The Gift

by William H. Coles

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In 1959, a week after her seventeenth birthday, Catherine missed her period in February, and then in March.  By late April she was not sleeping well and most of her waking hours were spoiled by nausea and hating everything she ate.  Her mother Agnes made an emergency appointment with Dr. Crowder.

“Stay here,” Dr. Crowder said to Catherine before he left the exam room. The receptionist had brought Agnes into his private office where she sat in the wing chair for consultations.

“She’s pregnant,” he said.

Agnes’ face paled with the accusation.  “She’s a child,” she said.

How often mothers would not let their children grow up.  He gave her time to absorb the truth.  “She’s a young woman who is going to have a baby,” he said.

Agnes wept with her hands to her face.  Dr. Crowder handed her tissues from a desk drawer.  After some moments, Agnes blew her nose and breathed deeply with a long exhale.

“Have you told her?” Agnes said.

“I’ve told only you.  But she’s not stupid.”

“Can something be . . . you know . . . done?”

Dr. Crowder stared.  He had been the family physician for over thirty years.  He had delivered Catherine.  “You might find someone.  But never ask me, Agnes.” he said.  “I do not approve.”

Agnes flushed.  Now she was ashamed.  “It will ruin us,” she explained.

Bullshit, thought the doctor.  Birth is a miracle.  Oh, yes.  Life was fragile, dangerous, and loaded with inexplicable injustices, but he still loved humanity.  And he stayed in practice well beyond retirement to marvel as his patients juggled life’s inflated minutia in their own creative ways.

“I’ll send her away,” Agnes continued.

“Let her make the decision,” Dr. Crowder said.

“No.  I’ll make up an excuse.”

“Think about it . . . there would be gossip if she stayed.  But if you and Harold were supportive and proud, the gossips would cease caring after a while.  And life would go on.”

“It’s a sin,” Agnes said.

“I doubt having a baby is a sin,” Dr. Crowder said.

But Agnes could not trust the advice of an idealistic doctor who she thought was immune to reality, nor the judgment of her errant child who was too young and too stubborn to know what her slip-up would do to a prominent family.


At home, to her husband Harold who knew otherwise, Agnes dismissed Catherine’s nausea as tummy upset and refused to discuss the baby with Catherine for hours.  She blamed Catherine’s problem on Harold’s family, all of whom were pig-headed and arrogant.

After dinner, alone with Catherine in Catherine’s room, she demanded to know the father of the child.  She shouted the most likely possibility.  But Catherine refused to answer.  “So many you don’t even know?”  Agnes said.  Then Agnes sent Harold into the bedroom for a one-on-one (she hoped he would beat the crap out of Catherine).  Agnes leaned with her ear against the bedroom door so she could hear every word.  She was appalled: he was lucky to have a grandchild; birth was God’s gift to each of us, and how lucky this baby was to have Catherine for a mother.  Not one word of condemnation.  It was typical of her husband to turn disaster into a conspiracy against all she had accomplished.

Agnes kept her plan simple.  After birth, far away, an immediate adoption was the only solution, and after the town no longer remembered or cared, Catherine could return to live out her penance.

Dry-eyed, Catherine lay on top of her bed covers on her back, which was already the most comfortable position for her.  Her father’s visit had renewed her confidence.  She was a good girl, a girl who made love to only one and with a sincere passion and respect that justified her action.  Even with her first suspicions, she could not destroy her lover’s future with burdens he could not yet handle.  There was virtue in a love baby, far different from sluts who made love to anyone, and whores who got paid, a fact she had shouted to her mother when her mother had used the word.

In the days after the doctor’s appointment, Catherine endured her mother’s frequent side glances and wet hissing sounds, and turned away when her mother reminded her how evil premarital sex was.  But soon her mother’s unpredictable outbursts became so irrational that Catherine ignored her, and turned to prayer for her baby.  Her mother then developed a distracting twitch under her right eye, loud speech and short sentences . . . and long cold silences.

In due time Agnes found the priest who was hesitant at first to help.  Agnes made him admit he had arranged clandestine solutions to similar problems, saying she knew, at least second hand, of a girl he had protected.  He soon admitted compliance.  He said infant victims of accidental pregnancies deserved a life away from the debauchery of their mothers who must spend their life seeking full-time repentance to receive grace.  He would help.

Two weeks before school let out for the summer, Agnes took Catherine to the airport.  She gave Catherine numbered instructions on a folded piece of notepaper tucked in a paper-bound English/French dictionary.  Agnes cried briefly at the gate but she felt only relief when the plane finally took off.  She was profoundly afraid of flying but she felt no apprehension about Catherine’s trip and although she had hated the pain and discomfort of her own pregnancy, she did not worry about Catherine’s delivery in a foreign country.  Whatever happened, good or bad, Catherine had brought it on herself.  All was in the hands of God now.  She could not be expected to do more, and she was confident many parents would have done much less, and much less effectively.

