August 15, 2023

“Featherweight,” A Short Story by Avi Setiawan

“Featherweight,” A Short Story by Avi Setiawan

On a warm day in May, when only a few clouds tripped across the sky like lambs, Gertrude Stocking began to float away.  

It was a clear day, with a sky so blue that it made Gertrude Stocking want to cry. She didn’t cry, though; she felt as if she was stewing in a huge pot of soup. It was that kind of day. 

Gertrude Stocking didn’t notice that she was floating at first, thinking that she was particularly light on her feet on this particular May day. But as she traveled up the street, Gertrude Stocking realized that her feet were no longer touching the ground. She stopped and looked down at her brown patent leather shoes. There was a good half-inch between her soles and the pavement. 

“Well,” said Gertrude Stocking. “Perhaps if I stand very still, I will not go any higher up,” she said, and at that very moment, she rose just a little bit higher.  

Now Gertrude Stocking had to think quickly. She hurried to the nearest shop and ducked inside. And indeed, she had to duck, as she was now six inches above the ground, and Gertrude Stocking, not being any too diminutive in the first place, almost banged her head on the lintel.  

Inside was dark and smelled of mildew and spoiled perfume. The ceiling was low, which was far from ideal considering Gertrude Stocking’s current state. The shopkeeper looked up from his thick, leather-bound book and his teacup filled with some unidentified beverage. A cat leaped off the counter and disappeared into the darkness, startled at the noise. Gertrude Stocking, a foot off the ground and still rising incrementally, looked at him balefully. 

“What have we here?” the shopkeeper asked, retrieving his glasses from the counter. 

“I’m floating,” Gertrude Stocking said. 

“Oh, dear,” the shopkeeper said. “Where are you planning on floating to?” 

Gertrude Stocking tried to close her eyes and count to ten as her mother had taught her. “I’m not planning on floating anywhere,” she explained. “It’s just happening.” As if on cue, Gertrude Stocking’s head tapped lightly against the ceiling. For the first time, she felt a bolt of genuine fear course through her stomach. Might she keep floating forever? 

The shopkeeper was regarding her like she was a particularly interesting algebra problem. “When did it start?” he asked.  

“Just now.” Gertrude Stocking crossed her arms, biting her lip so as not to cry. She was starting to think she would never be able to come down. 

As if reading her mind, the shopkeeper said, “You might never come down.” He frowned. “Perhaps you could stay indoors forever? If you don’t go outdoors, you can’t float away.” 

The ceiling was now close enough that Gertrude Stocking had to duck her head to avoid its being smashed. She felt tears pricking at her eyes. “I don’t want to stay inside forever,” she said. If she stayed inside forever, she’d never see her mother again. She’d never go back to school and sit at her desk which was just a little too small. She’d never see her brown patent leather shoes on the pavement again.  

“Right,” the shopkeeper said. “We’ll just have to get you down then, won’t we? Here.” He handed Gertrude Stocking the heavy, leather-bound book. To her great joy, she sank a few inches. The shopkeeper handed her more books until her feet almost touched the ground again. “There,” the shopkeeper said, stepping back and crossing his arms in satisfaction. 

Gertrude Stocking’s momentary delight was quickly quelled. “But I can’t carry these books forever!” she cried. Her arms had already started hurting. 

But his part done, the shopkeeper had gone back behind the counter and was reading again. He looked up with no small irritation. “Not really my bother, is that?” he said. “Now are you going to buy something, or are you just going to be on your way?” 

Gertrude Stocking huffed and puffed for a few seconds, but the shopkeeper didn’t seem about to help her anymore so, still carrying the books, she floated to the door and nudged it open with her foot. 

“Oh, come on,” a new voice interrupted. “You can’t go outside in your state.” 

The new voice came from the floor. Gertrude Stocking looked down in surprise. She was only more surprised when she saw the cat emerge from the shadows. “What do you mean?” she asked. Today was not a day when Gertrude Stocking had the time to be confused about a talking cat. 

“You’ll float away!” the cat said. They slid below Gertrude Stocking’s floating feet. “And you haven’t paid for those books.” 

“There’s nothing I can do.” Gertrude Stocking felt to be on the edge of tears again.  

The cat snorted, as much as a cat can snort. “There’s always something you can do,” they said. “Think. Think hard.” 

Gertrude Stocking thought. She thought hard. She thought about how much she wanted to go home and walk on the pavement normally and how much she didn’t want to float away. She closed her eyes and imagined being back on the ground.  

She opened her eyes, and she was still floating. She thought again. What had gotten her up here in the first place? Nothing. She’d just been going about her day, not thinking too hard. Then she’d started floating. 

All the thinking eventually coalesced into a growing awareness of the brown patent leather shoes on her feet. They were a little too tight; they pinched. And suddenly Gertrude Stocking was thinking too hard. She felt everything in her body and heard everything around her. When she opened her eyes, everything seemed to be in unusually high relief. And slowly, slowly, she was sinking back down to the ground.  

By the time Gertrude Stocking stopped floating, she had almost forgotten what the ground felt like. She stood for a second, then gingerly put the stack of books back on the counter. “Thank you,” she said to the shopkeeper, who still looked a little offended that she hadn’t had the decency to stop floating with his help. He nodded at her, not looking up from the teacup and the book. To the cat, Gertrude Stocking said, “What does it mean? Why did I come down?” 

The cat shrugged, as much as a cat can shrug. “Sometimes, these things just happen,” they said, and Gertrude Stocking shrugged back and continued on her way, now aware of how her shoes pinched, and how she felt more earthbound than she ever had before. 



Avi K. M. Setiawan is a creator, student, and reader. Their work has been featured in Outrageous Fortune. They may or may not have double jointed thumbs.

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