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The Gift of the Gift of the Gift of the Magi
One foot and eighty-seven inches (which was another seven feet and a quarter) of hair, that was all. Three times Della measured it that morning, when the night before it had been a sober, predictable four feet and a half: One foot and eighty-seven inches, all added overnight. And the next day would be Christmas.
The fourth time it measured one foot and ninety-four inches.
Had the Queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her beautiful hair hang out the window some days to dry so the queen could wrap it in bunches tightly about her fist and climb across to live with her. Della looked down and saw a little gold watch-case snap itself shut on the ends of her hair. It was fine and rare and sterling. She stared at it dumbly and after a moment saw a second watch-case do the same thing. Then a third, a fourth, and so on, until her hair gleamed with gold. Across the air shaft the same thing was happening to the Queen of Sheba.
“Jim,” Della cried out. “Jim, Jim.” Jim, who was just outside the door, found the way barred by a pair of beautiful bristling tortoise-shell combs with jewelled rims. He slashed at them with Della’s curling iron.
“My hair,” she shouted miserably. “It grows so fast, Jim –”
At 7 o’clock the coffee had made itself and the chops were hiding behind the stove, arming themselves with lids and forks in anticipation. The door opened. It was the Queen of Sheba, carrying a gold watch and mighty pride. King Solomon stood behind her, plucking enviously at his beard.
“Is this your husband?” the Queen of Sheba asked, flicking open the watch. “Isn’t he a dandy?” Jim was held in place by an old leather strap instead of a chain.
“Twenty dollars,” King Solomon said.
“No,” the Queen of Sheba said. “We want a little singed cat for him.”
Solomon tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head. “Then what will we give the Coney Island chorus girl?” he asked. “Or the truant schoolboy with the close-lying curls?”
Inside the watch, Jim had the most peculiar look on his face. He was without gloves.
One flight up Della ran and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, sparkling with a thousand pinpricks of diamond, crusted with rime and frost, could hardly turn to look at her.
“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.
“I buy hair,” said Madame. “I buy hair. I buy hair. I buy hair. I buy hair.”
“My hair is gone,” Della said. “My hair grows awfully fast. My hair is gone awfully fast. My hair is awful. Everything I worshipped was in a Broadway window. You’ll have to look at me a hundred times a day now.”
Instead of obeying, Madame collected herself. “Does the Queen of Sheba still live downstairs?”
“I’m me without my hair, aren’t I?” Della asked, faltering for a minute. Her hair made almost a garment for her before turning into a watch chain.
Madame turned into a little gray cat. Jim had gone to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which was a mammoth task, especially inside of a watch. And Della’s watch-chain hair kept growing by the minute.
The Shatner Chatner will be gone for Christmas and return next week. Happy New Year, and etcetera!