Ten Fifty-Word Stories

They spoke what seemed to outsiders their own special language, and friends couldn’t stand to be around when they were together. To them, of course, it was normal, it was just excitement at leaving their small towns behind, what art could make, and the way things seemed to be headed.

The Angelika
Going to see “Zentropa” means hopping the A-C-E to the B-D-Q, but Erin never even notices the transfer at West 4th: It’s like they’re finishing each other’s sentences the whole way. In the cloud-ceilinged, chrome-edged lobby, they stand silent and watch; everyone’s so desirable, and only slightly out of reach.

Walking Map
They lived between the Photo District and the Meat Packing District, at the end of a Spanish-speaking street around the corner from where it gets Cuban-Chinese. To the East were Carmelite nuns, librerías, and men on high ladders selling First Holy Communion dresses. Westward was meat lockers, street walkers, cobblestones.

Taxi Cab Ballet
From two stories above, Erin watched cab after cab pull up to the triangle building, delivering cross-town boy beauties one at a time. The green lightbulb over the door was the only thing like a sign. Saturdays were busiest, but this parade continued nightly through Erin’s insomnia and Jane’s slumber.

Moving Pictures
There’s a lithe young man draped across two seats on the F train Laura’s just entered, limbs dangling. Neither junkies nor Puerto Ricans feature in the world she’s left behind, so she sees him as a ballerina or a photograph, a study in beauty and grace against silver and orange.

Nevermind that the city’s sweltering–Erin starts to adopt the Keith Haring look, the Chelsea uniform. Combat boots, denim jeans, white tee-shirt with rolled sleeves. It began because she loathes the daily cat calls from the hard hats tearing up 9th Avenue. Indifference is what she loves about the Chelsea boys.

Grand Street Expats
It wasn’t just how he treated her, it was also watching him watch his friends. The way Jamar whispered to women, the way Ryszard talked about getting Tricia pregnant, the way they laughed at Roman’s asides over pints at Lucky Strike. But then, she usually just laughed and went along.

The Send-Off
Her roommates exchanged looks and called her paranoid, but she was not mistaken: The handsome photographer never did call again. He lived on a separate subway line, in another neighborhood; there would be no accidental sightings. She stuffed his shirts into a small box, and addressed it in block letters.

Summertime and the Living
He appeared on roller skates, mistaking her for another girl; since she hadn’t yet met him, she couldn’t be offended. He walked her to her door, and told her where he’d be on Bastille Day. She continued up the staircase, a bag of beans and onions dangling from her elbow.

She didn’t get the job, but they offered her an unpaid schedule only the unemployed could find desirable: an hour a day, three days a week, at lunchtime. She’d walk from 14th to Chambers Street, but what she saved in train fare, she spent on cold drinks from sweaty bodegas.

Photo Source:
Subway, Context

Karen Lillis is a writer of novels, memoir, and poetry. Her poems and stories have been published in anderbo, Avatar Review, Go Metric, JMWW, Lamination Colony, Longshot, New York Nights, nthposition, Potomac, Pulse Berlin, and The Southern Quarterly, among others. She is the author of the novels i, scorpion (Words Like Kudzu Press, 2000) and The Second Elizabeth (Six Gallery Press, 2009); and the illustrated novella, Magenta’s Adventures Underground (Words Like Kudzu Press, 2004). Her writing was featured in the anthology Wreckage of Reason (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2008), and she has read her work extensively in New York and Pittsburgh, across America, and in Paris. She is currently based in Pittsburgh, after many years in New York.

2 thoughts on “Ten Fifty-Word Stories”

  1. really good to the point writing, and she gets the melange that nyc is totally right — i'm guessing that these are from a little while ago; the city is kinda getting less cool — anyway, hemingway would be proud! — so would mike topp…

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