The violent crinkling and tearing of paper, shreds of silver and pink and purple flying in every direction, the high-pitched squeals of ten-year-old girls. I watch as Margaret rips open each gift, excitement filling her ice-blue eyes when the wrapping paper unveils a shiny iPod, a printed designer handbag, gourmet chocolate, a gold locket, silk bows for her platinum hair. She carefully places each gift on the table beside her before reaching from her stool for another. Fifteen other girls sit on the floor in front of her, bouncing with anticipation.
Margaret snatches my present. She tears off the yarn and the thick brown paper, flinging the remnants behind her. The top of the small white box sails open, and she stops. Her eyes double in size as she stares at what lies in her lap. The girls on the floor straighten up and crane their necks to try to see what it is.
Margaret raises her eyebrows at me, her lower jaw jutting out in annoyance.
What is this? She speaks to me in such disgust, I imagine myself as a flea-ridden stray cat who has just brought her a delicious decaying mouse.
It’s your present.
Margaret uses her recently manicured forefinger and thumb to pinch the present at its outermost corner, as if to refrain from acquiring any diseases. She lifts up the pair of cotton socks so everyone can see. Mutters and giggles escape from the spectators. The socks are pink, Margaret’s favorite color, and they’re covered in images of ponies, her favorite animal. A few months ago, when I walked past them in the isle of the local clothing store, the socks practically screamed Margaret’s name. She dangles them as she glares at me.
You call this a present?
I frown, not sure of what she expects me to say.
Yes? I offer.
She drops the pink monstrosities back into their container, and she flings her arms up into the air.
Are you kidding?! What kind of person gives their sister socks on their birthday? How much did they even cost? I don’t even want to know, you probably got them on sale.
The other girls burst into laughter. Margaret wrinkles her nose and tosses the white box into the haphazard pile of glittering ribbon and wrapping paper.
I wait until she and her guests have gone outside to play. I walk over to the sparkly mess of torn paper on the floor, and I pick up the box. I plan on putting the socks in her room so that she’ll find them later, when all of the other girls from the neighborhood have left. Maybe she’ll like them then. I climb the stairs to the second floor, wishing my sister could see what life was like before we moved to this town.