Story: Marking Mildred

Pam Parker ‘81 is community forum editor for The Lyon Review. “Marking Mildred” first appeared in The Potomac Review in Fall 2010. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in Grey Sparrow Press, The MacGuffin, The Binnacle, elimae, the Marquette Literary Journal and other print and online venues. Links to some of her stories can be found at pamwrites.net.

 

Mildred Collins opened the door and stepped inside Tattoo Tango, not sure what to expect. Bells rang above her, not modern electronic ones, but pleasant, old-fashioned ones, like at the corner store decades ago in Cedar Falls.

She considered leaving. Clutter abounded – piles of binders were stacked on the floor in front of a counter and more spread on the countertop. A grouping of red, white and green notebooks reminded her of the Italian flag and the trip she and Henry took for their 35th anniversary, years ago, shortly before Henry died. Pictures and posters covered the walls – skulls, spiders, snakes — all sorts of shudder-inducing images. For a second, just a second, Mildred wondered if she had crossed a dreaded threshold entering this store. Had she drifted from sweet old lady into a daft one?

Frozen on the welcome mat, Mildred adjusted her pocketbook, regretting that she had taken this bag. It was big and heavy, too much for her arthritic spine and shoulders to comfortably manage.

A tall, thin young man appeared from a curtained door behind the counter. “Sorry, I was busy in the back. Can I help you?”

He pushed a pile of binders to the side and leaned on the countertop. Mildred saw some inky artwork on his arms and wondered what designs he wore. His hair was black and short, as black as his tee shirt, except for a long light purple lock dripping off one side.

Mildred bit her lip. Don’t laugh. Don’t stare.

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Story: Sugar Daddy

Louise Demarest Thunin ’66 has been living in France since graduation. She has published four novels, two in English and two in French, and a number of her short stories in English have appeared in American literary journals. Her three cats inspire the monthly column she writes with a friend in the “felizine”, catnipchronicles.com. Louise leads a writing workshop in French in her home near Le Mans.

Five years after the fact, André discovered he was a father.  The news had come in the form of a Polaroid snapshot:  a wide-eyed little girl with very straight, very brown hair, pressing against a pair of adult legs in black, flared jeans.  The picture didn’t show Alicia’s face, but he recognized the slender limbs, the way she held her feet, with the left one pointing inward ever so slightly.  He used to think her stance was quaint, proof of a shy temperament.  If she was retiring, she was also ferociously proud and secretive. But such a secret as this?

He’d studied the picture carefully.  There was no denying it.  She looked like him. He’d seen innumerable childhood pictures of himself at his parents’ home in Arles, and something in the little girl’s puzzled stare reminded him of his own intense gaze at the same age.  Beyond astonishment, his first emotion in front of the picture was anger.  It crashed in bitter heaves inside his chest and made his diaphragm ache, as if he’d been running too fast and too much.  He felt deceived and totally disarmed, defeated.  Why hadn’t she told him?  Why had she waited?  If it wasn’t because she needed money, then why tell him at all?  Did she expect him to feel paternal stirrings at this point in history, their history, his own?

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Story: Love in Three Parts

 Amy Rigsby ’93 has written poems and short stories since she was a kid. Her audience has always been family, friends, and readers of school papers and literary magazines. In regular life, Amy is an eighth grade teacher of English at the Ellis School for Girls in Pittsburgh, PA, but this year, she and her husband are enjoying a sabbatical in Bologna, Italy. During this time, Amy is focusing on her writing and the feedback and publishing process.  “Love in Three Parts” is her first published story.

 

 1: Christmas in Buffalo

The snow kept falling, and we only saw about a foot ahead illuminated by our headlights. We wore our jackets, and as my sister gripped the steering wheel with her purple gloves, I fiddled with the temperature control to keep the windows clear. We almost missed the turn, but fortunately, Sarah had been driving only about ten miles per hour, and I pointed at the barely visible sign for Grandma’s road.

