Her mother stood before her, rapidly skimming Courtney’s story about a depressed Narcissus whose petals drooped as it died.  She laughed.  “It’s so… flowery.  And pathetic.  No, you can’t hand
this in to your teacher.” 

Within an hour, her mother typed and printed off a new story to replace the other, “The Woman and the Giant Jumping Foot,” centered in bold at the top, Courtney’s name and 5th grade English in the right hand corner.  It was about a woman whose foot grew so powerful and big it eventually kicked everyone but her out of the house, starting with a flea, then a mouse, the cat, dog, children and husband.  Courtney read how happy and at peace the woman was alone in the house, sitting on her settee, sipping a martini, as her foot, nearly half the size of her own body, jumped wildly at the end of her small leg like a ferocious dog.   

Clearly her story was weak and her mother’s strong.  She could only hand it in and pretend it was hers.  

When she gave it to her English teacher the following morning, she enjoyed the thrill of knowing Mrs. Erickson would see her as the writer.  She, inventive, clever, had written about a giant menacing foot that kicked everyone out, took over the house, its “footpad so hard and callused it needed no shoe on its sole,” and took special glee in “launching the husband so high in the air he left the atmosphere, choking and airless long enough to turn blue in the face, until finally reentering somewhere near the Artic Circle wearing only his boxers.”  

Courtney even believed it was true—she had somehow written it.  The way you believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.  She knew neither were real, her mother told her long ago.  But believing in them was different.  You did that in spite of their not being real.  They weren’t just pretend, they were legendary pretend.  And since she pretended the story was hers, believed it was, she could now imagine herself as better than herself, a legendary self, capable of kicking out everything in her way and ruling her world.  Making it hers.  

But along with this elation came the knowledge that she was just a phony, like she’d always feared.  

After handing in the story she ran to a bathroom stall and cried, as she’d done while writing the sappy flower story.  Her real pink-inked draft had been, to her, a measure of her creative power, and to her mother a measure of her weakness.  Her “childish, parochial thoughts.”  Whatever that meant.  

When Mrs. Erickson sat her down after class the next day, holding the story with its bright red “A” between them, she looked at Courtney for a long while before saying anything.  Seemed intent on looking her straight in the eye.  She had the same stern yet knowing look Courtney had seen when kids would raise their hand asking to go to the bathroom when a test was about to start.  Or when they’d come in late and declared their dog had just died or something.

“Did you write this, Courtney?  About a woman, a mother,” Mrs. Erickson paused, her mouth set at an angle even more stern than Courtney was used to, “with a lot of time on her hands, apparently,” she looked down at her paper, as if trying not to smile, “who sips martinis and kicks everyone out.  Of her house.  Even her children and husband.” When Mrs. Erickson read “children,” then “husband,” she tapped her pen on the story loudly, punctuation that left a fresh red mark each time.  “Really?  Did you really write this?”

What Courtney heard was, “Could you write this?”  What she heard was, “Do you really believe you could write something like this?  Really, Courtney?  Really?”

Courtney opened her mouth, then closed it.  She knew her face was getting red and blotchy.  The “tincture of weakness,” her mother called it.   

She took a deep breath, boldly looked at Mrs. Erickson’s left ear.  

“Because if you did…” Mrs. Erickson reached out her hand, which was surprising sweaty, like Courtney’s own.  She bent toward Courtney’s ear and whispered, as if they shared a secret.  Something they both knew about what was real and wasn’t. What deserved to be kicked out, what didn’t.  “Then I believe you.”

Angela Rydell has work published or forthcoming in Barrow Street, Prairie Schooner, The Lullwater Review, Alaska Quarterly, The Sun and other journals.  She is a recipient of Poets & Writers Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award and
holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College.


Who among us hasn't fantasized about being a better, super-sized version of themselves?  And, by doing so, realized just how far from the mark he or she currently is?  The tensions of a mother-daughter dynamic, here parental model and youthful blank slate, became the stage for this story.  After drafting it, I started to think more consciously about the relationship between fantasy and dissatisfaction.  And tried to tease out the mother's desire to live through her child, child through mother.  Both wanting to gain some kind of control, make the unreal real. I imagined the teacher as a character who could see into the lies, a dose of realism- yet complicit and sympathetic - amidst the fakery.




Copyright 2009