Hey There

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I would have become a singer if it weren’t for Dorothy. I had the looks for it, if a bit blousy, and I certainly had the pipes. Just humming to myself while I shopped at the market had a way of making everything go quiet as people stopped what they were doing to listen. My blonde hair could look faded as Mother was quick to remind me but that could be fixed with a good rinse. What I really wanted in my heart of hearts was to be a torch singer.

I wanted to be Rosemary Clooney, standing on that velvet stage in a tight black satin number, like she was in that Christmas movie. I’d switch the gloves, they didn’t work it was the color or something and made her hands look huge, like a man’s hands. It was the strangest thing. But oh her voice! It was so smooth and warm and invited you in…like she was opening the door and so very happy to see you. Nobody but nobody sang like Rosie. My voice was nothing like hers, but I think I could have that welcoming tone too, if I kept working at it. Oh, I had such dreams.

The very first record I ever owned was her song Hey There and I played it over and over. I eventually wore it out, but by then I knew every nuance. I’d lie on the floor of my bedroom, eyes closed and humming along, picturing myself on a grand stage dressed oh so elegantly. I was only 15 at the time but I was already tired of being just a kid. I wanted to be grown up and get to do everything adults get to do.

My brother’s friend Mike liked to tease me about my obsession with Rosie and that song. He’d stop by to visit my brother and poke his head in the door to my bedroom, not even knocking and scold me about playing it so much.

There’s other songs in the universe, Alice, he’d say.

Ah, go away, I’d say.

He would pretend to be hurt and slink off, shutting the door behind him. I would usually go to the record player and turn it up even louder, until Mother would pound on the ceiling of the kitchen with a broomstick to make me turn it down. Unfortunately the kitchen was right below my bedroom. She’d also pound with the broomstick to tell me it was time to come down for supper, since I couldn’t hear her yelling up the stairs.

Two years later I was 17 and I’d cut my hair shorter so it curled around my face. Long hair was for girls and I wasn’t a girl anymore or at least that’s what I thought. I’d saved up enough money to buy a few more records, much to the relief of my family, who was sick and tired of hearing HEY THERE. Quite frankly, I’m surprised my brother didn’t use it for target practice.

Mike was still coming around and he was still teasing me, but there was a different thing going on. He’d started dressing sharply and really taking care with his appearance. He’d bought his first car and we could hear it blocks away before he got to our house. There were times he actually acted shy around me which I didn’t understand. I was still me, He was still him.

One evening I was sitting on the front porch singing the refrain to the newest song I’d acquired. I couldn’t quite get the pitch right and I kept forgetting the second line, but other than that I think I sounded okay. Nobody was around so I could mess up as much as I liked. I could hear Mike’s car approaching and then he pulled into the driveway. He looked really nice, hair slicked back and freshly ironed trousers. Instead of going inside the house, he sat on the porch with me.

I stopped singing as he walked up the porch steps but he said please don’t stop on account of me. So I kept singing, a bit louder now that he was there. Miracle of miracles I remembered all the lyrics. After I finished he was quiet for a minute or two and then he asked if I would like to go to the movies with him that Friday.

Like a date, or like friends? I asked.

Like a date, silly, he said. You have to know that I am sweet on you and have been for some time.

Well, yes I think I did know, I said.

I thought you might. And I am hoping that you might be sweet on me too.

Well, yes I think I am.

We grinned at each other and he reached over and took my hand in his. And that’s how it all started, or maybe not started but sweetened up, like ripe fruit that’s been in the warm sun. We just took to each other, it was so easy and yes so sweet, although I think I am using that word too much, but it’s the perfect word. Sweet.

