Short Stories by Vicky Mlyniec
Winner Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction
I Ride Along
Leon likes me to ride along because no one’s going to think he’s up to no good if there’s a pretty little girl like me riding up front. He doesn’t say that exactly—except the pretty little girl part— but I’ve figured out the up-to-no-good part by now. Ma complains when he takes me, but just so Leon knows he owes her something, not because she wants me home with her.
“Come on, sweetcakes, let’s check the breeze in the trees. Let’s rocket down the highway. Let’s get us something tasty,” Leon will say, sliding his blue baseball cap over his bald spot and hunting for his keys. We may park in an alley while he dashes in somewhere real quick, or meet up with some guys in cars at the edge of town to exchange boxes of jumbled junk, or see what’s not bolted down in front of closed up shops downtown. And Leon always does buy me something—a shake at the Sno White drive-thru, or a whole box of doughnuts at Dunkin’s—so that part’s true. But he’s not so interested in me the rest of the time. For that my ma says I should be grateful. I’m thirteen, I know what that means—stepfathers and all. Only he’s just Ma’s boyfriend. Not a one of them has ever married her.
Second Place, Baltimore Review Short Fiction Competition
My sister Angela stands on her cracked driveway holding her latest baby and watches me check the supplies in my trunk. Diapers, wipes, 500 count box of latex gloves, weight lifter’s belt. Angela glances at my gear and a corner of her lip lifts in distaste.
“Hey, Berto,” she calls, “when you gonna get a real job, stop wiping old folks’ asses?”
“We’re both ass wipers, Sis,” I say, lifting my chin at the baby who’s hunting through Angela’s brown hair for her gold hoop earrings.
“Yeah, well at least this one’s mine,” she says, uncurling the baby’s fingers from her earring. “And I got my own place.”
I know she’s not trying to make me feel bad for crashing on her couch between clients. She’s just showing me she’s got something.
“And I’m going to mine.” I smile, glad to be leaving her squashed tract house with its smell of hot lard and baby powder.
Six days away from my work and I feel like the stuffing’s come out of me. I start changing back into Bertito, the youngest boy, kid number three of five, the odd one out. I start disappearing again into the sprawl of my family. I’m glad to be heading to a stranger’s house where people don’t know a thing about me, where someone’s looking at me with fresh eyes. Okay, so that first look worries them a bit. I don’t look like someone you’d pick to take care of your dying parent. Ex-con, gang member, you might think looking at me. But I don’t mind waiting out their doubt that a person like me is the right one for the job. They’ll see.
Story of the Week shortstoryamerica; anthologized
It is September 22nd, the first day of autumn, which means that Mr. Pfeiffer will reach into his narrow closet for one of his long-sleeved white shirts rather than the short-sleeved ones he wears throughout spring and summer. This is no work-mandated uniform. Quite the contrary. Several of his prior jobs required him to wear a silly smock (one with a logo of a dancing hamburger) over his crisp white shirts. At the Video Vault, in fact, they made him slip on an oversized lime green tee shirt that said “Ask Me About the New Releases!” Ridiculous for a 43-year-old man!
In addition to a dignified appearance, Mr. Pfeiffer tries to maintain one other propriety—that he be called Mr. Pfeiffer rather than George. He takes comfort in the instant, if erroneous, sense of respect he feels when people say mister when referring to him. Sometimes customers mistake Mr. Pfeiffer, with his graying hair and serious expression, for the manager.
At the Shoe Palace, Mr. Pfeiffer’s current workplace, he doesn’t have to cover his white shirts, there are no silly hats, and he rarely has to speak to anyone; customers find their own sizes and try on the shoes themselves. This is ideal, and that’s why he’s determined not to be late again (the blasted bus!). He doesn’t want to give Tina, his barely-out-of-high-school manager, a reason to can him. She’s not fond of Mr. Pfeiffer the way she is of Sean, the other employee whose tattoos she’s interested in. Not that Mr. Pfeiffer would want to yak on about movies and bands and TV shows, anyway.
Bold as Can Be
~ I am 8 ~
My mother pulled up to Horace Drugs and shut off the engine. Then she mashed out her cigarette and turned to me. “There’s something you’re going to do in this store, girl, and you’re not going to like it. You’ll thank me for it someday though; trust me. It’ll keep you from growing up too timid and worrying about every little thing, which is the way you’re headed right now.” She sat still a moment and gave me a measuring look. “You’re going to walk into that store there, and you are going to get me a Melon Ice lipstick; only you’re not going to pay for it. Get it? You’re going to slip it inside this here pants pocket.” She patted my left leg. “Once you done that, you won’t be so afraid of everything else.”
She paused, frowning at me. “Now don’t start bawling. It’s easy as
pie. Kids and candy is what they watch for. An eight-year-old in the make-up aisle, who cares? Here’s what you do: you go to the candy by way of the makeup and—okay, forget the Melon Ice, just get me
any old lipstick. Then you go and get yourself a Snickers or whatever, plain as day, and you pay for that like all’s right with the world. Here, take this quarter. Now get!” Read more . . .