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  • Mother Rocket
  • Written by Rita Ciresi
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780385335928
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Mother Rocket

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Rita Ciresi earned blockbuster acclaim and legions of new fans with her tender and hilarious novel, Pink Slip, a story of family and career, love and longing. Here she brings us seven award-winning stories, vibrant slices of life that are at once piercing, funny, and heartbreaking. In the title story, Ciresi weaves a tale of a New York City dancer whose spectacular sexuality and antic humor keep a life of tragedy at bay….In “The Silent Partner,” a young woman is caught up in a love affair that is both infantilizing and harrowing.…In the linked stories, “Resurrection” and “Second Coming,” we meet a piano student hopelessly in love with his alluring teacher and at the mercy of his sexually knowledgeable older brother; decades later, the brothers come together again, their relationships with their women utterly changed….And in “Pioneer Woman,” we watch a man’s dream of the ideal wife turn into the blissful nightmare of another woman’s fervent love.

Captivating, beautifully crafted, and full of the poetry and chaos of life itself, the stories in Mother Rocket solidify Rita Ciresi’s place as an exquisite storyteller and an unmatched chronicler of life as we live it today.


The Silent Partner

Introducing his champion chatterbox, girlfriend Baby Bartholomew. Stuffed to the gills with jabber, she went bibbly babbly all the blessed day. The only thing that surpassed her capacity for speech was her amazing appetite for cookies. She ate them like a squirrel, her cheeks puffed out, blithely spilling out the conversation and trailing a line of crumbs behind her on the linoleum, attracting every conceivable creeping, crawling insect. Where Baby went, so went the ants. So went the noxious fumes of insecticide Tim was forced to spray. It was chemical warfare all over again.

“Goddamn bugs,” Tim grumped.

“Poor, disgusting little buggers,” Baby said. “Kill ‘em!”

Theirs was a tender romance. But the circumstances leading up to it were drunken, noisy, and spectacular. It was the Gulf of Mexico and the Fourth of July. Above them and before them, once in the air and again in the mirror of the water, fireworks burst into color. Ooh, went Baby. Baby went aah. She was somebody’s kid sister, thirteen years younger than Tim, and into this visual experience. What was Tim into? He leaned down towards her as the M-80s thudded in the distance. “Can’t hear you,” he said, giving him ample excuse to steer her back to the silence of his place, where the conversation, guided by the dopey effects of too many beers, got onto the subject of scars.

“I have got one helluva scar,” Baby said, and rose, unsteady, from her chair. Slowly, as if revealing her most camouflaged secret, she pushed the hair off her forehead and exposed a barely visible white thread cut into her hairline. She wasn’t shy, either, about pulling that thread into a long, winding story, the gist of it being that at age five, while jump-roping, she tripped and fell onto a bottle cap, and was rushed to the hospital by her parents, and whisked off to an operating room by a nurse who was oh-so-kind to her, as was the Cuban doctor who couldn’t spikka da English, but who patted her head and put three whole stitches in.

“Must have been traumatic, Baby.”

“Oh, let me tell you, it was very, Tim.”

That scar was her crowning glory. It was his inroad to Baby, and, in the ritual of seduction, his saving grace. Because of course she wanted to know if he had a scar, if he had many, and where, and why and WHAT! HE HAD SCARS ALL OVER? A question that brought a healthy pink blush to her fat little face, a blush that prompted Tim to coyly turn off the light.

But Baby’s voice penetrated the mood he had tried to create. How could a girl check out a guy’s scars in the dark? Was the point supposed to be that some scars were too deeply cut in to be revealed? Was the point supposed to be that some scars were meant to be felt and not seen?

“Yes, Baby. The last reason. That’s the point.”

Gotcha! In his arms, she had the mind of a historian. She begged to know the origin of each stripe that mapped his stomach, the holes that peppered his back. “Holy...well...whatever!” Baby exclaimed. He must have had a million operations. Trache- otomy, appendectomy, splenectomy. Stomach-ectomy? Lung-otomy? Baby was confused. Tim was excited. He was making love to her, but he was repeating “War, war, war!”

