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Authors: Jonathan Snow

The Most Beautiful Gift

BOOK: The Most Beautiful Gift
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Copyright

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination
or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyrignt © 1996 by Sperling & Kupfer Editori SpA

Translation copyright © 1996 by Jenny McPhee

All rights reserved.

Warner Books, Inc.

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com

First eBook Edition: October 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-56840-1

Contents

Copyright

The Snowflake

Jack’s General Store

Dr. Lands

Louis the Philosopher

Grampa Gus

The Story of the angel Camolino

Mom and Dad Return Home

The Snowflake Disappears!

The Story of the Wizard Buffello

The Snow Comes

Christmas

To my father, for Pilgrim and the rest

The
Snowflake

 

M
ark was sitting in front of the fireplace. Holding a crayon in his hand, he was trying to color a hopping bunny rabbit in
his coloring book. The choice was rather difficult: a beautiful sky blue? “Bunnies don’t exist like that,” whispered a little
voice from somewhere nearby, although it wasn’t clear just where. “Not even on Mars?” asked the little boy. Talking to himself
made him feel more comfortable, if for nothing else, because it seemed as if someone was always near—perhaps another boy just
like
him. At eight years old, you can never have enough friends.

“No, not even on Mars!” His invisible companion did not want to concede.

Mark raised his can of Dr. Pepper and examined its bright red metallic color. That might be the right color. Before the little
voice could protest, Mark pressed his crayon several times across the figure of the bunny. After a few minutes, the animal
was transformed into a big, fat, ripe cherry.

“Not bad,” said the boy, studying the drawing in the dim light of December. “Not bad at all.” Now he had to choose the color
for the rest of the picture: for the pine tree with its big big eyes; for the badger wearing a mountain cap; for the stars
that twinkled high in the sky and almost seemed to smile.

Looking for inspiration, Mark turned his gaze toward the window. The sky was gray and the air seemed to stand still. Here
and there, what looked like dandelion seeds floated by. But they weren’t seeds. Spring was still a long time
away. Christmas was already knocking at the door. There were only two days to go.

“Snow!” yelled Mark, pushing aside his coloring book. He narrowly avoided spilling his can of Dr. Pepper. If he had, the mess
would have caused his mom and dad to change into two crazy people, yelling and screaming, deafening him with their scolding.

Mark quickly put on a pair of boots, grabbed his coat, and hurried outside. The snowflakes fell over Spring Valley like tiny
cotton puffs, like small tufts of the sweetest cotton candy. There weren’t many flakes. The snowfall was little more than
a dusting of cinnamon over an apple pie, but the boy didn’t seem to mind. It was the first sign of Christmas. Who knew whether
his parents, shut up in their offices in the city, were also enjoying the show? No, they were probably bent over their work,
over page after page to read, approve, sign. They would come home in the evening with weary expressions and the worn-out look
of people who rushed around all day doing things they would gladly have avoided.

Mark craned his neck skyward to discover where the snow was coming from. Surely somebody had to be scattering it. Maybe there
was a Snowman, just as there was a Sandman who came very quietly at night to put you to sleep by sprinkling your eyes with
magic dust. But no matter how far he stretched, Mark wasn’t able to see anything. Perhaps the mysterious little man was hiding
among the clouds with his snowmaking machine—a kind of enormous ice grater churning out the world’s largest Italian ices!
It was probably up there somewhere, hidden from prying eyes.

A snowflake landed on Mark’s nose. The boy stared down at it intently. It was beautiful. It looked like a minuscule glass
star, made by the most talented artist in the world; or a diamond, discovered deep down in the earth and brought up into the
open air for the very first time, finally free, and expressing its joy with vibrant rays of light.

Mark took the snowflake between two fingers, careful not to melt it, and placed it in the palm of his hand. The tiny crystal
flake almost
hypnotized him with its iridescent colors. With extreme care, as if he was holding in his hands a priceless treasure, he
headed for home. He opened the door and aimed for the kitchen. Everything was immersed in a silence that only snow can bring.
From the next room drifted the snores of Grampa Gus, who was taking his usual afternoon nap. Around five o’clock in the afternoon,
he would wake up, prepare himself a cup of hot milk, and then he would entertain his grandson with one of his stories about
pirates and sailors, princes and princesses, aliens from outer space and giants from unknown lands. Mark loved to listen to
his tales and could never hear enough of them.

The boy opened the refrigerator and peered at the contents inside: a carton of milk, a container of Sunkist orange juice,
a stack of ready-made meals in their silver packaging. Those precooked dishes were his parents’ only diet, but Mark longed
for something different. To tell the truth, every so often even his mother and father seemed to eat them reluctantly, even
though they didn’t want to prepare something else.
“Why feed yourself that junk?” asked the same little voice. “It’s much better to munch on a green apple, or on a sweet, juicy
pear, than to stuff yourself with that tasteless garbage.”

Mark put aside his thoughts of food as he reached into the refrigerator; today, it would serve a more important purpose. No,
it wasn’t cold enough. The snowflake might melt. In fact, it was already changing into water right there on his finger. Worried,
he opened the freezer. A large turkey welcomed him. The turkey was probably also precooked, and had a little dish of cranberry
sauce covered in cellophane by its side. His parents were consistent. The enormous beast, the size of a baby dinosaur, occupied
all of the available space except for a tiny corner next to the ice tray. Better than nothing, Mark thought. With extreme
care, he put his snow crystal there and closed the door. “What are you doing?” demanded the little voice. “Have you gone crazy?
Why do you want to keep a snowflake?”

