autobiography of a matryoshka doll


in the winter i cut firewood. lift boiling kettles. shovel snow from the pond. pull a log along the

streets so that the children can make it to school. men often watch my stenciled thighs but they

know better than to whistle. not because of my response. which is to pack a snowball. throw it

through a window but because of their wives. who are already on the inside. when i come

home i check for gashes. sand away splinters. don’t bother with varnish. it will crack too soon

anyway. though sometimes i startle at a yellow swath along my side. blue trailing along my

shoulders. i’ve never been far enough away to see more.


when i step into the office i am at my second largest most colorful. i show him a handwritten

note. speak of goal setting. ask questions. but i am so large that the burly man can only make

out the most blunt of my characteristics. a red dash along my forehead. a painted blouse. dots

of blue eyes. i am too close. he is overwhelmed by my presence. presses against the wall. i am

too close. too vivid from the distance of his marble topped desk. i get the job. leave his office

heavily. brush both sides of the doorway. hush my inner shells.


my third shell has an orange blot below the right eye. i do not remember when it showed up.

only that it arrived. the doctor says it is sun damage. the carpenter says it is a beetle.  this

prompts a steady study of my fourth and fifth. the smaller ones require a magnifying glass. that

night i sand my cheek. then carefully varnish the wood. whenever i do this i feel inside and

outside. know it’s only a matter of time until i rub through.


i meet a boy. to keep the illusion of providence i tell him that i jog around a park. pause on a

bench with my coffee three times a week. watch dead leafs poke from the snow. i do not tell

him the name of the park. i do not tell him which days. though i feel my smaller shells tumbling

i enjoy the suddenness at which i corner. surprise i’ll say to him. surprise.


i cook rice and sausage for my neighbor’s children. they are large and motherless. one gives me

a necklace made of popcorn which i nibble as i open the oven. smell his dead mother’s lasagna.

the kitchen is too small for all of us which is why we choose to eat there.


the boy walks by as i stretch under a tree. he doesn’t look twice. studies some geese pecking

at ice. stomps his feet to stay warm. he doesn’t fool me. he doesn’t even fool himself.


i’m at my smallest most perfect. i find people always want the things they can barely see.


Patrick Kelling is a doctoral student in the Creative Writing program at the University of Denver and is the fiction editor for the literature magazine Gambling the Aisle. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and to Best New American Voices.