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Short Stories

Here are a few, never-before-seen short shorts. Maybe there's a reason they were never seen before, but here they are, in all their glory. I hope you enjoy.

Body of Language

Ruth stood just inside the window of Speedy Drugstore, the shape of her spine matching the S in Speedy. She picked up her prescription and, as usual, didn’t say one word to the pharmacist. She stopped speaking 35 years ago, one year after her so-called husband died. At first, she simply stopped speaking to her children because they didn’t listen to her anyway. The oldest daughter didn’t listen when Ruth told her that marrying a Jew was a big mistake. The youngest daughter didn’t listen when Ruth told her that she’d never get a man with all of those college degrees. Her only son was a prissy boy, one of those, and she gave up on him long before she gave up on her daughters.

Ruth clutched her cane with one hand and her medicine with the other. Her middle fingers were curved like a c; her pinkies hooked like the top part of an f. Oh yes, if her children only knew of the progress of her body, then they would care. Her youngest daughter, “the psychotherapist,” was the one who told Ruth she drove her husband to the grave. The youngest daughter thought Ruth nagged him so much he could take it no more and drank himself to death. While it was true that Ruth had to follow him around and tell him exactly what was what, it was only because he was an incompetent man. She only married him for his money. And besides, wasn’t he the one who made her age prematurely? Didn’t the wrinkles on her face begin at age 30?

Now the wrinkles were etched across her face in rows of tiny xs. As she stepped onto the street the passersby moved out of her way. If they didn’t, she swung her cane around and made a guttural sound consisting of vowels, “oooooouuuuuuueeeee!” The high-pitched squeal at the end cleared the street for her every time. The first time she made that sound was when her oldest daughter married the Jew. Ruth refused to go to the so-called wedding at the synagogue. Ruth told her daughter right then that she would go straight to hell for marrying that one. Ruth’s friends thought she was too hard on her daughter, but Ruth prided herself on her honesty. Why should she compromise her beliefs to set foot in one of those places full of Jews? Ruth would not, could not, associate with them people and therefore had to tell her daughter not to call her anymore.

Ruth’s toes were beginning to cramp up inside her thin shoes, so she found a bench to sit on for a few minutes. The bunion on her left foot popped out in the shape of a p and the toes on her right foot were angled in such a way that they formed tiny vs. Her toes began going their own way shortly after she stopped talking to her neighbors. That was her son’s fault. He came home one day to tell her that he’d fallen in love with a man! Why, Ruth was so ashamed of him that she found it easier not to associate with anyone. Beings that she is such an honest woman, she decided not to be around people who might pose the question. She refused to lie. She thought it was selfish of her son to put her in that position in the first place.

Ruth continued her walk home, her brows taking on the top arch of an r as she thought of the children again. Of how they were going to be robbed of this final year of her life. Her doctor told her there was an o-shaped hole in her heart. Soon that o would get bigger and bigger until it took over her heart completely.

Yes, her children would surely be sorry then.

Copyright Patti Frazee, 2002. All rights reserved.

Census 2000

The pain has become unbearable. Ten months on the road is getting harder for me. Hips, knees, shoulders, back—it’s all the same pain. I can take the pills the doctor gave me, but what for? They’re never strong enough to go deep down into my stunted bones.

I clean the morning dishes from the table that my mother had specially made. Silly really, to have had breakfast today. I take the dishes to the sink. My counters are lower than most, but I still have to use a stepladder to reach them. I won’t do the dishes today.

The tall ladder sits in my dining room from the last time I had a break from touring. I won’t chicken out this time. I drag the ladder over to the table, right under a ceiling beam. I sling the rope over my shoulder and step carefully up the tall ladder. I take it slow so I won’t fall. Why? What’s the point of being careful? No matter, I step up carefully and when I get to the top, I fling the rope over the beam. It dangles loosely over the table as I tie the knot that I learned from one of the hands in the circus.

The doorbell rings. I finish tying the knot and I step down. The doorbell rings again before I get to the bottom of the ladder. I open the door and there stands a sweet-looking woman in her mid-sixties. Her skin looks soft like powder and hangs loosely on her face. She reminds me of grandma some thirty years ago. The same grandma who didn’t know how to talk to me and so stopped seeing me altogether. I want to reach up and touch the woman’s soft face as she looks over my head. Her eyes make their way down to me and the expression on her face changes to curiosity.

“Excuse me, son,” she says quizzically. “Is your mother home?” I am often mistaken to be male, but for crying out loud lady, I’m a dwarf, a little person.

“What do you want?” I say to the lady, hoping she hears the anger in my voice. I rub the knuckles on my right hand that ache from tying the rope.

“I’m a Census Taker for the year 2000 Census,” the wrinkles on the lady’s forehead become so deep I could trace them with a Q-Tip. She continues looking beyond me, around me, searching for my mommy to come and save her.

“Yeah?” I say.

“I have a brief questionnaire to fill out,” she fumbles nervously with the paper on her clipboard. She glances over my head quickly, then does a double take. I look behind me as a breeze comes in the door and the rope gently sways from the ceiling beam. I can only imagine what she thinks a dwarf would be doing in the dining room with a ladder and a swaying rope. “I…I…I just need to find out how many people live here.”

What, does she think there’s a Volkswagen full of us somewhere? “Just me lady,” I say, “just me.”

“Oh, dear, I’m so sorry, sir.”

Sir? Sir? I puff out my chest, but she must think it’s brawn.

“I…well, may I ask your age?”

“Forty-five,” I say, “but I’m full of arthritis and I moan when I get out of bed in the morning, just like you.”

“Uh-huh,” the lady doesn’t look up from her clipboard. “And how long have you lived here?” Her eyes are intent on not meeting mine.

“My whole life. My parents left me the place when they retired… as a pay-off.”

“Uh-huh.” The lady is getting more jittery. A wind comes up and blows her papers so they sound like the pounding wings of a bird standing in place. “Okay!” the woman tries to control her papers and resigns herself, “I think that’s all I need.” Her face turns pink as she looks down at me, “You have a good day, sir.”

I watch the lady walk briskly away from me. I don’t say good-bye. No one ever gives me the chance. I close the door.

I step up on the chair and onto the table. I find out that the rope is just out of reach. I look around the dining room—my big, empty dining room. Stark walls, wood floors, a tall ladder, short table, short chairs. My parents took everything to Florida with them—everything but the little stuff. I lay on my stomach and pull a chair to the table. I pull it up, but oh the pain! I drop it. I lay facedown on the table. Toast crumbs stick to the tears on my face. My back aches like gloveless fingers on a freezing cold day. I breathe. My breath expands my chest and deflates it. Expands and deflates.

I crawl down from the table. I go to the kitchen for the stepladder and think of the headlines, “Census Taker 2000 Last to See Famous Dwarf Alive.”

“He seemed like such a nice young man,” she’ll say.

I fold the stepladder and push it onto a chair in the dining room. I crawl up on another chair. Another chair for whom? My dwarf friends? I don’t know. Mom insisted that I have four chairs made. Four chairs all for me. “It won’t look right with one chair,” she said. I pull the stepladder to the top of the table.

Ah! I have it. I make a slip knot, another previously useless thing I learned on tour. I stand on the top step of the miniature ladder and look through the noose, into the living room, out the window, across the street. The Census Taker lady is standing at another door. She is being so accurate, so precise. She leans over her clipboard, happily scratching out the details of other lives.

I wonder. Did she count me?

Copyright Patti Frazee, 2000. All rights reserved.