The convent school looked like a fortress with a high stone wall around the buildings that were set next to a wide, rapidly flowing river at the northern edge of the town, which was in the south of France where the trees were already full with spring and the air warm even at night.  From the hill, visible from the school and anywhere in town, a thirteenth-century buttressed cathedral jutted two spires into the heavens.

The Mother superior was cool and distant but not mean or dismissive, and Catherine, after a few weeks, liked her authoritative efficiency.  Catherine began school and attended mass daily, but understood almost nothing.  To help, a novice taught her French at private sessions after Matins and after the evening meal.

For weeks, Catherine’s sickness came on her at unexpected times.  But the Sister in the infirmary gave her medicines and arranged special foods from the kitchen and soon Catherine felt fine.

Catherine’s best friend was Sister Mary Margaret, an impish little nun who rarely thought of God outside of church, but who was eager to be involved with Catherine’s delivery of God’s gift.  Sister Mary Margaret listened to Catherine’s fear of dying when the baby came out.  “It is impossible,” Sister Mary Margaret said confidently in French although she had never seen a birth.  “What if God punishes me with a hairy monster?” Catherine said hesitantly.  “God does not always seem to care, but He is not mean,” Sister Mary Margaret said.  Then Catherine told her of her fear of being stoned by French peasants—she had seen that in a film, for other sins, with Boris Karloff.  Sister Mary Margaret gave her lyrical bubbly laugh that Catherine loved and frowned as she tried to find the right words in English.  “C’est fou,” she said.

Agnes did not write to further emphasize her indignation at her daughter’s sin.  Catherine sent only rare postcards to her mother, but sent long letters about her new life to her father at the office.  Catherine counted the days for her father’s return-letters about home that he faithfully wrote.

And Catherine wrote to her priest.

Dear Father O‘Leary:

The Mother Superior speaks English okay and spoke of you at both my meetings with her.  She smiles with her memories of when you met.  She introduced me to the people who want to adopt.  The woman put her hands under my blouse on my bare belly to feel her “petite poupée”.  I didn’t like it but I try to be Christian.

Except for Sister Mary Margaret, one of the nuns, I still can talk to only a few here.  The novices laugh when I use French words and they don’t try to understand my English.  But I take walks through the town with Sister and visit the Cathedral daily that is half a mile from the school.

The women here sew beautiful clothes they sell in Paris.  They have taught me and I now make baby booties and soft nightgowns for my baby.  I crochet lace for the sleeves and the hem, even though Mother Superior says new parents will be waiting to take him . . . or her, away.  She says it is best for all that way.  As time grows close, I want to keep my baby, but I will not go back on my word.

I help the grounds keeper herd the goats that graze on the lawns of the school.  He is a gentle man who sings lively songs in a high voice while he works.  He makes goat cheese to give to the poor that tastes awful.  But I pretend to like it to please him.


Yours in Christ,


When labor pains started regularly, Catherine went to the convent infirmary where there were two iron beds with mattresses.  Sister Teresa, the midwife, gave Catherine a draught after the delivery.  Catherine slept.  When she woke, Sister Mary Margaret sat on a chair next to the bed, her back six inches from the splat.  The sheets were clean.  Catherine accepted a glass of apple cider from her friend.  Catherine’s body hurt when she rose up to drink.  She handed the glass back and fell back, exhausted at the effort.

“Well?’ Catherine asked Sister.  “Did you see my baby?”

Sister was silent.

“Was it a girl?” Catherine asked.

“A little girl,” Sister said in English.

Catherine found her friend’s hesitancy unexpected, and she turned on the bed to see her friend better.  Sister was sobbing.

“What’s the matter, Maggie?”

Sister stood up and turned so Catherine could not see her face, then she hurried out the door.

“Please don’t go,” Catherine called.  But Sister did not stop.

Catherine slept that afternoon.  Sister Mary Maggie returned in the evening.  Catherine was glad to see her.

“I want to see my baby,” Catherine said again.

“The baby is gone already.”

“So soon?”

“It was Mother Superior’s plan.”

“What’s gotten into you?  I thought you were my friend.”

Sister Mary Margaret cried again.

“You’re useless,” Catherine said immediately sorry when Sister turned her head away.  “I want to talk to Mother Superior.”

“It is not possible,” Sister said.

Catherine threw her feet over the edge of the bed, wincing with pain.  “I will go to her,” she said.

“No!  I will be punished.  I was not supposed to tell you.”

“Tell me what?”

Sister began crying again.

“What?  Tell me, Maggie.”

“The baby.”

Catherine knew her friend too well to not fear the worse.

“Is the baby dead?” Catherine finally asked.

“Oh, no, not dead.”

“What then?”

“She is . . . alive good.”

“What is that?  What is not right about a baby?  Tell me!”

