Shall I Curtsy?


by Melissa L. Amstutz

She’s punching in her number on the time clock as a coworker passes by and says Good Morning. He says Good Morning and like a hex reversed, her aversion to this common nicety, this innocuous phrase, lifts.

She had long been affected by sounds, covering her ears in movie theaters when seated too close to slurps of soda and the smacks of popcorn, requiring music or the TV when eating shared meals. But words, phrases, this had been new.

A lot had been new. Walking into the fifth-floor waiting room of her newly—and not quite officially—ex-husband’s therapist’s office, she saw him sitting pen poised in fingerless-gloved hands above his journal. A checkered scarf sat limply around his neck. He looked up casually, seriously, as if he hadn’t been waiting to pose as a forlorn and hapless chap. Good Morning, he said.

She barfed up her breakfast in reply, blaming it on nerves. But it was the Good Morning. The plump, chapped lips puckering out of an unkempt beard in a froggy morning voice that hadn’t been used since the night before. Or maybe longer. She didn’t know his habits anymore, if talking partners existed or not.

He happened to know she had a partner for more than talking. She couldn’t help that just as much as he couldn’t help being a man who croaked out the nauseating burp of Good Morning. If they weren’t already in the process she would have asked for a divorce right then, in between her retching and apologies to the therapist-turned-janitor. Each of them knew any chance of the therapist’s sympathy for this modern, husband-leaving, girlfriend-having girl was erased with each spray and blot, spray and blot, spray and blot, My God Woman Get A Mop she wanted to say but instead she just excused herself to the bathroom and took a drink straight from the faucet. Upon exiting and without much thought she glanced at the fire alarm, pulled, and gleefully watched the sprinklers. She listened to the lovely hiss as they held their own against the blaring cacophony.

After clocking in and nodding at the polite coworker, she pictures the phrase spelled out, a banner strung between her hands. Good Morning, she practices saying with a smile. Good Morning.


About the Author:

Melissa LAmstutz is a writer, musician, and bookseller. Her work has appeared in Tin House, Ohio Edit, Queen Mob’s Teahouse and Smartish Pace, and was included in The Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2019. Her music videos have been featured on Interview, Nylon and Bust. She received her MFA from NYU and resides in Portland, OR with her wife and animals. Her online home is

Photograph by Bart Everson via Flickr (cc).