Summer and Sobaka

The Word: Rib

My mother finally relented, and I was going to spend the summer at Aunt Thea’s. In L.A. At last. I never got to go by myself before, because my mother and her older sister don’t get along so great. But that summer, my dad and mom weren’t getting along so good either. In fact, Dad had moved out and Mom just wanted to lie around crying , and I kept saying, let me go to LA and see Aunt Thea, she asks me every year when she comes to Hartford for Christmas. But my mom always says no, she wouldn’t trust Aunt Thea with a plant, let alone a human being.

When Aunt Thea stays with us, she sleeps in the other bed in my room, and tells me stories about ghosts and stuff my mom and her used to do when they were kids, that I can hardly believe. We consult the Ouija board, but I don’t tell my mom. She’s, well, she wouldn’t go for that.

I love Aunt Thea. She’s got to be forty, and tan, with long hair down her back like a hippie. She’s getting wrinkles and she doesn’t even care. And she laughs more than anybody I ever saw. Once, she laughed so hard at a joke my brother Brian was telling she actually peed in her pants. “I’m going to pee in my pants!” she shrieked, and then she did. And thought that was so funny, she laughed until tears spilled down her tanned, wrinkled face.

My mom got so mad, like Aunt Thea was a bad dog that had peed the rug. “I can’t believe you just did that.”

“Oh, you’re no fun,” Aunt Thea said, holding her stinky wet pants away from her skin.

My mom can be fun, but she’s the “first you brush your teeth and then you get the story” type.

Whereas my first morning in LA, we had ice cream for breakfast. “What kind do you like?” my aunt asked me. She has this old fridge from the Fifties, and the dinky little freezer was packed with ice cream. I took one scoop of lavender mint, and one of espresso. and we ate out on the porch overlooking the lake.

A lake, right in the middle of LA. I never heard of that. With houses all around, up on the hillsides, like a foreign country, like France or something. We hung out on her porch and ate our ice cream, and I thought I was in heaven, I mean, heaven. LA, and this funky old house, and the lake and breeze in the trees and her dog Sobaka, which means dog in Russian. Sobaka has pretty white eyelashes. A white sort of greyhound, but hairy. And I have to admit, I felt bad, that my mom and my dad were breaking up and I was in LA eating ice cream for breakfast. It felt kind of heartless.

I thought about married people. “Why didn’t you ever get married, Aunt Thea? Didn’t you want to?”

She licked her spoon and put the bowl on the ground so Sobaka could slurp up the rest. “I had a love affair,” she said. “But he wasn’t the type who’d ask you to marry him.” The way she said ‘marry,’ she didn’t exactly roll her eyeballs but her voice did. “Being with him it was like fifty years squeezed into five. That was it for me. I’d had enough love for a lifetime.”

I never heard of that. someone who’d just had enough of something for their whole lives. Especially love, wasn’t that what everyone wanted, some guy to marry you and all that? I wondered how it would be for me.

That afternoon, she took me to a Vietnamese temple in Chinatown. It was kind of scary, there were no white people, and inside it was all red and yellow and crowded with bowls of fruit before the Buddhas and this weird incense. We went around and sort of prayed to the Buddhas, and she put some coins in their dishes and then gave me a thing of bamboo, full of sticks, and said to think of my question. “Do have to say it out loud?”

“Sure. Now think hard.” She frowned, which made all her wrinkles stand out.

I thought of my question. Will my parents divorce? Well duh. Why waste a question on that? “Will I be happy?” I finally asked. And shook the bamboo cup until a stick came out. Then the old wrinkly priest read my fortune. He talked and I guess he thought he was speaking English but I didn’t have any idea what he was saying. We thanked him and went outside. I was relieved to be out of there, though it was beautiful. Maybe if I hadn’t been so scared I would have enjoyed it more.

We went back to the car where Sobaka was waiting, her nose stuck through the window. “Could you understand what he said?” I asked Aunt Thea.

