Category Archives: Fiction

Au Cafe de la Mairie

A short story

by IAN INGLIS

‘Est-ce-que je peux m’asseoir ici, Monsieur?’

I looked up to see a smartly-dressed woman in her mid-thirties standing before me. She was wearing a black trouser-suit and dazzling white blouse. Beneath her outsize sunglasses her features were unremarkable, but the glorious, blazing red hair that fell below her shoulders attracted envious and admiring glances from the other customers – men and women – sitting at the nearby tables under the pavement awning.

‘Mais oui, Madame. Bien sur.’

‘Ah! You are English. London?’

‘Hull. Quite different. But I’m disappointed. I was hoping my French might convince you I was a Parisian.’

I smiled and she laughed.

‘Vous parlez Francais assez bien, mais…’

‘I know. My accent is OK, but it’s far from perfect. Eh bien. C’est la vie. S’il vous plait. Asseyez-vous.’

She laughed again and sat down beside me, nodding towards the crowds of tourists heading across Place Saint-Sulpice towards the church to our right.

‘I think we will speak English,’ she declared, ‘but only if you tell me you are not here in search of the Holy Grail.’

‘So that’s why the church is so popular. No, I’m not. It’s the same in Britain, you

know. In Rosslyn Abbey, near Edinburgh, you can hardly move for seekers of the truth. Dan Brown has a lot to answer for.’

She took a packet of Disque Bleu from her bag and offered me one.

‘I don’t. Thank you.’

‘What can I say?’ She lit the cigarette and inhaled deeply. ‘I started smoking when I was twelve. All my friends did. All my friends still do.’

‘With me, it was cider. Then lager. Then beer.’

‘Our first steps on the road to a wicked life! And now?’

I indicated the glass of Chablis.

‘Wine.’

‘Is that what brings you to France? The wine?’

‘It has done. But not this time. I’m here for a conference at the Sorbonne: European social history in the nineteenth century. I’m a historian. I lecture at the university in Hull.’

‘And are you making a presentation?’

‘Yes. I’m comparing perceptions of social class in the novels of Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo. I give my paper in the first session tomorrow.’
‘I’m impressed.’

‘Don’t be. It’s an old topic. It’s been done before, countless times. But it’s the kind of thing that goes down well. And both of them wrote so much, you can always find something new to say.’

The waiter came over to take her order.

‘I too will have a glass of Chablis,’ she told him. ‘And you,’ she continued, turning to me, ‘May I buy you another?’

I looked at my watch. It was 4.30.

‘I’m supposed to be meeting someone here. Someone I’ve not seen for a long time. Someone who is – or was – never punctual. So, yes. Thank you.’

As is often the case in Paris, the sun seemed to be shining more fiercely than ever in the late afternoon, and even under the shade of the awning it was uncomfortably hot on the pavement terrace. I took off my jacket and hung it over the back of my chair. She did the same, and then removed her sunglasses and looked at me directly for the first time. Her violet eyes were even more arresting than her hair.

‘I must be careful not to drink too many of these,’ I said, as our drinks arrived.

‘Oh, you can never drink too much good wine,’ she smiled.

‘I may forget myself.’

‘If you do, I will forgive you.’

After a few moments, I asked, ‘May I know your name?’

She considered this for a while.

‘No.’

‘Oh. I’m sorry…’

‘Not at all. But why do you want to know? Isn’t this more interesting? You can tell your friend that while you were waiting, you met a mysterious French woman who told you all her secrets but refused to give you her name.’

‘Are you going to tell me your secrets?’

‘I might.’

‘All of them?’

‘Some of them. Perhaps.’

‘Do I have to tell you mine?’ I asked.

‘Do you have any?’

‘A few. But probably not as sensational as yours.’

For a moment, I wondered if I’d gone too far: the line between flirting and giving offence is something I’ve never been able to distinguish with clarity. Before I could apologise, she shook her head and laughed again.

‘In some ways you are very French,’ she said.

