Three-Minute Fiction Readings: 'Litter' And 'The Shirt'

NPR's Bob Mondello and Susan Stamberg read excerpts of two of the best submissions for Round 11 of our short story contest. They read Litter by Kalad Hovatter of Orange, Calif., and The Shirt by Jennifer Anderson of Shorewood, Wis. You can read their full stories below and find other stories on our Three-Minute Fiction page or on Facebook.


For Round 11 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest, we asked you to send a story in which a character finds something he or she has no intention of returning. The winning story for this round was "Reborn" by Ben Jahn of Richmond, Calif. Stories are published in their original form.

Litter i i

I found your soul discarded in the street today.

On a three by five index card, you scrawled in heavy black permanent marker letters, "YOU NOW OWN MY SOUL." Initialed under that. Today's date under that. It's a neat little binding contract. I bet it would hold up in the highest court, even if you meant it as a joke. You shouldn't be so cavalier with your immortal essence. I spied it between a wad of chewing gum and a mangled plastic bottle. Anyone could have found this card where it laid half-in, half-out of the gutter with the collected effluvia of a thousand passers-by.

But I found it. It's mine.

There was a footprint on it, you know? That's just how little they cared. Or maybe they didn't realize what they were stepping on, any more than you realized what you were giving away. You wouldn't throw out your own soul, no. You gave it to someone else. It wasn't a joke; I was wrong about that, wasn't I? You loved him — or her — and you wanted the depths of your devotion to be understood and returned by her — or him. Consumed by their own casual selfishness, they didn't grasp the importance of that simple, lined index card.

They threw it out. But I won't.

Or maybe it wasn't anything as crass as that. It could have been an escape attempt. Your soul, desperate to get back you, wriggling free of someone's backpack, or pocket, or plucked from their fingers by a lucky gust of wind. It does get windy here, this time of year. Whatever the method, your soul took flight in one last gambit, to undo the mistake you made in giving it away.

It won't escape me.

I have it pinned to the wall, now. Above and to the right of my family photos. It's a place of honor. Did you feel those four thumbtacks? Like a shiver up your spine or a goose stepping on your grave. I think I'll leave it there for awhile, just where I can touch it as I pass by. I don't know who you are. I probably never will. But I have the most important part of you, and it's mine to do with as I please.

I can't express how much comfort it gives me, either. To know that I control someone's soul, it makes every other issue in my life seem trivial. There's nothing I can't conquer, no setback I can't overcome. The boost to my confidence has been nothing short of life-changing, all thanks to one little index card.

That's why you'll never know who I am. Your soul is more necessary to me than my own. You'll never get it back.

I'd see it burn before I let that happen.

The Shirt

For Round 11 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest, we asked you to send a story in which a character finds something he or she has no intention of returning. The winning story for this round was "Reborn" by Ben Jahn of Richmond, Calif. Stories are published in their original form.

shirt i i

She was cleaning out the closet, looking for items to give to Goodwill, when she found it. It was balled up at the back of the top shelf and had sat, collecting dust, for how long? Eight years? Nine? At least since they'd moved into the house and Will was a baby. It was Ted's old shirt from his single days, part of his "going out" outfit that he thought was so retro hip and cool, but which was really just fugly.

That was a term she's learned from Ted himself, along with "soup sandwich" and "FUBAR," back when he'd just left the army. He was a kid from South Dakota who didn't have a clue what was fashionable, who thought parachute pants were in style at least a decade after they'd been branded as a regrettable relic of the Eighties.

And really, how could he be expected to know what was stylish? Growing up, his mom bought all his clothes at WalMart, the only place within 50 miles that sold anything other than Wranglers and Carhartt. He'd joined the Army at 18 and basically never wore anything but uniforms after that.

When she first met him, he had no idea how to dress himself for civilian life, a fact pretty much summed up by this shirt. It was mustard colored, with huge paisleys that looked like more like hideous amoebae than a design element. It was 100 percent cotton that felt rough and stiff, and it wrinkled like crazy. "God, he must have spent hours ironing this thing," she thought as she fingered the now-faded fabric.

She remembered that he'd worn it when they went to the Green Mill once early in their dating days, how he'd slyly checked himself out in the car window as they headed out. She remembered too how he'd pulled her close later that night, the heat and the noise of the club disappearing as he drunkenly whispered in her ear, "I'm with the prettiest girl in this place." His grin was lopsided and sweet, and her breath hitched as he spoke. How drawn to him she was to him, god-awful shirt and all.

It wasn't until months after that night, when they were firmly established as a couple and practically living together, that she finally gave him grief about the shirt. "Oh, the bloom is really off the rose now," he'd said smiling. He'd still pull it out occasionally, putting it on despite her groans of protest, not caring a bit how ridiculous it looked. She knew he wore it just to get a rise out of her, to establish himself as a still-independent guy, despite the fact that he'd happily let her replace most of his wardrobe by then.

Then, one day when he was at work and she was home with their first son, she'd come across it while searching for something to wear that wasn't yet stained with Will's spit-up. Nothing of hers fit yet and the shirt was lurking toward the back like an embarrassing drunk who won't leave the party. She had yanked it off its flimsy wire hanger and thrown it up onto the topmost shelves with a disgusted grunt.

Now this artifact from another life was in her hands, still just as awful as she remembered. She started to toss it into the Goodwill pile, but stopped. It was precious, this obscenely ugly shirt. She smiled to herself as she folded it carefully into a tidy square, stepped back to gather momentum, and launched it up into the darkest reaches of their closet.



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