Reason for Return
After Christmas, I unwrapped his presents. The paper pictured the child in the manger, angels blowing trumpets, and a cornucopia that spilled out in cursive script Blessings Blessings Blessings.

I’m known in our house as the thrifty one. I reuse giftwrap from year to year. Collect soap slivers. Turn lotion and shampoo bottles upside down to coax out the last drop. But that day I ripped the angels off each box. Crumpled the Blessings. Left the child in the manger in shreds.

Inside the boxes were nestled the kind of gifts teenaged boys love (anything running on a lithium battery) and the mom-kind they merely tolerate (socks, scarves, sweaters, gloves). The last box held a green-and- black buffalo plaid shirt that reminded me of when we had flown cross-country to check out colleges. He had peered out the window at the alternating green and fallow fields below, then said, Guess I’ll miss you and Dad when I’m gone.

Reason for return? the packing slips asked. They wanted size, color, fit. Since there was no space to write the truth–that you can tell your only child to be careful more times than there are stars in the sky, but you cannot control the carelessness of others–I left the form blank.

I loaded the boxes into the car. What he would have called my Mothers Against Dunkin’ Donuts ribbon fluttered on the antenna when I slammed the trunk. At the UPS store, a boy around his age stood behind the counter–probably counting the hours, the minutes, until he could clock out and gun his engine home again.

As I set down the tower of boxes, he glanced at the return labels. Yawned. “Looks like nothing worked out.”

–published in Hawai’i Pacific Review, 2014

Rita Ciresi is the author of four novels–Blue Italian, Pink Slip, Remind Me Again Why I Married You, and Bring Back My Body to Me–and two short-story collections, Sometimes I Dream in Italian and Mother Rocket. Under the pen name of Meg West, she is author of a forthcoming trilogy of romance novels set on the west coast of Florida. The first in the series, Love on Longboat Key, will be published by Champagne Books in April 2017.

She is professor of English and director of creative writing at the University of South Florida in Tampa, a mentor for the Bay Path University online MFA program in nonfiction, and fiction editor of 2 Bridges Review.

Her awards include the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, finalist for the Los Angeles Times’ Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, the Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers Series, the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Prize for the Novel, finalist for the Paterson Fiction Prize, runner-up for the Faulkner-Wisdom Novella Prize, and quarterfinalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.

Ciresi has received support from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Virginia Commission on the Arts, the Florida Department of State, and the National Writer’s Voice. Her residencies include visiting writer at the American Academy in Rome, a fellowship to the Hawthornden International Writers’ Retreat in Lasswade, Scotland, and stints at the Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency, Virginia Center for the Arts, Atlantic Center for the Arts, the Santa Fe Art Institute, and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation. She has written the first and final drafts of most of her work at the Ragdale Foundation.

Rita Ciresi Fiction Writer

Wesley Chapel, FL