Tag Archives: imagery

How Long Does a Story Have to Be?

I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing Brady Udall’s “The Wig,” a micro-fiction that won First Prize in Story Magazine’s Short Short Competition. This gem is proof positive that you can tell a great story with all fictive elements intact in little more than a page. I’ll follow the text with an analysis. Meanwhile, enjoy:

 

The Wig

by Brady Udall

 

My eight-year-old son found a wig in the garbage Dumpster this morning. I walked into the kitchen, highly irritated that I couldn’t make a respectable knot in my green paisley tie, and there he was at the table, eating cereal and reading the funnies, the wig pulled tightly over his head like a football helmet. The wig was a dirty bush of curly blond hair, the kind you might see on a prostitute or someone who is trying to imitate Marilyn Monroe.

I asked where he got the wig and he told me, his mouth full of cereal. When I advised him that we don’t wear things we find in the garbage, he simply continued eating and reading as if he didn’t hear me.

I wanted him to take that wig off but I couldn’t ask him to do it. I forgot all about my tie and going to work. I looked out the window where mist fell slowly on the street. I paced into the living room and back, trying not to look at my son. He ignored me. I could hear him munching cereal and rustling paper.

There was a picture, or a memory, real or imagined, that I couldn’t get out of my mind: Last fall, before the accident, my wife was sitting in the chair where now my son always sits. She was reading the paper to see how the Blackhawks did the night before, and her sleep-mussed hair was only slightly longer and darker than the hair of my son’s wig.

I wondered if my son had a similar picture in his head, or if he had a picture at all. I watched him and he finally looked up at me but his face was blank. He went back to his reading. I walked around the table, picked him up, and held him against my chest. I pressed my nose into that wig and it smelled not like the clean shampoo scent I might have been hoping for, but like old lettuce. I suppose it didn’t matter at that point. My son put his smooth arms around my neck and for maybe a few seconds we were together again, the three of us.

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Analysis

 

The opening of Udall’s story immediately hooks the reader with the odd image of a wig found in a garbage dumpster. The narrator is already irritated because he “can’t make a respectable knot” in his tie, leaving the reader to wonder if someone who used to do it for him is missing. And there’s his eight-year-old son, eating his cereal and “reading the funnies” with the dirty blond wig capped over his head “like a football helmet,” as though it were the most natural thing in the world and not some bizarre piece of mischief.

The pacing gains momentum with the fleshing out of character and situation; the plot develops as the narrator-father expresses disapproval, the child ignores him, and the narrator is unable to summon the will to insist on obedience.

Then comes the turning point: the father looks out the window, “where mist fell slowly on the street,” and forgets about the tie and about going to work. He begins to pace as a memory overtakes him: “Last fall, before the accident, my wife was sitting in the chair where now my son always sits. She was reading the paper to see how the Blackhawks did the night before, and her sleep-mussed hair was only slightly longer and darker than the hair of my son’s wig.”

Next comes a quiet climax and denouement that tug at the heartstrings: “I walked around the table, picked him up, and held him against my chest. I pressed my nose into that wig and it smelled not like the clean shampoo scent I might have been hoping for, but like old lettuce. I suppose it didn’t matter at that point. My son put his smooth arms around my neck and for maybe a few seconds we were together again, the three of us.”

Notice how each image in the present reality finds its parallel in the narrator’s (and by extension his son’s) memory of the past. (I have boldfaced the images to make my point.) The son re-enacts a memory of his dead mother in his longing for her presence, in effect channeling his mother through the medium of the titular wig.

Udall masterfully crafts a complete story in 368 words, a story that starts simply and quickly goes deep. In its imagery, pacing, and economy, “The Wig” provides us with a paradigm for building fiction of any length.