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———2018 World's Best Short-Short Story Contest Winner———

Gourd Queen

Nick Almeida

My sister has forgotten her shoes. My sister has forgotten her white shoes and is furious. My sister has forgotten her white shoes and is furious at her good-for-nothing bridesmaids, whom she has begun calling “those sweaty hoes.” My sister does not care much for me, either. It is fair, the family agrees, that my sister doesn’t care much for me. I have had several accidents. Falls, crashes, bonks, it goes on. I have had several accidents and, as a response, or as a cause, drink. I do not like the tuxedo my sister picked for me. I do like the crowd, the combed hairdos, the teenaged country club bartenders, their Long Island Teas.

“I have forgotten my shoes,” my sister laments, “and you, Boris, must retrieve them. Deliver them posthaste. Do not fuck this up.” And so, because I must blow-start my car, and right now, after Teas, cannot blow-start my car, because of the imperative Do not fuck this up, I must bribe Mr. Wang Song, our old Ag. Sci. teacher, to let me borrow his car, which is the ceremonial car, a fancy black I-don’t-know-what with Just Married, and cans tied to it, and etcetera.

Mr. Wang Song is shrewd. Mr. Wang Song is shrewd enough to recognize me. Mr. Wang Song is shrewd enough to recognize in me demons, flaws, to diagnose young men with stutters, with yips (always he says, Boris, you have the yips), to refuse me his keys but let me ride shotgun.

Mr. Wang Song and I cruise along I-35 with the top down. His tie flutters behind him like a dog’s tongue. “Big day,” Mr. Wang Song admits, and I agree: rarely am I trusted to save weddings. “Not for you,” Mr. Wang Song corrects, “for the Gourd Queen.”

My sister is the Gourd Queen. My sister is the gourd queen of Schertz, Texas. My sister once completed a maize maze faster than we other children, carved a flawless jack-o-lantern, baked a sumptuous pumpkin pie, was awarded a plaque reading Gourd King/Queen. Deservedly so. I entered the same maze, transfixed by the mastery of its creation: the high corn walls, fine green-brown hairs on each tuft, hay-bales where one might rest, contemplate structure, the mind of the labyrinth's maker. But I equivocated at every turn. Dusk lowered. Parents and children sang my name like cheesing a rat: Bo-ris, Bo-ris, Bo-ris.

And me, fool that I am, mistook their chanting for triumph, for love. And me, fool that I am, spoke my own name this way when spelling it, when trying not to stumble an introduction: Bo-ris, Bo-ris.

A whole life can be this way. Some blaze forth while you stutter, you guess, you pick at your thigh mole through your pocket and wonder who is right, who cares to catch you, which shoe is the right shoe, and how will I go on?


NICK ALMEIDA's fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Hunger Mountain, Waxwing, Baltimore Review, Mid-American Review, The Best Small Fictions, and elsewhere. He is a graduate of The Michener Center for Writers, where he edited Bat City Review. He is currently at work on his first novel.


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