We are so excited to share with you today the honorable mention from our Summer Short Story Award for New Writers! Clare Howdle’s “Petrified” explores puberty and youthful masculinity through magical realism. Our Boy discovers he is able to slip inside walls, a discovery which leads to further self-examination. Slip inside Howdle’s magnificent fiction below:
Inside with us, Our Boy feels safe. We invite the gaps between the gaps in him to widen, filling them with stone, cement, plaster. We muddy the boundaries of what is him and what is in between.
The first time it happens it is only his hand. Our Boy is at home. There is food on the table. It is an ordinary Tuesday night.
“I don’t know why they have to make such a big deal of it, that’s all,” His Father says, picking something out of his teeth. “It’s just a bit of fun.”
His Mother pecks out angry hisses as His Father keeps talking, her jaw tightening with each attempt to interject. But. Now. Not. She snaps her fingers at Our Boy for him to pass her his plate, tumbles out an apology in between His Father’s noise.
“Sorry love, you don’t need to hear all this fuss.”
His Father folds his arms. “Fuss is it? I might lose my job.”
“You won’t lose your job Frank. Just say sorry.”
“I will not.” Spit clicks in his teeth as he goes and goes. Where’s the harm? Boys will be boys. Bunch of prudes. His jowls shake with the force of his opinions. “Next thing there’ll be complaints about me holding the door open for Judith, or telling what’s her name, Roger’s girl, that she looks good in her sweater with the stripes on it. Well I won’t change, they can’t make me. Ludicrous. The lot of them.”
Our Boy watches His Mother, her mouth a thin line as she washes plates in the sink, marigolds protecting her skin from the suds. He turns his fork over on the table, tine to tip, pressing the sharp points into the wood, stopping before they make an indelible mark. He takes his plate over to her. A smile turns in the corner of her lips.
“Don’t worry about him,” she says, plunging the plate into the hot water. “It’s better to just leave him be.”
She hunches over the bowl, runs the dishcloth in circles to remove ketchup streaks and grease stains. She looks tired. Our Boy glances back at His Father now blue-lit in front of the television, his whole body a tightened fist. He is so much stronger than her.
”Can I get you anything love?” His Mother says to him, brushing hair from his face, a trail of soap bubbles clinging to his skin. He shrugs.
“Anything you need love?” she shouts to His Father in the living room.
Between the sink and the sofa the silence hangs like wet clothes on a line, pegged between bit lips, tucked under folded arms. Our Boy rolls his eyes and sits back down at the table. He shifts uncomfortably, begins to swing his chair. He puts all his weight on its back two legs and lifts his arms away from the table, palms up, body still. He hangs there for a moment, suspended in an impossible feat of balance. The thinnest edges of the chair’s feet are the only thing preventing him from falling backwards.