by Alex M. Pruteanu

–What happened?

She looked down at her bare feet. The snowflakes clung to her long hair. It looked like they were slowly arranging themselves into a white hat for her. She was tiny and seemed like she was floating inside an oversized, cut-out burlap sack.

–What happened? Where are your shoes?

–They were slippers, she said. And they were too big. They were my mum’s, besides.

–Well, what happened to them? It’s frigid.

–They fell off. I lost them crossing the street. One of them. The other was taken away by a boy who wanted to make a cradle out of it, for when he would have children.

–I know that.

–It’s a good story, isn’t it, she said.

–It is. I read it when I was seven years old.

She snickered and rubbed one blue frozen foot with the other.

–I read you and Jules Verne and Renart the Fox.

–Which did you like the most, she said.

–Jules Verne.

–Which Jules Verne?

–Twenty thousand leagues under the sea.

–Naturally. You were a boy. All boys love a good sea adventure.

–From that I learned the word maelstrom.

–Well, what is it?

–It’s like letting the water out of your bathtub. The big swirl as it goes down the drain.

That’s what it is.

She snickered and blew warm air into her hands.

–Where are your matches? You’re supposed to have a bundle. You’re supposed to keep warm by striking them against the frozen walls of the houses.

–I sold them, she said.

–That’s not how the story goes.

–I know. But the end is the same.

–Why? Aren’t you bringing home money?

–No. I gave it away to the pauper with the fiddle.

–All of it?

–It was just matches, she said. It wasn’t that much money.

–Who will find you in the morning?

–The townspeople.

–The end is the same.

–I told you. The end is always the same, she said.

–I didn’t like your story because of God.

–Why God.

–I didn’t believe in him.

–Not even when you were a boy, she said.

–No.

–What did you believe in then?

–Once, at Easter, my father made giant rabbit footprints out of flour. I believed that.

–And then you lived happily ever after?

–I don’t know. I don’t think so.

She giggled and shifted her weight and shivered.

–Where will you be? I’ll call out to them.

She pointed to an alley in between two homes.

–Wait some time before you send them, she said. They are not supposed to find me until I’m frozen. It’s how the story ends. Don’t meddle with it.

She giggled and walked away, barefoot, on the ice. She turned into the alley and squatted down and pulled her feet under her burlap sack. Then she shifted on her side, facing the cold concrete wall.

–All right.

Once upon a time…

Alex M. Pruteanu is author of novella Short Lean Cuts, and the collection Gears, both available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books. His newest collection, The Imagination of the State (ITG, Inc.), will be released in winter of 2017. Alex’s forthcoming novel, The Sun Eaters, will be published in the fall of 2017 by Cervena Barva Press. Alex has published fiction in Guernica, [PANK], Specter Literary Magazine, The Prague Revue, The Stockholm Review of Literature, and others.

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