This was a watershed month for submissions, which made my life that much more difficult: choices, choices. But interesting choices, fun choices. I only wish we had more room. In this month’s very short stories, rifts yawn open and revelations preclude a life of freedom (or a life at all). Glum but wonderfully delivered.
Please continue to send your stories (500 words or less) to firstname.lastname@example.org. I love hearing from you all. The next edition of Short Shorts will appear October 21.
— Lyle Rosdahl
The Glowing Box
The family believed in television on Friday nights and Saturday mornings and Sunday nights. They believed physical proximity was good enough to foster familial intimacy. They all liked stories, they reasoned, so why not enjoy them together? Further, why not do so in a way that did not require anyone to do the work of a storyteller? She would have preferred to sit alone in her bedroom and read.
Like other women want a baby, she wanted
a cat. Unfortunately, she married a man who was allergic. Whenever she would visit friends with kittens, she would cajole him for hours afterwards to get shots, take Benadryl, whatever was required so she could find fulfillment. He bought a puppy.
She had a gift for the time-intensive, the complicated, the recipes that should require training. She never converted, but her challah came out perfect on the first try. And while she routinely ruined Betty Crocker cake mix and Pillsbury pre-made cookie dough, she could create honey whole wheat and sourdough without even consulting her cookbooks. She could bake the impossible; just never the easy.
She came to dance.
I hate endings, so I rarely finish what I start. Novels without denouement. Leaves raked into piles and left to blow back into the yard. Cookie dough eaten from the bowl rather than baked.
The only thing she wanted anymore was to not sit in a cubicle for 40 hours a week.
Reprise When her grandmother died and the money came in, she left her job without saying a word. She drove home and started her life over. They renewed their vows in Vegas. She made a complex, celebratory dinner and put on her dance shoes for the first time in three years. Maybe she would open a studio; maybe she would start a bakery. She did not call her parents, who disliked the way the story of her life never matched the stories of the young women on prime time.
Mando walked out of the grocery store, the one on Alameda, in Corpus Christi, “Sparkling City by the Sea.” The air smelled like fish — not smoked or grilled or pan-seared — but belly up. The seagulls didn’t care. They liked the scent of things discarded — watermelon rinds, moldy bread, smeared leftovers on paper plates.
The gulls perched on shopping carts and street lamps as Mando walked by, holding his kid, almost a year now, a squirmy boy who needed diapers and colorful boxes of food. Mando needed things, too. Not a whole cart full, just a six-pack and pretzels and the Sacred Heart candle he lit for his dead grandma, God bless her soul. But he left these things at the checkout counter ’cause he didn’t have the cash to pay.
It’s not like he didn’t make enough money. He made enough, more than enough. He had cards too with hefty lines of credit ’cause he paid his bills and charged only when desperate or on vacation. But he’d left the cards at home ’cause yesterday he’d more than forty bucks in the pocket of the very jeans he was wearing. The wife took it. He knew it. Since the kid didn’t know about money yet, didn’t know about the treasure islands of Mando’s pockets. The wife’s the one who cleaned up, washed clothes, grabbed what coins and bills she found and called them tips. As if she needed tips. Mando shared his money. He bought her things. And he never complained when she went to the mall. They weren’t pobres, after all. “So save that pity for the folks who live on the streets,” he’d told the cashier.
He got to his truck and in the empty spot beside his vehicle, he saw popcorn. Ants crawled all over it. It looked soggy, too, and squished flat by some tire. But the seagulls didn’t care. They fought over it. They nearly forgot to scatter when Mando got near, and the brave ones simply hovered, diving intermittently to snatch the kernels. The kid pointed at them. He said, “Bird, bird,” and laughed at all their noise.
“Stop that pointing. Stop that laughing,” Mando said. Then he saw the wonderment in his boy’s eyes and that’s when he realized — the kid didn’t know yet — about seagulls — how they shit on you.