Very Slight Stories | Like short stories, only shorter.

'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Tuesday, December 30, 2008


The Very Big Man and the Smaller Man

   I heard a story about a princess who was trapped in a tower. A man arrived to rescue her, but as he made his way towards the tower he fell over a shoe. He said, "What idiot would leave a shoe as big as that in the middle of a field for someone to trip over?"
   If he'd put more thought into it he'd have come to the conclusion that a very big shoe probably belongs to a very big man, and that it was quite possible that this man was within earshot of his shoe, unless he was so tall that his ears couldn't pick up the sounds from the ground.
   The man who had been on his way to rescue the princess realised his mistake when a very big man emerged from the woods, and this man was wearing only one shoe. "I am that idiot," he bellowed. Because that's what very big men do in these stories. They bellow, and they make small animals cower. The smaller man who was there to rescue the princess didn't cower when he was bellowed at, but only because he was lying on the ground after falling over the shoe, and there's nowhere to cower into when you're flat on the ground, unless you find a rabbit hole. It would have to be a giant rabbit if you were to fit into it, unless you were a very small man. But this man was neither very small nor small. He was smaller than the very big man. He did his best to un-do the insult. He smiled at the very big man and he said, "Isn't it a lovely day?" The very big man had to accept that yes, it was a lovely day. "And wasn't it grand yesterday as well?" Again, the very big man couldn't deny that it was grand yesterday as well. "Hopefully tomorrow will be just as nice."
   At this point the very big man smiled and said, "I'm tall enough to see into tomorrow and it won't be as nice as today or yesterday. We'll have some rain in the afternoon. It'll be dull before that."
   "Is that a fact?" the smaller man said.
   The very big man said, "Yeah. But it should clear up again in the evening."
   "Is that a fact?"
   "I can see it with my own two eyes."
   "And what else can you see?"
   "Lots of things."
   "Is that a fact?"
   They went to the pub to discuss this in more detail. After a few drinks the very big man was able to see everything clearly. A lot of what he saw was unimportant, but there was one thing that intrigued the smaller man. Two farmers would have a horse race to settle a dispute about a turkey. The farmer with the thick red beard would win. The smaller man knew that the farmer with the thick red beard was probably Mulligan and the other man was probably O'Sullivan because they were always getting into disputes and altercations.
   The very big man was right about this. The horse race got underway at midday. They'd race from a pub to a church seven miles away and back again. The very big man and the smaller man both bet everything they had on Mulligan, and they got great odds. All of the drinkers in the pub thought that O'Sullivan was the clear favourite. They just saw a blur when they watched his horse in full flight, but there were times when they looked at hedgehogs and saw a blur, even when the hedgehogs weren't moving.
   The smaller man never doubted that Mulligan would win when he placed the bet and watched the two horses disappear over a ditch. But then the sun came out. This was surely a bad omen. The very big man had predicted rain. Things looked bleak when they watched O'Sullivan return in bright sunshine, and Mulligan was nowhere to be seen. O'Sullivan just had one final ditch to jump before reaching the pub, but the horse refused to jump it. O'Sullivan cleared it with ease -- he didn't have any choice in the matter when the horse stopped suddenly. He landed on the ground and he rolled. It seemed as if he didn't know where he was at first, but he soon realised that there was a ditch between himself and his horse. It only took him a minute to figure out how to rectify this. He opened the nearest gate and he went into the field where the horse was.
   It didn't take the horse long to guess that O'Sullivan wanted to climb on board again and have another go at jumping the ditch. As O'Sullivan chased his horse around the field, Mulligan arrived on the scene. He saw that there was little point in trying to convince his horse to jump the ditch when they could go through the open gate.
   So Mulligan's horse won the race and the smaller man won a small fortune. But he soon remembered that he used to be the man who was going to rescue the princess from the tower. He set off towards the tower with a spring in his step and pockets full of money. She wasn't happy at being kept waiting, and she threw flowerpots at his head. One of them knocked him unconscious. The very big man had told him that this would happen, but he hadn't taken any notice of it because he was so excited about the race.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