Sister did not speak but squeezed her eyes shut, helping Catherine stand, and holding her arm as they went to Mother Superior.  Twice Catherine had to sit on benches to rest.  Her friend could not speak for her sobs.  “Run ahead.  Tell Mother Superior I’m coming,” Catherine said.   Sister hesitated.  “Go,” Catherine said, disturbed by her friend’s crying.


Catherine was surprised that Mother Superior hugged her for the first time ever, firmly and long.   Mother Superior stepped back.  “The family would not take her,” she said.

Catherine looked to the floor away from Mother Superior.  “Why?”

“The baby is not well.  They were afraid.”

“What is wrong?”

“I didn’t see her.  But she has no feet.”

“That is ridiculous,” Catherine said.  “I must see her.”

“I had the baby sent to a special hospital for children near Lyon.  She will be given special care.”

“And the parents?”

“They have refused to be involved.”

“I must go,” Catherine said.

“No.  She will have the care she needs to grow . . . and serve Christ.”

“I must see her.  I will pay the way.  Father has sent me more than I need.”

“It is not the money.”

“I will go.  I do not need your blessing.”

“You always have my blessings, child.”

“I must go too,” Sister Mary Margaret said looking directly into the eyes of Mother Superior.

Catherine used her savings and she and Sister, with the now silent gardener and cheese maker driving, took a wagon to the train station in the next town.  With stops, the train took six and a half hours to the city.  To save money for the return trip, Catherine and Maggie walked two miles from the station to the hospital.

At the hospital, Catherine looked down at the baby, covered in a nightgown.  Catherine has already decided her name was Patricia, not Audrey, as the nun dressed in a black and white starched habit had told her.  Patricia was in a little nightgown with buttons on the back.  One arm in a sleeve waved.  The other sleeve partially covered a short arm that ended in three finger stubs that jerked up and out.  The nightgown hem lay flat.  Catherine retracted the edge.  The right leg ended in a smooth knob above where the knee should be.  The other leg tapered to an end above where the ankle would be—with no foot.  The corner of the baby’s mouth tried to smile in a strong effort with unsure results, and the eyes wiggled and waved, sparkling as if sharing the irony of trying to make everything all work right.

“You have seen enough?” the nurse said.  Her harsh accent was difficult to understand.

Catherine removed the little nightgown.  She smiled at her child, and the child’s roving eyes seem to fix on her, at least for a few seconds, until they wandered off, but they came back again. And how soft her skin was, her red hair so fine.  Her eyes were faded of color, but inquisitive and sharp.  Her lips continued to wiggle at times in an uncoordinated smile.

“She is mine,” Catherine said.

“She must stay here with us,” the nurse said firmly.

She put the nightgown back on her daughter.  She touched the side of her cheek.  The little arm waved.  She touched the chest with her index finger.  There was a little passage of gas with a squeeze of the face.

Searching for French words exasperated Catherine.  “Tell her Maggie,” she said to Sister Mary Margaret.  “Tell her who I am.  And get some milk and food for the trip.”

Maggie explained in French.  The nurse listened intently without response.

Catherine began to take off her sweater to use as a blanket, but the nurse, with a gentle hand on Catherine’s arm, let Catherine know to keep her sweater . . . and then wrapped little Patricia in a hospital blanket.  “It is for you,” she said in broken English.   When Catherine was holding Patricia against her breast, the Sister leaned over and kissed the back of Patricia’s head.  “Elle est miraculée,” she said.


At the convent every nun and novice were immediately infected with motherly instincts for Patricia.  Even the gardener/goat-herder, as the pater familia, made daily visits with milk and fresh cut pansies.  Sister cooked while Catherine fed Patricia, and she rocked Patricia when Catherine needed rest to regain her strength.  And Catherine took Patricia to church, to market, to herd the goats.  She sewed, after many trial designs, a special sling that supported Patricia.  Patricia was comfortable carried on Catherine’s chest or back, and she could face in or out, and sleep when she wanted.

Catherine with Patricia became a common site in town and surrounding fields and wooded paths.   Strangers to Catherine waved with pride and familiarity.  Catherine loved Patricia’s laugh as she jiggled her in the sling; loved her intense stares at new flowers they found in the gardens or in the wild; loved the “ooh” of watching a worm on a stone, or a hawk circling in the sky.

Patricia became adept at getting around the house, using her stumps all together to scurry like a tilted crab.  But she was limited outside and Catherine could see that Patricia would need some upright means of mobility.