I hurried to move the conversation back on to safer ground.

‘And what do you do? I mean, what is your work?’

‘I work for a market research company.’

‘You interview people about the products they buy?’

‘Oh, no. We recruit students to do the fieldwork for us. My team identifies what it is that our clients wish to discover. Then we design the programmes, construct the questionnaires, analyse the responses, and deliver our report to the clients – the businesses and companies – who commissioned the research.’

‘You help your clients to sell more.’

‘To understand how to sell more. We try to identify and explain the factors that shape the choices that individual consumers make. Mainly women: they are still seen as the principal purchasers, at least of household items. So: how do they reach their decisions? When do they change their minds? When do they not change their minds? What kind of information do they value?’

‘And what conclusions have you reached?’

She took a sip from her glass and leaned back in her chair.

‘That consumer behaviour is no different from any other form of human behaviour. That in most cases, the decisions we make are spontaneous, irrational, unplanned. Our clients would like to believe that a consumer’s behaviour is logical and consistent, that she remains faithful to a product, that she maintains brand loyalty. But she doesn’t. Look at me, for example. My behaviour can be influenced by something as simple as…well, as my sitting here with you and sharing a drink.’

‘Really? What do you mean?’

‘I am on my way home. I had not planned to stop here, but as it so hot today, I decided that I will. When I reach home, I will make a supper for my husband and myself, perhaps cold chicken with a salad. I had thought to buy a bottle of Rose but now, to remind myself of a pleasant time with you, I think I will buy some Chablis. You see, you have impacted my behaviour. I’m not any of those things women are supposed to be – faithful or loyal. Meeting you has persuaded me to think about doing something I hadn’t planned. And I’ve only just met you.’

She turned slowly to look at me again. Her words, the overpowering effect of the deep violet of her eyes, the combination of wine and sun, and her refusal to be offended a few minutes earlier made me unexpectedly bold.

‘And does this work both ways? One person’s impact on another. Is it reciprocal?’

‘Oh, yes. It’s always reciprocal. But it’s very often unpredictable. If I had chosen to sit at another table, or if someone else were sitting here with you when I arrived, we would not be having this conversation, and you would not be saying and thinking what you are now.’

I tried to keep my tone light-hearted.

‘And, as you say, we’ve only just met. Perhaps we should meet again. Who knows what we might persuade each other to do? It would be interesting to find out.’

She stared straight ahead.

‘How long do you stay in Paris?’

‘Three days.’

‘Then I think that we can meet again. But not just to discuss market research. You know, the novels of Victor Hugo are a great passion of mine.’
‘Do you have other passions?’

‘Oh, yes. There are many things that excite me.’

‘Do you think I would share them? Your passions?’

‘Oh, yes. I know you will.’

I shifted my position slightly and allowed my leg to rest against hers. She returned the pressure and we sat in silence for some minutes.

‘What of your husband?’ I said casually.

Her hand brushed lightly against my knee.

‘He has no passions.’ She corrected herself. ‘No, that is not true. He has passions, but he no longer expresses them.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘We are no longer close. We have our own groups of friends, our own interests. For some years, we have not slept together.’

‘You mean, you no longer have a sexual relationship?’

‘I mean what I say. We have separate bedrooms and we do not sleep together.’

‘Why not?’

‘I no longer wish to.’

‘And your husband?’

She shrugged, as if this were a question she had never considered.
‘You know that ten years is a very long time to be with only one man. Our lovemaking was enjoyable, then routine, then boring, then unpleasant. And so I brought it to an end. The thought of it is repulsive.’

‘And you? Now?’

‘I did not say that my lovemaking has ended. I merely said that I no longer make love with my husband.’

‘Does your husband know of your…adventures?’

‘Oh, I like that word! When he accuses me, I deny it. He believes me and he does not believe me. But it really doesn’t matter. Are you shocked?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘Surprised. Surprised at your honesty.’

