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.