Catherine visited veterans who lost limbs in the war, and talked to them about support.  They used limbs usually provided by the army, pre-made, and not specially designed.  But she learned unique problems for each disability, and studied the principles of various prosthetics.  She found a furniture maker and explored different woods—ash and yew and oak—for strong support for Patricia’s shorter leg.  For the other leg she needed a sturdy foot.  At first, a foot replica in walnut was tried, but eventually, a functional design looking like a miniature toboggan with laminated woods from saplings was found to be best. Catherine used her sewing skills to attach and brace the prosthetic legs with shoulder straps and snug waist bands.  These were attached for stability to the wooden prosthetics by threading through multiple holes.  And Patricia, with a laugh, toddled around for a while, tumbling often, and then adapted with the speed of the young, until she could walk, albeit stiffly and with a tilt backward.  This worked for almost a year.  But it was not enough.  In the leg without a knee, Catherine knew she needed a hinged prosthesis.  She wrote Father O’Leary and received a quick response.

Dear Catti,

I was pleased to discover our own Dr. Crowder went to school with a world authority.  Poor Dr. Crowder has had a stroke and cannot walk and he speaks so slowly we can barely understand him.  But his mind is sharp and his wife now writes letters for him, and records drafts he dictates for his memoir.  I am sure he would help in any way he can.


God Bless,

Father O’Leary

She received a reply from her letter to Dr. Crowder in two weeks.

Dear Catherine,

How nice to hear from you.  You are one of my favorite patients.  And I was also glad to hear your little Patricia is saying her first words.  I imagine they’re all in French, which is a beautiful language.

I do know about artificial arms and legs.  But you must come home to see the best.  She will need to be refitted often as she grows, and you will have to travel to Boston.  But it is a very good idea.

I am a mess with this stroke.  But I love my memories.



Amory F. Crowder.


When Catherine and Patricia left for home, more than a hundred people from the convent and town came to wish them well.  Even Mother Superior cried and Sister Mary Margaret had to be pried away from her hugs of Catherine and Patricia.

Harold and Agnes were at the airport terminal gate when Patricia and Catherine arrived.

Little Patricia took her first look at Grandma and howled.

“Is that any way to treat your grandmother,” Agnes said curtly.

“It’s not you, mother.  The trip has her constipated.”

Catherine picked up Patricia and snuggled her on her shoulder, Patricia’s footless longer leg poked out below her dress.

“She doesn’t look so bad,” Agnes said.

“Let me show you mother.” Patricia loved to be touched, and loved to be moved.  She gurgled with pleasure.  “Your grandchild.”

“I didn’t mean she wasn’t perfect.”

Dis ‘bon jour’,” Catherine said to Patricia.

Agnes frowned at the French.  Although she thought she knew what it meant, she was always suspicious that there was some meaning in the foreign words that might be against her.

“Say hello,” Catherine said, sensing her mother’s feelings.

“Lo,” Patricia said, and waved her arm at her grandmother, and she smiled.  “Lo,” she said again.

Agnes gasped at her impulse to reach out and hold her grandchild, and she took back her hands before she had extended them too far, slipping them in the pockets of her sweater.

“Take her,” Catherine said.

“Oh, I’ll scare her.”

“I’ll take her,” Harold said stepping forward.

Agnes reached out quickly.  “I’ll do it, Harold, “ she said.

As Agnes took Patricia, clutching her chest under the arms, Patricia smiled.  “Pooh bear,” she said with a little spittle.

Catherine handed  Patricia a small brown bear with one button-eye missing, and Patricia held it out to her grandmother.

Agnes held her face rigid in resistance to revealing any pleasure.  Catherine tensed.   But Patricia could not contain her natural affection for people, and she grinned with a warm bubbly sound.  Patricia held out her bear again to her grandmother who smiled taking the bear and giving it a big hug.  Catherine relaxed as her mother jiggled Patricia from side to side, and thanked God for Patricia’s magical gift of making others happy.

Agnes held Patricia in her lap on the ride home.

Patricia discovered Catherine’s toys in a trunk and in dresser drawers in Catherine’s room that had not been used since Catherine left.  Harold had bought a child’s bed, but every thing else was the same.  Agnes found energy she had not had for years: she baked and swept, she arose early before the alarm, and she took daily photos of her family.  Catherine got a job as a receptionist in the office of a doctor Dr. Crowder knew.  And the newest advances in jointed prosthetics were fitted to Patricia in Boston and they were waiting the results any day.

Three times a week Catherine took Patricia to the YMCA pool and taught her to swim dressed in a one-piece red bathing suit Catherine had sewn herself from a design she had seen in a magazine.  Patricia learned to swim quickly, smoothing out her first awkward movements, and Catherine was pleased to think it toned muscles in new ways that Patricia did not normally use and would prepare her for heavier, more complicated prosthetics.

One evening, after Patricia was asleep, Harold and Agnes sat with Catherine in the living room after dinner.

“I don’t like you taking Patricia swimming,” Agnes said.  “People will stare.”

Catherine had sensed her mother’s disapproval weeks ago.  “Why should she not go swimming?”

“It will make her feel different.”

“She is different, mother.”

“But you shouldn’t make her feel bad.”

“She has to learn to accept the stares and not feel bad.”

“At least you could cover her.  That skimpy bathing suit doesn’t hide anything.”