‘I don’t see why. Would you prefer me to be dishonest? Did you not want to know my secrets?’

Again, we fell silent. We had been sitting together for perhaps half an hour. Our fingers loosely and surreptitiously touched, hidden by the jackets draped over the backs of the chairs.

‘I would love to see you again,’ I said.

She smiled, and lifted her hand so that it rested for a second on my thigh.

‘Yes, I know. And I also would like that. Perhaps then I will discover some of your secrets. And we can explore my passions.’

‘For Victor Hugo?’

‘But of course!’

‘My presentation tomorrow is from 9.30 to 10.30. After that, I’m free all day.’

‘Shall I come to your hotel? 11.00?’

I gave her the address, in Rue Pommerard. She drained her glass and put the packet of cigarettes into her bag.

‘Now I must go,’ she announced.

As we stood up, a fair-haired man in a green T-shirt and white trousers appeared at the corner of the terrace, and waved in our direction.
We spoke at the same time.

‘Oh, here’s my friend.’

‘Ah, there’s my husband.’ SLQ

**********

Dr Ian Inglis is a writer and researcher based in Newcastle upon Tyne. As a Reader in Sociology and Visiting Fellow at Northumbria University, his books include: The Beatles, Popular Music And Society: A Thousand Voices (2000); Popular Music And Film (2003); Performance And Popular Music: History, Place And Time (2006); The Words And Music Of George Harrison (2010); Popular Music And Television In Britain (2010); The Beatles In Hamburg (2012); and The Beatles (2017). His doctoral research explored the significance of sociological, social psychological, and cultural theory in explanations of the career of the Beatles. Website: https://ianinglis15.wixsite.com/website
**********

Changing of the Guard

A short story by

Russell Heidorn

 

“Get out of the way, ya old geezer!” the kid yelled as he and several others whizzed by on their skateboards right in front of the supermarket.

 

Gus stepped back, almost dropping the groceries as they sped down the sidewalk. “Darn kids,” he muttered, then laughed at himself for saying something so typical of an old man. He chuckled and continued following the customer out to her car.

 

Sometimes on Saturdays the kids would zip by several times, trying to get him to drop the bags. Eventually Gus would lose his hold and the bags would drop and burst open, spilling their guts over the sidewalk. Dennis would come out and yell at him for being so clumsy. Gus would clean up the mess while Dennis retrieved a fresh supply of groceries and offered a thousand apologies to the customer. All the while, the kids would hang by and laugh.

 

Gus did his best to ignore them. He’d been on this planet for eighty-three years and it’d take a lot more than a bunch of kids to rattle him. Besides, he had more important things on his mind.

 

He placed the bags in the trunk of the lady’s car. “Thank you for shopping at Mason’s”, he said.

 

The young lady muttered something about him being so slow and drove off. Gus stood and watched as leaves rustled in the car’s wake. It wasn’t the first time that happened either.

 

When Gus was in Korea, the locals there had so much more respect for their elders. They were treated like great men whom children adored for the stories and adults revered for their wisdom. Certainly that was not the case here.

 

As Gus turned to go back inside, he noticed Mrs. Patterson walking up to him. She was young, early-seventies maybe, petite with gray hair and always wore a dress. “Those young boys almost crashed into you again!” she said.

 

Gus shrugged, but said nothing.

 

“Why do you let them do that?” Mrs. Patterson continued. “All their mothers shop here. You should tell Dennis to talk to them.”

 

“It wouldn’t help. Kids don’t listen to their mothers these days.”

 

“Still. I can’t believe you put up with it,”

 

“Yep, I have a dangerous job…” Gus replied with a smile. “I’m a regular double-o-seven.”

 

“Oh, Gus,” Mrs. Patterson laughed as she touched his arm. “You’re so delightful…”

 

Gus eyed the reflection of Mrs. Patterson and himself in the window as they walked towards the door. He was still tall for his age, five-ten, and slender with thinning gray hair, thick eyebrows and hazel eyes hiding behind wire-rimmed glasses.

