Literature 4-22-2008

miniStories: “The Newt” by Jack El-Hai

Read "The Newt" by Jack El-Hai, one of the spring 2008 miniStories winning shorts, selected by novelist David Oppegaard.

Jack El-Hai

The Newt

     It was a newt, soggy and swollen. She lifted it by the tail from the net and brought it close to her face: the slits of its eyes, its flattened forehead, its mouth curved in a drunken smile. The eyes opened red, the body jerked, and the newt ran into the shrubs at the side of the pool; she was left holding the detached tail. Then she looked around to see if anyone had heard her scream. Inside the house, a vacuum cleaner whined; nobody home but the cleaning lady. Bickering blackbirds edged along a telephone wire, and a cluster of pine needles floated on the water. She scooped up the needles with the net and let the water smooth into a sheet.

     Something else darkened the bottom, curled against the drain. It blurred with a breeze that swept the water: maybe another newt. It could make a stain. Water pooled around the tail that lay at her feet, a piece abandoned in the scramble to escape. She poured chlorine and hydrochloric acid into the pool and left, done with her day.

About the author: Jack El-Hai‘s most recent book, The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness, came in at 120,000 words, so he welcomed this competition’s encouragement to write flash fiction. A resident of Minneapolis, he is a past winner of a McKnight Foundation Fellowship in creative prose and a Minnesota Book Award. He has previously published fiction in the Sunday Magazine of the Star Tribune, Twin Cities Magazine, Northern Lit Quarterly, and The Plough: North Coast Review, all of which have ceased publication.