Three Short Shorts, by Katherine D. Stutzman

How It Starts

(The Postcard Press, May 2012)

She told me she had burned my letters. I don’t know when she did it, or how. In a fireplace? Outdoors? It doesn’t matter. I know what happened: the letters turned into ash, into smoke; they dispersed on the wind. They joined the air, tiny particles too small to see. Men and women in various places—people I’ll never know—inhaled my letters. They absorbed those particles into their bodies and somewhere inside them the seeds of my long wanting were planted, and took root, and grew.


Three Seasons

(Bound Off, issue 93)


She went walking in a disused part of the orchard, where pines had come up between the ancient gnarled apples that no longer produced fruit.  It was spring, not quite evening in the lengthening day.  Her dog was running ahead of her—after a squirrel or a phantom—when she came upon the deer carcass.  It had been dead for weeks: three weeks, maybe two.  The deer’s spine twisted unnaturally and chunks of its flesh had been torn away.  Tufted pale fur, too stiff to move in the mild breeze, lined the rims of old wounds. She walked on, out from under the trees.  She looked up.  The moon had just risen; it looked small and very far away.


He father died at the ragged end of winter, and was buried when scraps of muddy snow still clung to the grass.  People came to the funeral and to the house, and without knowing it they carried her to the end of that long winter of hospital visits, of the wind whipping her in the hospital parking lot, of icy fingers on the steering wheel as she drove back and forth between hospital and home.  Everything that winter had been grey: the sky, the branches of trees, the sheets of her father’s bed, the light in his room.  


She cradles the orange in her hands, feeling the firmness of its pebbly skin.  She digs her fingernail into that skin and smells the acid burst of citrus.  She peels slowly, revealing the orange one translucent section at a time.  It’s morning; there’s autumn light pouring in through the window, and she can see the road and the neighbor’s barn on the other side.  The trees behind the barn glow orange in the sun.  The kettle whistles and she gets up to pour it.  She likes the weight of the kettle in her hand and the smell of the tea as it steeps.  Today there are only the small things.


The First Hour, the Last Hour

(JMWW, Summer 2012)

A cold river winding under narrow bridges, grey water and white froth, winter beeches pale on the bank, everything brittle, gone to seed, waiting for snow, which will come.  The dark mountain rising on our other side.  He drives us on the road between mountain and river, tense, his body pitched too high for me to touch him, a note in the car that I can feel but not hear.  He should smoke, I think, watching him, imagining the cigarette he would hold between his fingers, his pursed lips.  The November mountain always rising, steep and brown to my right as we drive west.  It is the first hour of daylight.


Firelight, yes, it’s true, and windows that look on flat black.  There are stars, we know because we saw them; we all went out without jackets and scuffed through loud leaves, our arms wrapped around our own bodies in the cold.  We saw them, it’s true, stars in their millions, and our laughter clouded out of our mouths, but now we are in firelight and the stars burn outside.  He makes jokes that hurt himself, hangs his head, shakes his head, laughs.  He drinks whiskey and, yes, it glows.  I want to press my face against his neck and feel the heat it leaves in his throat.