The Pub

The old inn was sagging with life. Inside its doors, wooden booths were crammed into every available space. Lanterns hung from the low ceiling. They illuminated parts of the room but left the corners flickering in shadow. In one such corner, narrow stairs led up to rooms for rent, rooms which, for the most part, remained vacant and collected dust. As the scratches on the booths and the stains on the wall told, however, customers at the pub downstairs made up for any lack of overnight guests. The floorboards had collected years of boot-dirt; Elsie never swept the around the room’s dim edges or under the table. Starting around twilight each day, the building began to fill with chatter, which steadily grew to laughter and raucous conversation, which continued to grow so that by midnight, shouting and song could be heard from the cobblestone street outside.

The same group frequented the inn night after night without fail. Men old and whiskered, young rogues, sailors with stories sparkling in their eyes, and even a few women–fierce and sturdy–filed in to end their long days with a pint.

Amoung this group, Ben Brogan was most loved. As evening turned to night, eager faces crowded around him to hear a tale. Excited eyes shone in the yellow light as Elsie took the momentary calm to wipe down the counter with a rag. Even she was intently listening for his story. No one understood how one man could have, survived so many adventures, voyaged to so many places, and met so many people.

On one such night, Connor burst through the sturdy door, hair sticking up from the wind coming off the sea. His big boots made his legs look like sticks. “Where’s Ben Brogan? I’ve been waiting all day for one of his tales.”

Ben chuckled from a dim booth.

“Elsie, bring ole Ben here another pint to loosen his tongue,” said Connor as he and several others squeezed around the table.

Old Ben Brogan smiled wryly and rubbed his stubbly chin. “One of these days, I’m going to run out of stories to tell, lad.”

“We all know that day is far in the future,” said one of the regulars. The rest agreed, chorusing with “Aye!”, and now the group of listeners had expanded to the surrounding tables as well.

“Come on, Ben!” Connor smiled with anticipation as he leaned over the table.

Ben thought for a moment as he took in a deep breath. Then, with a raise of his eyebrows and a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, he said, “Have I ever told you about the time I saw the Banshee?”

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The Lady in the Window (part 2)

She sat in her window every morning, watching. Her frail frame was wrapped in a shawl, and she looked down upon the world wistfully, like she was only an observer, not a participant.

Her stare made me uncomfortable. It was an old stare; who knew how long she had been sitting there, watching the same cars stop at the same light on their way to the same gloomy jobs? It was an informed stare. She knew things. I could feel it. She never looked directly at me; at least, I never caught her at it. But she did. I’m sure she saw me every morning and soon realized I was a new part of the morning routine.

Even more unsettling than her constant gaze was the gaze of everyone else stopped at the intersection. No one noticed her. Not the kids weighted down with backpacks on their way to school, not the guy in the hat waiting to turn left, not the lady in the silver SUV who was brushing her teeth using water in a tin mug. The lady at the window was invisible to these people.

Had they ever noticed her? I wondered as I tapped my foot to match the clicking of my turn signal. Maybe they noticed her long ago, when they were new to this place like me, and by now her presence has become a background regularity that the brain takes for granted and stops noticing. Or maybe they had never seen her.

My brows furrowed slightly at this thought, but the long-awaited light turned green. I thought about it no more.

Snow White and the Apple

The girl hastily pulled back her dark hair with a scrunchie. Sliding on her red tennis shoes as she went, she raced out the door into the front yard. Her little brothers had disappeared, and the only sounds were her breath and the black bird in the neighbor’s tree. Mischievous grin on her face, she called, “Ready or not, here I come!”

She dashed straight into the park across the street—it was always their favorite place to play. They ruled that park. Not a summer day went by that they did not cross the street, squealing with laughter, racing to the swing set, or the monkey bars, or the see saws. They explored the park until it held no more mysteries and played with children until the surrounding neighborhood had no more strangers.

Mulch soft underfoot, the girl ran directly to the monkey bars and leaped up. She slipped. Too much momentum. But she wasn’t in a rush, so she tried two more times. When her pale hands were stringing red from gripping the bars, she gave up, still in no rush to find the boys. As the oldest sibling, she had been the one to discover all the best hiding places: under the slide, in that clump of bushes by the bench, and, most treasured of all, behind the sign that said, “Kingsfield Public Park.” She knew she would find a giggling, grubby little brother in each of the spots; that’s where they hid every time.