“I feel bad we’re keeping her up so late,” I yawned. Staring straight ahead, Sarah nodded. During my next yawn, I suggested that maybe we could sleep in.

Sarah let out a little snort: “Yeah, like that’s going to happen. She’ll have pancakes ready for us at 6:30 AM, like always.”

“Yum!” I patted the dashboard with my gloved hand: “Thank you good old Civic for getting us here.”

“Hey, what about the driver?”Sarah lightly punched my shoulder while turning into Grandma’s drive.

“You were great. I lucked out getting the first half without the dark and the snow.”

I willed myself not to bring up my fear that I had cut off another driver back in Pittsburgh. I imagined their car plummeting from the Fort Pitt Tunnel Bridge into the icy river below. I had already asked Sarah if she had seen the car swerve. After about my fourth time asking, she dismissed my concern like she always does when I’m checking. I had tried to ask nonchalantly, but she is too smart for that. I’m tired, and it’s always worse when I’m tired.

Sarah pulled up close to the back door. She popped the trunk and then opened the door, letting in the cold night air and blowing snow. She stretched alongside the car while I grabbed our purses. Grandma’s back porch light was on, and her electric candles sparkled in every window. I looked for the top of her head in the kitchen window, but she must not have heard us pull in. Sarah grabbed our suitcases, and I went ahead to get the door.

Henry, Grandma’s enormous white and orange cat, was nudging to get out. Sarah blocked him with her foot. I went in ahead of her and corralled him away from the door. He began to rub up against my legs, and as soon as I put our things down, he let me scoop him up for a kiss. Sarah squeezed his paw, and he smeared his lips against her hand, but then he squirmed to get down and sniff our bags.

While taking off our boots, Grandma opened the door from the kitchen, “My darlings! You made it!”

Her hair was flattened from sleeping in her recliner. She was wearing a holiday sweatshirt with chickadees and berries. She hugged me close, and our glasses bumped. She smelled like talcum powder.

After she embraced Sarah, she said, “Do you girls want some cookies or cake? I have buttercream cookies in the freezer, and I made a chocolate torte this morning.”

Sarah was ready for bed, but I stayed up for some cookies. Grandma had one with me and some milk. Henry jumped in my lap and tried to get at the crumbs on my plate.

“It was a hard drive, wasn’t it, Meg?”

“We just had to take it slow. Getting out of Pittsburgh was ok. Around Erie is when things got dicey. Of course! I thought we were going to have to pull over during some of the whiteouts.”

“But I also mean how extra stress makes you worry even more.”

“I had some rough moments, but you know Sarah; she pumps up the music when I start asking her if I caused any accidents.”

Grandma asked, “Did you talk with your mom today?”

“Yeah. She was stuck at the Boston airport trying to get on an early flight for tomorrow. Then, she’ll try driving here on Christmas Eve morning. Did she call you, too?”

“Yes. She said her book signing was well attended. Maybe the biggest group yet.”

Henry was now snuggled in my lap. I scratched him around his ears and under his chin.

“Who wouldn’t want to buy a murder mystery for Christmas?” I smiled at Grandma. “Well, it does take place during the winter, in a charming village. I just hope in her next book she has Lila get together with the police chief. What’s his name?”

“David Wallace. He is super charming, but I kind of like Danny better. She should go for the free-spirited one and travel around.”

Grandma was thinking for a minute, and then she said, “I don’t see her on the back of his motorcycle though. She should ride her own.”

“I like your thinking, Grandma. Didn’t you used to have a bike?”

“When I lived in Italy, I borrowed a friend’s scooter. A red one, of course.”

I got up and gave her a hug and a kiss.

“Tomorrow, I want to look at your Bologna photos. I love seeing those with you.”

“Ok, maybe after breakfast. Do you girls want pancakes?”

“Absolutely! And lots of coffee.”

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