We married a year later and then Dorothy came along a year after that and I never did become that torch singer, although I do still sing through out my day. I like to blame it on Dorothy because you can’t be a torch singer with a little kid on your hip, but really, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

(for my mom, who loves Rosie)

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Tansy Dancing

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The lantern light was flickering its last light as she drew the heavy curtains together. She welcomed the shadows that darkened the corners of the room. She wanted the room dark. It helped her to think. In sunlight there were too many distractions in the room, from the collection of beautiful china figurines on the mantel to the sparkles in the chandelier. Her bedroom was a sumptuous candy box, designed to delight the eye. It was ironic, she thought, how much it felt like a prison instead.

There was a knock on the door and her youngest brother came in.

Why so dark in here, Katy? he asked.

Ah, the better to practice my shadow dancing, she said, and dipped to a curtsy.

Camden laughed. You did promise to teach me properly a tansy dance, he said.

Now why do you need to learn a tansy dance at the advanced age of 12, do tell me this.

I’ll tell you if you teach me right here and now.

I might at that, she said and wiggled a finger at him.

Camden was a tall lanky lad and looked much older than 12. He might have looked as old as 14, especially when he had a stern look, like he did right then. She smiled to herself and held out her left hand. Let’s go then, she said.

He took her hand and bowed to her. No bowing until the dance is over, Katy said.

She swayed back and forth, from left to right and then lightly danced forward until she was very close. Tansy dancing mimics the tall flowers in the breeze, she said. It’s more swaying than kicking up your feet. Do what I do as I do it. She swayed slowly to the left and he followed and then followed her movement to the right.

That’s right, you’ve got it, she said. Lean back as I lean forward. Then lean forward. Just take small steps. No jerking of your body, just smooth, like rippling wind.

They moved together until Katy thought he’d mastered the dance. Brilliant, she said. Time for you to tell me why.

Camden dropped her hand and took a step back. I don’t really know why, he said. Mother just asked me to learn it.

Katy stuck her hands in the folds of her skirt and clenched them into fists. Their mother had left the family and moved to another part of the city, where they had heard that she was scheming things, what things they weren’t quite sure, but not good things. They were sure of that.

When did you see Mother?

I didn’t see her. Haven’t since she left. She sends me notes. She’s asked me twice about the tansy dance and that’s why I asked you. He scrambled around in his pants pocket. Here’s the note.

She took it reluctantly. It was written on a piece of coarse paper, the kind shopkeepers use to tally up purchases. It was her mother’s signature. But the note wasn’t written by her Mother.

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Your Perfect Sleep

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There was something not quite right about the window. He couldn’t shake the feeling that the window, or something in the window was watching him as he walked by each day on the way to school. He knew it was silly to think that a window could watch you but something was. He just knew it. He tried not to look as he walked by but he could feel it.

It was an empty brick storefront with a large plate glass window on the left side of the door. It had been several things over the years Raymond had walked by, a small mattress store, a tobacco shop, even a police outreach center. He’d liked to peer inside when it had been a tobacco shop, looking at all the interesting things on close packed shelves. He tried to peek when the owner was in the back of the shop because if the owner saw him he’d walk briskly to the front door and make threatening motions with his hands, and Raymond would scamper off. The scary thing about the tobacco shop owner was his huge gray mustache. It was like something menacing living on his face and Raymond had had a few nightmares about the shopkeeper grabbing him and yelling at him, that mustache spitting venom at him that burned as it hit his face. But somehow he was still drawn to peek in through the window.

There were never any customers in the shop anytime Raymond walked by. In fact when it was a mattress shop and the police outreach center there was never anyone inside at all. The mattress shop had several mattresses, a desk in the corner, and enticing signs hanging from the ceiling and across the door and window. YOUR PERFECT SLEEP IS RIGHT INSIDE. BEST PRICES IN TOWN. WE BEAT ANYONE’S PRICES. But no customers and no sales staff, as far as Raymond could tell. It was a mystery.