An Army of Santas

   Trevor loved busking. It was a chance to try out his own songs on a captive audience. They couldn't avoid hearing his music, but they could get away from it as quickly as possible.
   One day he started playing songs that made people stop and listen. He said they were written by the monkey who lives in the attic above his apartment. The inhabitant of the attic wasn't really a monkey -- he was a man called Stuart who was short and hairy. Before he started writing songs, Stuart's life was plagued by doubts. His mind was occupied by questions, but he couldn't find the answers. He started expressing these questions in songs, and he found that he no longer needed to find the answers if the question was posed in a beautiful way. His doubts inspired him to spend most of his time writing songs, and some of them made him a lot of money.
   The sound of Trevor practising his songs often filtered up to the attic. Stuart took pity on him, and he offered Trevor some of his own songs. These proved to be extremely successful on the streets. Trevor wanted to return the favour. He was determined to get Stuart to experience more of life outside the attic. He started by convincing Stuart to join him on the street as he performed.
   Stuart loved seeing people enjoying his songs, and he ended up joining Trevor on the street every day. He played the accordion while Trevor played the guitar and sang. They attracted a following. Every time they played, a crowd would gather around them within minutes.
   On Christmas Eve a school band and choir were performing outside a department store. Their audience was small, so the school's music teacher asked Trevor and Stuart to play with the children. Trevor and Stuart thought this would be an ideal way to spend Christmas Eve, so they joined the children, and soon they had a huge audience. The children even learnt some of Stuart's Christmas songs.
   But their free concert didn't last long. Security guards from the department store came out and confiscated the children's instruments. They said they were acting on the orders of the owner of the store. The choir tried to sing anyway, but loud Christmas music was played through speakers just outside the store.
   A TV reporter called Alice had spent the day looking for a good Christmas story to cover for the evening news. The best she had come up with was a drunk man who said, "I saw a ghost, and he told me I was in his garden, but I couldn't have been in his garden, because that was my barrel. I'm sure it was my barrel. And then two men came out of the ghost. I said to them, 'That's my barrel. I'm sure it's my barrel.' But they took no notice."
   Alice saw the sad kids in Santa hats outside the department store. When she found out what had happened she realised she had struck gold. This was exactly the sort of story she'd been looking for.
   Her report appeared on the news at six o' clock. A man called Frank saw it, just as he was starting to relax, having completed his work, his mission. It was his job to train the Santas in the city. He used to be in the army, and this influenced his approach to training the Santas. He tried to instil a military discipline. Not everyone liked this. His boss often had to remind him that they were just civilians, but no one could deny that he produced the most efficient Santa-impersonating machines in the country.
   When he saw what had happened to the school band and the choir he knew he had one more mission this year. He rounded up all of the Santas and they marched to the department store. He informed the kids that they'd be performing their Christmas carols again within ten minutes.
   The kids looked on in awe as the Santas marched into the department store. He did exist, and 'he' was a 'they', which made much more sense.
   Trevor and Stuart followed the Santas in. Frank led them to the top floor of the building, where he opened a door with a 'Staff Only' sign on it. His niece had a part-time job in the store and she had told him where the owner's office was.
   The office had an oak door with a brass plate that said 'Edwin Platgoddle'. Edwin's secretary did all she could to stop the invasion. She told Frank and his army that they'd need an appointment to see Mr. Platgoddle.
   Edwin was on the phone when the army entered his office. Within seconds the room was swarming with Santas, and more of them were guarding the door outside. Trevor and Stuart were in the office.
   Frank said to Edwin, "Santa doesn't like what you did to those kids. You haven't been nice. It says so on his list. But you have a chance to redeem yourself. You can return the instruments and allow the choir to sing. You won't get out of this office until the kids are singing carols again."
   "They're going to have to go to bed sometime," Edwin said, "especially on Christmas Eve." He took out a bottle of whiskey and a glass and he said, "I can wait."
   He poured himself a glass of whiskey and he drank it. Frank stood at the other side of the desk and stared at Edwin. He'd used this tactic before, and he was sure that Edwin would crack before too long.
   An hour later, Edwin was still drinking whiskey and Frank was still staring. It was Trevor who finally broke the silence. He said to Edwin, "What turned you into such a Scrooge?"
   At last there were signs of cracks in Edwin's demeanour. He sighed and said, "I was in love with a woman I met at a crossroads. I courted her at dances, funerals and football matches. And after all that she ended up marrying a man who struggled to remember his own name, because she was 'in love' with him. Have you ever heard anything more stupid in your life?"
   "They say that love is blind," Trevor said.
   "Who's 'they'?"
   "Those people who drink turpentine in the park."
   While Edwin reminisced about his love life, Stuart was busy writing a song about it. When he finished it, he showed it to Trevor, and they performed the song for Edwin. He finally cracked when he heard the line about seeing the woman you love chasing an overweight cat with another man. He started singing along.
   Within minutes he was outside, singing the song with the kids. When he heard it sung by the choir, with the musical backing of the school band, he found it very uplifting, even though he was singing about things that had caused him nothing but pain in the past. He could sing the line 'She laughed at the poem I wrote about her head' with a warm-hearted smile on his face.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