Baby gasped and pushed him away. “You mean you were in the real thing?”

“Is there a fake kind?”

“Well, I’ve heard there are some people...”

He grabbed her thick upper torso, white as a fish in the moonlight.

“...who get together and play...”

He thrust his tongue into her mouth to shut her up, his tongue working as a pacifier only as long as he could hold his breath. When he came up for air, she puffed, “...these crazy survival games...”

She struck Tim as incredible. She was a clean slate of naivete. She was an overload of innocence he could never again cultivate within himself. She was always braced for a miracle, always seeking signs of faith. Always open to the penetration of a mystery, she dispelled the mystery by jabbering about it. She drove in the speed lane in a little red wagon. She shed her virginity, without mishap, on the lumpy mattress of a fold-out bed.

“I love your scars!” she whispered, at the point in the process when, technically, she was supposed to say I love you. But how she wished she had bled, bucketfuls, to lend some grandeur to this momentous event. She was just a teeny, just a teeny little bit disappointed, in herself, of course, but Tim, Tim, Tim! “What do you call this thingamajig?” she asked, and tapped on the tiny piece of plastic that plugged his left ear. The tap scratched through his body. “I’ve been wondering the whole time we were...well, you know...but I didn’t dare ask if this is like another one of your war relics?”

Did she give him time to answer before moving on to the next volley of questions? No. She wanted to know did he get a Purple Heart for trading in his hearing? Did he hear amplified? In stereo? How much noise did he pick up with it?

“Sometimes,” he said, “so much I wish I didn’t have to hear at all.”

He popped it out of his ear and handed it to her. She held it up in the moonlight, turning it this way and that in her hand. “It’s cute,” she said. “I really like it. I really like your little wiener, too. Does he have a name? Can I call him Roger? Would you like to hear a bedtime story about Roger Cock-a-doodle-doo?”

He’d pass on that one. Baby, undaunted, clasped his hearing aid and began another. “Don’t tell me,” she said. “All was quiet on the western front . . .”

According to her scenario, Tim had been crawling along in the mud and filth of a foxhole, sick of canned peaches, sick of canned Spam. Mosquitoes swarmed in the thick air; colorful birds, like, you know, the kind you saw on the Fruit Loops cereal box? sang dementedly. Tim had been thinking about Mom and Dad. He’d been thinking about ice cream and clean underwear and all the other things that represented the good old U.S. of A., when suddenly the enemy opened fire. Rat-a-tat-tat and rockets flying everywhere! His body tensed; his feet numbed. Then ka-bam! the enemy made a hit, knocking Tim smack off those numb feet...

“I thought I was crawling, Baby, on my belly, not my feet. And you need to put me in a real, honest-to-goodness trench, not some World War II foxhole.”

“Do you want to hear this story or not?” Baby demanded. All right, then. All right. He had to give her free rein. Where were they? Oh yes, the enemy. That slitty-eyed crew of chopstick- users knocked Tim smack off those 10-ton combat boots of his. A loud boom thudded, and shocked the noise out of his left ear. He thought he might go totally deaf. He thought he might never hear the ringing of church bells, the voice of his high school sweetheart, or rock and roll, ever, ever again. He thought his ear canal was closed off forever, until one of his buddies leaned over and shouted, “YOU DEAD, TIMBO OLD BOY?”

Dead? Hell no. Alive. Alive, and he could still hear, blessed, blessed hear, if only in half instead of whole. He didn’t even care if his stomach was split open, if three-quarters of his guts were spilling out, since he could listen to the whirl of the chopper as it carried him off to some heavenly hospital, thank God, and this was gospel according to Baby, more or less. Was she right?

Not quite. But he wasn’t any Bible scholar of his own life, and if Baby wanted to write her own apocrypha, so be it. He had just one question for her: did she go to the movies every weekend, or what?

Oh yes, for sure. For the air-conditioning and the candy and the popcorn and the way she thought she just might pee her pants from the excitement before the movie began. She just reveled in stories, and that probably explained why she sometimes talked a teeny bit much and apropos of that, shouldn’t she stick this little thing back in his ear, so he could hear his loved one whispering and snoring all night long?

