” I said to her the next day. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate them, but I should have thought that just one gift …”

“Don’t you like the geese?”

“Great geese,” I said. “Love the geese. They just arrived. The trouble is, they keep laying eggs all over the place. One of them’s been laying in the bathtub and I keep having to clean goose egg out of the drain.”

“I’m sorry if they’re a bother,” she said sweetly. “I just wanted … ”

• • •

The following morning, four men marched up the driveway carrying a large inflated plastic wading pool. They set it on the front porch, filled it with water, and then produced from a large box (with holes) seven swans. They put the swans in the wading pool. I stood mutely watching this operation, and when it was finished, one of the men shook his head sadly at me, and they went away.

“Look,” I said to her over the telephone, “I’m very grateful for all you’ve done, but how about easing off on the birds? I’ve got 23 now, and this is a pretty small house. Besides, swans bite.”

She sounded so injured, that I hadn’t the heart to suggest that she stop sending presents altogether.

I wish I had. The next day, eight girls of coed age came to the door dressed in full skirts and peasant blouses.

“We’re here,” said one when I answered the knock.

“Who are you?”

“Maids. We’ve come to milk.” She curtseyed.

I called up my true love. “Now look,” I said sternly. “Fun’s fun and all that, but these maids, now …”

“Don’t you like maids-a-milking?”

“The maids are fine; it’s the cows they brought that present a problem. I haven’t the space for — oh, never mind.” She had begun to grow tearful.

Cartoon of 8 maids milking cows.

illustration by Ed Fotheringham

The maids took their cows to the backyard and milked. I fed the birds, bought hay for the cows, laid in a stock of TV dinners for the maids. Then I killed the partridge and cooked it. It was getting on my nerves, brooding in the damn pear tree while everything else was cooing or clucking or mocking or laying or swimming. I decided the maids could help eat the steadily increasing supply of goose eggs, which had turned out to be unmarketable.

By this time, my dog, a neurotic basset, had retreated to the hall closet and was eyeing activities with a quivering lip.

But she wasn’t finished. At about 4 the next afternoon, the correct hour for calling, nine fashionably dressed ladies appeared at the front door.

“We’re here,” said the leading lady.


“We’ve come to wait,” said the leading lady.

“Wait for what?” I asked, but they all walked right past me into the living room, where they sat down and started waiting.

“My, what a lot of birds,” said one. “May I have a cigarette?”

I gave her one and flew to the telephone. “What are you trying to do to me?” I quavered. “I’m not a rich man, and here I have 47 mouths to feed, not counting my own. There are 17 strange women in the house. The place is going wild. Stop, will you? I know you love me. If you want to send me presents, send me a tie or an onyx steering wheel knob …”

She began to cry. I didn’t care about her. I didn’t appreciate the love she was trying to show. I was heartless, cruel …

• • •

The next morning, I was awakened at 6 by pounding.

On the front porch were 10 men in brocaded costumes, leaping. The swans snapped at them whenever they got within range of the pool. I hurried outside, panicked.

“What’s all this?”

“Lords,” said one of the men laconically, in the middle of a powerful flamenco stamp. “Come to leap.” He leaped, proving it.

“Oh, God. How long do you plan to stay?”

Cartoon of lords leaping

illustration by Ed Fotheringham

“Contract reads 13 weeks, with option,” said the leading lord, and performed a flying split.

“Come in,” I said, wearily. “Let me introduce you to some waiting ladies.”

“Hey, hear that, fellas? GIRLS!”

They all leaped and pirouetted through the door, and, almost immediately, the living room sounded like a cocktail party in full swing. As a matter of fact, later in the day, it became just that, with a lord occasionally springing up, highball in hand, to do a spin or an entrechat.

• • •

I hocked the five golden rings, bought 27 TV dinners, more hay, birdseed, 10-gallon cans to keep the cows’ milk in, and extra towels. Then I went to work. At work, I got a telephone call from the police.

“Buncha guys on your porch havin’ some sort of jam session,” said the desk sergeant. “Thought you oughta know. Wunna my men talked to ’em; they said they was suppos’ta be there. What’s it all about?”

I hurried home …

Eleven men sat on the front porch.

“We’re pipers,” said one. He was wearing sideburns and sandals. “Like, we’re gonna pipe for you, man.” They were all propped against this or that or each other, tooting on recorders. They wore blue jeans and sweatshirts, and one had a bad cough.

“How long?” I asked.

“Who knows? Till we fade, I guess. Great pad you got here.”

I got a room in a motel. I didn’t even call her up. When I left, the cows had run dry and the maids and ladies were all reading magazines in the living room while the lords and pipers had a ball throughout the house. Two or three lord-lady romances were budding; the armchair was encrusted; the bathtub drain was hopelessly clogged; the cows, clustered hungrily at the back door, were anxiously disturbing the peace; the swans attacked anybody who approached their pool; one of the mockingbirds had abandoned the French hens and was imitating the pipers, another had deserted the turtle doves and was imitating the cows; the French hens had nested in the laundry hamper; the pear tree was beginning to wilt; the spare towels had run out; the dog had had a nervous breakdown and run away, gibbering.

I don’t know what she’ll send me tomorrow, but if it makes any more noise, I’m simply going to have to leave town. My landlord has threatened to raise the rent, and after all, with 38 people, 22 birds, eight cows, and an extra tree on the property, can you blame him?

— J.A.C. Dunn

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This story was published on Nov 27, 2023

Our State Staff

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