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Moat

Story by Ravi Mangla (Read author interview) March 18, 2009

Photography by Luísa Schetinger

A little girl shows up on my doorstep, a gift in her arms. Crinkly yellow paper and flouncy ribbon. Her mother is in the driveway, revving the engine of an electric blue convertible, as if challenging me to race her car on foot.

She’s here for the birthday party, she shouts from her car, over the blast of pop music.

It’s not my birthday, I tell her.

No, dummy. Your kid’s.

I don’t have a kid. Are you sure this is the right address?

Yes, I’m sure. I’ll pick her up around seven. OK? she says, and races off.

The little girl isn’t pretty. When a little girl shows up at your door you expect her to be pretty, cute at the very least: red bow, missing tooth. Broad is the best way to describe this little girl. She reminds me of a linebacker, which is why I’m not surprised when she introduces herself as Butkus, a name conferred upon her by friends and family alike.

How are you with a shovel, I ask her.

I get by, she says, which is kind of a witty reply I decide, and I tell her to start digging a trench around the house, six feet wide and six feet deep.

I mix myself a Tom Collins and read a magazine on the front porch.

The little girl is a workhorse. She doesn’t complain once, doesn’t ask for a break. I fix her a sandwich, she doesn’t eat it.

When the trench is cleared, we leave a hose running in the hole and go inside. There is a Little Debbie cake in the pantry that I was saving for a special occasion, but I feel the little girl earned it. I jab a candle in the top and sing to her. Later, we sit on the couch and pretend to watch the TV, something about prairie dogs in the wild. Outside, the light dries up and the crickets start their evening chanting. We watch the shadows move precisely across the carpet, counting down our return to the mainland.

About the Author

Ravi Mangla lives in Fairport, NY. His short fiction has recently appeared online at Sleepingfish, FRiGG, LITnIMAGE, mental_floss, and is forthcoming in One World: A Global Anthology of Short Stories (New Internationalist).

This story appeared in Issue Twenty-Four of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Twenty-Four
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