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Short-shorts can pack a punch

Marge Barrett
Marge Barrett

Welcome back to another round of reading and writing short-shorts — and a new contest.

Contest guidelines: Only Minnesota writers can submit. Only one short-short by an individual will be accepted. Your short-short must be under 400 words. Please put your last name and short-short contest in the subject line of the email. Include your name, address, telephone number, email address, word count and a brief biography (up to 150 words). Send your entry — in the body of the email, or as an attachment — to mbarrett [at] minnpost [dot] com. The file must be saved in Word.                                                       
Submission deadline: May 3, 2010. First, second and third place winners will be announced May 10. The prize will be a surprise short-short something.

Until May 10, we plan to continue publishing pieces from the Loft Literary Center’s We Like Short-Shorts! class. Enjoy these two short-shorts, one with a word count of 425, the other at 144 words.

“Shit Hole” by Thomas Kendrick

I’m strongly disinclined to both filthy language and exaggeration, so when I call the place a shit hole, believe me, it was a shit hole. Not a filthy apartment, not a dump, but a shit hole.

It was one of those large run-down two story units along the freeway corridor that runs south out of downtown Minneapolis. The property had been sold and the new owners were preparing to do reconstruction on it. The tenants were vacated and my crew was called in to do the demolition.

A carpenter since the age of fifteen, I’ve wielded my hammer on everything from church steeples to houses, parking ramps to the Target Center. In my many years swinging that hammer, I’ve seen more than my share of rundown places.

But nothing prepared me for this. Never have I seen a rental unit so vile, so utterly inhospitable, so thoroughly unfit for human occupancy. A stench emanated from the place, a putrid miasma of urine, grease and collective, residual body odor. The front door bore the deep marks of boot heels, across which metal grates had been installed that neither concealed nor ended the violence. There was a lock on the door handle, reinforced by a deadbolt, and bolstered with a chain. Two small, cloudy windows overlooked a potholed parking lot.

The floor joists bowed up through the cheap linoleum and spanned across the swollen chipboard subfloor like skin stretched across the ribs of a hungry child. The cracks in the linoleum were deep with untold pestilence. Grease permeated everything, old greasy filth that had never known the blessing of wash water. When I pulled up the carpet, the stench burned my nostrils and watered my eyes. The rough material of the carpet left me with scratches that would later become infected. I pulled down the kitchen cupboard and hordes of roaches scattered, running for cover.

Something caught my eye. Two pieces of paper were tacked to the kitchen cabinet. Stepping closer, I saw that one was a prayer: God give me the strength to get through another day. And on the wall next to it was a note in a woman’s hand, written to those who I imagined were her children: Cook your dinner. Brush your teeth. Be kind to one another. Lock the door. Remember to say your prayers.

I took the note down from the wall, carefully folded it and put it into my pocket.  I brushed the wetness from my cheeks with a dirty glove and returned to work.

As if God were listening.

Thomas Kendrick is a second grade teacher in St. Paul and a graduate of the University of Minnesota. He starts his day at 4 a.m. with a hot cup of English Breakfast tea. He enjoys cooking, song-writing, and word play. His favorite authors include Homer, Loren Eiseley and Dr. Seuss.

“Advice from my Father” by Julie Kahlow

You shouldn’t play with that neighbor cat because you’ll get cat scratch fever. Don’t wander while we’re visiting the Redwood forest – some hikers spotted Bigfoot here two weeks ago. Be careful or you’ll end up with a depressed skull fracture. Don’t stand next to the towrope; it could snap and take your head clean off. You should learn two songs on the piano. Watch out for the undertow. Learn to be a defensive driver. You should go to law school. Never take a day off when you know your boss will be gone. Invite twice as many people as you’ll need to move because only half will show. You need a Roth IRA. If a co-worker speaks poorly of another, don’t say more than Yeah, he or she is really something. Take advantage of the new homeowner tax credit. You need a Roth IRA. 

Julie Kahlow has dabbled in many kinds of writing. The short-short is a wonderful form for experimentation and play, which makes it oh-so appealing. She was first inspired to write by her brother, Brian, who is a poet and lover of the written word. One day she hopes to move to Costa Rica, live in a tree house, and write short-shorts to the tune of the rainforest.

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