Literature 8-3-2009

mnLIT presents: Kelly Barnhill

This week's mnLIT winner, a poignant short-short story by miniStories author Kelly Barnhill, was selected by novelist Jon Fasman. Come hear this year's miniStories winners read their victorious short stories live at the Ritz on August 17.



Agnes arched her fingers back, felt each knuckle pop in succession, muffled by the deep, dry folds of her skin. She ran her hands along the crisp, white sheet, and, for a brief flash, saw the sheet unfurl, fluttering, to the edges of the sky, a great, white, foamy sea, her hand a narrow skiff negotiating its way over the waves. Myron snorted, gasped, and the sheet was a sheet once again. His breath slid in and out of his mouth, leaving in its wake the stink of a man still alive.

The nurse’s head crowned through the slit of the curtain and her face emerged, her eyes sharp, bright and focused upon the monitor’s read of Myron’s progress.

Or, Agnes considered, his lack of progress. Do we, she wondered, progress towards death, or do we un-progress away from birth? Or, perhaps, are we each like a lost skiff in a limitless sea, journeying from middle to middle to middle — an endless universe of bright middles and endless days?

The nurse, her shoulders still tucked on the other side of the curtain, turned towards Agnes. She was a young thing, her hair shellacked and blown into unlikely waves, her doe eyes moist under a pink cloud of eyeshadow. “And how are you doing, Mrs. Hutchinson?”

Agnes pulled her attention away from the undulating form of her husband and turned towards the young woman. Though she loved the young — indeed, she had made a long career loving and educating the young — this young woman’s voice irritated Agnes so much, she wished for a heavy book or a hunk of roasted meat to clock the pretty girl in the mouth.

“Fine, dear,” Agnes said, turning back to the open mouth of Myron, the gentle hook of his nose, the brave filaments within the nostrils waving with each breath — their own, quiet victory. “Ship shape,” she said.

The curtain fluttered as the nurse retracted. Myron let out a sound, somewhere between a moan and a sigh — a creak of wood, a leaking hull, a closing door, the mournful note of a tree about to fall. Agnes grabbed onto his gown for balance, and climbed into the narrow bed next to him — a thing that would have been impossible not two months ago. Myron was a beefy man, lusty, broad and full of juice. Still, he had been, for the last weeks, shedding flesh the way a snake sheds skin, leaving his body light, thin and papery, as though the a breath of wind would carry him away.

She leaned in close, her cheek lightly touching his lips, as the breath came in hesitating waves across her skin. She smelled salt, a breeze braced with rain, the panicked musk of a snagged fish. A seagull whined and begged while the randy love songs of lonely whales bubbled and frothed in the waves. She sighed, and bobbed, her body made of resin and wood. A crisp sail. Rigging and mast moaning against the wind. She drifted, listed, and wobbled, before catching a stiff breeze and sailing towards the bright middle of an endless, foamy sea.


Juror comments: Novelist Jon Fasman selected this story to be one of our 2009 miniStories winners. He writes, “This story kept its metaphor solid and then followed it well. That’s not easy to do in 400 words; it shows great discipline from the author.”

About the author: Kelly Barnhill is a writer and teaching artist. Her work has appeared in journals such as The Rake, The Sun, Postscripts, Underground Voices and Fantasy Magazine. She has received mentorships from The Loft and Intermedia Arts and was a recipient for the Jerome Foundation’s fellowship for emerging writers. Her first novel, a middle grade fantasy set in Iowa, will be released by Little, Brown next year. She lives by a park and a creek and a bunch of willow trees with her husband and three young children.

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