But for the sake of the game, she feigned ignorance. All around the playground she circled, taking plenty of time to build up the suspense. She spotted a pair of wiggling toes sticking up from beneath the slide. Smirking, she slowly crept up, planning on scaring her little brother before he knew she was coming. She tip-toed, hardly able to contain her delight, and pushed a strand of dark hair behind her ear as she leaned over.

“Hey.” A hand grabbed her arm, and she screamed.

A woman, hunched over, grinned at her from underneath the hood of a frayed sweatshirt. “Hey is this yours?” The woman held out a hand with long finger nails like claws. In her grip was a brand-new silver iPhone.

By now, the little boy who had been under the slide was standing next to the girl, with mulch sticking to his knees and his jaw hanging open. The two children stood there, enraptured by the glowing apple on the back of the phone.

“I’ll give it to you if you want,” the lady rasped, taking a step back.

The girl looked at her little brother with excitement and the two followed, reaching for the phone. They never noticed the woman’s subtle smirk or the gleam in her eyes, almost like hunger.

The Lady in the Window (part 1)

I climbed into my car around 7:40, still wiping crusty sleep out of my eyes. This would soon become routine, but for now, I was just getting used to a new town and a new job. I started up the car. The music that I’d been listening on my last drive started playing. It was a perfect balance of relaxing and upbeat. My chill music, for when I am stressed, or feeling anxious, or having regrets.

As I backed out of the driveway, I congratulated myself, realizing that I no longer needed a GPS to get to work. After a week of driving the route, it was undoubtedly solidified in my memory.

The drive through my new town was unsightly. It was not a new town at all; I was probably the only newcomer this place had seen in decades. Everything–buildings, roads, skies, surrounding hills–was grey. The whole place looked like a sponge used to mercilessly scrub dirty dishes for months without ever being rinsed. Tired buildings sagged, the disinterested river shuffled under the bridge, and bored teenagers walked to school. They looked about as tired as I felt.

The last light before I reached work turned red, so after a slight huff I stopped. There was something strange about this red light. It was a three-way stop, situated right where the road I was on dead-ended into another. And where the fourth side would be, right in front of me, was not a road but a driveway. I had thought, on my first morning taking this route, How does the owner of that house get out of his driveway? Is there a light for him, one that stops all three sides of traffic just for him to pull onto the road? I’d had time for such thoughts because the other strange thing about this light was its peculiar length. Stopped at this intersection, time seemed to slow down, stop, and stretch. It was at this light that busy workers going through the motions of the day were forced to contemplate. Or at least, I was.

In the vast expanse of time spent idling the car there, I had to think, to really think. Think about this new job, about that apartment I left, about Dad, about George, about the heavy weight of failure that I usually ignored.

And on top of it all, she was there.

I didn’t notice her the first few days. I had been too lost in my thoughts. But then one morning, suddenly jerked out of my musings, I saw her.

She was sitting–always sitting–in the third-floor window of that house right in front of me. She was framed by quaint lace curtains that hung in the window, and the top of her head was covered by a cap night cap from which crept wisps of thin white hair. She was ever seated in a white rocking chair, and her eyes, wrinkled with use, always peered into the intersection below.

