Three Short-shorts

Heather Wells Peterson


Spit It Out

On a crowded beach, a woman leans over the skeleton of her adult son. With one hand, she holds his mouth open. He is a skeleton that is also an alive person in navy blue swim trunks and a black polo shirt. With her other hand, the woman scoops something from her son's mouth. His skin hangs on his arms the way a sheet hangs on a piece of furniture. His elbows stick out as though attempting an escape. "Spit it out," the woman says. "Spit it out, goddammit!" Her son's face is turned upward like a baby bird's. All around them sit people, some alone, some in families. "Spit it out!" The woman shouts. She continues to shovel. The towel on which sit the woman and her son is dangerously close to the approaching tide. Each wave licks a little closer to their bare feet, leaving a wet, dark line in the sand. None of the other people around them is sitting so close to this dark line. "Spit it out!" The woman is angry. She is panicking. She pulls her hand from her son's mouth and flicks something—sand?—onto the towel. Strands of drool swing from her fingers like puppet-less strings. "Spit it out!" she says. "Please, please, spit it out!"



A Ghost

Carrie believes that her house is haunted. She is only seven years old, but she doesn't tell her parents about this problem because they are probably going to get a divorce. The ghost, she believes, lives in a cabinet of china in the little-used living room. Though Carrie is more afraid of this ghost than she is of anything in the entire world that she can possibly think of at this moment, she cannot stay away. Every evening after dinner, as the sun sets and the air in the house turns blue—not in color, really, but in feeling—Carrie goes to the living room to see if the ghost is still there. The ghost is a sound and also a vibration, an energy. Carrie sits in the doorway, on the threshold between the bright, new kitchen and the dusty dark living room. She waits patiently with her legs crossed. She does not know that the very piece of wood on which she sits is stained with blood. The blood is over one hundred years old. It could be from a small cut, from a birth, from a murder—this information is unavailable—nonetheless, it must be there somewhere, deep in the pitted, knotted slab of wood. What Carrie does know is that soon, she will feel a shaking, so slight as to be almost imperceptible, and with that shaking will come a sound from the china cabinet, a musical, terrible tinkling that reminds Carrie of a long-dead carousel or the laughter of a baby trapped in a tin can. Carrie waits cross-legged on the threshold for this otherworldly event. Above her head, her parents are in their bedroom. Carrie has to block out the noise they are making up there in order to be sure she will hear the noise down here. She listens, barely breathing, waiting for the ghost.




There is a woman whose daughter is blind. The daughter has not been alive for long, so though she has never been anything but blind, the condition is still very new to her. The woman did not mean to have a blind daughter, and yet she feels almost constantly guilty about it. Sometimes, as she moves about a room, her daughter's face trails the course of her movements like a flower following the sun or a predator stalking its prey. The daughter has a voice she is learning to use, but she can't say anything for herself. The woman rarely leaves the house, and she and her daughter are the only people who live there. Sometimes the woman forgets she has a daughter, just for a second, and this is the only time she does not feel guilty. However, the moment she remembers and realizes she has forgotten, she feels even guiltier than she did before. The daughter only says anything when her mother says something. If her mother says, "What did I do with that thing?" the daughter will say, "What did I do with that thing?" If her mother says, "Fuck, I left it in the dryer," the daughter will say, "Fuck, I left it in the dryer." The mother knows this is normal for a blind child to do. She knows a blind child uses echoes to gauge someone's position in a room, to figure out who is in that room, even to make a personal connection normally made through eye contact. Sometimes, the mother remembers this and speaks out loud, narrating her actions, "I am going to the refrigerator. Now I am taking out the cheese. The cheese is kind of clammy, but I will cut a slice and eat it anyway." Often, though, the mother cannot stand to have repeated back to her this narration, can't handle hearing her daughter tell her what she is in the process of doing. Often, the mother doesn't say anything at all.