The boy didn’t even bother to respond. In his heart he had already come up with a plan: He
would give the snowflake to the best person in the world. It would be a magnificent gift—his crystal was the most beautiful
of all, different from all the others. As his teacher once said, there are no two snowflakes exactly alike. And this one was
simply stupendous. He glanced at the clock hanging on the wall in the kitchen—ten minutes to four. He would have to find the
best person in the universe before his parents got home. Otherwise, his plan was sure to fail. He could already hear their
comments: “Give a snowflake as a gift? How silly! And to whom?” Furthermore, they surely wouldn’t have let him go out by himself.
He turned his gaze toward the window. It had already stopped snowing, which meant his gift would be even more valuable. No
one else would be able to give or receive one like it.

Mark headed to the front door and slowly opened it. From Grampa Gus’s room came the usual soft snores; the old man didn’t
stir. That’s lucky, thought the boy as he went outside in search of the person who would deserve his treasured gift.

Jack’s
General
Store

 

W
hen Mark entered the store, Jack Skelly was busy stacking a shelf with canned corn. Jack was a robust man with perennially
rosy cheeks and a sprinkling of gray in his hair. Mark liked him. Often he would give Mark licorice sticks, or caramels, or
candied fruit. However, despite the affection Mark felt toward him, he needed to make sure that Mr. Skelly truly deserved
his gift.

“Hello, Mr. Skelly,” Mark greeted him as he neared.

“Oh, hello, Mark,” he replied. “What an unexpected treat! Shouldn’t you be in school?”

“School is out. We’re all on vacation. There are only two days left until Christmas.”

The man shook his head. “Wow, you’re right. Even though I’ve hung ornaments and wreaths in the window, I keep forgetting.”
He placed one more can of Green Giant corn at the very top of the stack, then rubbed his hands together, satisfied. “Well,
Mark, can I do something for you?”

The boy was silent for a moment. He didn’t know what to say. Then all of a sudden, an idea flashed through his mind. “Yes,
Mr. Skelly,” he said resolutely. “For a homework assignment during vacation, our teacher asked us to do some research.”

“Research?” asked Jack, curious. “What kind of research?”

“Well, she wants us to ask different people a specific question, and then write the answers in a notebook.” Mark was fully
aware he was telling a lie, but, after all, it was just a white lie. In other words, he was lying, but he wasn’t hurting anyone.
As Grampa Gus often said, white lies help
you to help others, to hide a truth better left unrevealed. After all, white lies help you ward off the black lies, the worst
lies—the ones that are so bad, they parch your throat when you say them.

Jack smiled and scratched his head. “Well, if I can be of any help, I’m glad to oblige.” He chuckled. “Even if I’m only a
poor merchant and not a rocket scientist.”

The boy laughed in turn. “The question is very easy. If someone gave you a snowflake, what would you do with it?”

Mr. Skelly remained perplexed for a moment. “A snowflake?” he finally asked.

“Yes.”

He scratched his head once again. “It would be a rather strange gift. But let me think….” A few minutes passed, then he said,
“Well, I believe I would put it inside a tin can with a beautiful label.”

Mark thought he had misunderstood. Or maybe he just didn’t want to believe his ears. “You mean you would… you would sell it?”

“Of course!” replied the man, with glee. “Otherwise, I would have no idea what to do
with it. But some of my customers might appreciate it. If I was successful in selling the first can, I would make many more.
During a snowfall, I would collect a whole pile of snowflakes, put them in cans, and continue to sell them. Not a bad idea
at all. I can already picture the writing on the label:
JACK SKELLY’S GENUINE SNOWFLAKES! NO ARTIFICIAL COLORING OR PRESERVATIVES! STORE IN A COOL PLACE! BEWARE OF IMITATIONS!

Mark was overcome by the desire to get out of the store. He came up with an excuse for why he had to go, and he left Mr. Skelly
to his cans of corn. Walking down Spring Valley’s main street, he brooded, muttering to himself. Or maybe he was talking to
the little voice—he could no longer be sure. “Put a snowflake in a can? How could someone even think of such nonsense? It
would be like putting a robin in a cage, or trying to catch a rainbow, or stealing the pure mountain air and putting it in
a spray can! Snow is beautiful because it flies free in the sky, carried along by air currents. The person who deserves my
snowflake must understand these things.”

Dr. Lands

 

A
thin, bald man with thick eyeglasses greeted Mark with a strong handshake. “Well, my friend, I hope you haven’t come because
of anything serious. Even if it’s only a bump on your behind, for example. Something so simple can still be a big pain!” And
he laughed heartily.

Mark looked around him. The wall was decorated with a picture of a skeleton and a NO SMOKING sign. The office was empty. Dr.
Lands scheduled almost all of his appointments in the
morning, and during the afternoon only a few patients stopped in.

“No thanks, I feel great. I only wanted to ask you a question….” Mark told him about his assignment, trying his hardest to
be convincing. This time, he was talking to a doctor, not a simpleton like Mr. Skelly. He sincerely hoped that the doctor’s
response would be the right one.

The doctor let Mark finish his explanation, cleaned his glasses with a corner of his lab coat, then said, “It seems to me
to be a very interesting question.” His bald head shone with the brightness of a lamp; perhaps it lighted up like that when
he got an idea. “The first thing I would do is put the snowflake on a glass slide and study it under the microscope.”

“But it would melt!” Mark objected. Already things hadn’t gotten off to the best start, but the remainder of the conversation
looked as if it was only going to get worse.

“No, no, no,” said Dr. Lands, shaking his head. “Nothing of the sort would happen, because I would use a fixing solution made
of…” He threw up his hands. “Well, you wouldn’t understand.
Let’s just say it’s a kind of glue that would keep it from dissolving into water. Or I could use liquid nitrogen. I would
then be able to study the crystal structures. They are stupendous, you know, when you look at them through a microscope.”

BOOK: The Most Beautiful Gift
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