When it was a police outreach center there were also enticing posters on the window and front door. THE POLICE ARE YOUR FRIEND. HELP US MAKE THE COMMUNITY BETTER. FREE SODA AND SNACKS. JUNIOR BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT SOON. There were some tables and chairs scattered about, a mini frig and a snack table in one corner, and a basketball hoop at the back end of the building. It seemed rather haphazard. No police officers inside or any other adults or kids. Always empty.

And now it was really empty. Just a couple of crumpled soda cans by one wall, and a deflated basketball lying on the bare floor. There was no reason to look in there any more, but Raymond knew something was looking out.

Raymond had been walking by the storefront for several years, twice a day. The times changed because his school schedule was erratic and he had some after school events that varied too, so he saw the storefront at many different times during the day. The only time he hadn’t seen it was at night. He was afraid to walk by it at night.

What worried him the most is that he never saw the changes happen. One day it was a tobacco shop, the next day it was empty. It was a mattress shop for six months, and then one day it was empty. He never saw anything carried in the building. He never saw anything carried out of the building. The only person he’d ever seen in the building over the several years he’d started paying attention was the mustached tobacco shop owner.

Raymond gathered up his courage and walked over to the window to peer in. There was dust on the floor, and in the dust there was a set of footprints. They started at the back of the shop and ended about five feet from the window he was looking in. There were no footprints leading away from the window. As he watched, two more footprints appeared, closer to the window. Closer to him. A few seconds later, another set of footprints, just a foot from the window. He couldn’t move. The glass on the window moved slightly towards him. Somehow he took a step back. And then another.

He clutched his backpack in his left hand, turning away and he began to run. Behind him, he could hear a small bell tinkle, as the shop door opened.

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Kitchen Cupboards

brown wooden kitchen cupboards

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The best way to cut the woman down to size would be to flirt with her husband but I didn’t want to do that. Two wrongs didn’t make a right. Or at least that’s how I was consoling myself.  With that thought among others and a double shot of apricot liquor.  I found the apricot liquor while rummaging around in the cupboard above the bar sink. It was probably rude to be looking through the cupboards but I was past the point of caring.

Serves me right for marrying such a handsome man, I thought to myself as I wryly observed my husband, with a woman on either side of him, both playing with their hair and laughing coquettishly at everything he said. He looked over at me and winked and I winked back before turning to go into the kitchen.  The party had reached a point where the kitchen was one of the more quiet places to be, empty except for a man rinsing his glass out at the sink.

I started opening up cupboard doors and peering at the contents, playing a little game with myself. The hostess seemed like the kind of woman who’d have 5 different flavors of artisan salt…and oh yes, there they were, at least 7 of them in the small cupboard next to the stove. I laughed out loud.

“Tell me the joke,” said the man at the sink.

“You won’t think it’s funny,” I said.

“Try me.”

“I like to guess what my hostess has in her kitchen cupboards and I guessed lots of salt and look….lots of different kinds of salt. That was funny to me.”

“Yes, I can see why you found that amusing,” said the man. “Can I play?”

“Please do,” I said.

“She looks like she might have a stash of diet soda.  I will go one step further and say that she drinks Diet Pepsi, never Diet Coke.”

I laughed. “Now there’s a serious allegation. Prove it.”

He opened up several lower cabinets, before spinning around with a flourish to show me a lower cupboard filled with 2 liter bottles of Diet Pepsi.

I whistled. “You seem to have a gift for this game,” I said. “I am not sure I can top that.”

“You have to at least try.”

I gave a dramatic sigh and then smiled. “For my grand finale, I am guessing that she has not one, not two, not three, but four wine bottle openers.”

I opened the drawer next to the sink and pulled out four wine bottle openers.

“Bravo,” the man said. “I don’t know how you did it, but hats off to you.”

“When you’re good, you’re good,” I said, and smiled to myself. When I wasn’t wearing my catering apron I had fun blending in with the guests towards the end of the party. While my handsome husband signed up flirty women for our next catering gig, I had fun my own way and none the wiser.

