‘La Moretta’ by Maggie Shipstead

La Moretta by Maggie Shipstead, 2011

The magic trick:

Building a mystery with the expectation of emotional resolution but never quite delivering any peace

There is a conversation in italics that begins, ends and interrupts the narrative of “La Moretta.” We can assume it is a therapist talking to Bill, the newlywed husband in the story. Or maybe it’s Bill talking to the police. We’re not entirely sure, but we can at least say that the conversation is one after the fact, attempting to find justice, peace or meaning in the events detailed in the main story here.

So it makes sense that the reader adopts a similar frame of mind. We read on expecting to find some kind of justice, peace or meaning. Heck, I was just hoping for some plain facts to be revealed, as we always seem to be chasing some kind of yet-unknown dramatic event.

And the dramatic event is revealed. But where is the justice? The peace? The meaning? I’m not sure. The story leaves the search – for both the reader and the character of Bill – unfulfilled. And that’s quite a trick on Shipstead’s part. 

The selection:

You fell in love with her.
I thought I did.
What do you mean?
It was all poses, and I fell in love with the poses.
She tricked you?
More like I caught her when she was in the middle of shedding a skin.
Let’s get back to the dog.
What about it?
What happened after you kicked it?

Lyla stood and walked quickly away, taking short, angry drags on her cigarette. Bill could see the soldiers watching her, studying the twitch of her ass under her paisley shirtdress. She was wearing red Dr. Scholl’s sandals, and the clipclop of the wooden heels startled some pigeons into flight. Bare toes in a foreign city seemed decadent to Bill, even dangerous, but she had brushed off his concern, remarking that his hiking boots must be sweltering. She disappeared down the alley where the dog had gone, and he went after her, ignoring the soldiers’ smirks. The alley was narrow and sooty and turned several corners before spitting him out onto the edge of a traffic roundabout. Lyla was standing nearby, watching the cars and buses.

“I don’t see him,” she said.

“Don’t worry about him,” Bill said. “Street dogs are wily. Anyway, there’s no shortage.”


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