A Black Christmas

   Arnold started putting up his Christmas decorations on the first of December each year. It normally took about ten days to complete the job. All of the decorations were kept in the attic. He'd begin by bringing down a painting of the house and hanging it on a nail in the hall. His grandfather had paid someone to paint this picture one Christmas when the decorations were up. The ground was covered in snow at the time, so it made for a perfect Christmas scene. On the following year he tried to make the house look exactly like it did in the painting. As the years went by, this practise became a tradition, and he also developed a fear that if he didn't get the decorations to look like they did in the painting, something terrible would happen.
   Arnold inherited both the tradition and the fear. It would have been easy to get the decorations right if the painting had remained the same, but every December when he got it out of the attic he was convinced that it had changed slightly since the previous year.
   One year there was a smiling leprechaun in the painting, and he was sure he'd never seen that before. The leprechaun was wearing a Santa suit that was too big for him, as if he'd stolen it. The look on his face seemed to suggest that an unfortunate fate had befallen the former owner of the suit.
   Arnold was afraid that someone was living in the attic, an artist who was altering the painting. He searched the attic, but he found no evidence of habitation by an artist or by a smiling leprechaun. He knew he needed to find the leprechaun somewhere. Something terrible would surely happen if he didn't. He spent weeks searching shops, but he couldn't find anything that looked like the leprechaun.
   He finally found it just a few hundred yards from his house. It was in the window of a house owned by a woman called Denise. He thought about offering to buy it from her. But she might say no, and then he'd have to steal it. If the leprechaun turned up amongst his decorations shortly after it was stolen from her house shortly after he offered to buy it, it wouldn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out who the culprit was. But if he just stole it and put it on his house he could claim that this particular leprechaun has been in his family since his grandfather's time. He could show her the painting with the leprechaun in it.
   That night he left his house shortly after midnight and he walked to Denise's house. He was dressed all in black, and he felt safe in this attire until he realised that black would stand out in the snow-covered landscape. He needed to get into Denise's house as quickly as possible.
   He prized open a window at the back of the house and stepped inside. He made his way to the front room where the leprechaun was. He saw the leprechaun looking out the window at the snow, and he smiled, but then a light came on and he saw Denise sitting on an armchair by the fire. She was holding a shotgun, which was pointed at him. "I've been expecting you," she said.
   "I've been expecting you too," he said. "Seeing as this is your house, and... Hello."
   "So you were just paying me a visit to say hello, in the spirit of the season."
   "Do you want the leprechaun or not?"
   "Ah... Yeah."
   "You can have it if you get something for me."
   "Just name it."
   She told him about a black vase that had been in her family for generations, until it was stolen from her house. It turned up at a car boot sale, where it was bought by a man called Evan. He refused to give it back to her, so she told him she'd have to steal it. He told her that she could break into his house through a window next to the back door. He said it was easy to push the window in, but he warned her that it wouldn't be so easy to get back out of the house. She'd been considering this ever since, but now she didn't need to consider it any longer because Arnold would break in for her. He was so desperate to get the smiling leprechaun that he agreed to do the job.
   He walked through the snow-covered fields to Evan's house. Evan was an architect, and he was obsessed with black. He designed houses that were completely black, both inside and out. His own house was like this. He believed that houses should be like a void on dark nights. He saw this as something positive and uplifting. Some people felt as if they were falling into the void, spinning down into a spiral. They'd get dizzy and fall over. He saw this as something positive and uplifting as well.
   But as Arnold approached Evan's house he noticed that it was white. At first he thought it was the snow, but as he got closer he saw that the walls had been painted white. He couldn't help feeling that there was something sinister about this.
   He broke into the house through the window near the back door. He was expecting to step into a void, but the moonlight through the windows illuminated white walls, floors, ceilings and furniture. Everything was white. He spent a few minutes walking around the downstairs rooms. A black vase would have stood out as much as he did, but everything there was white.
   A light came on, and Evan was standing at the door. "I knew there was something black in the house," he said. "I saw it in my dreams. Santa could never be as beautiful as you."
   Arnold made some mental notes for a possible career as a burglar: don't wear black in a white environment and don't break into a house occupied only by a man who's liable to tell you you're beautiful.
   He told Evan why he was there. Evan said, "You can have the vase if you do something for me."
   "Just let me look at you."
   "For how long?"
   "Until the morning."
   "Wouldn't you rather look at something white?"
   "No. I painted the house white so it would blend in with the snow, but I never thought white could be so depressing. I need black."
   Arnold had serious misgivings about staying with Evan for the rest of the night, but he really wanted the leprechaun, so he agreed.
   Evan did nothing more than stare and smile at Arnold. Arnold found the silence awkward, so he kept talking. He convinced Evan to put up some Christmas decorations. He said they were relaxing and they'd cheer the coldest of souls, seemingly forgetting all the trouble his own decorations had caused. Evan agreed to experiment with decorations.
   Arnold left with the vase in the morning. He took it to Denise's house, and she gave him the leprechaun. He returned to Evan's house later that day, and he brought some of his old Christmas lights, but Evan had been busy decorating the house since Arnold left. All of the decorations were black, and Evan was full of festive cheer.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