He stepped closer. “Let’s continue the game upstairs.  I bet I can guess what’s in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Or perhaps the bedroom nightstand?”

“Oh no,” I said, and took a step back. “I like to stick to the kitchen. Too intrusive otherwise.” I glanced out into the main room but my husband wasn’t facing my direction.

“Well, the kitchen can be fun too,” the man said.

I gave him a stern look and shook my finger at him. “That’ll be enough of that,” I said.

He flung his hands up. “wha…wha….what did I do?  I was just trying to have a fun conversation.”

“Oh and we were…such a fun conversation,” I said. “but you were getting a little out of line and I had to bring out my inner school teacher.”

“So many things to say,” he said. “But I will get into trouble if I say any of them. Damn.”

“So don’t say any of them. That’s my advice.” I smiled.

“Maybe I just need another beer.”

“Done,” I said, opening the frig to hand him a bottle.

“Thanks Miss School teacher,” he said. ‘Your husband is a lucky man.”

“Lucky AND handsome,” I said, walking out of the kitchen. “And sometimes they are the exact same thing.”

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Goodbye Atlanta

Atlanta I’m going to miss you. I’ve been visiting your AmericasMart wholesale market for 15 years!  I’ve loved your Southern hospitality and your Southern food. I will miss eating at Pitty Pat’s Porch and having a burger from your world famous Varsity drive-in restaurant the last night of every market. It was such a treat.


But I have to break that tradition and go somewhere else next January. It was a very difficult decision to make but I have decided to go to the Vegas Market instead. You see, I just can’t financially support the decisions the politicians in your state have made. Your leaders voted to take away a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body and I find that intolerable. Your leaders want to take away women’s right to make decisions about her pregnancy. Your leaders want to force women to give birth against their will.


I’m going to share something very private with you. I’ve had four miscarriages. I really wanted a child but wasn’t able to have one. Each miscarriage was physically and emotionally wrenching. I’ve tried to imagine the added horror of being dragged to court to prove that these miscarriages were natural and not self-induced and I just can’t. That’s the path we are headed down, and I’ve read that this is already happening in certain states.  Women are being criminally investigated when they miscarry. This might possibly start happening in your state. Soon. And I can’t live with that.


I don’t live in Georgia so I can’t vote there. I am not close enough to march or go to protests. But what I can do is vote with my money. The 3-4 thousand I spend in Atlanta every January may seem like a drop in the bucket, but if enough of us stop spending in Georgia perhaps it will make a difference.


When a woman needs an abortion, she will get one, legal or not. It’s been happening for thousands of years. I’ll be damned if I will sit back and let women be forced to drink bleach or throw themselves down stairs or use wire coat hangers on themselves. I’m going to do what I can to make sure that doesn’t happen.


Goodbye Atlanta. I’ll be back when women in your state are treated with respect and compassion. When babies and children are given as much attention and concern by politicians as is given now to the abortion issue. When your children are nourished and cherished by your leaders as much as a 6-week-old cluster of cells in a uterus. When your politicians finally get their priorities straight.

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Jimsy and the Shoelaces

selective photo of brown pet paw

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As she stopped to catch her breath, she looked back to see if the cat was still following her. There were cat-missing posters on several street corners on the way she walked to the park, but this was a different cat, not calico like the missing cat but an orange tabby. She hadn’t seen this cat before. The tabby walked when she walked and stopped when she stopped, staying about 15 feet behind her brisk pace.

It hadn’t rained for an hour but there were still lots of puddles and she liked to kick through them in her polka dot rain boots, swinging her umbrella. The tabby didn’t avoid the puddles, which was odd in itself as cats didn’t usually like water. It walked through them, its paws sodden and small. Poor thing, she thought, and turned to face the cat.

“Come here kitty kitty dear,” she called. The cat sat and looked at her. She took a step towards the cat and the cat slunk backwards.

“So that’s how it is,” she said. “Let’s go for a walk then, shall we?”