So this loved one snored? No kidding. He assured her he always left his hearing aid out. For there was nothing this good man liked more than a good night’s sleep.

He intended it as a general hint for her to knock off the yakking. But there was no stifling the chirping of this tropical bird. She simply flew over to the side of his good ear and breathed that now that he had bared his body, he was obligated to bare his soul.

“It’s bad manners, Baby, to spill your guts on the first date.”

“First date? This is a sleepover!”

“Do you notice either one of us sleeping?”

“Did you sleep after losing your virginity?”

“No,” he said. “I was standing up, in a barn in Minnesota in sub-zero weather. It seemed a more practical move to pull up my pants.”

Oh, ho ho! Poor little Roger, hard as an icicle, frozen stiff. Tell her more, more.

Tim exhaled. Where was that blissful snoring she had just promised? He couldn’t figure this baby out. She was like a cup of coffee drunk right before bedtime. She was worse. She made noise. Hadn’t she read her Masters and Johnson? Didn’t she realize that the average American male liked to do it and snooze and not stay up jawing all night about things that were over and done with?

...about his family, she was saying. About his childhood, about how old he was, about how old he felt, about his crib experience, his junior high experience, his love experience, his lack of love experience, his crucial sex experience, about whether he believed God was male or female, animal or vegetable, mineral or...

Nothing. He believed in nothing.

“What?” Baby shot up in bed, her breasts cockeyed in shock. “You don’t believe in God?”

If there was a God, Tim reasoned, He, She, or It was indeed cruel and merciless for folding him, so sleepy, into the batter of this conversation. So there could be a God, yes sirree.

Baby leaned back down on her elbows and stared him wide-eyed in the face. “I love a man with doubts,” she said. “I just want you to know that. It shows he has savoir faire. Been around. Seen the world. Known the score. Eaten his share of the pie.”
Rita Ciresi

About Rita Ciresi

Rita Ciresi - Mother Rocket

Photo © Marion Ettlinger

Award-winning writer Rita Ciresi returns to the spotlight with Sometimes I Dream in Italian. This poignant novel captures the essence of family and of the bonds we are born with?and those we create on our own.


“Ms. Ciresi’s characters…are artfully balanced, charged with currents of despair, but never lugubrious and often funny. What jolts the reader through these pieces is the consistent blasts of vitality in the author’s prose.”
--The New York Times Book Review

“Sharp-eyed, gently humorous fiction whose characters linger in the mind.”
--Kirkus Reviews

“Elegant works of fiction.”
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Book

The questions, topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Rita Ciresi’s Mother Rocket. We hope they will enrich your experience of this award-winning collection of stories.

About the Guide

Mother Rocket, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction , is a captivating collection of intelligently humorous fiction that examines the extraordinary wit, warmth, and mood of the ordinary life. Whether facing new beginnings or some sort of ending, the all-too-human characters in these imaginative and intense stories manage to keep their spirits and dreams intact despite the reverberations of experience. From a dancer longing to make a political statement to a wife who fears she’s “settled,” these funny, heartbreaking, and captivating stories reveal the pain and humor that accompany life’s many ups and downs.

About the Author

Rita Ciresi is the author of Blue Italian, Pink Slip, and Sometimes I Dream in Italian. She teaches at the University of South Florida and lives with her husband and daughter in Wesley Chapel, Florida.

Discussion Guides

1. In “Silent Partner,” Tim says that some scars are meant to be felt, not seen. What do you think he means? In what ways can this analogy be used to describe Tim and Baby’s relationship?

2. Baby revels in stories and nursery rhymes. Do you think the stories and rhymes she tells exemplify some of her delusions? What else does she project in her storytelling?

3. Baby and Tim rent an apartment in what used to be the Emergency Room of an old hospital and their neighbors, Sly and Esperanza, live in what was once the morgue. What is the significance of this?