The Mottelowl Society for Anthropological and Scientific Research

   The Mottelowl Society for Anthropological and Scientific Research was founded by Mr. Mottelowl in 1928. His hero was Mr. Pickwick. He believed that his Society could play its small part in the advancement of the human race. Members were encouraged to travel, recording all of their experiences and impressions, and to conduct scientific experiments. They met once a week to discuss their findings. It was also a chance to drink whiskey and play billiards.
   During the final years of his life, Mr. Mottelowl became obsessed with building a model of the town he lived in. The model was kept in the attic of the building where the Society met. That model is still in the attic, and it contains tiny figurines of all past and present members. The figurines representing new members are put in the school for the first two years. The Society's President is represented by a small wooden man sitting on an armchair next to the fire in the Society's meeting room, and at the other side of the fire is the figurine of Mr. Mottelowl. One of their former Presidents is kept in the town's prison. The man himself has never been to prison, but the location of his figurine is meant to represent the shame he brought on the Society. When he became President he realised that his title had a seductive power over women. He started living the life he had always secretly wanted to live, which involved large quantities of women and drink. He didn't seem to mind when details of his lifestyle appeared on the front pages of the newspapers. He had plenty of women and drink to comfort him. But the other members of the Society were appalled. They voted to have him thrown out of the Society. He didn't seem to mind this either.
   A man called Stephen became the new President. Under his guidance the Society worked hard to restore their standing amongst the general public. They did a lot of charity work, and this helped improve their image.
   But Stephen was living a double life. Ever since he was a boy he had loved wrestling. Wrestling events were held once a week in an arena in the town, and his father used to take him to these. As he got older he started to despise the tactics of some of the villains. They'd break chairs over their opponents' heads, or set fire to their shoes.
   Stephen joined up with some like-minded people to organise wrestling events of their own. Their fights took place in an old theatre, and they were governed by the rules of gentlemanly conduct. These gentleman wrestlers used the names of famous poets. Stephen was known as Mr. Wordsworth. One of his colleagues, Mr. Byron, never resorted to violence. His only weapons were words. He'd climb into the ring and say, "I'm going to give you a trashing. I'm going to landlord you. Then I'm going to landlock you. And then we'll have a drink and a good laugh about the whole ridiculous business. Thank you for your time." Then he'd shake hands with his opponent and leave the ring.
   No one knew who Mr. Wordsworth really was because Stephen concealed his identity beneath a fake beard. The villains of the gentleman wrestling were cads who drank too many cocktails, crashed sports cars and broke off engagements to elope with a chorus girl. One of these cads, Mr. Longfellow, decided that the best way to get in character would be to drink too much. This is what led to an unfortunate lapse in gentlemanly behaviour when he was fighting Mr. Wordsworth. He pulled off the fake beard and revealed Stephen's true identity.
   Stephen knew he'd be removed from office at the next meeting of the Society, and his figurine would be put into the prison. The only way he could save himself would be if he had the overwhelming support of the general public. The other Society members would be desperate to avoid damaging their reputation again. Stephen believed that the best way to gain the backing of the public would be to defeat one of the real wrestlers, one of the villains. The man he chose to take on was a wrestler called Bullman Riley. Bullman was so bad he once spat on a kitten.
   Just after Bullman defeated an opponent (with the aid of a candlestick which he had concealed down his trousers) Mr. Wordsworth climbed into the ring and said, "I'm standing up for fair play. I'm fighting in the cause of sportsmanship. I'm defending the honour of honour. I'm going to teach you this simple truth: the virtuous will always defeat those who have abandoned all notions of decency."
   The crowd cheered. Stephen felt elated for a few seconds, but then he noticed that Bullman Riley's opponent was still struggling to get back to his feet and the cut on his forehead was real, as was the anger in Bullman's eyes.
   Bullman picked him up and threw him across the ring. Stephen was dazed, but he was just about able to gather his wits and roll out of the way when he saw an enormous Bullman-shaped object flying through the air, destined to land on the spot he was occupying. He un-occupied that spot just in time. This annoyed Bullman even more. He caught Stephen's arm and flung him into the ropes. Stephen bounced back. He could see that Bullman was going to clothesline him with his right arm, so he ducked. He must have inadvertently veered to one side as well because he went headfirst into Bullman's stomach. Bullman was winded. Stephen staggered backwards into the ropes and was thrown forward again. He tried to spin out of Bullman's way, but he ended up hitting Bullman full in the face with his arm. When he saw Bullman lying on the canvas and he heard the hysterical cheers of the crowd it dawned on him that all he had to do was sit on Bullman and wait for the ref to count to three, which he did.
   The crowd loved Stephen. His colleagues in the Society grudgingly accepted that they couldn't get rid of him if they wanted to improve their standing amongst the general public, but they were shocked when he told them that he intended to continue his wrestling career, and that he hoped to bring about a merger between the gentleman wrestling and the original variety.
   The other members of the Society were powerless. The only way they could get rid of him would be to turn him into one of the villains, and to do this they'd need to find a wrestler who was practically angelic and get him to fight Stephen. This plan still hasn't come to fruition, but they haven't abandoned it. Wrestling is the subject that dominates conversations during meetings of The Mottelowl Society for Anthropological and Scientific Research.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Professor Coffloaf

