Dictionary Stories

Very short stories composed of example sentences from various dictionaries.

All stories based on ‘New Oxford American Dictionary’—

Chin Up

As late afternoon merged imperceptibly into early evening, a warm September evening, I went for a long walk. A peaceful riverside amble before dark, where the blackwood, the box, and the bastard oak grew. Needed a change of scene.

The murmur of bees in the rhododendrons. 

The birds tweeting in the branches.

Planes passed overhead. 

A car horn.

A flourish of trumpet. 

The scratch of a match lighting a cigarette. (I have many vices but smoking is the big one. I blame you for that.)

There were echoes and scents that awoke some memory in me—we went for a swim in the river, but the water was a touch too chilly for us. The weather was terrible, do you remember? It was raining hard. We took a bus back to the city center, wet clothes dripping onto the floor. 

Where are you living now? Are you all right? Are you keeping company with anyone special these days? Have you lost your taste for fancy restaurants?

Your problems seem larger than life at that time of night. With a suspicion of a smile, I strolled around, muttering to myself, you’ll be okay, kiddo

In the Beginning

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, artisanal cheeses, the bleakness of winter, morse code, deviled eggs, erogenous zones, the feeling of fullness you acquire from eating brown rice, gendered occupations, healthy competition, copyright infringement, cherries jubilee, kicky high-heeled boots, lite beer, misshapen fruit, nonsense poetry, oral hygiene, postmodernist theory, quaint country cottages, roller hockey, scented soap, acid trips, unbridled lust, vegetative spores, whitewater rafting, xenophobia, young love, and zippy new sedans. Then he dried up and Phil couldn’t get another word out of him. 

Madame Eva

“You'll never amount to anything.” Her voice was flat and emotionless.

They sat looking at each other without speaking. He slapped down a fiver. She considered him coolly for a moment. Madame Eva bent once more over the crystal ball. Her eyes dilated in the dark. She sat back and exhaled deeply. 

“You'll get used to it.”

My True Love Gave to Me

Twelve labours of Hercules,
Eleven gallons of diesel,
Ten head of cattle,
Nine breeding pairs of birds, 
Eight Mbytes of memory,
Six months of unclouded happiness,
Five venturous young men,
Four slices of bread, 
Three spoons of sugar, 
Two fundamentally different concepts of democracy, 
And a sin in the eyes of God.

Barbara

The whole world seemed to be sleeping, apart from Barbara. She found herself in bed in a strange place—a research station in the rain forest, a bird sanctuaryabandoning herself to moony fantasies: A research biologist with impeccable credentials was fingered for team leader, and she had been deputed to look after him while Clarissa was away. He had charm, good looks, and an amusing insouciance; she had a thing about men who wore glasses, men of culture, men with passions unruled. She had had plenty of flirtations—now she had fallen in love. Color bloomed in her cheeks. He leaned forward to take her hand. She looked down, terrified that he would read fear on her face—

A sudden sound in the doorway startled her. A shiver shook her slim frame. She lodged this idea in the back of her mind for future reference.

What He Is

He’s a deeply sick man from whom society needs to be protected. He’s an egotistical, mean-spirited, abusive man. He’s a lying, cheating, snake in the grass. He’s a treacherous brain-damaged old vulture. He’s emerged as a racist and an anti-feminist. He’s a shameless publicity seeker. He’s arrogant and opinionated. He’s all talk. He’s a bumbling fool. He’s a real character. He’s a bit of a womanizer. He’s by no means the only senior politician who has mislaid his moral compass. He’s being unfairly ganged up on. He’s as devious as a politician needs to be. He’s a good guy at heart. He’s a very strong leader, very presidential in his performance. He’s very much a man of the people. After a while, you get used to it.

Spy vs. Spy vs. Spy vs. Spy

The double life of a freelance secret agent? My nerves are shot. This is all getting too deep for me. At about ten at night, I got a call. A cold, dead voice. He told me my telephones were tapped and I was being watched—they see me as a traitor, a sellout to the enemy.

     I never thought Stash would rat on me. Times have changed. He had seen which way the wind was blowing. How cold and calculating he was. Little did he know what wheels he was putting into motion.

     Trusting to the cover of night, I ventured out. I went to see Caroline, but nobody was at home. The garden was overgrown and deserted. Mary vanished without a trace. Lizzie seemed to vanish into thin air, as if her presence were merely notional. I should never have trusted her.

     My own friends sold me down the river. A cabal of dissidents. A pack of wolves baying at the moon. It looked like curtains for me.

Ruthie

I’ve got a sick cousin over Fayetteville way. Her sight’s none too good. I rang her this morning; she said she missed me something fierce.

Her boyfriend left her for another woman. I heard tell that he went out west. She grew her hair long, decided to change her name, moved into that barn of a house. After the accident she didn’t feel up to driving. She took to her room and was not at home to friends.

It was easier in the old days. We had a good time, animals in close confinement. We used to go hunting. We done a lot of rodeoin’. We were always within sound of the train whistles, the lowing of cattle, the distant bark of some farm dog, the spit and hiss of a cornered cat, tunes in waltz time… Childhood seemed to last forever. I will never ever forget it.

I’d better give her a ring tomorrow.

Young Monarchs

She parted the ferns and looked between them. She had completely forgotten how tired and hungry she was. Her robe, beaver wool, trailed along the ground. Running away was not in keeping with her character. She signaled Charlotte to be silent—she trailed behind, whimpering at intervals.

The whole town was heavily fortified: A fast-moving river, a dark, impenetrable forest, a wall of silence. The gates were guarded by uniformed soldiers. A line of watchfires stretched away into the night. The eastern boundary of the wilderness.

They arranged to meet at eleven o’clock. There was still no sign of her. The wind had shifted to the east. There must be something wrong.

The distress call had given the ship’s position: The fishermen were steering a direct course for Kodiak. He held onto the back of a chair. His old fears came flooding back. He was not a strong swimmer. 

Instructions for Assembly

1. Take a square of sandpaper, rough side out.
2. Sand the rusty areas until you expose bare metal.
3. You can’t hold yourself responsible for what happened.
4. Smooth over with a cloth, applying even pressure.
5. Drill holes through the tiles for the masonry pins.
6. The inquiry blamed the engineer for the accident.
7. Screw the hinge to your new door.
8. Ensure that the baseboard is straight and plumb.
9. It was his fault she had died.
10. Nail the edge framing to the wall.

Underlined words are those responsible for each example sentence.