I first heard this story when I was about eight and a teacher read it during an assembly, and I’ve often thought of it since, maybe because I’m slightly obsessed with the psychology of presents. Why we give them, how we choose them, and how best to receive them, for better and worse… the whole thing is a fascinating minefield, especially since a present usually says much more about the giver’s perception than the receiver’s desires. This story is no different, and while the hook is the tragedy of the ironic resolution, it is at the same time infused with a huge expression of mutual love – surely the ultimate point of all gifts anyway.
First published in The New York Sunday World, December 1905. Widely republished, including here online
Chosen by Alice Furse. Alice works at Four Communications and is the author of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.