   I noticed that the walls in my house looked different in September. I spent a long time staring at them, and I couldn't put my finger on what was different, but something had definitely changed. The paintings on the walls looked out of place, so I replaced them with paintings that were more in keeping with the new character of the walls.
   In February I got the impression that the walls were changing again, and I considered buying new paintings, but I saw a simpler solution to the problem: get a hobby. I looked through listings of evening classes and I came across one called 'How to be Successful'. Being successful seemed like just the sort of hobby for me, so I signed up for the class.
   The teacher called himself Professor Coffloaf, but I never found out what his area of expertise was. I was one of twenty students in the class. After the professor introduced himself on the first evening, he said, "Where there are birds, there are birds, and where there aren't birds there are kettles that you can put the birds into... No, that doesn't sound right."
   He went to the window and he looked out. He seemed to be deep in thought. Half an hour later he said, "What about kittens instead of kettles?... No, that's even worse."
   When the bell rang at the end of the hour he left the room without saying a word.
   On the following week he spent most of the time counting beans. We started talking amongst ourselves, but he took no notice. I was sitting next to a man called Neil who told me he joined the class to give up drink. If he wasn't at the class he'd be sitting on a bar stool in an old pub, drinking until he fell off the stool. He couldn't go back to that, so he was determined to stick with the class until the end. He had arranged activities for other evenings as well, such as playing snooker, and going to the theatre and to the cinema.
   I turned up for the next class, but about half of my class-mates didn't bother. The professor was trying to find something in his pockets. He stopped when he seemed to think of something. He said, "A pear in a bag and a partridge in a sock. That's what we used to get for Christmas when I was young." Then he resumed the search of his pockets.
   With ten minutes left in the class he was still searching. We heard the sounds coming from the fantasy aerobics class downstairs. The professor heard them too, and he said we could go down to look at it, if we wanted to.
   Everyone wanted to, but it turned out to be a disappointment (for me, at least). It was just people dressed up as orcs, goblins and elves, and they were chasing each other around the room with plastic axes.
   On the following week only five people turned up for the class. The professor told us we could go downstairs again. Watching the fantasy aerobics was marginally more appealing than watching him reach into the pockets of his trousers, so we all went down. Some former members of our class had joined the aerobics class.
   I decided that I wasn't likely to become successful by looking at people dressed as orcs getting exercise, so I didn't bother turning up for the class on the following week.
   Over a year later I was buying a lottery ticket in an old shop in the suburbs on a sunny day in May. Just after I left the shop I saw a man walking towards me on the pavement, and I recognised the face. It was Neil. He recognised me too. He was wearing a suit and tie, and he seemed to be much healthier than he was when I last saw him. He'd lost weight and his skin was tanned.
   "You seem to be doing very well for yourself," I said.
