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Once in the kitchen, Caroline set the box on the counter. There was no return address, but that was hardly needed. This box had been sent before; the old address, crossed out with a dull Sharpie, still visible: Roberta, of course.

Carline sighed. Her Mother-in-law seemed to delight in sending used gifts so it was no surprise she would send something in a used box. Flat-Rate box from the Post Office; if it fits, it ships. Surly Roberta knew she could have gotten a new one for exactly the same cost--nothing. But it’s the thought that counts, and it was clear how much the thought was worth.

Since the garbage would not be collected until tomorrow morning, there was plenty of time to inspect the contents and deal with them accordingly. Last year’s gift had been a chipped ceramic lotion dispenser, complete with hard, yellowed lotion. The year before had seen a plastic cookie jar in the shape of a cow—exactly what every woman wants. A cow to contain something which will make its owner look like a cow. The Kid’s use it to hold Lego’s.

There was enough packing tape on the box to wallpaper a small den. This was another of Roberta’s perverse joys. The only thing better than getting a lousy gift was the work it required to unwrap. Mother would have been disappointed; the damp cardboard allowed the tape to pull away with ease.

Caroline did not react when she found the metal water pitcher inside. She was not expecting anything in particular, but knew in-general it would be ghastly. The pitcher was strangely large, and apparently did not quite fit in the box, as it had been noticeably flattened. Roberta must have placed it in the box, closed the flaps, and leaned her considerable weight to force the box into a condition acceptable by the postal authorities.

The pitcher rocked on its warped base when Caroline set it on the counter. There was no way to guess why Roberta had chosen this particular item. Perhaps her own home had been completely purged of unwanted material, forcing her to seek new sources. More likely, someone else had sent this trash to Roberta, who in turn had promptly resealed the box, changed the address and paid it forward. That would also explain why it had come so early.

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