She turned and walked towards the park, the cat following. She was a bit worried when she crossed a street with frequent cars, but the cat waited until the cars had passed and then continued to follow her. As she walked she thought about the several wonderful cat companions she’d had over the past 60 years and her eyes misted over. It was natural to feel melancholy on such a gray day and dwell on past sorrows and she’d positively gotten glummy by the time she reached the park. The cat was still behind her.

She sat on a park bench, not caring that it was speckled with rain drops. She laid the closed umbrella on the bench beside her and looked out at the lake. The water was gray, just like the sky. Even the ducks floating on the water near the edge of the lake looked forlorn.  Something brushed her calf.

The cat sat at her feet, looking up at her. “Hi,” she breathed softly and slowly reached out her hand. The cat rubbed against her hand. “Aren’t you a dear.” She petted the cat for a few minutes and then the cat jumped up on the park bench and sat beside her, purring. As she ran her hand over the cat, her hand caught on a collar around the cats neck. There was a small charm hanging from the collar. She bent closer to read the engraving.


She caught her breath. Jimsy was the nickname she’d given her brother Jim over 40 years ago. He’d died 4 years ago in a car accident. She didn’t know what to think of this.

“Is it you Jimsy?” she said to the cat. She couldn’t believe she was asking this question. Was this her brother coming back as a cat? She didn’t really believe in reincarnation. And besides, he’d never even liked cats.

The cat looked away. “No?” she said. “Well then did Jimsy send you to me?”

The cat rubbed its face against her hand and then stood up to leap off the bench. It batted at the shoelace on her right shoe, catching it in a claw and pulling the lace to unlace her shoe.

“You rascal you,” she said. The cat sat in front of her, intently looking at her. It reached out a paw and deftly pulled the other shoelace loose.  She laughed.

“Now I know Jimsy sent you to me,” she said. “He was always such a prankster.”

The cat looked at her and then began to walk away from her, down the park path. It stopped after a dozen feet and turned to look at her. One eye closed in a wink. And then the orange tabby cat sauntered away, its tail twisking back and forth like a waving hand.


(For George-I know you loved me. You are missed.)

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A Fine Juncture

black and white spider

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She had to find the necklace, before the guards came into the room. She knew her mother had hidden it somewhere, trying to be clever, but wanting it close to where her mother spent the majority of her days.  There was an ornate chair by the fireplace, where her mother held counsel with the frequent visitors.  She brushed her hand under the cushions and into the crevices of the chair but no necklace.

She stood still for a moment. THINK KATE THINK she scolded herself. She sat down in the chair. She could smell her mother’s perfume…strong clove notes and an underlying slight stench of rotting leaves. Katy looked about the room, lingering on the bed in the far corner and the various trunks and chest of drawers. There was a large standing bird cage by the near window, the window panes grimy with fingerprints and smeared nose prints. Were people looking in, or trying to get out? She wasn’t sure she wanted to know. There was something moving in the bird cage.

She went to the bird cage, and then stepped back as something came out of the woven basket enclosure at the bottom. It was a black furred Snerral, about the size of a large pear, with more legs than usual and large unblinking eyes. It peered up at her.

“Hello you,” she said. “Aren’t you a lovely boy.” She tried to keep her voice from shaking.

If  only Malicson were here, she thought. He had no fear of small crawling creatures, even ones with fangs, like Snerrals. But Malicson had created a diversion to get her into this room and her mother out of it and this might be her only chance.

She felt around in her skirt pockets and pulled out a small piece of dried meat. She tore it into little pieces and began to drop them into the cage. As the Snerral ate each one she’d drop another. She opened the door of the bird cage.