   "That's because I learnt how to be successful," he said, "thanks to Professor Coffleaf."
   "You mean you actually learnt something from the class?"
   "It was all just a test. I was the only one to stick with it to the end. I had to stick with it because I couldn't bear the thought of going back to the pub, and I was rewarded for my perseverance. He taught me everything. It was like being let into Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. I can't say any more than that. He wouldn't want me to. Neither would Willy Wonka. I don't have the time to stay chatting anyway. I have to meet my wife."
   He showed me a photo of himself with his new wife. They were on a beautiful beach somewhere, suitably attired for their surroundings. They had their arms around each other. She was young and beautiful, and he didn't look too bad for a man who'd spent most of his adult life in pubs.
   "So you can see why I'm in a hurry," he said as he put the photo back into his pocket. He said goodbye and walked on.
   I walked on as well. I was deep in thought, and I didn't recognise the man walking towards me until he said hello. I was shocked when I realised that it was Neil again, only this time he looked exactly as he had looked when I first met him in the class. He was walking quickly, and he was slightly out of breath.
   "Didn't I just meet you?" I said.
   He shook his head and said, "I'm starting to regret ever doing that class. I better catch him before he meets his wife. My wife. She's mine."
   "He showed me a photo of himself with her. They looked very... close."
   This other Neil took out a photo and showed it to me. It was similar to the one I'd just seen, only in this one Neil looked much paler, and he was wearing a tattered coat. She was wearing a bikini, and she didn't seem to be bothered by his appearance.
   "I can see why you'd be in a hurry," I said.
   He put the photo back into his pocket, said goodbye and walked on.

The Tree and the Horse
Henry Seaward-Shannon
A Walk in the Rain
The East Cork Patents Office
Words are my favourite noises




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very slight stories

They Met a Bear
  They stopped in a small seaside town and they went for a walk. They met a bear.
  This is one version of the story. In another version, they met a sailor, and in this one they ended up being held at gunpoint on a speedboat and becoming unwilling participants in a diamond robbery while disguised as a cow, and sharing in the proceeds of that crime.
  So when they tell the story they just say, "We met a bear. He waved at us."

The Story of the Fortune Teller and the Alarm Clock
  A fortune teller threw an alarm clock at me. This story is deliberately lacking in details to mock the predictions of the fortune teller. Although she was right when she said she'd throw an alarm clock at me.

  One. Two. Three, the study. Four, a candle stick. Five. Six...
  Seven is missing, presumed dead. One has taken up the case, and two is helping him in his investigations. They both suspect six. Seven was last seen next to six in the garden.
  But seven isn't really dead. He's consumed half a bottle of whiskey and he's currently in the orchard, talking to a rabbit. "One of us is as boring as a gate post," he says, "and it's not..." He stops to count on his fingers. "No, actually it is me."
  Eight nine ten.

Debbie and his dog
  Debbie was sick of people mistaking her for a man.
  "Is your dog my parole officer?"
  She was sick of people asking her that too.

Very Slight Stories: like short stories, only shorter

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