First Day on the Job

I’m starting a new job today! It’s writing consistently. Viewing my writing as a job, and calling myself a writer instead of “someone who likes to write” will, I believe, help me take it more seriously. It’s a scary job. Luckily though, this first day hasn’t proven quite as intimidating as Reggie’s first day on the job.

~~~~

Reginald Macintire looked at his black dress shoes as he sat lightly on the corner of his crisply made side of the bed, feet together and back perfectly straight until it slumped forward the tiniest bit at his shoulders. Since his alarm clock rattled at 5:03 AM, he had already smoothed wrinkles off his side of the bed four times. He’d had enough of that. It was now 6:42 AM, and he was ready for work. The thin laces of his shiny shoes were neatly tied, his briefcase and fedora rested at the foot of the bed, and his hands were fidgeting in his lap. He had even switched the lamp back off so that Angela could keep sleeping. Her slow breath matched the rhythm of the feeble strands of steam coming off his coffee mug on the dresser.

He had woken up too early. He did that to give himself plenty of time. What if he wanted breakfast, or spilled coffee on his tie, or couldn’t find his socks? He had thought of these possibilities the previous night, as he lay a fresh pair of socks on top of the folded outfit he planned on wearing. Well here he was, too nervous to eat breakfast, not a drip of coffee on his tie—or any other article of clothing, for that matter—and a sock on each foot.

That twitching needs to stop. He folded his hands and forced them to stay still. His tactic worked for a moment, until he noticed his foot had started tapping. 6:43 AM. He did not have to be at work until 8:00, which meant he would arrive no later than 7:45. Even considering the twenty minutes it took to walk to the office building over on West 43rd, there was too much time.

He always did this on big days. Last time he’d gone in for the first day at a new job, it was even worse. He was ready by 5:53 and had to wait in agonizing silence for nearly two hours. That was before he’d even met Angela. He remembered telling himself back then that it was the last time he would have a first day at work. At the time the thought had comforted him. But now it stung. He had forgotten that companies sometimes downsize. Even companies with flexible hours and generous editors.

Angela’s deep breathing evolved into a snore, which shook Reggie out of his thoughts. He needed to move. Gently smoothing out his side of the bed one last time, he grabbed his hat, briefcase, and mug, and made his way back into the kitchen.

The room was a narrow strip with cabinets overhead on both sides and limited counter space. Counter space is capital in the City. The subtle pattern on the vinyl flooring hid the fact that it had been several days since either of them had swept. The not-so-subtle pattern of the wallpaper managed to incorporate avocado green and burnt orange in a shocking explosion of floral that clashed horribly with Angela’s treasured set of turquoise pots and pans. But he didn’t dare tell her that. There was no room for them in the cabinets anyway. They had to sit out on the precious counter space, assaulting his eyes every time he walked into the kitchen. The aluminum coffee percolator still sat on the gas stove, and Angela’s note still sat on the countertop. He read it again. In her round, cursive scrawl were the words:

“Good luck on your big day! Remember- first impressions are important but they aren’t everything. Love you Reggie! -Angela♥”

It was sweet. It made him smile, it really did. But it was wrong. Robert had made a better first impression, and look who still had his job. Nineteen years of no sick days and never showing up late didn’t matter. They liked Robert better. He made a good first impression.

Reggie pressed his lips together and poured the rest of his coffee down the drain. It was lukewarm now, and besides, he was already too jittery. Caffeine was the last thing he needed. What he needed was for the time to hurry up and pass so he could leave without being embarrassingly early. A glance at the round clock on the wall told him only a few more minutes had passed.

The paper!

The paper would kill some time. Reggie congratulated himself for this sudden thought and hastily grabbed his briefcase and hat, forgetting, in his excitement at having some activity to occupy his mind, that he should move slowly to fill the time and avoid breaking into a premature sweat. With the fedora covering his slicked hair, he stepped out the apartment door.

Six flights of stairs below, he turned left onto the sidewalk and joined the first of what would soon be a throng of fellow sleepy-eyed, suit-clad men heading to work. He exchanged a dime for a copy of the morning paper. An empty bench was just across the street. Perfect. Reggie checked his watch as he opened to the Business section. Still thirty minutes to spare. The sounds of the city waking up included footsteps, distant chatter, pigeons calling, the occasional honk of a car horn, windows opening, and a man playing the trumpet on the adjacent street corner. This combination excited Reggie, and he found his foot tapping to the rhythm of the trumpeter’s morning call.