I can’t even conceive that I am doing this, she thought and slowly moved her right hand into the cage, near the Snerral. She stood motionless as the Snerral moved slowly to her hand and then one leg after another climbed onto the back of her hand. Its coarse fur scratched her skin and inwardly she shuddered. She slowly pulled her hand out of the cage and moved her hand to the window sill and rested it there.  She took her left hand and reached into the cage, feeling under the enclosure. Her hand closed around a metal object and she pulled out a dangling necklace, a dark blue large stone glowing from the pendant.

She felt the Snerral moving and then a sharp pain in her right hand. It had bitten her. She thrust the hand back into the cage, shaking the Snerral off and slamming the door shut. Her hand was throbbing and she felt light headed.

Malicson where are you, she thought and dropped to her knees. She slipped the necklace into the bodice of her dress, between her breasts, and swayed back and forth. The room was blurry. Oh this is a fine juncture, she thought.

She could hear steps in the hallway outside the room and then the carved wood door opened. Malicson  was standing in the doorway.


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Breakfast with Lou Ann


white ceramic cup on saucer

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He was older than she’d thought he would be when she had glanced at the photo of him in the newspaper. In person there were more gray hairs at his temples and some grizzling along his jawline which was not unattractive. He sat across the restaurant from her, with a sallow faced young woman, scowling a bit as he looked down to stir his coffee. Of course the newspaper could have used an old photograph of him.

Nobody else in the restaurant seemed to recognize him. Her husband Gregory sat across from her, preoccupied with his cellphone as he nibbled on a piece of toast. She gently cleared her throat and Gregory looked up.

“Don’t look now,” she said, “but isn’t that Roberto Talenski?”


“Roberto Talenski. The man who rescued all those children from the sinkhole at the school in New Mexico last weekend. He was on the news. It was in the newspaper.”

“You keep up on those things much more than I do,” her husband said mildly.

She sighed. “It was kind of a big deal,” she said. “He carried most of them out himself. He helped lift the few remaining ones out too. He’s a big hero. BIG hero.”

Gregory glanced across the restaurant. “He seems like an ordinary guy.”

“Well that’s what’s so wonderful about it. He’s not a firefighter, he’s an accountant. Just a normal guy who performed a heroic act when he was called upon to do so. It was really amazing what he did.”

“You want to talk to him I bet,” her husband said.

“No, I don’t want to bother him. But I have an idea. Let’s buy his meal. It would be a way to thank him for what he did.”

“That’s a splendid idea,” said Gregory, and signaled the waitress over to their table. He explained to her what they wanted to do and the waitress went across the room and talked to the man, gesturing back to them. They waved at him. He didn’t wave back.

He shook his head no and made a shooing motion with his hand. The waitress backed away and came to their table.

“He doesn’t want you to buy his meal,” she said.

She didn’t know what to say and blinked away tears. One ran down her cheek and she swiped at it with the back of her hand. The man was watching her and pushed back his chair to come over to them.

” I didn’t mean to make you cry,” he said. “I can’t accept your offer, that’s all. I am not Roberto and I am having a crappy morning and I should have thanked you for the gesture and I didn’t.”

“Oh,” she said. “Oh I feel so stupid now.”

“Don’t feel stupid,” the man said. He pulled out a chair and sat down at their table. “I am flattered, now that I think about it. I haven’t done anything especially heroic lately. ” He looked over at the young woman and then back at them.

“I just, I just…..this is so hard to put into words,” she said. “I just was so excited to see a real hero. We have a real shortage of heroes right now in our world, and so many people behaving so badly, and I guess I just wanted to believe.”

Her husband reached over and took her hand. “I love that about you darling.”

“Can I ask you something?” she said. Why are you having a crappy morning?”

He hesitated, looking over at the young woman. “It’s my daughter. She just told me she’s going to quit school to move to Missouri with her boyfriend and work on civil rights issues there.”

“That sounds pretty heroic to me,” she said.

He looked at her for a long moment.

“I never thought about it that way. You might be right.”

“Maybe I was buying breakfast for the wrong person at your table,” she said, and smiled.