“That skimpy bathing suit is what most of the children wear.”

“But they’re different.”

“She’s not ashamed, mother.  She’s pretty and very smart.  And she has every reason to be proud.”

“I didn’t mean that, Catherine.  Don’t twist my words.  I just don’t want her hurt by those who think her differences should not be exposed.  That’s all.”

“They are curious, mother.  People do stare.  But for most it isn’t mean and it doesn’t last long.  And Patricia can be seen for who she is.”

“She’ll never go out on her own if you keep it up.”

“I want her to go out on her own able to handle anything that she might face.”

“Be quiet, Agnes,” Harold said.

“Don’t talk to me like that, Harold.  This is important.”

“It’s not your business.  Stay out of it,” he said.

“You’re always against me.  I am not pleased, Harold.”

Harold folded his paper, running the dull edge between his forefinger and thumb until it was sharp and then placing it on the footstool.  “Take her swimming,” he said to Catherine.  “Take her everywhere she wants to go.”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” Agnes said.

“Be quiet,” Harold said as he left the room.

Six weeks later, for Patricia’s birthday, they had a party in the kitchen with a cake and candles, balloons and presents.  Harold gave Patricia books.  Catherine gave her a necklace with a garnet single-stone pendant.  And Agnes went to the garage and carried in a small wheel chair with leather seat support and shining chrome spokes on thick rubber-tired wheels.

“Look at that!” she said to Patricia.

Patricia smiled.

“Can you say thank you?” Catherine said.

“Thank you,” Patricia said to her grandmother.

That night, after Catherine heard Harold finish reading one of Patricia’s new stories, Pinocchio, to Patricia in bed and she had fallen asleep, Catherine approached her mother in the living room.  “You must take the wheel chair back.”

“Nonsense.  I had it specially made,” Agnes said.

“She doesn’t need a wheel chair,” Catherine said.

Harold came down from the upstairs and sat in his armchair.

“She can’t keep up,” Agnes said.  “I almost lost her in the store.”

“She does very well, mother.  Just slow down a little.”

“The new leg has been good,” Harold said.

“She’ll be going to school soon.  She can’t always be strapping on legs,” Agnes said.

“She is not a victim, mother.  Ignore what she can’t do.  Help her do what she can.”

“How unloving that is, Catherine.  How selfish,” Agnes said.  “You are making her life miserable.  You’ve always been selfish.  From the beginning.”

Harold’s jaws were clenched, and his hands balled into fists.  “I will not allow this, Agnes. Take back the chair.”


“Take back the chair!”

“It’s all right, Daddy.”

“No, it’s not all right.”  He stood.

“Don’t you walk out on me,” Agnes said.

He went into the kitchen.  Catherine followed.  He had the chair in his hands.

“What are you doing?”

“You’re right.  She is not a victim, Catherine.  I don’t want this around.”

She had never seen her father this angry.

“I’m taking it to the office for now.  Tomorrow, I’ll be sure it’s returned—or destroyed.”

Agnes came into the kitchen as Harold left through the back door taking the wheel chair to the car.

“Don’t you dare . . .” Agnes began.

“Say one more word and I’ll explode.”  He shut the door.

Two weeks later, Catherine went to her father’s office at the bank during the lunch hour.  She had brought sandwiches and sodas for both of them.

“We have to go back,” Catherine said to her father.

“Because of Mother?”

“We both miss Maggie . . . and all the nuns.”

“But it’s your mother, isn’t it?”

“I hope to find work.  But could you help with our trips to Boston?”

“Of course,” he said.

They ate in silence for a few moments.

“Your mother loves you both, you know.”

Catherine thought for a moment.  “She seems ashamed of Patricia sometimes.  And she’s always been ashamed of me.  I don’t think shame and love can mix.”

It was sometime before he responded.  “After I married your mother, I discovered that what she wanted most was to love, but she never knew how,” he said while he was stuffing his sandwich wrapper in a bag.  “She didn’t know what she was searching for.  A true disability, I think.”

“Do you still love her?” Catherine said.

“She gave me you . . . and Patricia.”

They finished eating in silence and then arranged return to France within the week.

Patricia returned to the States fifteen years later when Catherine, who had established a clothing design business in France that had gained worldwide attention in Paris, moved to New York to expand her designs to the American market.  Patricia went to Stanford the same year.  She wore knee length dresses or pants when she wanted, her choice made on what was appropriate for the occasion.  Harold died of a heart attack, and Catherine and Patricia returned home to visit Agnes on Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  Pleasant times for all, except for Agnes’s silences smoldering with unstated resentment about how life and her family had treated her unfairly, silences punctuated by biting remarks about how Catherine and Patricia’s choice of apparel failed to meet her approval.