People glanced at him as they walked by. He thought they were rude, repeatedly pointing out with their sideways looks that he had too much time on his hands. Clearly he woke up a little early, no need to stare. Their eyes made him start breaking into a sweat. When he realized this, he started sweating more, stressed at the knowledge that he was already sweating before even getting to the office. That would not make a good first impression.

He discretely lifted his arms by holding the newspaper a little higher in front of him, hoping a breeze would somehow rush through both his jacket and button-up to save him from pit-stained embarrassment. The air hung still, and he resigned to keeping his arms securely by his side all day.

Since leaving the apartment, time had passed uncomfortably quickly. He checked his watch again. It was time to leave for the office. Oh no. As he powerwalked up the busy avenue, now alive with bustling, his mind raced between imagining the worst possible scenarios (sweating through his jacket, stuttering, or spilling lunch on his lap) and self-reminders (Just be confident. Confidence is a good first impression.). Before he knew it, he was standing in front of a tall building that, despite its height, still looked established and dignified rather than purely commercial. He stepped through the door. Could they tell he was nervous? He crossed the lobby. The moisture on his hands made it difficult to keep the briefcase from slipping. He entered the elevator with several others, each pressing the button for their respective floors. He pressed 16 and had to endure the agony of the elevator stopping for everyone else until finally, he was alone in the box, trapped in with the heat and his tapping foot, which seemed like its own, untamable being.

Ding.

The metal doors slid open in slow motion.

Reggie stepped off the elevator. He tried to look confident, but that was hard when it was so hot in here. Hot like the hell that he knew this place would soon prove to be. When earth demands that you earn money, and heaven lays you off, the only place left to go is down to hell. Or up, he thought, remembering the long elevator ride.

As he walked into the office, everything grew silent. It was a silence that seemed to last a decade, one in which he could feel his cheeks throbbing red, his chest growing heavy, his armpits becoming swampier than before. Every eye was on him. He tried to remember how to make a good first impression, but all he could focus on was the erratic storm of furniture and papers that made the whole office seem inches from falling sideways.

To his left was a hat rack. Yes, that’s what to do. Take off the hat, idiot. He walked over, shoulders relaxing the slightest bit as he realized the silence had finally ended. Quiet chatter among coworkers, the click of manicured fingernails on typewriters, and the shuffling of paper echoed throughout the room.

He hesitated to take the hat off. Underneath it, as he was all too aware, his faded red hair was simultaneously graying and balding, which meant it did little to conceal the nervous beads of sweat that had formed there. Oh well. He took a deep breath, which made his muscles relax a little more. Nothing he could do about that.

Hat hung, he turned around to face the room, when suddenly the panic came flooding back. Where was his desk? He needed to search the room but could not appear confused or stupid. That would be a bad first impression. Bad first impressions are what get you laid off. Eyes frantically scanning the vast stretch of desks buried under files, typewriters, and pencils, he finally located an empty seat at an empty desk. That must be his. Of course it was the one furthest away, in the corner with no windows. It seemed fitting though; something as wonderful as sunlight never made its way into hell. He carefully traversed the room, somehow managing to avoid a disaster such as: knocking down a three-foot-high stack of papers, smashing his hip into the sharp, hip-height desk corners, or making eye contact with someone.

At the final destination, a single file sat on the desk. It was already waiting. Does that mean he was late? That would not be a good first impression. He hastily set to work.

Lullabies for Maggie

Mama stooped down and gave the young boy a kiss before climbing into the truck with Daddy. “You be good, Coulter, and watch out for your sister. We’ll be back before you know it.”

“Mama, I’m six years old! I can do it.”

Coulter put his hands in his overalls pockets, stood up tall, and tried to flex his skinny little arms as he watched the beat-up truck disappear around the corner. When he couldn’t see it anymore, he ran up the driveway back to the house, stopping to fill his pockets with the best pebbles as he went.

“Maggie! Mags, wake up! Mama and Daddy are gone; let’s play!” Coulter’s boots stomped through the house. He barged into the bedroom to find his little sister sitting on the floor, meticulously trying to buckle her shoes. Daddy had just taught Coulter about right and left, and Coulter was glad to put this knowledge to use. “They’re on the wrong feet silly goose. You’ll never get them on like that.” Coulter plopped down, set Maggie in his lap, and put her shoes on correctly. “You want breakfast?” His sister smiled.