He laughed. “Maybe you were at that.” He stood up and held out his hand. “Mike Watson. It’s been a pleasure to meet you…..”

“Lou Ann,” she said and shook his hand. He walked back to his table.

“Well there you go,” her husband said and smiled fondly at her.

“Yes, there I go,” she said.

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The Last Train

train with smoke

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She had missed the last train and there was only one person she could see on the opposite train platform, walking briskly towards the station after a train going the other direction had stopped and started again. She was now stranded in a small town many miles from London.  She had gotten off the train to take pictures of the town park she had glimpsed while slowly pulling into the station. It was in her head that there was one more train that evening but she had read the schedule wrong and now here she was.

She heard a quiet ahem from the door of the station.  A gray-haired man dressed neatly in pressed slacks and shirt was holding the door open and looking at her.

“Need help, Miss?”

“I suppose I do,” she said. “I’ve missed the train and will need a place to stay in your town. Are there any hotels close by?”

“The nearest hotel is two towns over, Miss” he said. “We’re a wee bit small to attract the likes that need a hotel.”

“Oh, dear,” she sighed.

“You might ask down at the Camel,” he said. “They usually have a room they let the utterly pissed wankers sleep it off in. The least that can happen is you have a good pint while you sort it out.”

“That sounds like a plan,” she said, and smiled. “Thanks.” She walked past him and through the station and onto the main street of the town. The air had that soft quality that happens at dusk just before it gets dark. As she walked down the street she could smell roses from the small front yards she passed.  I am happy, she thought. This moment, right here right now, I am happy. And what a grand gift to recognize it at the time, and not afterwards!

She was smiling as she walked in the door of The Camel & The Artichoke.  It was an unremarkable pub, with the usual sturdy tables and chairs, and the fireplace in the corner had a large fire burning, despite the mild late Spring air outside. She took off her coat and sat down at a table close to the bar. There were about a dozen people, including an older woman sitting by herself close to the fire. A young red-haired woman tending bar behind the counter called over to her and she ordered a pint.  It was brought over to her within a minute.

“Thank you,” she said. “I missed the train and I need a room to stay in for the night. I was told to ask here?”

“I dona know,” the bartender said. “My da isn’t here and he usually deals with all that. He’ll be here later, I can ask him then.”

“That’s fine,” she said. The older woman sitting by the fire looked at her and waved across the room.  She waved back. The woman motioned to her to come closer so she picked up her pint and her purse and moved across the room to sit across the table from the woman.

“I couldn’t help but overhear,” the woman said. “I’m Francy and I help out here too. I can take you upstairs to the room when you like. It’s no problem whatsoever.”

“That’s so nice,” she said. She sipped her beer and talked with Francy about life in the little town. Francy had funny stories to tell about all the locals, including a few stories about her own life there. An hour went by and then another and she had another pint and basket of chips. She told Francy she was tired and Francy stood up and led her to the curtained back door.

“It’s right this way,” Francy said.

She glanced over at the bartender and the woman had a questioning look on her face, staring at her. She gave her a little half wave and followed Francy behind the curtain and up a steep narrow staircase. Francy opened the door to a small room with a single bed and a few small pieces of furniture.

“Thanks so much,” she said.

“No worries, love,” Francy said. “Sleep well.”

She closed the door and sat down on the small bed. The room had few furnishings but was neat and tidy. There was the same scent of roses she had smelled when walking down the street.  There was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” she called.

The bartender opened the door and looked at her. “Why are you up here?” the bartender asked.

“Oh,” she said. “Francy brought me up here. Didn’t you see?”

“Francy?  Francy? That’s not possible,” the bartender said.

“Well of course it is. She was downstairs sitting by the fire. Surely you saw her. She said she worked here or actually she said she helped here and she said I could stay in this room. I sat and talked to her for over an hour. You saw us.”

The bartender came in the room and sat on a chair by the dresser.

