Three-Minute Fiction: 'Application Of Grease'

Round 9 of Three Minute Fiction is currently underway. Readers from more than a dozen graduate programs are plowing through the nearly 4,000 entries received. Host Guy Raz shares one of the favorite picks so far, The Generous Application of Grease by Stephen Fratus of Walnut Creek, Calif. You can read the full story below along with other stories at www.npr.org/threeminutefiction.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

So right now, creative writing students at more than a dozen graduate programs are plowing through the 4,000 stories we received this round of Three-Minute Fiction. That's our writing contest where we ask you to come up with an original short story that can be read in about three minutes.

This time around, each story had to revolve around a U.S. president, fictional or real. And that challenge came to us from our judge this round, the thriller writer Brad Meltzer. He's going to be deciding the winner in the coming weeks. But in the meantime, here's an excerpt from one of those 4,000 stories, this one written by Stephen Fratus of Walnut Creek, California.

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BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: (Reading) It was a small tub, and when President Bill Taft tried to climb in, he did not fit. Bill was a big man, over 300 pounds. Bill was also a man not easily thwarted. He draped his body across the top of the tub. In one fluid motion, he lifted himself then plunged downward. With a loud squeak, his body slid into the hot bath. Within seconds, he felt cleaner. Bill tried to shift into a more comfortable position but could not move. He struggled until sweat ran off his nose, but it was no use. He was stuck.

Jim, he called out to his attendant, I need assistance. Jim took Bill's hand and heaved until he turned purple. Despite their exertions, the president remained hopelessly trapped. I can round up some strong workmen, Jim said, struggling for breath. Before we do that, I want you to go to the kitchens. Find me five pounds of butter and two loaves of bread. Bread and butter, sir? Right now? Jim asked. Make sure you get a great lot of butter.

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RAZ: That's our Bob Mondello reading the story "The Generous Application of Grease" by Stephen Fratus of Walnut Creek, California. The winner's story will be read in full on this program. And this time, that story will also be published in the Paris Review. To read Stephen's story in full and to see other picks so far, go to npr.org/threeminutefiction, and that's Three-Minute Fiction all spelled out with no spaces.

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The Generous Application Of Grease

For Round 9 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that revolve around a U.S. president, who can be real or fictional. Our winner was "The Dauphin."

Tub i i
iStockphoto.com
Tub
iStockphoto.com

His swearing-in had been sworn, his speech given, the parade finished. At the Inaugural Balls, Bill Taft had danced and eaten. He had listened to the jokes of senators and newspapermen. Now it was all over and there was one thing left to do. He would have a bath.

The bath was an inviting sight: The white tub sparkled, fingers of steam rose from the water.

His attendant Jim asked, "Do you need anything, Mr. President?"

"Privacy."

Once alone, the president dropped his robe and tested the water. It was painfully hot. Just what he needed after a day of Washington society.

It was a small tub, and when Bill tried to climb in, he did not fit. Bill was a big man, more than 300 pounds. Bill was also a man not easily thwarted. He draped his body across the top of the tub. In one fluid motion he lifted himself, then plunged downward. With a loud squeak his body slid into the hot bath.

"Everything fine?" Jim called.

"Aces."

Within seconds, he felt cleaner. Bill tried to shift into a more comfortable position but could not move. He struggled until sweat ran off his nose, but it was no use. He was stuck.

"Jim!"

Jim came inside and asked, "What seems to be the problem?"

"This tub is too damnably small. I need assistance."

Jim took Bill's hand and heaved until he turned purple. Despite their exertions, the president remained hopelessly trapped.

"I can round up some strong workmen," Jim said, struggling for breath.

"Before we do that, I want you to go into the kitchens. Find me five pounds of butter and two loaves of bread."

"Bread and butter, sir? Right now?" Jim asked.

"Make sure you get a great lot of butter."

After Jim left, the president brooded. What if this incident was discovered? A gentleman would not utilize a private embarrassment for political gain but there were no gentlemen in Washington. If they could not attack your ideas they spread malicious gossip. The two-faced newspaper editors already loved to mock Bill's weight. But if they found out he had become stuck in a tub? He could certainly forget about busting the trusts or fixing the civil service. He might as well resign.

Jim returned with the bread and butter.

"Shall I find some workmen now, while you restore your strength?"

"Just give me the butter."

"May I ask what you're planning?"

As he smeared butter inside the tub, he said, "In my experience, there are few problems one cannot solve by a generous application of grease in the right places."

"And do you require the bread, sir?"

"Did anyone see you?"

"Many people."

"Then it has already served its purpose." said Bill.

Once Bill had smeared the tub of butter, they were ready for another go. On the count of three, the president pushed off from the tub with his foot, and Jim heaved backwards. As before, Bill was wedged in too tightly and he seemed practically fastened to the tub.

Then his waist moved a fraction of an inch. His body found grease and out popped the president like a champagne cork. Bill immediately donned his robe.

His dignity partially restored, Bill said. "Jim, you must never speak of this to anyone."

"Of course, I swear."

Bill knew he could trust his servant. Thank God this embarrassing incident would remain private. He would hate to be known as the president so fat that he could not get out of his bath.

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