“Hungry?” she said, strapping her seatbelt. Mom does the same thing when she doesn’t want to answer a question.

She took us to this shack place nearby, a barbeque stand, kind of dodgy, but it smelled really great. I was surprised she chose barbeque–she’s a vegetarian. Maybe she made exceptions. She bought two giant beef ribs, and handed me one and we went to sit down at the picnic tables.

I started to eat mine, and she put the other rib, this big meaty thing, on the ground for Sobaka. For the dog! You should have seen the eyes of the other people eating there, staring at her, like they wanted to punch her lights out. “Aunt Thea. People are staring. You just fed your dog what they’re having for dinner.”

“So?” She looked around and smiled at the people aiming daggers at us. “Sobaka isn’t vegetarian.”

I ate in silence for a while, embarrassed as hell. Trying to understand. Why we were here, and what the priest said. “Aren’t you going to tell me what he said?”

She watched Sobaka happily gnawing on the end of the rib, having already stripped the meat clean. “He said, this year not so likely.”

A whole year. Well, duh. How happy was it likely to be. My parents divorcing. Chewing on my rib, trying not to cry, trying to concentrate on the wonderful gooey char. It hurt my feelings that my fortune was so lousy.

But really, the rib was fantastic.

And the breeze was cool, and Sobaka looked up from hers, all dog-smiley, and I was glad I was here. Whatever the guy said. And his dumb bamboo sticks. “I am happy though.”

“Me too,” she said, wiping Sobaka’s face with a napkin.

Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.” Feel free to post your ‘Rib’ in Comments.

Next week’s word is: CHARM

9 Responses to “Summer and Sobaka”

  1. I’m enjoying your blog and love your short-short story. I do flash-fiction every Sunday on my blog and love the challenge. I answer a question I’ve asked from the week before and make a story out of it. I like next week’s word. I might just write a little something. Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. hi – I’d read a whole book of this! I love your teenage voice. I read Kicks this year and loved it too.

  3. You’re lucky to have such a wise aunt.

  4. I had a mean aunt who taught college prep high school classes and when she died mysteriously from complications after leaving her gas burning oven door open to heat her house… I felt guilty about hating her. The best part about her dying was she left us hundreds of books that ended up lining our cement-blocked basement walls. It was like having our very own treasure trove of great literary novels, from Hemingway, to Fitzgerald and beyond. So, there was life after her death and it entailed my reading these great books while trying to analyze her scribbles in the margins. Thanks for the story, Ms. Fitch, you are the best teacher ever!

