“Which basket?” I ask her.
She turns to my brother-in-law, who is sitting on the sofa. “Explain to her what basket means,” she says. Brother-in-law looks annoyed. He knows that I can speak Italian and that I don’t need to have the word basket explained to me.
“I know what basket means,” I tell her. “Which basket are you talking about?”
“You don’t have the basket! We use baskets. Do you want a basket?”
Great, I think, she’s going to give me something I don’t want. I look at my brother-in-law to try and gauge his reaction to the idea of the basket. He is completely uninterested in the conversation. I ask the aunt to describe the basket.
I hesitate. My experience with the aunt tells me that she and I have radically different definitions of beauty. Pink ribbons? I think of the basket’s contents; they might be useful. While I’m considering whether a few tubes of diaper cream make it worthwhile to accept a gift that I don’t want from a woman who treats me like an idiot because I speak with a foreign accent, she makes up my mind for me.
“Don’t worry, I’ll have a basket made for you.”
I had forgotten all about it but as I’m about to ask, “which basket?” a vague memory of pink ribbons resurfaces. “Oh, thank you very much,” I tell the aunt.
I open the door to find a large basket wrapped tightly in clear plastic. The basket is completely covered in pink gingham. There’s a floppy bow on the handle. The basket is hideous. And empty. I bring it inside. Something compels me to remove the plastic wrapping. It smells faintly of cigarette smoke.
About an hour later, N calls. His aunt has just called him and asked him to remind me that she’s left the basket in the hallway. N tells me to call his cousin’s wife to thank her for the basket. Apparently, it belonged to her sister-in-law and she asked for it as a favor to the aunt. I feel embarrassed that the cousin’s wife has gone to the trouble of procuring an unwanted basket for me.
Now that I have the basket, I realize the utter impracticality of it. Even if I liked it, I wouldn’t know where to put it. I laugh when I think that in order to use it, we’d have to buy a table for it. But the basket has to go somewhere. I bring it into the bathroom where Pata’s changing table is. I notice that the ledge behind the bathtub is just the right size. I leave the basket there, still empty. Months pass.
I imagine Pata throwing herself off the changing table and cracking her head open on the hard tile floor as I lean over the wide, jacuzzi-sized bathtub to reach the basket.
It seems that N has imagined the same scene. “You have no idea how much trouble this baby can get into,” he tells her.
But this childless woman still wants to dispute the best way to change our daughter’s diapers with us. “Everyone uses a basket!” she protests, obviously angry.
“Well, I don’t use a basket,” I tell her unapologetically. She isn’t angry because I’m ungrateful, but rather because I have dared to deviate from her idea of how things are done. I am tired of being expected to do things the way everyone else does and I am tired of gifts that come wrapped in favors and officiousness and with strings attached. When I give a gift, I give it freely and hope that it will be pleasing and useful, and if it is not, I am disappointed and embarrassed at not having been a better judge of what was wanted. But none of this means anything to a person whose false generosity is a mask for a profound and entrenched narcissism. So I add nothing, finish changing Pata, and leave the room.