Who Writes Short Shorts?

The Curmudgeon writes short shorts.

Though he likes to think of himself as a bit of a literary fellow, The Curmudgeon had, for more than fifty-three years, been blissfully unaware of the existence of a genre of short stories known as “short shorts:”  short stories of no more than 2500 words that are even tighter than conventional short stories.

Last spring, though, The Curmudgeon – an avid reader of short stories who collects short story anthologies – came upon a collection of short shorts at a library used book sale and devoured them immediately. 

It was love at first plot twist. 

In addition to the scintillating little essays he publishes here several times a week, The Curmudgeon also writes fiction – specifically, short stories – and has for many years.  His short stories, though, tend to be pretty long short stories – typically in the neighborhood of 7000 to 10,000 words.  Even within the structural confines of the short story – you remember from high school, the Greek unities of time, place, and action – he likes exploring even highly defined ideas in pretty serious depth. 

The Curmudgeon had long toyed with the idea of trying to write shorter short stories, but learning that such tales constitute an entire literary genre was the extra kick in the pants he needed to give it a serious try.  Less than a year later he has now completed two and written a first draft of a third.

Now, it’s time to unleash one of these stories on an unsuspecting readership that does not come to this space for fiction.  So here, after that long and winding and probably unnecessary explanation, is The Curmudgeon’s first short short, which he calls “Out on the Edge.”



“Out on the Edge”


Maria Quinones scurried down Broad Street as quickly as her short legs could carry her.  As usual, she was the first student out the door when her accounting class ended – the intended outcome of sitting as close to that door as possible.  It wasn’t that she had no interest in the subject – not at all.  She did this because accounting was her last class of the day and the sooner she could get to the subway, the sooner she could get to the part-time clerical job that was paying for this and her other courses.

She had hurried down the corridor and then down three flights of stairs, through another hallway and finally out the door in the direction of Cecil B. Moore Avenue.  As she descended the subway stairs she heard a train and accelerated from a fast walk to a run, almost brushing against a tiny black woman dressed all in black.  Maria then came to the cashier’s booth, flashed her train pass, and flew through the turnstile and down another flight of stairs just in time to see the train pull away without her.

She now had about five minutes until the next train, so she relaxed and caught her breath.  Maria had no set work hours, so she wasn’t worried about being late, but she was free to begin work as soon as she arrived and needed every ten-minute increment on the clock that she could possibly get.

As she always did, Maria took a quick mental inventory of her surroundings.  Occasionally she would find a familiar face – a classmate, a neighbor, and once, one of her professors – but today there were only a few people waiting for the subway and none looked familiar.  More important, she checked to see if there might be anyone present who posed a threat to her well-being.  The subway, she knew, was safer than it had been when she was a little girl and her mother had told her stories about pickpockets and molesters and how her older cousin Ivelisse had been mugged on her way home from school, but still, the improvement was only marginal and the potential danger very real.  She always stood right at the bottom of the stairs so she would be near other people, making it unlikely that anyone with mischief in mind would target her.  On this day and at this off-peak hour there were only about a dozen people on the platform, all of them within about twenty feet of her except for three tall, slender teenagers who stood well off to the side.

Even though the last train had just departed, Maria looked up the tracks every few seconds, as she habitually did, in search of a moving light that would be the first sign of the next train’s arrival.  As she looked, she noticed the tiny woman she had passed near the turnstile, only now clearing the last of the steps and turning toward the south edge of the station.

No more than thirty seconds passed and Maria again checked for an oncoming train.  She saw no light but again noticed the old woman, who was still walking toward the south end of the platform.  She looked again fifteen seconds later, and then fifteen seconds after that, and the old woman had finally stopped just steps from the far southern end of the platform.

What did she think she was doing, Maria asked herself.  Doesn’t she know it’s dangerous to isolate yourself like that, to make yourself a target for muggers?  She looked down again and saw that she was not the only one who had noticed the old woman:  the three teenagers she had taken note of a minute ago were now slowly working their way toward the edge of the platform.

This is bad, Maria told herself.  It was just like all those animal programs on television, where the predators watched a herd closely and quietly and waited until one of its members, usually an infant or an animal that was sick or injured, strayed from the pack and gave them the easy target they had so patiently sought.

She tried to think quickly as the boys continued moving carefully toward the old woman.  Was she wrong about what might be happening?  If she wasn’t, was there anything she could do about it?  If she tried to intervene, would she be putting herself at risk?  Did that even matter?

Just a few seconds passed, but they felt like minutes.  She leaned over the tracks again – still no sign of the next train.  She took a quick look at the other commuters near her, hoping there might be someone who could help.  She rejected that idea – it would take too long to explain.  She also decided against going back upstairs to alert the cashier; there wasn’t time.

The boys, meanwhile, crept closer to the old woman, who was oblivious to their approach.

Maria had no more time to think.  She had to do something immediately or look away and hope for the best.

She took a half-dozen quick steps toward the woman.

“Hola, Tia Anita, is that you?” she hollered in the old woman’s direction as she waved her right arm.

The woman neither responded nor turned in Maria’s direction.

Maria continued faster toward the woman.

“Tia Anita it’s me, Maria, Domenica’s daughter,” she called out in a loud, strong voice.

The woman now noticed her – as did the three boys.  Maria looked out over the tracks – still no train.  She quickened her pace and stepped up to the woman, who just looked at her, confused but unafraid.  The boys looked at her, too.

Maria hesitated, and then, with no better idea, threw her arms around the woman and whispered in her ear.

“Grandmother, these three boys over there want to hurt you.  Please take my arm and walk back with me to where there are other people and we can be safe.  Please.”

The woman stepped back, alarmed both by this stranger’s arms around her and by her message.  She turned, though, and saw the boys.

“Please, grandmother, take my arm,” Maria pleaded.

Despite her initial reaction, the woman did as Maria asked and they walked slowly back to where the others stood, unaware of what had just transpired a few yards away, near the bottom of the stairs.  They were about twenty-five feet from those others when Maria heard a muttering voice behind her:  “Bitch,” it groused.  She knew then that she and the old woman were safe, and just as she permitted herself a sigh of relief, she heard a train rumbling in her direction.

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