This month we have more mayhem and catastrophe, but not in the way you might think: a flat note and a bit of misplaced lotion. And just when things were looking up.
A reminder about submission guidelines: stories of less than 500 words (this gives you a challenge and readers an opportunity to read more than one author each month); please paste the story in the body of the email (firstname.lastname@example.org) rather than sending it as an attachment. Enjoy the stories. The next edition of short shorts will appear in the September 16 issue of the Current.
— Lyle Rosdahl
Peter stood in front of the choir, brandishing his baton to the precise rendition of “Amazing Grace.” It was a beautiful song performed expertly by his choir, except, he noticed, there was something off. He abruptly dropped his arms and the well-trained students fell into an immaculate silence.
The problem was Sonja. She was usually his best singer, with strong and tight vocals, but now her voice wavered, uncertain but somehow sultry. It was entirely wrong for the song.
“You’re flat,” he told her coldly.
The choir turned their gaze on her and she ducked her head bashfully. “I’m sorry,” she said, looking up at him through her hair. Peter raised his baton to start again, but she continued. “I’m sorry, but I wasn’t flat.”
At her bold words, the choir gasped and Owen, the unruly tenor next to Sonja, smirked.
His choir had lost all discipline. “I am your conductor,” Peter reprimanded her. “I am more experienced and I know better than you who is flat; you were flat.”
Sonja bit her lip, chastened into silence. Owen touched her arm supportively and she leaned toward him, rewarding him with her sweet, cherry smile.
“You know nothing about music, Sonja,” Peter boomed. “I’m the teacher, I know what’s right. You are just a silly little girl; you’ll understand when you’re older. Now, everyone, let’s begin again.”
The voices of the choir quickly filled the room. Sonja alone was silent. Owen grasped for her hand, but she suddenly stepped away from him, striding forward. The singing gave way as she stood before Peter.
“What?” he asked pointedly.
Sonja hesitated a moment before smiling at him. “I understand now,” she said. Then she sauntered out of the room. Peter stared after her, the scent of her vanilla perfume lingering in the air.
Joe traced his thumb along the smooth chin line of his perfect little girl. Not only the bluest eyes, the loudest laugh, the smallest arms, she was also a juggler, a Rubik’s cube master, a mere 9 years old with no makeup lines. Joe was no longer self-conscious about being the only man who signed his daughter up for Texas beauty pageants; he knew his distinction granted him special treatment, a seat at the front of the stage, a new girlfriend every few months.
Little Gloria was a namesake, the third generation, but not a “third” or “junior.” Joe couldn’t fathom putting her in line behind her predecessors. The glimmer in her was the very same glimmer that had existed in her mother, who had died during childbirth only to reenter the world through their little girl. Joe fixed a mahogany curl in his daughter’s left pigtail and stood back, taking her in, her miniature perfection.
A mother with wide eyes and soft-looking, porcelain skin approached. What a beauty, she said, appreciating Gloria with feigned awe, which Joe believed to be genuine.
“Hello. Is your daughter competing?”
“Yes, Michaelina was first runner-up last year. We doubt she can compete with Gloria, but her hair has grown quite long, so pretty and thick; we think she’s grown out of her awkward stage.”
Joe looked over at a red-haired girl with eyes like her mother’s, only greener, larger in proportion to her face. The girl had perfect little dimples, which he found immediately threatening. For some reason he couldn’t fathom, freckles were in style now. “Great skin,” he said.
“We attribute her glow to aloe. We put it in everything. It’s a family secret, but I don’t mind telling you.”
“What’s her talent?” Joe asked.
“Gymnastics. Check her out, she’ll be up first today. She can do some pretty impressive back flips. We practice at the pool.”
“A pool?” Gloria chimed. “Can we go?”
The woman laughed. “Sure, princess. My name is Sophia. You can come over and swim with me anytime. You can even bring your father along, if you’d like.” She slipped a business card out of her purse and into Joe’s hand. “Anytime.”
“It has been a while since we’ve been swimming.”
“Come on, sweetie, let’s go check out the stage,” he called to Gloria.
Daughter and father stood in the middle of the stage where his daughter would exhibit her intelligence, beauty. Joe examined the area, finding Gloria the best place to stand.
“There, right there. Your face will be in the judges’ optical center, like a perfect photograph,” he said. Joe opened a bottle of lotion and smacked it against his palm. A large amount fell onto the stage, far to the right of the optical center. He wiped it, spreading it around with a napkin. The pinkish, slippery liquid became less noticeable, but left a wide, greasy spot; it was a simple act of negligence for which he would never forgive himself.
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