 

“I’m buying fixin’s for stew,” Mrs. Patterson asked. “You like stew?”

 

“I like stew,” Gus replied.

 

“Well you should come by. I haven’t made it from scratch since my husband died.” 

 

The idea of hot stew as a last meal popped into Gus’s head, but no.  “I appreciate your offer, but I can’t tonight,” he responded.

 

“Oh Gus, it wouldn’t kill you to come over at least for a little while.”

 

Gus glanced at Mrs. Patterson and looked her up and down. She was so young and full of energy. Would it kill him? Hmm, it just might. But that wasn’t why he declined. As the automatic sliding doors squealed open to allow them enter, Mrs. Patterson took his silence as a further decline.

 

“Well, okay, perhaps next week then? I’ll bring leftovers tomorrow and you can see what you missed,” She said as she grabbed a cart and walked away.

 

Tomorrow. I won’t be here,” Gus muttered to himself as she disappeared around the pumpkin display. Mrs. Patterson was always inviting him over or bringing him soups, cakes and casseroles. Her treats were the best part of Gus’s existence. Once a week or so, he would stop by just to taste one of those gourmet coffee cakes still warm from the oven. He never stayed long, but for a short while it was heaven.

 

Gus sighed heavily. But no, not today. Besides, Heaven was the last place he’d be going. And even if by some divine pardon he did get there, how could he face them? What would he say? So even on this, his last day, he was determined to serve out his time as promised.

 

“Hey Gus! We’re not paying you to stand there!” Dennis yelled.

 

Gus smiled with embarrassment and scurried back to lane three and started bagging groceries for a young lady with her two children.

 

“You need to double-bag it!” she barked. “Otherwise, they break open. Why can’t you make the bags stronger?”

 

“Yes ma’am. I’ll make sure they’re thicker next time I make a batch,” Gus replied.

 

Gus recognized the lady from the apartment complex. Laura Inglewood, a single mom. She shopped here every week and they passed each other occasionally on the sidewalk, but she never noticed him. The kids knew him though. Austin and Emma. Laura worked nights and many days the kids played outside while she slept. Once as Gus was walking by, he grabbed Emma chasing a ball into the street almost getting hit by a car. He never said anything. Laura had it hard enough as it was. Instead, Gus always made sure he was there to watch when they played.

 

“Don’t pack it so full!” she scolded. “What am I, Superman? How am I supposed to carry them when they’re so heavy?” Gus apologized and noticed Dennis glaring over. Gus took some items out and started a new bag… Oops, wait, gotta double-bag it.

 

He glanced back at Dennis who was training a new cashier supervisor – young kid, clean cut, well dressed but with an ear ring in each ear. He was fresh out of college, which was how Dennis hired them. Most of the time they’d just boss everyone around like a prison guard. And when they realized the job wasn’t that easy, they’d move on. Those who stayed eventually mellowed, like Dennis.

 

“Yeah, he’s slow and clumsy and I should really let him go, but I can’t,” he heard Dennis say.

 

“I get it,” The new kid said. “But I learned in college you can’t be sentimental. You have to put business first.”

 

 

“Really? I always thought you put people first?” Dennis replied.

 

“That’s old school. Mom and Pop shops are drying up. If you want to survive against the big chains, you have to change the way you think. Most places have people bag their own groceries now. It’s faster for them and cuts costs for us.”

 

“I don’t know.” Dennis replied. “He’s been here before I started forty years ago. He’s as much a fixture as the sign out front. Besides, the kids really like him. I think it’s the personal touches that’ll help us survive the chains.”

 

Gus recognized the new kid. Trent Larson. It was about ten years ago when Trent was just another kid on a skateboard. Now he was all grown up but hadn’t matured at all, just like when Dennis first started. Gus chuckled even though he felt sorry for Trent. He still hadn’t learned that the only real teacher is time.