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Do you ever read a short story of fiction in the New Yorker? Wow. For me, I've probably finished two that I liked in the last three years. Ashamed too that it makes me a little angry when I remember a great like EL Doctorow's "Baby Wilson" (New Yorker, 2002). Contemporary fiction writers (and publishers) seem to ignore the power of creating imagined stories well with excellent prose. Instead they favor an author writing about something that concerns them or that makes them feel good or bad with no structure or identifiable purpose of providing, in their writing, for a reader to be engaged and pleased to be reading.

I'm teaching the writing of fiction stories online (based on the classic development of story in fiction) <>. I've read for "lit" magazines, and know there are writers working today with the talent and the passion to create stories in fiction as an art form. I reference this story "The Gift" (that has been read by more than 220,000 online) as an example that there are readers who still enjoy fiction as an imagined art form, and that the Internet, bless it's heart, is developing as the way to connect readers and writers inexpensively and in perpetuum to fiction they might learn to love again.

Hey, this ignoring good fiction for writers writing about self is something that irritates my craw. Apologies if I've touched sensitivities for disagreement.
The commissioned illustration of "The Gift" <> is by Peter Healy.
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Do you ever read a short story of fiction in the New Yorker?  Wow.  For me, Ive probably finished two that I liked in the last three years.  Ashamed too that it makes me a little angry when I remember a great like EL Doctorows Baby Wilson  (New Yorker, 2002).  Contemporary fiction writers (and publishers) seem to ignore the power of creating imagined stories well with excellent prose.  Instead they favor an author writing about something that concerns them or that makes them feel good or bad with no structure or identifiable purpose of providing, in their writing, for a reader to be engaged and pleased to be reading.

Im teaching the writing of fiction stories online (based on the classic development of story in fiction) .  Ive read for lit magazines, and know there are writers working today with the talent and the passion to create stories in fiction as an art form.  I reference this story The Gift (that has been read by more than 220,000 online) as an example that there are readers who still enjoy fiction as an imagined art form, and that the Internet, bless its heart, is developing as the way to connect readers and writers inexpensively and in perpetuum to fiction they might learn to love again.     

Hey, this ignoring good fiction for writers writing about self is something that irritates my craw.  Apologies if Ive touched sensitivities for disagreement.  
The commissioned illustration of The Gift  is by Peter Healy.

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Thanks for pointing out the quality. Anything more contemporary you'd add to those giants?

I sure enjoyed Sherman Alexie's "What You Pawn I Will Redeem," published some time in 2003 (in The New Yorker).

Throughout my MA and MFA, I grew increasingly troubled by the neglect of plot. It was not taught; in fact, it was treated as anathema to good writing. Such neglect of one of the storyteller's major tools is absurd and ultimately caused me to turn away from academic creative writing. I value characterization, language, and theme, but I think to ignore the engagement of the reader in the story is utterly foolish and a serious detriment to the craft. For me, there is more power in empathy than in awe. Take me into the story; don't ask me to stand back and admire it.

I love Antonya Nelson, Rivka Galchen, T.C. Boyle, and Rebecca Curtis, just to name a few who have published recently in the New Yorker, among many others. They are still publishing excellent short stories.

Also, the day fiction is no longer appreciated as an art form is the day I fall to my knees y I weep; for society, not for the end of my career.

It irritates us as well. Which is why we started Write Out Publishing. We publish a new short story on the first and third Tuesday of every month. You should check us out!

Unfortunately I have not been overwhelmed or even quite pleased by a short story in The New Yorker recently. Extremely outdated issues found in library give-away bins have yielded a few gems from the past, although unfortunately without unearthing such I cannot recall a title nor author. Best of luck with your online courses. I am curious~do you find you can give just as much as you would in person?

Best New Yorker story ever (in my humble opinion!) Along the Frontage Road by Michael Chabon.

I have found the NYer stories to increase dimensions of thought, to provoke the imgination, and to give pertinence to people you wouldn't have known otherwise. They can be very strange, but always potent and sometimes seering and fleetingly bold.

right. always questioning connectivities: what is actually going on

This goes to show that Gresham's Law strikes again. A feel-good power fantasy in the form of pop fiction will get far more readers than real literature. And threatens the existence of the more valuable of the two. But we can and must keep it alive.

I agree. I have read some really popular contemporary writers and wondered what made them so well-known. It certainly wasn't literature the way I was trained to write. Some made me wonder if both the author and the editor who agreed to publish the story were both doing drugs at the time.

Strange. I primarily read fiction--literary fiction, at that--everywhere else but almost exclusively stick to the non-fiction portions of the NEW YORKER, which are frequently excellent. The fiction just doesn't interest me.

there are tidal surges that excite, disturb the coastline. It should be interesting to see how far new modes go before they swerve off, excelerate, return, diminish, or follow different combinative lines, discover other and weirder reality lines, gestural-illustrative 'tabloid' options. Still, the traditional approaches will always be there for solace and relaxation.

I agree completely with your comments about The New Yorker fiction, and I have friends who have said the same thing.

