about the author

Robin Small lives in New Hampshire. She writes poetry, short and flash fiction, and has completed two novels. She does not like to stay indoors, or sit still, but is fond of long-dead Russian writers, philosophy, quantum physics, running, biking, coffee, and commas.

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Let’s Talk About Orbital Sanders

Robin Small

“It says, ‘The door snicked shut.’ Yes, so what?” Todd asked. He leaned closer to the page. I shifted my body back, and pointed at the word “snicked.” We’re divorced now, so he understands me. I don’t need to say anything, which works out well since I don’t speak. ‘Selective mutism,’ officially. I can speak. I just don’t.

“Yes, so?” Todd asked.

I shrugged.

He frowned, but his eyes were laughing “That’s it?” It was Monday, so I wasn’t expecting to see him today, he has our boy every other weekend and Wednesday nights.

He sighed. “Of course, it’s a great verb.”

I put the manuscript back down on my table. I found the table free at the town swap shop, it fit my single parent budget. Todd lent me his sander, so I guess that means we shared joint custody of our boy and the power tools. It was an orbital sander and it left the tabletop so soft and smooth and warm from friction that it felt like skin.

I’m comfortable with power tools, and maybe too independent. So, I was embarrassed for days after I wrote a note to the guy at Home Depot asking for sandpaper for my ‘ocular’ sander instead of ‘orbital’ sander. Then, I wondered, what might an ocular sander accomplish? A tiny eye—lens sander, a chance to see old things with new eyes? No such thing, though. The table was stained English Chestnut now, the color of dark beer.

“I know it’s your night with Graham, but I got free tickets to the Celtics.”

Todd was watching my reaction. I took my phone out.

“Yes, I guess I could have texted.”

I turned my palm up. He sighed, “Okay, I wouldn’t want to show up while you had a date over, but there was no car in the driveway. So.”

Mutism doesn’t interfere with dating as much as you would think. I have pretty hair and a communicative smile. The trouble is, people talk so much. It’s a monumental waste, filling rooms and buildings and streets with sounds of so many voices. For what?

“So?” Todd said. I admired his use of one-word sentences. I gave a reluctant nod.

I avoided looking at my boy, at the roundness of his cheeks and the smallness of his wiry frame. He was excited to be going with his dad, and questions bubbled out of his mouth. Graham uses his voice like a bird, conveying emotions and moods through the notes and tempo and pitch.

“Bye Mum,” he said, Todd closed the door behind. Silence spread through the house. Something was stuck to the bottom of my bare foot. I peeled it off; a googly eye. Now I saw googly eyes all over the kitchen floor, from Graham’s economy bag of googly eyes. Spilled plastic eyes stared up at the ceiling at various slants, collective gaze all askew.

“I know what you’re saying,” I laughed, and stopped before the sound of my own voice could unnerve me. The floor under the eyes was pretty beat up, wide pine and nice once. This summer, I could sand it down and refinish it. Maybe rent a floor sander from Home Depot, and borrow Todd’s ocular sander for the edges. This operation is pretty low budget, but it’s mine. You know what I’m saying, don’t you?

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