Coulter held Maggie’s hand and, in the kitchen, helped her into a chair. Grabbing the pitcher Mama had left out, he asked, “Want some orange juice?” and poured two glasses without waiting for an answer. Next, Coulter got a loaf of bread and a jar of strawberry preserves. He needed a knife to spread the preserves, but where were the knives? He opened a cabinet. Not there. Now a drawer. He stood on his tiptoes to look inside. Still no. He tried the next drawer, and wiggled his hand far into the back where he couldn’t see. His fingers touched cold metal, but not a knife.

“Oh!” Coulter pulled out Daddy’s gun. He held it for a moment. Daddy said Coulter was never allowed to hold it until he was older, but he knew not to pull the trigger. He set it out on the counter. That gun would be much better to play with than his wooden one.

In the next drawer, he finally found a knife to spread the strawberry preserves. Before long, he had eaten breakfast, and he watched as Maggie finished her orange juice, the last bit of each sip dribbling down her chin.

“Ready to play?” Coulter jumped out of his chair and helped his sister down. Before running outside, he grabbed the gun.

Coulter ran down the hill behind the house, Maggie waddling after him. They stopped in a clump of bushes, looking out at the field and, behind that, the woods.

“Ok Maggie. Here’s how big kids play games. Me and you are cowboys, and you see those trees back there?” His toddler sister nodded eagerly. “Those are the Indians. Here’s my gun,” He held up Daddy’s.”Here’s your’s.” He picked up a stick from the ground and handed it to her. “We have to shoot the Indians before they attack our fort. Oh, and our fort’s in these bushes.” The two crouched down in their fort. “All right, ladies first.”

Maggie held up her stick. Coulter helped her aim, and he made the sound effects for her when she shot. “Nice one! I think you got an Indian! Now my turn.” He aimed, careful not to actually fire, and made a convincing gun-fire sound effect.

“Did you see that? I just got four in one shot!” he said proudly.

“I want that one!” Maggie said, reaching her chubby fingers toward the gun in her brother’s hand.

“Mags, no!” Coulter jerked his hand back, making a fist.

A bang echoed, a thousand times louder than any sound effect Coulter could make. He dropped the gun in terror and fell down, ears ringing. After the initial shock receded, he heard crying. Was he crying? No. Maggie.

She was laying in the fort next to him, and her leg was bleeding. “Oh no. Maggie!” He tried to think of what Mama would do. He picked up his sister and started to carry her back to the house. “Sshhh, don’t wiggle. I’ll get you a band-aid.”

In the house, he laid her on her bed. That’s what Mama did when he got hurt. Next, she would get a band-aid. Coulter grabbed the biggest band-aid he could find and rushed back to his sister’s side. “Here ya go. This always makes it feel better.” He lifted Maggie’s skirt. That was a lot more blood than any of his scrapes. Would this band-aid help much? He put the bandage where the bleeding was most- right above her knee. Maggie whimpered softly, her eyes drooping. “Oh, good, Mags. A nap always helps me feel better too.” He pulled up the covers and tucked them under her chin. Coulter remembered what Mama always did next when he scraped his knee.

He ran back into the kitchen. Using a chair to climb up on the counter, Coulter opened the cookie jar and grabbed the last two oatmeal raisin cookies. Those were Maggie’s favorite. Next, he poured a glass of milk, not stopping to clean up the drips he’d spilled. Last, he found his sister’s soft toy bear and returned to her room with his hands full.

“Here Maggie! These will definitely help you feel better!” Her eyes fluttered open. “Do you want some cookies? They’re your favorite.” Her eyes closed. “Wow, you must be tired! You can eat these when you wake up.” Coulter set the milk and cookies down on the floor, and placed Maggie’s bear on her pillow gingerly, not wanting to wake her. Not knowing what to do next, he carefully climbed onto the bed and snuggled with his sister. He sang the lullabies that Mama always sang, and played with his sister’s hair until he fell asleep, too.

Coulter woke up to the sound of tires on gravel. Maggie was still asleep, so he quietly tiptoed outside.

Daddy shut the truck door. He stared at Coulter’s hands, noticing the red stains on the tips of his fingers. Every muscle in his body tensed. “Coulter,” he said warily, “where’s your sister?”

Before he could answer, Mama added frantically, “Where is Maggie?”

“Don’t worry, she’s taking a nap.”


My dad once told me a story very similar to this about an ER patient of his. It stuck with me because of the tender love that this young child has for his younger sibling. He did all he could to make her comfortable and happy, just like his mother would do for him. I found it equal parts sweet and heart-breaking.