FICTION – Presto Agitato by Elizabeth Schmuhl

Pliée Run: [ˈpliːeɪ] [ruhn], /pl­é-á’/ /rʌn/, verb1. Every kid’s dream day: there is no Adult Swim at The Club. All of the adults stand on the sidelines as kids of every age splash cannon balls and squeal in delight. Like little piggies in mud. Like fat little balls of dough being kneaded. The adults go home and leave their offspring for an overnighter in the chlorine. All the children swim underneath the moon. The pool is lit to the green of moths’ wings and everyone’s teeth are showing. Under water, eyes open and no one’s oculars hurt when they look at one another. Kids fall in kid love. There is a snack bar and everyone eats as much as he or she wants. There are even tents for sleep, but not many kids rest. Their laughter is loud and shatters the moon; the heavens fall into the pool in chunks and float.


2. This is just like ice skating, but the ice is black and somewhat sticky. When you move across it, you are aware of all the minnows and turtles underneath; they are all dreaming of summer. Writing personal letters with seaweed, making lists of things they want to do when the weather warms, the aquatic creatures don’t notice you gliding over their brains. If you want to go faster, just push down, but make sure not to grow any roots. Roots can crack ice and you need to move across it, so don’t grow, not even an inch. In fact, try to shrink. This about bones, compression. Close any and all flowers that are blooming in your veins and then move like the wind, no faster than it, but make a melody as you go. Those creates beneath the frozen water could use a bit of relief.

Sauteer: [soh-tey], /so.te/, verb 1. The little skunk could do no more than cavort when the red Ford came hurtling down the road at 11:55 PM on a Friday evening. He lived.


2. When the air is all black and a fire is in the center, bats can spook the best of us. Know the bats are always present, even when it’s light. They hang in trees, dreaming of sticky insect meat, chewing it in their sleep. Crunch crunch. Crunch crunch. You know that the noise is a consequence of things rearranging, like the air, which was light but now has a grapefruity glow to it. The pink is there only because you’ve moved through it.

Breathing: [breething], /ˈbriðɪŋ/, verb 1. The nest was never big enough, so the blue bird kept building. If she were exhibiting her work in a gallery, the description of her piece would read:

Title: Nest

Artist: Emma Blue Bird

Materials: Mixed media: twigs, dog fir, string

Made in her second year of life, Nest is a work that explores the boundaries, both real and imagined, that we encounter throughout our lives. Built to withstand the weight of 100 blue bird eggs, this home is a testament to the impossibility of providing a life-long shelter for one’s offspring. The nest is empty, which emphasizes the absence of the mother’s babies, as well as accentuates their individual agency over that of their maker.

But there was no description of the piece of art on the wall. The nest was in a linden tree. The gallery was Earth. When she sat alone at night, she could feel the emptiness in her womb. Closing her eyes, she’d soon be wrapped in sleep. Her dreams flooded with the wings of her children, which were flapping independently all over the globe, miles away from the place they were born. And because of their distance, all the more freely. They filled her throat and made her cough feathers.


2. Humans like to think that things happen by mistake, but more than meets the eyes is intentional. For example, the waves, how far they reach up the shore, and the sand, how it pouts in response. All of this is controlled and controlled movement is voluntary because it implies a choice has been made and the choice is always movement. This is true even when your head is proverbially or literally in the clouds.

Flex: [fleks], /flɛks/, verb 1. In Arizona, a father was arrested for his skin color. His heart stopped beating when he saw the cop’s lights, red and white and spinning, in his rear view mirror. He wanted to change his DNA on spot, but couldn’t. He felt embarrassed in front of his wife and kids, wished there was a way to dig a tunnel underneath the car, to go beyond what was possible in time and this space, but he knew the limitations. He swore to himself, to his wife, to his kids, díos mío, that next time, he’d carry a shovel and explosives, build an exit through the bottom of the car through the pavement and create a tunnel and they’d escape, him lighting the darkness with his gold teeth. But instead he wiped the sweat off his brow, releasing the stale air of his lungs into the car. He hoped the policeman wouldn’t be able to see through him, but he knew better.


2. When there are two objects, always make the one up higher retreat further. This goes for children too. The brother and sister born in Narnia should go beyond the closet, the boy further than the girl because the girl was first born and should be closer to home. Don’t forget that despite movement, everything has the ability to strive for stillness.

Prance:[prans] /præns /, verb 1. All of the strings on the wooden marionette were put there by the man who is a grandpa and a husband. He drinks coffee in the morning, reads the newspaper, and when he’s finished with his day’s work, he goes out for a walk. His feet feel like swollen, stung masses in his shoes. His hip joints: un-malleable, dried honey stiff. But daily, he walks to his shop, four blocks from his house. He sees trees, women, children, men in business suits. No one touches him. The string in his shop is life thread, made of plastic. He knows plastic is underrated, so he sings to it, letting it know he has not forgotten its importance. He says a prayer as he attaches it to the wooden arms, hands, head, feet. The smile he painted on this wooden marionette reminds him of little Alice, his youngest grandchild. Moving the wooden cross in his left hand forward and back to test her, he swears he hears the words thank you.


2. There is gum that changes from sweet to sour and other spectrums of taste. The pink kind you tried last week started out as savory roast beef, slick, juicy, full of blood. You chewed and chewed until the flavor diminished and arrived at blueberry pie, still warm, sticky blue volcanoing out through holes in the dough. This time, make sure to buy grass flavored gum, so that when you chomp, you are contemplating the Earth, feeling its rough, textured body. This gum changes to something incredibly sweet once it turns over, but you’ll have to discover it for yourself. Don’t spit the gum out or you’ll miss the sugared coated bliss that’s headed your way.

Elizabeth Schmuhl is a writer and dance maker whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Paper Darts, Birkensnake, the anthology Ghost Writers: Us Haunting Them (Wayne State University Press), and elsewhere. Find her online at

Featured Image photograph by E.B. Bartels,

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