“I saw you sitting by yourself,” she said slowly, shaking her head. “And then you wandered up here by your lonesome.”

Her mind was reeling. “What? No,” she said.

“Yes,” the bartender said. “And furthermore, Francy is me gran. And she’s been dead for five years. Her name was Frances but everyone called her Francy. I don’t know how you’d even know that.”

“But I talked to her. I saw her. She was wearing a housedress and a yellow cardigan. Her hair was short and curled about her ears. She had bright blue eyes. There was a red rose brooch pinned to her cardigan. I saw her!”

“Sounds like Francy alright.”

“I don’t know what to think.”

The bartender stood up. “Well she wanted you to stay here.  That much is clear. My da has seen her a few times since she passed. I wish I could. I’m jealous you did…..but you are welcome to the room. We serve a good rashers in the morning. You’ll smell it up here. Come down and share it with us, if you like.”

“You are so kind,” she said. “thank you.”

“Good night then,” the bartender said and left the room, closing the door firmly behind her.

She shook her head and then laughed. I’ve always wanted to see a ghost, she thought. And to think I saw one and didn’t even know it!  Goodnight Francy, and thanks for the hospitality. You Brits are the best!

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Keeping the Faith

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He had kept their mother alive in their thoughts. Too alive, perhaps.  Her favorite chair still had her half finished embroidery project draped across the seat so they couldn’t sit in it. Her shoes were still neatly lined up by the front door. The glass of iced tea she’d last drank from sat on the kitchen window sill, with a line of dark crud at the bottom of the glass and a cobweb across the top. He wouldn’t let anyone wash it.

He’d been very upset when the house plants began to die one after the other from his relentless over-watering, but he hadn’t been able to stop himself from watering them more.

His father had tried to talk to him about it, gently at first, and then more urgently.

“Look, Robby, I understand,” he’d said. “You miss your mother. You don’t want to forget her and you don’t want us to either. But we won’t. She’ll always be a part of us.”

“She’ll be back,” Robby said stubbornly. “And she’ll be mad if we change things.”

“She’s not coming back, son,” his father said. “We’ve talked about this. We’ve had this talk. Over and over. I am so sorry.  I know you are sad. I am sad too. We all miss her.”

“I don’t think you miss her. You took her coat out of the hall closet. It’s not there anymore.”

“Of course I miss her,” his father said. “I miss her a lot. But there was no point in holding onto her coat…..” His voice trailed off.

“I am the only one who cares,” Robby said, and walked out the room.  He climbed the stairs up to his parents bedroom and stood with his hands on his hips, looking around.

Robby took his mother’s hairbrush out of the wastebasket where his father had tried to hide it.  He put it back on the bathroom counter, next to the sink. He looked at himself in the mirror and tried to smooth down his hair.  He was growing it out, to the length his mother wore her hair, curling around her ears and down to the base of her neck.

He went to her closet and bent to sniff at a few of her blouses.  They still smelled like her, although the scent was growing fainter.  He rubbed his cheek against one of the blouses and it snagged on the stubble. He’d forgotten to shave for a day or two.

Robby walked down the hallway and into his boyhood room. He’d moved back in right before his mother had died so he’d been there when she was taken by ambulance to the hospital. They’d said that she died but she had told him when she was on the stretcher that she’d be back and she’d smiled sweetly at him. So he knew she’d be back.  He just had to be patient and ignore all the lies.

He laid down on his twin bed, his feet dangling off the end. He spent most of his time here, now, other than patrolling the house several times a day to make sure they hadn’t changed anything. He’d toss a whiffle ball up into the air again and again, and sometimes bounce it off the wall. His little clock radio buzzed pop songs into his left ear. Every once in awhile he’d hear soft noises, like the squishy slippers his mom liked to wear. Was that her out in the hallway?  No, not yet. He tossed the ball up. He caught it. He tossed the ball up.  He caught it.  He tossed the ball up and waited for his mom to come tuck him in.

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