"Literature" for the most has begun to be extinct. Airport/Beach Reading has more often than not taken over the shelves that once were coveted locations for ARTISTS of the written form. I despise the entire publicity center ("glomming" ALL major publishing houses, even mine, into one,) involved in promoting such daystreamed mediaporn as ANYTHING NEAR TRUE FICTION.

I never studied "literature" and approach a story as it should be approached, as an unsophisticated, unprepared listener. Now and then I chance upon New Yorker fiction and wonder who the joke is really meant for.

I would love to write short stories for them.

Very insightful. Most publishers and literary agents are looking for stories about vampires and fantasies and other genres. They seem to eschew the beautiful written word. I write literary fiction and I can tell you, it is hard to sell.

I like the stories thank for it

There was an article About literary fiction in the Wall St Journal yesterday.

This is the magazine that published Cheever, Updike and Salinger.

I think self is as interesting a topic as anything. Freud sure thought so. I personally love Knausgaard and the self-exploratory crowd. I want to be in that crowd.

Thank you for the story it good l like it a lot

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53 thoughts on “The Gift

  • Tara Taylor

    It was a wonderful story. A little rushed in the end and I didn’t like that Harold died and Agnes never got over her resentment. But never the less a very good story.. would’ve really liked it to be longer.. ????

  • Brandy

    I loved the story! Very good read. I was happy Catherine and Patricia did well in the end but a little upset that Harold dies and Agnes never learned how to love unconditionally and to be above what she thinks people thought. my favorite thing about it was that Agnes was the one with the true disability not Patricia. Thank you for sharing! :)

  • Andréa

    What a wonderful, beautiful story and, I think, very progressive for the era it depicts. Your title is genius, and I think it could engender much discussion in a class setting or book club regarding just who or what exactly is the gift … or the gifts. It occurs to me, also, that this would be a perfect story, especially, for francophone learners of English. Which brings me to ask the following question: When Mary Margaret announces Patricia “miraculée”, is she calling her miraculously healed? Or “merely” miraculous?

    • admin

      Thank you for you kind comment. It means a lot to know you enjoyed the story and I appreciate your taking the time to let me know. I meant Patricia to be a miracle, which I think she is in so many ways to so many people. All the best, WHC

      • Eileen

        Eight years ago I was in the delivery room on one side of my daughter-in-law and her mother was on the other side when she keep birth to a little baby girl who had Down syndrome. I’m always a little ashamed to say that I never cried harder in my life. None of us knew in advance. But now I know that our family has been blessed by the gift of this precious one who is so full of love and laughter and life.

  • Helen

    Loved your story. When I was in hospital having my first baby, I had met an unmarried young lady who was in tears because she wanted to keep her baby, but felt that she had to abort the child due to peer pressures. I thought of the Virgin Mary, thinking that she would not be too pleased. I gave her advise to keep the child.

    Your story sure gives advice to parents and in-laws, who discriminate, instead of loving the greatest divine gift of all.

  • gholamabbas houshmand

    i enjoyed. i do not knowenglish very good, but it was so attractive that i spent more time and went through it.i am a persian live in London .

  • Ralph Serrette

    Can you lead me to an inspirational short story to motivate my soccer team? The story should relate to either “teamwork” or rebounding from a loss. Thank you!

    • admin

      Thanks for your comment. I’ve thought about it and regret that I haven’t even come up with a memory of what you need or a resource where stories are categorized to help. I’m sure you have, but if not, you might just “Google” search short story and soccer. ” Sports stories” and similar might also work. Best of luck. WHC

  • Sharon Gilbert

    I ‘happened’ across this story just after reading a ‘bibliography’ a dear little 96-year old friend had left hidden away prior to her passing last month. In her writing, she tells about her own longing for children when she and her husband married in 1937. She really desired four, but she would be grateful for just one healthy child. As it happened, she gave birth to a baby boy eleven months after conception, who had had a cerebral hemorhage (sp) and was unable to walk or talk all of his 53 years. The love and thanksgiving she expressed for her son was amazing. She demonstrated this her entire life, caring for him at home and then placing him in a special school where she spent nearly five hours a day with him until he died. She never complained and often spoke of him so lovingly until she, too, was laid to rest. I firmly believe God chooses special people, whom he equips, to share His love and be our ‘mentors’.

    Great story!

  • Elizabeth

    Like others, I happened upon this story quite by accident. Your story is beautiful, not at all flowery, nothing superfluous, not sickening in sentimentality but very touching, and mostly, it provides a lot of heart along with many lessons. I see many comments asking for “an ending” or “more story”, but in my humble opinion, like life itself, this story ended on just the right note, with human imperfection: Agnes’s selfishness, judgmental attitude and inability to see past “flaws” to the greater truth. But, there is love aplenty in this story–even in Agnes–and your protagonist is a wonderful example of strength and character. I think this story is about imperfection and about acceptance and forgiveness. It is well-written and satisfies both the mind and the heart. Your characters are fully-developed in such a short space and your reader feels a kinship with Catherine and Patricia immediately. Thank you for the gift of your story–so appropriately named–and for the warmth that lingers and for the important life lessons. This was beautiful in so many ways. A pleasure to read. Best wishes with your writing.

