The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: “Girl Power and Other Short-Short Stories” by Katie Cortese


“Disappearing Act”

Sadie Washburton effected her miraculous escape during last year’s homecoming dance. I went with Manny Newton, which seemed better than going alone.

Some say a boy asked Sadie to dance, led her beneath the mirrorball, then screamed, “Not!” into her pinking face while his friends pointed and laughed.

It could’ve been more subtle. My friend Mary swears up and down Sadie farted and the crowd turned on her, pointing and holding their noses.

In the interest of science, I must note pointing is consistent in all versions.

The only thing I saw as I struggled to breathe in Manny’s meaty embrace was the hole.

Big Man, Manny’s friends called him. A Defensive End or Tight End, or some other variety of End. My friend Mary had put it this way: “Go solo: no pictures, no corsage, no free ticket.” She went with a Running Back, lithe and cool and funny. I smiled for the pictures, but could not meet Big Man’s eyes; meanwhile, Mary and her date locked lips at song one, rendering her testimony suspect.

Big Man was spinning me, printing the back of my gauzy dress with sweat renderings of his hulk-hands, when a commotion erupted at center court. Kids circled a girl in green. There commenced a variety of pointing.

Then the floor opened with a sound like a giant’s parting zipper. Big Man crouched, readying to snatch me into the catwalks, beating his chest in defiance of the helicopters. As the crack widened, its darkness did not reveal the basement’s humming pipes. On the contrary, its blackness was smooth, velvety, inviting. It begged us to dip our toes.

Some of us crept slowly forward, drawn to its sweet promise of oblivion, but before anyone reached it, Sadie Washburton grabbed elbows across her green taffeta—a hand-me-down bridesmaid gown from a gentler era—pointed her toes, and descended with a whoosh. One minute blotchy, crying; the next gone, my last glimpse of her radiating only bliss.

I didn’t know I’d moved until I was three steps from the edge. A breeze rose from that place, cool and forgiving. A place of no toxic friends, no Big Men, no SATs. I don’t know what would’ve happened if the ground hadn’t zipped back up with a sigh.

The dance went on then, incredibly. Mary and her date reconnected at the tongue.

We were only questioned when Sadie didn’t climb into her father’s idling hatchback. By the time police arrived, everyone who’d seen the rift was gone except me. I watched officers search in a grid pattern, weaving through bleachers and probing stage wings, finding nothing but the rubbery skins of deflated balloons. The cop I talked to shut his pad without writing a word.

Instead of home, Big Man drove us to Alligator Point, laid me flat in the backseat, and undid his Windsor knot. Lying there beneath him, I wondered if Sadie was happy in that place, bobbing gently in the currents of nothingness, blameless as the day she was born.

This selection comes from Katie Cortese’s short fiction collection Girl Power and Other Short-Short Stories, available now from ELJ Publications. Purchase your copy here.

Katie Cortese is the author of Girl Power and Other Short-Short Stories (ELJ Publications, 2015). Her stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as Blackbird, Gulf Coast, WigleafThe Baltimore Review, and elsewhere, including the Rose Metal Press anthology, Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres. She holds a PhD from Florida State University and an MFA from Arizona State University. The former editor-in-chief of The Southeast Review, she now serves as the fiction editor for Iron Horse Literary Review, and she lives in Lubbock, Texas, where she teaches in the creative writing program at Texas Tech University.

Beth Couture currently serves as both a Board Member and an Assistant Editor at Sundress Publications. Her work can be found in a number of journals and anthologies, including Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, The Southeast Review, Ragazine, and Thirty Under Thirty from Starcherone Books. Her novella, Women Born with Fur, was published by Jaded Ibis Press in 2014 as part of its Blue Bustard Novellas series. She is currently working on her Master’s in Social Work at Bryn Mawr College, and she lives in West Philly with her husband and five cats.


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