The theme: something unusual bought at a thrift store or yard sale
It was the ugliest lamp Maura had ever seen. The lampshade was gold with strands of royal purple woven throughout; the top and bottom edges of the shade were ringed with ruby, sapphire, and gold beads and tassels. The lamp base itself was a sight: two elephants were apparently engaged in a gleeful instance of the “marital act.” Worse, the male elephant appeared to be trumpeting his triumph. Just like a man, Maura thought. And because it was such a special occasion, each elephant wore a colorful blanket and a gem-studded gold headpiece. Maura’s Aunt Hettie went on and on about how she’d found this delightful treasure on her most recent trip to Morocco and how she just knew it would make the perfect wedding gift for Maura and Joe. Not wanting to be rude, Maura concealed her shock at the awful thing, thanked her aunt, and continued opening her shower gifts.
Later, in the privacy of her own home, Maura turned the lamp over, searching for signs of authenticity. But surely the people of Morocco had better taste than to create such a thing? As it turned out, the people of Morocco did have better taste; it was the people of Woolworth’s Department Store who had failed the style test. Maura sighed heavily and assigned the lamp a spot in the back of the closet. It would make an appearance only when Aunt Hettie made a visit. Which was never. The lamp never saw the light of day in the six years between Maura’s wedding and Aunt Hettie’s death. Her aunt never even inquired after Maura’s enjoyment of the gift, so at least she was never forced to lie.
Maura waited a respectful amount of time – 2 days to be exact – after the old woman’s funeral before giving the lamp to a local thrift store. She could have merely thrown it away, but if she had to suffer the indignity of receiving such a thing, so should someone else. Hah. At least it was gone. Out of her life forever. The fornicating fiends could terrorize some other poor young virginal bride on her wedding day.
But could there be two of them? How else to explain how Maura, visiting a flea market in a town 50 miles away, had come face-to-face with the ghastly thing once again? The elephants stared up at her mockingly, as if to say It’s been thirteen years, and we’re still at it! Maura stifled a gasp. Gingerly, she lifted the lamp from its place on the rickety card table, and turned it over. There, on the bottom, were both a Woolworth’s sticker and a Good Hope Thrift Store sticker. Oh Lord, Maura agonized, what evil have I wrought? This stupid thing was traveling around the country grossing people out, and somehow it had found her again. And poor Good Hope had made a paltry $2 from the sale.
“May I help you with that?” a young woman asked brightly.
“Oh…no. No, I don’t actually want to buy it,” Maura stammered. “But I have to ask, where did it come from?”
“Oh, it’s the funniest story!” the young woman answered. “I’ve been telling everyone! You see, my mother received that lamp as a wedding gift from her in-laws about 30 years ago. She hated it so much, because they never liked my mom and thought she wasn’t good enough for my dad. She always suspected they gave her the lamp as an insult and to spoil her beautiful home.
“Naturally, they expected it to be on display when they visited, which was quite often. Well, she got tired of looking at it, so after a few years, she told them it broke while she was cleaning the house. In reality, she had hidden the lamp in a closet.
“Later that year, Mom was invited to an Ugly Gift Exchange Party, where every participant had to bring something awful and give it to someone else. Mom said the lamp ended up going to some poor old soul named Hettie Lambert. She never knew what became of it after that. So you can imagine how shocked I was when the lamp showed up here! The lady who donated it said she had received it from a friend who was visiting a little town about an hour away. Her friend saw it in a thrift store and just knew it was perfect for her. The lady said she doesn’t know what her friend was thinking, because her house is completely decorated to look like a seaside cottage, not some Moroccan house of ill repute. I guess poor old Hettie gave it to the thrift store right after she got it from my mom, and it had been sitting there ever since.”
“Yes, I imagine that’s it,” Maura replied, thinking to herself Lady, if you only knew. “How much are you asking for it?”
“You want it? Really?” the woman exclaimed. “Oh, it’s yours. For $1.50.”
“Quite a bargain,” Maura replied, handing over two dollar bills. “Keep the change.”
Maura drove away with her treasure and stopped behind the first strip mall she could find. Stepping out of the car, lamp in hand, she moved stealthily to a rusty green dumpster. Maura planned to chuck the lamp against the inside of the dumpster with all her might, so that it would break into a thousand pieces. As she reared back with the lamp, the elephants caught her eye.
Please don’t, they seemed to say. It’s not our fault we were made this way.
Save us, pleaded Mrs. Elephant. Someone else might want us.
“Ooohhhh!” Maura cried in exasperation. “All right!” She set the lamp down next to the dumpster and walked away, looking back only once or twice. “But I’d better never see you two again!”
We promise, the canoodling couple replied.
Maura jogged back to her car, started the engine and was just pulling out when she heard someone yelling. A young man was running after her.
“Lady! Lady! You forgot your lamp!” he called out helpfully.
Maura rested her head on the steering wheel, feeling defeated. The man looked at the lamp more closely as he neared her car.
“Actually, can I buy this from you?” he asked. “I know just who to give it to. A friend of mine is getting married.”
“Perfect,” Maura said. “That’ll be two dollars.”