  • Susan S.

    Beautifully written! I disagree with those who demand “an ending.” Love transcends the small details of our day to day, but for Agnes…she only ever wanted to learn to love. The most she could muster seems to be a grudging silence, and it is her lack of transcendent love that makes the ending ring with truth. Outstanding!

  • Paula Murphy

    I located this when looking for the story about the Passion Flower. I am so glad because I couldn’t stop reading it. I really enjoyed it and plan to revisit

  • carol cooper

    Loved the story but disappointed in the ending. Come on, I know you can finish this off with some unusual twist.Must say though thatI often have the same problem.

  • joyce

    I was searching for a concordace bible
    reference when I came across this story.
    I could not stop reading it. It’s a wonderful true to life story. The end was great because it was more real to life and shows that you can’t always have a fairy tale ending.Great job.

    • admin

      You seem to share the frustration of a number of readers. Thanks for getting in touch and expressing your thoughts. It provides a learning experience in the art of story telling. Best regards. WHC

  • Julee Hart

    The story just ended with no ending. I think I must have missed something. At the end of the 3rd page it had an arrow stating to go to previous page, but there was no ending. What happened? The story couldn’t have ended with Agnes’ bitter thoughts and then no more. I just don’t understand. Please send me the rest of the story.

    • admin

      Thanks for getting in touch. And apologies for story ending. Others have wanted more to this story also. I thank you for taking the time to read but regret that it was unsatisfactory at the end. WHC

  • Teri

    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story, so full of love and hope. I stumbled across it quite by accident. which is sometimes how life seems to put the things you need at the time directly in front of your face. You have no idea how appropriate and meaningful this story was for me to read at precisely this moment. . . to say more would negate what a true “gift” this was for me to read. Many, many thanks.

  • Joey Chacon

    I loved this short story. I would have loved more. I think Mr. Coles style of writing makes all of us wanting to turn the page. God gave us a “fail safe” that reminds us that maybe our life isn’t so bad. We really do have many things to be thankful for. It just takes the talant that Mr. Cole has that brings out sadness, empathy and finally happiness that makes me want more. He knew exactly what he was doing. Reading The Gift at this very moment in my life has been uplifting and I’m not in that little funk we all have once in awhile. Thank you Sir. I just hope I made sense to those that may actually read this.

  • Tasha

    That was a heart felt story,it has inspired me not to give up and to have faith …always trusting in God and what he can do for us if we only believe and trust him.Am sure that others who read this story will be inspired as have …This was a story well written.Keep up the good work god bless u!

  • Mervyn D O

    Thank you for this truly Human and Humane story. Human weaknes, Strength, Patience and Love are all traits of character vividly ‘word-pictured’.
    Congratulations on a story well written.

  • Corey (Mongoose)

    WOW! What a suberb story or human character!!! I will think of it everytime I see a baby and a person of a so called disability. Thanx … This affected me now and will benefit me in the future.

  • UnicornEmily

    What a beautiful story! I don’t usually like literary fiction (I’m all about fantasy), but this was beautiful and meaningful to me.

    What a great mother Catherine is, and what a great father she has. The amazing thing is that the greatest gift may have been that disability — because it allowed Catherine to keep her baby. And Patricia sounds like a major blessing.

    You might like the true story One Tattered Angel, by Blaine Yorgasen — it made me cry in the same sort of way.

    Thank you for sharing this story!

  • Carol

    Life is amusing. This is a great story and very real in the person of Agnus. We all know our Agnus’ and mine just so happens to be my own mother of the same name. This would be a great novel I agree!

  • Carol

    Awesome story! The others are right it would make an wonderful novel. Very refreshing and yes we all now an Agnus in our lives, mine is my own mother by the same name. Life is amusing don’t you think!

  • Silent reader

    I really enjoyed this story, even within the short amount of time we spent with them, we really got to know the characters. I can’t say I like the ending though. It’s a happy ending for mom and daughter but just too short. I don’t like agnes and I think everyone can relate her to someone they know.. Keep up the good work!!

  • sherryt


  • alexandra

    what a wonderful story.I too wanted more. This is so applicable to daily life.It really gives you lots to think about. thank you.

  • Amanda

    I just got done reading your story and I think it is wonderful. I write childrens stories and hope one day to be published, but to write a story like this… you are very talented and a very good writer. I had to leave a comment on this because I’ve never read anything like it and I do appriciate a very good story. I do however wish it were a long novel, I could only imagine the things you could come up with for that. I hope you continue to write more stories like this, and I’ll continue to read them.