Not so long ago, you felt the fuzz of pussywillow against your skin, spring rain on your face. Then, the hit of hard times, the rush and drench of gutter-flood, and The Woman you once thought kindly lifted you up, tucked you in her overcoat. The rescue came at a price: Small you will stay. You will live in my pocket. You will learn the smells of spices and squash the challenges of those willing to wager you’ve got it wrong. She counts on your accuracy and winnings so her husband, fixed in frowns and smelling of offal and rot, will not beat her. In return, she will feed and house you. You memorize clove, cinnamon, kalonji. Soon, a thousand scents. You have a good nose. Your gratitude and The Woman’s sharp needs hurried your learning. Every day you ride bouncing in her overcoat to the carnival on the outskirts of town, where people are willing to part with sense and money on guessing games. Most pass by, laugh no one the size of a woodrat can be right 94.7% of the time. You do well for The Woman, but you struggle to adjust to the pocket’s muffling dark, to the lint and stale crumbs that litter your new home, pack the spaces between your toes, cramp and prickle your mood. You hold your tears for fear their salt would shrink and shrivel you to a nubbin. You wish you could work in the park, as the carnival smells of shit and sugar, which scrambles your senses, as do grimy children screaming for fried things, demanding to straddle sway-backed donkeys thinly disguised as unicorns. Their want reminds you of your grandfather’s when your body began to bloom. Nights he grew, you diminished. Nights he whispered the promise of its blush, the commercial potential of your swollen parts. These days, you need only the link of your mind and nose. But your home overwhelms with the smell of nickels and sticky peppermint. The clink of coins and the rustle of candy wrappers deafen you. You try to stay grateful for The Woman having saved you from drowning, but her side of the bargain is slipping. A year ago, the meals she prepared were tasty enough and steady. Yesterday, she forgot your supper. Today, three tiny turnips for lunch. She smiles at your tinny complaints; she’s indebted not only to the income you bring, but to your wifely reminders to take her pills, to stop at the butcher’s for marrow. You motion her to moor the straggles of her hair before you cross the threshold of her home—a big place, three separate rooms! Evenings, you settle into a corner of your pocket, tuck a hopeful napkin into the neck of your blouse. Nights, her memories and yours begin to collide and jumble like dice. Sometimes you feel your bones stretch and lengthen to fill the space of her palace, and sometimes The Woman feels hers constrict to fit in the bubble of your pocket. Smells swirl and confuse. You imagine bending over the stove, inhaling the steam of cabbage with caraway on the boil; she pictures herself prancing outside, snuffling spring daisies opening to the sun, sucking on clover. The sweetness of funnel cakes and the muck of camels clash in your nostrils. Your muscles clench unsprung as you dream of reclining on feathers, your back to the bulk of her husband while pretending to have a headache.
Mikki Aronoff’s work appears in New World Writing, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Tiny Molecules, HAD, Bending Genres, Milk Candy Review, Gone Lawn, Mslexia, The Dribble Drabble Review, 100 word story, The Citron Review, Atlas and Alice, trampset, jmww, The Offing, and elsewhere. She’s received Pushcart, Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, Best American Short Stories, and Best Microfiction nominations.