KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 6: Fall 2016
Micro-Fiction: 410 words

Learning the Trade in Tenancingo

by Nancy Ludmerer

At the bus station, the girls clucked and clabbered like hens. One stood apart, cradling her elbow, a trace of bruised flesh. I’d learned her name the day before—Layla. We spoke, Layla and I, my heart crashing on wet stone, drowning in words.

On the third day, suddenly Uncle Manuel was there, stroking his chin, sent by Grandfather surely. I turned away, pretending not to know her.

Now Grandfather has summoned me to the library. At noon it’s dark, the curtains drawn. He complains of my lack of progress. A leather-bound ledger lies open on his desk. “Stop trying to recruit girls at the bus station. They’re suspicious of young men. Try St. Michael’s.”

”I need to go home.”

“Home? To recite Shakespeare to a tree? Pablo, you’re seventeen. No estás actuando como un nieto mío. You left your village. We invested in you. That English school in Miami!”

He prides himself on his English, which works wonders at passport control in Queens and Atlanta, on his violet-scented cologne which, he says, reminds the girls of their abuelas, and on his house with its turrets, flamingos, and eight master bedrooms, the grandest in Tenancingo.

Now he leans back in his recliner and sniffs his cognac. “Pick a girl in the choir.” He drains the glass and grins. “Pick two girls.”

I think of home, of my sister Aisha who sings in the school choir. She’s thirteen. “Isn’t it sacrilege to recruit girls in church?”

He asks me to repeat what I just said. “You’re not smart. Your uncles are smart. They memorize stories about the saints. They understand what’s good for business is good. They are Romeos. Compliment her singing. Praise her hair. Say her body is a holy vessel. How does Sonnet 57 begin?”

He hands me the leather-bound ledger. It’s open, a scarlet tassel keeping his place.

It’s not a ledger after all.


“Being your slave, what should I do but tend upon the hours and times of your desire.” In spite of myself, my voice is dramatic and sincere.

“There!” He has turned even Shakespeare to his dark bidding.

“The girls in the choir are only twelve,” I murmur—knowing instantly I have gone too far.

“Church or bus station is immaterial. Now get out.”


A bus idles, spewing soot.

Layla’s eyes light when she sees me.

Uncle Manuel watches from the opposite curb.

I speak oh so softly.

Nancy Ludmerer’s
Issue 6, Fall 2016

stories have appeared in Kenyon Review, Cimarron Review, Literal Latte, The Masters Review (“New Voices” series), and other fine journals. Her flash fiction appears or has won prizes in New Orleans Review, North American Review, Fish Anthology 2015, Southeast Review, Grain, and Night Train. Her flash fiction “First Night,” which appears in River Styx, was also selected for The Best Small Fictions 2016. She lives in New York City with her husband Malcolm and their cat Sandy, a brave survivor of Superstorm Sandy.

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