 

Laura was a walker, so Gus didn’t need to carry out for her. The skateboard kids would be disappointed, he thought. Austin and Emma each took a bag and grinned while Gus pressed his finger to his lips while Laura grabbed the other bags. Gus thanked her for shopping at Mason’s, but she said nothing and quickly hurried out the door.

 

Gus punched out at six, put on his coat and started the walk home. Like usual, Gus stopped off at the library. Normally his routine would be to drop off a book and pick up a new one, but this time he just dropped them off. Over the years he had read fiction, philosophy, psychology, politics, history, biography, self-help books, even tried a couple of encyclopedias. Now he was onto children’s books.

 

Gus deposited “Goodnight Moon” and several others and continued on to his one-bedroom apartment.  Leaves rustled past his legs as the wind danced them down the sidewalk. One flew up and caught his coat sleeve. The leaf’s spine had curled up as it dried, much in the same way of his own spine. He couldn’t stand up straight any more without his lower back complaining. He brushed off the leaf as the wind joined it with the others. He closed his eyes. He liked the sound of the leaves rustling. It was restless and peaceful at the same time.

 

He reached his building and took the elevator up to the third floor. Halfway down the hall, he stopped when he saw them waiting by his door.

 

The younger man he already knew. Cooper. Tall, slim, and always wore the same crisp black suit. He was clean cut with a plain face and average features. The other man was older, forties, and looked weary. He had thick curly brown hair, baggy brown corduroy pants and a blue dress shirt, holding a single suitcase.

 

Gus stood for a moment. He was nervous and relieved. His time was over now, but what was in store for him next he didn’t know. He sighed and walked towards them.

 

“Hi Gus,” Cooper said. “Nice to see you again.”

 

“It’s been a long time, Cooper. You haven’t changed a bit and I mean not one bit.” Gus replied, then eyed the other man. “Is he the replacement?”

 

“Yes,” Cooper replied. “This is Stuart.”

 

“Hi,” Stuart said weakly. Gus eyed him over. He was introverted, shy and nervous.

 

“Come on in,” Gus said as he unlocked the door and ushered them in.

 

The apartment was simple but clean. The furniture was sparse and old – sagging couch, coffee table, side table, small shelf with a TV, an old bookcase stuffed with books, a small roll top desk with an old clock on top, a dining table with two chairs. There were some modern appliances like a microwave and a small flat screen TV but that was it. The walls were barren of any pictures or art.

 

“I’ll make some tea,” Gus offered as he hung up his jacket and walked into his small alcove kitchen.

 

“I can’t stay,” Cooper replied as he casually looked around. “You’ve kept the place nice I see,” he added.

 

“Well, it’s not the Bellagio, but I do all right.” Gus replied.

 

“You do more than all right” Cooper replied. “You’re the best tenant I’ve had, despite the visits to Mrs. Patterson and befriending the neighbourhood kids.”

 

Gus looked at him. “You know about that?”

 

“Please…” Cooper replied. “but, it doesn’t matter. You’ve not failed your task in fifty years and that’s what matters.”

 

Cooper motioned for Stuart to take a seat at the table. “I have to go,” he said. “I have other matters to attend to. Show him the ropes and I’ll be back in the morning.”

 

“Whatever you say, boss,” Gus said with a smile.

 

Cooper nodded and left.

 

Gus finished heating the water and brought two cups of tea to the table, then made a second trip for milk and sugar. Stuart proceeded to add several spoonfuls of sugar and milk to his tea while Gus drank it straight up.

 

“So what’s your sin?” Gus asked.

 

Stuart glanced up as he stirred. “Armed Robbery,” he sighed as he stirred his tea. “I was young and strung out on cocaine. I didn’t even think twice when I shot him. And for what, a hundred bucks? He was an immigrant and a father of six trying to start a new life.”

 

“Mmm,” Gus said and he sipped.

 

“What about you?” Stuart asked.