  5. When does the word charm start? And is Astrid close to y our own personality?

  6. Stranded With Only a Palm Pre:
    The Adventure of Nurse Practitioner, Nancy Malone.
    By Barbara Lindstrom

    It was your average Bahamian cruise for nurse practitioner, Nancy Malone, until one fateful, moonlit night, when one too many Marguerites left her over-board and swimming for the nearest island. To say her family missed her would be an understatement of humongous proportions. That is, except for her unappreciative teenage son, Mike, who was embarrassed by his mother’s constant diagnosing of everyone’s ailment aboard their Bahamian cruise ship. When his humiliation could not be contained a moment longer, Mike hid his mother’s precious website wonder. But it was not for long. Upon finding it Nancy declared, while holding her Palm Pre triumphantly overhead, that she would never let it out of her sight again. That’s when Nancy’s seemingly charmed life came to an end… as she untied a life buoy and used the rope to attach it to the Palm Pre, allowing it to dangle awkwardly as an eye-catching charm from the rope necklace about her neck. But, even that desperate and slightly provocative act proved fortuitous since Nancy probably would have lost her Palm Pre if it had not been tied to her as she mercilessly tossed to and fro upon the salty brine on her midnight swim. There were fleeting moments when she thought she might actually be swimming in a giant Marguerite as she pressed forward, dog paddling to a nearby, deserted-looking island.
    By dawn, her face buried in seaweed and salt, Nancy was encircled by the natives who could not contain their excitement. Jumping excitedly and pointing at this strange looking human with a blinking device attached to her neck, they spoke in a strange language. One of the
    oddest looking natives, an Englishman, stepped forward to translate since he too had fallen overboard on a similar cruise ten years earlier. He explained that the natives believed Nancy was some sort of god attached to a powerful blinking battery device. As she tried to explain that God probably did not need a Palm Pre and that she was merely a nurse, the adoring chanting mob scooped her up and placed her atop a large conch shell, carrying her to a tiny village hidden in the jungle. There, the Englishman told her the natives had been praying for someone to heal them, or a global healthcare plan, whichever came first and had more benefits. That’s when Nancy started dialing and realized while the reception to outside phone service was lousy, she could access three websites that always proved helpful to her as a nurse practitioner in the past.
    From, to, to, Nancy’s busy fingers
    flew as she wildly typed into her Palm Pre, moving from site to site, studying the ailments of
    the natives who stood in a long line before her as she researched answers to the medical
    problems that plagued them. For the head native, Chief Step-on-a-Rock, Nancy found help for a
    condition called, ‘Rockitis Stepinotis’ as well as “Thousands of topics on diseases and conditions
    with evidence-based content… (for) hundreds of over-the-counter drug products”
    (, 2010, p. 1). Even the information regarding over-the-counter drugs proved
    inspirational since it sent Nancy searching through the jungle, armed only with a machete, to
    hunt for drug substitutes with natural substances indigenous to the habitat of the island people.
    After finding mint leaves and applying them to soothe the chief’s sore foot, Nancy next
    consulted regarding “The newest addition (in) a lung diagram for graphically
    documenting a 2-dimensional position of abnormalities…” (, 2010, p. 1).
    “Huh,” Nancy mumbled aloud, “(while) ‘This can be a quick reminder for future
    (medical) Visits’(, 2010. P.1)….it really won’t help me so much now.”
    And that was because the chief’s young daughter was coughing uncontrollably and needed
    immediate relief. But again, the jungle provided the answer in a slimy syrupy substance that
    oozed from a coconut tree, giving soothing relief for the young girl as well as her entire family,
    helplessly sleep deprived ever since the coughing began.
    And last but not least, the Englishman’s heavy sadness, as the Chief referred to it, was diagnosed more astutely as severe depression by Nancy who was able to find psychiatric help by consulting, The Medical Guide. This website provided pertinent information on how to transform a large conch shell into a psychiatric couch in order to provide counseling help to the lonely and homesick interpreter.
    And finally, as Nancy ended her first full day as a nurse practitioner to the island natives, she sat on a wave soaked beach and watched a golden sunset provide a dramatic backdrop as a cruise ship passed the tiny island at a distance too far away to recognize her existence. Nancy quickly consulted her Palm Pre for help in building a raft out of banana leaves and driftwood and found a photo of Tom Hanks who was similarly stranded on an island in that movie he starred in called, “Castaway”. As Nancy re-watched the movie on her Palm Pre, noting carefully how Hanks built his boat, Nancy smiled. For now, armed with websites on how to build a small nurse practitioner practice on an unknown island, her handy Palm Pre provided the details for her escape. Including, how to plan a festive party upon a triumphant return home to Kansas, with diagrams of the proper place settings and whether plastic or silver is appropriate.

    1. (2010. Retrieved from:

    2. (2010). Retrieved from:

    3. The Medical Guide. (2010). Retrieved from:

  7. Marleeo Says:

    I love that you love L.A., and the experiences are so real! ( For those of us who get out of our own neighborhoods, anyway). And the lavender mint ice cream just had to be from Mashti Malone’s! Every time I get lost in the banal world of fb, I catch your short shorts, and become re-energized! I love you for that!

  8. makes me want to drink alchoholic beverages

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