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Micro Home by Jonathan Cardew


Jonathan Cardew’s “Micro Home” is a showcase of minimalist, controlled writing. Here, the containment required of microfiction is enclosed within the walls of a tiny home—content reflecting form and form reflecting content. Cardew writes with precise details and a refreshing tone, choosing words and varying sentence construction well. The conflict is layered, both interpersonal and situational, setting-based. The claustrophobia of the tiny house juxtaposed with the hawk handling his prey tells us everything we need to know to interpret this situation, yet none of this overpowers the dynamic between this couple. Don’t miss Cardew’s author’s note for a discussion of fabulism and imposing restrictions on the writing while drafting.  —CRAFT


 

She applied the last dabs of paint to the mermaid’s tail.

“I’m about to die in here,” she said, knuckling a stray hair from her eyes.

I opened a window. Outside, the woods were ablaze with soft browns and oranges and yellows. A hawk alighted from a fir tree and dived toward the rustling leaves.

“I’m suffocating,” she said.

“It’s the paint,” I offered.

“Paint!”

“It’s psychological. Nothing to do with the size.”

She frowned and went back to her miniatures. Each brush stroke was a nervous tick, a slight twitch of the fingers. She was so intent on the tiniest things, but not our home.

I touched the steel window ledge and noticed the hawk flapping by. It had an animal grasped within its talons, the legs of which were still moving, still running, as if in the hope of scrambling free along the disappearing woods’ floor.

It circled our micro home before perching at the top of the same fir tree. It gave the creature a few sharp stabs with its beak, and then left it to hang.

“Are you done?” I asked her.

She put her brush in the water pot and lifted her Clip & Flip magnifying glasses. It looked as though a see-through butterfly had landed on her forehead. The miniature mermaid glittered on the stand beside her.

Turpentine filled the room.

Later, she leaned far through the open window. She almost lost her balance, but I pulled her back just in time.

“You know what I mean, though?” she said, squeezing me. “The tightness. No breathing room.”

She shuddered.

The hawk watched us from its perch on the tree. Only one of its feet was free—the other had the creature pinned in its talons. It was a chipmunk. But it was now dead.

That night, I turned off all the lights. I shut and locked all the windows. She slept fitfully, but I stayed awake, walking from one end of the room to the other multiple times. You could touch the kitchen sink while sitting on the toilet and still have a free hand to open the front door. From the bed, you could open the refrigerator without having to stretch too much.

It was small. It was tiny.

The price was tiny.

It would do.

 


JONATHAN CARDEW is blog editor for Bending Genres and contributing editor for the Best Microfiction series. His stories appear in cream city reviewPassages NorthSmokeLong QuarterlyLongleaf ReviewwigleafMaudlin House, Jellyfish Review, among others. Originally from the UK, he lives in Milwaukee, Wis.

 

Author’s Note

One of my favorite books of all time is Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. Gulliver is the first inhabitant of a tiny home (see Lilliput) except his temporary abode is actually cavernous, a great ceilinged temple within the city.

I didn’t have Gulliver in mind when I wrote “Micro Home” but I feel that this work always lingers in the back of my head. I like writing stories with some kind of restriction, be it in form, length, or subject matter. I often go speculative or fabulist—whatever the correct term for it is—and the notion of an incredibly small house feels magical to me, like a doll’s house you can almost enter as a child, the wonder you feel at the small doors and windows.

I wanted to go there with this story. I wanted to put it in a forest because you can put micro homes anywhere. I wanted two characters in conflict with each other. I wanted the size to matter.

This is a legitimate question: how do you survive in a tiny house? In any relationship, you are on top of each other, but in the case of a house so small, you are physically on top of each other. How do you get by? In this story, the characters don’t. They made a mistake in purchasing a micro home. They are impacted by it.

I sent this story to CRAFT in early 2020, but when I searched for previous drafts, I found that the narrative goes back to 2016 (with a slew of revisions and reimaginations). Apparently, I had a lot to say about the hawk in earlier versions. Also, it was much longer.

Which makes me think of Gulliver again. How on one island, he is the “man mountain,” yet on another, he is smaller than a mouse. Our own relationship with homes or stories is equally relative, and as a writer of short prose, I am constantly grappling with this dilemma of compression: Do I trust the reader to fill in the blanks? Do I trust myself enough to trust the reader to work with me on this filling in of blanks? What even are the blanks?

Like the wife in this story, I know for a fact that some readers might want to jump out the window. No breathing room.

 


JONATHAN CARDEW is blog editor for Bending Genres and contributing editor for the Best Microfiction series. His stories appear in cream city reviewPassages NorthSmokeLong QuarterlyLongleaf ReviewwigleafMaudlin HouseJellyfish Review, among others. Originally from the UK, he lives in Milwaukee, Wis.