By M.L. Malcolm
“What is,” I asked one of my girlfriends at her recent birthday celebration, “the worst gift you’ve ever been given?”
She did not hesitate. “Golf clubs,” she answered.
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“But I don’t play golf. I hate golf. And this guy knew that.”
“What did you say?”
“I said thank you. But the next weekend I went to a used sporting goods store and sold the clubs. A few days later the guy who worked at the place called me and asked me out. I used the money from the clubs to buy the most expensive, sexiest dress I’d ever owned, and wow, was that one hot date. Needless to say, I dumped the golfer.”
One of the reasons I enjoy writing historical fiction is because I like doing the research. I’m curious. I was so intrigued by my friend’s story that I followed it up by asking a lot of women to tell me about the worst gift they’d ever received.
Almost without exception they answered immediately, as if expecting the question. The wounds caused by a lover’s badly chosen present can apparently last for a long time. So counting the above-mentioned golf clubs, here are the thirteen worst examples of true romantic ineptitude I uncovered during my informal survey, along with their often unintended consequences.
Terrible gift number two: the tacky treadmill. “From my first fiancé,” one woman sighed as she related her story. “I mean, why not just hang a ‘Needs Improvement’ sign around my neck? But I started using the darn thing. I lost fifteen pounds, felt great about myself, began to realize how often he put me down, and broke up with him. I still have the treadmill.”
Number three: the wretched rice cooker. “It was a mini rice cooker,” another girlfriend told me, “so that I wouldn’t waste rice. I got this on the Christmas I thought he was going to propose.” She also got the last laugh; she used the rice cooker to help her make a perfect Indian meal for the next man she was serious about. He was from India. Now they’re married.
Number four: the wrong rock. Gag gifts on Valentine’s Day proved to be a common theme. Perhaps these misguided gentlemen are trying to defuse what they perceive to be a tense issue, but such offerings almost always backfire. One such foolhardy fellow, who gave the young woman he’d been dating for years a huge rock—a massive, diamond-shaped crystal paperweight—found it imbedded in the hood of his car the next morning. “I thought it made a very attractive hood ornament,” the woman telling this story explained, “better that than planting it in the side of his head, which is where I was first tempted to put it.”
Number five: the redundant roadster. One woman received a BMW convertible from her adoring husband on her 50th birthday. I know what you’re thinking—how could that be a bad present? Well, she didn’t want it. He did. But he never drove it, because it was her car. So neither one of them drove it. Five years later they gave it to their son for his college graduation. He loved it. He also loved the look on the mechanic’s face when he brought it into the dealership to get checked out; the car was five years old and had fewer than 6,000 miles on the odometer.
Number six: olive oil. Really expensive olive oil. Dismayed at first, the recipient decided to use this unwanted offering to convert what she’d previously thought of as a rather tedious bedroom chore into something a little more…flavorful. It turned out to be a pretty nice present for both of them.
Crummy gift number seven: a book of pick-up lines. Funny? Maybe. Appropriate? Nope. This gal brought the book along with her on her next night out with the girls, wanting to vent and share her hurt feelings. They started reading the lines aloud to some of the men who were in the bar that evening. Good fun was had by all. Several phone numbers changed hands. The guy who’d given her the book never found out that, “Do you believe in love at first sight, or do I need to walk by again?” was the line that cost him his girlfriend.
Eight: the worst gift I ever received. That would be a belt that an old boyfriend gave me. This was not a pretty accessory. It was just a plain leather belt. However, like the lady who got the olive oil, I was able to come up with a more, shall we say creative use for this seemingly lackluster gift.
I used it as an extension on my dog’s leash.
Number nine: the misbehaving vibrator. “The vibrator wasn’t really a bad gift,” its recipient confided, “the problem occurred after my boyfriend and I broke up. I was moving to a different apartment in the same complex, and had gotten up the courage to ask a very cute neighbor to help me move some of my furniture. Well, when he and another guy friend lifted my bedroom dresser the vibrator somehow started up, banging against the wood like a pneumonic drill. They dropped the dresser so fast it put a dent in the floor that cost me part of my security deposit. I think I stammered something about an electric toothbrush. Talk about embarrassing.”
Number ten: the sneaky sweater. Often a bad gift is also a bad omen. “Once this guy gave me a sweater that looked a lot like something his mother would wear,” another woman told me. “Sure enough, the next time I went to his house for dinner, she was wearing the exact same sweater—only hers was a couple of sizes smaller—and she immediately asked me why I didn’t wear mine that night. I could not get out of that house, or that relationship, fast enough.”
Eleven: the telltale diamonds. A very good friend of mine once received a pair of really teeny, tiny diamond earrings from a man she’d been dating for several years. She knew he could afford something nicer; he just didn’t want to spend the money. Fed up, she left them on his bed the next morning with a note saying, “I’m sorry to be the one to have to tell you this, but size matters.”
Twelve: the cop-out cactus. “I tried to give him some credit,” this woman explained. “I thought maybe by giving me this crappy little cactus he was trying to tell me that we would soon be going on a romantic trip to the desert, or something. Then I stopped for gas in his neighborhood and saw a shelf of them for sale in the corner by the restroom.” Ouch.
Worst gift number thirteen: re-gifted lingerie, in the wrong size.
That one’s pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it?
Recruited by the Allies to help lay the groundwork for their invasion of North Africa, Leo intends to do as little spying as possible; he just wants to earn his American citizenship, get to New York, and find his daughter, Maddy. But while Leo dodges death in France and Morocco, Maddy learns the truth behind her father’s mysterious past, and as she matures, this haunting knowledge compels Maddy down her own dangerous path of deception and discovery.
“Fascinating and deftly-written....The writing is exquisite, wrapping the reader in another time and place.”—Historical Novel Society Reviews
“Malcolm spins a mesmerizing tale of love, deceit, and betrayal as a father and daughter are torn apart by a world increasingly spinning out of control.”— Booklist