Micros by Gary Fincke
When Shelly gets to college, she learns that money is as necessary as her half of a room and pre-paid cafeteria meals. That most of her classmates used money like air and water. Repeatedly. Without thinking. Expecting the same from everyone else, including her.
Sure, there was menial work available—in the cafeteria, with a maintenance crew, or, a bit better, as a clerk in the library or a department office. But at minimum wage, Shelly shelved books and updated magazines for three months without changing anything, two weeks wages spent in one day.
She heard about the escorts scattered among older students. She didn’t have the body, she thought. Or the face. Or the indecency. But she remembered how often her feet were praised. How, when she wore sandals, someone would say, “You’re so cute down there with your painted toe nails and smooth skin.”
She could model, a job that had potential. An entrepreneur now, she made a portfolio. She submitted her feet. For a week, she expected agencies to contact her. Or Etsy sellers who needed promotion. Shoe companies. Podiatry websites. Some site besides the ones popular with creeps.
For another month, she waited. She used that time to investigate. If only the weird would pay for her feet, she needed to be sure they never found her. Anonymous wasn’t a perk. Sure, the site charged a 20% fee on all her sales, but it didn’t require an ID, something, even protected, impossible to perfectly secure, even with an anonymous email and only digital payments.
She trimmed her toenails. She practiced poses. The varieties of color and design. Glitter. The ways to seduce and please. How much to charge. If she resisted additional exposure, she was selling such a small part of herself that it wasn’t like selling at all, no different than cleaning up after the rich and careless.
Soles were desired. Close ups. Spread toes were admired. Arches sexy, curves created when she stood on her toes. Or her feet in heels, one sleek shoe dangling near jewelry, flowers or lit candles set along a marble floor.
Her mother had always said “Show your best side.” There were men who hungered for exactly that. They paid to dream, leaving her untouched and unknown. She would never tell on herself, not this beauty she’d become, the best part of her adored.
The History of the Baker’s Dozen
Though he has never short-weighted his bread, the baker knows there are rumors. Air is deceptive, the baked size inexact, but for cookies, cupcakes, doughnuts and sweet rolls, he gives thirteen to the dozen, all those extras insurance against accusations of fraud.
As it’s always been, that gesture is popular, but lately, there’s been grumbling about size, how his sweets are shrinking like candy bars or boxes of sugared cereal. Counting on the power of transparent numbers, he offers fourteen to the dozen. It’s a fool’s count, an out-of-business sacrifice, but his reputation flowers, customers buying in multiples of dozens, gorging themselves on sweet rolls until they begin to grow fat, suspicious about his loss-leaders, sure that the generous numbers for his baker’s dozen must be hiding something.
When the baker, anxious now, stuffs fifteen sugar-rich items in a box, smearing the icing or scattering the powdered sugar, the conspiracy theories multiply. Everyone sees that he is the thinnest man in town. That his size means he avoids his extras. A boycott is called for. His silhouette is a synonym for what the heavy hate.
When he tries sixteen for the price of twelve, the boycott cracks and crumbles. The customers smile and gorge themselves. They lick their fingers, reaching for seconds and thirds, but it’s not long before they bad-mouth him again. Stomachs oozing over their belts like unwatched dough, they curse and call him names. “Thief,” they shout. “Robber,” they scream as they carry their overstuffed boxes away. They refuse to buy his bread. They threaten him online.
When, at last, the baker doubles the dozen, not raising the price, graffiti flourishes on more than the bakery walls. Nothing could account for “Buy one get one free” but fraud. Demonstrations are called for. When out-of-town reporters arrive, the customers protest en masse outside the bakery, holding up signs saying CHEAT and EVIL printed on flattened, grease-stained boxes.
The night that the bakery burns, every customer says that they knew it was only a matter of time until that skinny baker destroyed what used to be a place like paradise. Thirteen had raised suspicion for centuries, but adding to it was proof that corruption prospered among the ovens, cheating secretly stored in the bins and sacks and refrigerators. What’s more, absolutely, without a doubt, and forever certain, nothing but unpardonable sins could be for free.
Gary Fincke‘s newest collection of flash fiction, The Corridors of Longing, has just been published by Pelekinesis Press. The title story was reprinted in Best Small Fictions 2020. He is co-editor of the annual anthology series Best Microfiction.