“Ballad of the Fifty-Foot Woman,” (excerpted) A Short Story by Julia Horwitz

Julia Horwitz’s short story, “Ballad of the Fifty-Foot Woman,” was named runner-up in the 2022 Snarl Prose Contest by final judge Jason Baltazar. You can read the entirety of Horwitz’s story in Snarl’s upcoming Issue 4: Fall 2022, due in November 2022. Below is an excerpt of “Ballad of the Fifty-Foot Woman.” Get your copy of Issue 4 here.

I. You

You’re at a rest stop buying crinkle-cut chips and cherry coke when the headline catches your eye: Giant Footprint Found off US-95.

You add a copy of the tabloid paper to the counter and the teen girl behind it gives you a once-over as she hands you the bag. You don’t have to look down to know the sweat stains on your now-ex’s gray t-shirt are spreading rampantly.

The bag is green plastic, thin enough to read the soda bottle label through it:

Caramel color, phosphoric acid, potassium sorbate.

You’re somewhere between LA and Vegas, a few hours into heartbreak.
The sky is dish-soap blue and way too big.

Just this morning, you woke in her arms—cheek pressed to the window of the spaceship tattoo on her bicep. Your arm hooked under her knee, the downy hairs of her calf bristling your sticky skin.

The sleepover went against the final break in contact you’d both decided was best. But your AC gave out in the middle of a historic heat wave and though you could have texted a list of people before her, you texted her. When you promised you’d sleep on the couch, you tried to mean it.

The next morning, two eggs were starting to bubble at the edges when she stood at the other end of the kitchen and cleared her throat.

“We can’t do this anymore.”

“I know, we won’t. I’ll head back after breakfast.”

“No. I mean it. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

“Yeah after breakfast I’ll—,”

You slid the spatula under the edge of one egg and turned it over. When you flipped the second, it landed on the first so you pushed it to the side, puncturing the yolk. A shock of yellow ran to the edge of the pan, then faded to a chalky butter color.

“I mean now. We decided this.”

“I know, the eggs are almost done.”

“I mean it, I don’t want to be in this position anymore. This has to end today.”

You turned and watched her face crumble. The botched science-fair project of your former love splayed on the kitchen linoleum. You turned off the stove. Time wobbled.

Hot tears in your eyes, still in leopard-print spandex shorts and her grey t-shirt, you grabbed your bag, got in the car, and started to drive. Fast, nowhere in particular.

You knew she was right. You weren’t in love anymore. You’d moved out months ago. You both needed this to be happy. But as sweat dripped down your forehead, you didn’t trust yourself to stay away unless you put physical distance between the two of you.

For fifty miles, you had to pee so bad it felt like your lower body was about to detach and burst, sending you swerving into the shoulder of the highway.

Eventually, you pulled over to piss in an empty Big Gulp cup. Because you couldn’t find the lid, and because you didn’t know what else to do, you put it in the cup holder. Eventually, the combined smell of urine nearly sloshing over the lip of the cup and your own sweat, soaking the t-shirt to black, was unbearable. You pulled into the rest stop parking lot where you could throw away the cup and buy a bottle of something cold. And that’s how we got here: Desert Digest in your lap.

You take a long sip of soda, sending static over the dry, red gash of your throat. You look yourself in the rearview mirror: face puffy from weeping, eyes delirious. You shove a handful of chips into your mouth and study the black and white picture in your lap: a footprint—five distinct toes. The caption asks, “Hoax or Proof at Last?”

You turn the key in the ignition and your car rockets further north.

II. Her

The fifty-foot woman—fifty-three if you count the beehive updo—paints her toenails with Candy Apple car paint. The aerosol can: tiny between her thumb and forefinger. She applies slight pressure to the nozzle, painting her big toe in three deft marks.

The sky shifts from blue to magenta, then dips to purple. The fifty-foot woman extends a boulder-smooth leg off the ledge she’s perched on. The sun sets over the canyons below. The waning light picks up flecks of violet and maroon stirred into the red polish.

She paints the rest of her toes, unhurried by the darkening sky.

What’s an hour when you’re four stories tall? What’s the passage of time when your hair is teased to the heavens and smoothed over with enough wax to shine a dive-bar floor corner to corner?

She adjusts a sink-pipe hairpin, anchoring her globe of golden hair against laws of nature.

It wasn’t always this way. Once, she was a five-two woman who didn’t bother painting her toenails. If she did, it was bleary-eyed and outside-the-lines, watching Real Housewives, wedged between the cushions of a sour-milk-smelling couch.

The five-two woman lived somewhere Out East and worked at an art supply shop, selling tubes of oil paint to stick-n-poked students and suburban moms on a mission to express themselves.

She took the job because it felt in line with her promise to herself to “take her art seriously” and, in theory, gave her the mental space to work on sculptures.

In reality, her skin grew sallow and she assembled and disassembled a baby doll head on a plastic Venus flytrap plant for almost a year. She fell in love and got dumped twice in quick succession. The sculptor—who wasn’t making any sculptures—sat in her parked car and licked frozen M&M’s off the length of a McFlurry spoon.

Fine, she said to nobody, and decided she should move far away.

A friend-of-a-friend knew a guy in Vegas who restored old slot machines and needed an assistant. The five-two woman lied and said she had experience.
She drove for almost two days straight, eating potato chips, licking the grease off her fingers, then her spit-covered fingers on an exceedingly-disgusting pair of jeans.

She was fired quickly because she did not, of course, know how to restore slot machines, so she got a job at a sex shop with red-velvet walls and a huge neon sign of a pinup girl in a cowboy hat.

“It’s actually not neon,” her coworker PJ explained, “it’s LED. Most of the signs on the strip aren’t real neon anymore.” She was from here and knew that kind of thing.

PJ kept her hair in an impeccable jet-black shag, danced at a club called the Peppermint Room a few nights a week, and painted gigantic nude self portraits. Work was best when they had shifts together because they could talk about what they were working on. It made the five-two woman feel accountable to making enough progress on her sculptures that she’d have a picture of something to show PJ by their next shift.

At that point, the five-two woman’s sculptures were mostly six-inch-tall women made from different parts of different dolls. But one day, the family who lived next to her in the coral apartment complex moved out and left a bunch of shit on the curb.

The five-two woman took a pink and purple Barbie house, plastic faded and warped in the sun. The house had peeling stickers on the inside to make it look full of things: a kitchen with an egg frying on the stove, pink curtains, a window with an orange tree outside.

She painted yellow wallpaper over it and used liquid acrylic to make a half-inch glass of spilled milk. It sat on the plastic floor, cracked in an eternal puddle. She added a dot of red on the kitchen table. Little suggestions of something gone very, very wrong.

At the sex shop, she took bottles of strawberry-flavored lube off the shelf, dusted under them, and put them back again so their labeled bellies pointed straight ahead.

She bought eight-inch heels with her employee discount. The soles were made of transparent pink plastic filled with confetti that fluttered when she walked. There was a pole in the store and when things were dead, PJ tried to show her how to hook the heel around the pole and hold on with her upper thighs, but she wasn’t very good.

She liked to wear them when she worked, though. Suddenly a six-foot woman in drugstore magnifying glasses, she attached a very small pad of butter to a very small piece of toast.

To read more, order a print copy or digital copy of Issue 4 now!

Julia Horwitz’s stories appear in Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Mount Hope, and Shift: A Journal of Literary Oddities. Currently, she is revising a novel-length work of horror about wax sculptures. She lives in Providence, RI and works as elementary school teacher by day. You can follow her work at @lunchmeatlezzie on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: