Rocky is stuck with the rest of them inside the Tin Can, their nickname for Grandma’s house because of its ugly siding and roof, because of the way they jam inside, because of the way it both preserves and ruins them, because it’s where they go in after failing out there.

The Tin Can is chicken nuggets, is pizza rolls, is ramen noodles. The smell is baked into the microwave and the refrigerator and the silverware. If Rocky were to grab a handful of curtains and jam them into his mouth, if he would pull a wad of his sister Stella’s pink hair up to his nose, it would be chicken nuggets, it would be pizza rolls, it would be ramen noodles.

The Tin Can is Grandma at the kitchen table, working on her puzzles. The Tin Can is bodies on the couch, is bodies on the floor, is limited territory. Uncle Dick on one end of the couch and Rocky on the other. Stella on the floor across from them, her head resting on her boyfriend Shaggy’s lap. Toe, Uncle Dick’s baby boy, sitting between them on the floor, those rolling baby eyes inside that rolling baby head bent on learning how to live and where exactly a Toe is supposed to fit?


  1. sara lippmann

    Hi Al, I’m totally obsessed with this. I can’t stop reading and re-reading. Your language is stellar, the writing is so fiercely alive, funny yet honest, rife with sensory details that deliver into this claustrophobic tin can. I love the voice, and the rhythms, and how the language captures the chaos of bodies and entrapment of smells. (Have you ever read THE BEANS OF EGYPT, MAINE?) You do the feral so well. So many lines and images pop, I could quote the whole thing back to you, and I’m just dying that Uncle Dick’s baby’s name is Toe. I mean, what?! That’s so perfect — in one word you give us volumes on world and character.

    I love how there is this play between inside and outside — “because of the way it both preserves and ruins them, because it’s where they go in after failing out there.” This line, paired with the line about Toe learning to live — and how to live, that’s profound. That’s the whole heart. And I’d love to see you push that a hair, perhaps attach it to a particular moment. Rocky stuck inside with the rest of them (having failed outside —but really, perhaps, the outside has failed him??) — why Rocky, today, as opposed to all other days?

    • Al Kratz

      Thanks! These comments are super helpful as well as was the prompt! This is from a short story draft i finished before the class and I had been wanting to redo the start and the prompts and readings and thoughts on language helped me do it in a new way and find some things I hadn’t found yet for these guys.

  2. Constance Malloy

    Al, this is so wonderful. This might be one of my favorite things of yours I’ve read. It’s so tight, so owned by you. By that I mean, I’m clear that you are driving me somewhere with your language and your story and you absolutely know right where you’re taking me, and I just need to hold on for the ride because, dang, it’s gonna be kick-ass fun. Making your characters reek of their environment, and the way you do it, is brilliant. And, yes Toe. Immediately, I’m empathetic and drawn to this tiny creature in all this claustrophobic tin-cannery.

  3. Melanie Haws

    I loved this! I could definitely follow this for a few hundred pages.
    I love the repetition in the first paragraph of “chicken nuggets, pizza rolls, and ramen noodles” and how you open and close with these smells.
    The smells, the overcrowding, the mischief, all while Grandma is working her puzzles. Really great work.

  4. John Steines

    Hello Al. This is very easy to read yet fairly dense with all the sensation, the closeness. I feel stuffed in with them. I love the perspective of the baby wondering how and where to fit in. That’s lovely. The smell of hair as the associated food elements – great. Nice work throughout.

  5. Laurie Marshall

    Oh goodness, the smells, I loved them! And the names, and I picture Toe trying to put his actual TOE in his mouth at the end. LOL

    I echo so many of the other comments, so there’s nothing more to say. Love it. 🙂

  6. April Bradley

    This is so good, Al, so GOOD. “…because of the way it both preserves and ruins them,” and “The Tin Can is Grandma at the kitchen table, working on her puzzles. The Tin Can is bodies on the couch, is bodies on the floor, is limited territory.” Every word is so tight, though. I feel like it’s unfair to single out a few. The end, that toe! Keep going on this, Al. Love it.

  7. Kate Gehan

    This is amazing, Al!!! Your word choice, names, repetition–it’s all aces.

  8. Patricia Bidar

    Just gorgeous. The setting seals them all together here in this place to go after failing, where smells and skins and bodies are mashed tight and grandma sits at the table working her puzzle. So much sensory detail really makes this shine.

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