4. The author makes frequent references to bugs and insects in this story. Why? What does Ciresi mean for these references to say about Tim?

5. What purpose do you think Philip, Madame Novitski’s cat, serves in “Resurrection?” What does his presence reveal about the characters?

6. Madame Novitski tells Karl, “the older you get, the easier it is to resurrect yourself.” What does she mean by this? After reading “Second Coming,” do you think this is true for Karl?

7. Karl says that the silence of Madame Novitski’s home reminds him of church. Yet, he later remarks that he hates church and isn’t sure of what he believes in. Why, then, would he make this comparison?

8. What lessons can Karl learn from Madame Novitski’s “absent husband” and musical family of composers?

9. In “Second Coming,” Karl believes that one needs to be “lucky” to find a wife and have a home. Do you think that this belief/attitude carries over from “Resurrection?”

10. Karl sees his baby as, “the miraculous second coming of a miniature me.” What does he mean by this? What would he want his son or daughter to do differently than he did?

11. In “Resurrection,” Karl describes the kind of girl that he sees himself with in the future, the kind of girl he would have to be content with. Does Claire fit this mold? Why or why not?

12. Karl states that he envies Lorenz’s comfortable lifestyle. What are some examples of this? Do you think that Lorenz is at all jealous of Karl’s lifestyle?

13. What is the significance of Jude’s bell anklet in the title story, “Mother Rocket?” Why do you think she is still wearing it 15 years later?

14. Jude loathes her history, yet feels superior to others because of it. What are some examples of this? Why do you think she feels this way?

15. Jude thinks, “if you couldn’t make things up, what was the point of living?” Do you think that there is some truth to that? Do you think that she takes this motto too far?

16. When Jude revisits the polar bear in the zoo at the end of the story, she finds that he is still pacing the cage like a madman, wide-eyed and out of control. How does her reaction to this differ from her first encounter with the polar bear? What does this suggest about her character?

17. In Lifelines Mary Ellen doesn’t believe that anything lost can ever be found again in its original state. What do you think she means by this? What are some examples?

18. At the end of the story, Mary Ellen remarks that the “Lifeline” doesn’t register the small, horrible things that have happened. What does she mean by this?

19. Mary Ellen’s mother decides to move to Port Charlotte before ever having been there, based solely on the name of the town. What does this say about her? What kind of a life do you think she is creating for Mary Ellen?

20. Bob tells Mary Ellen that the Loveline starts right where the Lifeline begins. What does he mean by this? Do you think this is true for Mary Ellen?

21. What does the tarnished POW bracelet Janie finds in her old bedroom in “The End of the Season” symbolize for both her and Rich?

22. Janie had once taken love for “heedlessness, carelessness, maudlin dramatics.” Still, she wants to feel some intensity toward Rich. Do you think that she’ll be able to find that sort of happiness with him? Why or why not?

23. Rich is always careful not to show extreme emotion while Janie can’t keep anything inside. What are some examples of this? What are some other conflicts in their personalities?

24. What does the wax birthday candle signify at the end of the story? What do you think this suggests about what happens to Janie and Rich after the story ends?

25. Zogg, from “Dutch Wife,” originally sees the bruise on Didi’s knee as “a map of the world,” but later finds it dull. Why is this? What are some other examples of how Zogg’s feelings change throughout the story?

26. Why do you think Zogg falls in love with Aunt Adeline? What is something they have in common? Do you think he would have fallen in love with her if he had met her face-to-face?

27. Dusseldorf says that pictures are “better than seeing the real thing because they leave out all the bad parts.” Do you agree with this? Do you think that Zogg and Didi would agree with this?

28. What was Zogg hoping to achieve by traveling north? What did he learn from his experience?

29. Discuss the different possible meanings behind each of the titles of these stories. Why do you suppose the author chose these? Do you think they are appropriate?

30. What are some ongoing themes throughout these stories? Do the themes differ from story to story or is there continuity? Why? What are some examples?

  • Mother Rocket by Rita Ciresi
  • June 25, 2002
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Delta
  • $12.95
  • 9780385335928

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