 

“Me?” Gus said. “I never fit in after Korea. Ending up drinking… a lot. I was driving smashed one evening, hit a car and killed the whole family- husband, wife, two kids…”

 

There was a long silence as Gus stared into his tea as if searching for something.

 

“And yet you lived?” Stuart asked.

 

“Yep, year in the hospital, two years in therapy just to earn a lifetime in prison. I’d still be there now if not for Cooper.”

 

“Me too. I asked him how the hell he got me out, but he wouldn’t say.”

 

“I think of it as a work release program.”

 

Stuart didn’t smile. He was clearly not in the mood for Gus’s jokes. He just fidgeted as he drank his tea as if he couldn’t get comfortable. He was probably anxious and a bit scared, just like Gus on his first night.

 

“So what do I have to do?”

 

“It’s not time yet.”

 

“What time does it have to be?”

 

“You choose your own, mine is 8:46 pm. That’s the time they died. You hungry?”

 

Gus pulled two chicken pot pies from the freezer and heated them in the oven while Stuart wandered over and browsed the books. He took a couple out, paged through them and put them back.

 

“You read all these?”

 

“Yep, many more than once.”

 

Stuart wandered to the desk and studied the clock on top. It was tarnished and looked heavy with three faces on it. The large one in the middle was a standard clock with 12 numbers, an hour and a minute hand. A smaller one on the left had a sun in the centre with twelve strange symbols surrounding it with a single hand pointing at 6. The one on the right was the same except it had a crescent moon in the centre and the hand pointing almost at 12.

 

“You have family?” Stuart asked.

 

“Somewhere I guess. You?”

 

“Mom and Dad died. I have a sister in New York. She stopped visiting when my appeals ran out. I’ve thought about reaching out to her, but Cooper says no.”

 

“Yeah. In some ways family endures more pain than you do. All they could do is stand by and watch helpless. Probably best to let them move on.”

 

They spoke little during dinner. Gus told him about the jobs in the area, how to earn enough to make a living and still keep things simple. At 8:45 an alarm clock went off on the side table next to the couch. Gus went over and shut it off.

 

“It’s time,” he said.

 

“What do I have to do?”

 

“I’ll show you,” Gus walked to the roll top desk and opened it. Inside was a small stack of bills with an opener and a cup with pens. The cubbies on the top were all empty. Gus opened a single drawer in the middle of the cubbies and pulled out an old skeleton key. He inserted it into a hole in the side of the clock and turned it as he listened to the spring deep inside increase in tension. After a dozen cranks, he removed the key, placed it back in the drawer, closed up the desk and sat back down.

 

“Is… that it?” Stuart asked.

 

“Yep,” Gus said. “Remember to do it every day at the same time.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Well, if you don’t, it stops.”

 

“And what happens if it stops?”

 

Gus thought for a moment. “I don’t know. Cooper’s not very forthcoming. He just said don’t let it stop.”

 

Stuart got up and paced the floor. “I don’t understand. How do I redeem myself then?”

 

“What?”

 

“Cooper said he was offering me the chance to redeem myself. How does winding a clock do that?” Stuart asked.

 

“What did you think you’d be doing?”

 

“I don’t know. Working in an orphanage? Feeding the homeless? Preaching the dangers of drugs? You know, making a difference.”

 

“Well, maybe every time you wind the clock, an angel gets its wings.”

 

“Enough with the jokes! Can’t you be serious?”

 

“Fine,” Gus said as he sighed. “Think of it like this. What were you doing in prison?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“You had a life sentence. Nothing to do but die, right?”

 

“Yeah. So?”

 

“Now you’re out. Cooper selected you. Not a lot of people get a chance like this. Does it really matter what you have to do?”

 

Stuart looked around the small apartment. “So… now what?”

 

“Sometimes I watch television. Most of the time I read.”

 

“Then what happens?”

 

“Nothing. You wind the clock every day until Cooper comes for you.”

 

“What happens if you miss a day?”

 

“I’ve never missed,” Gus said.

 

Stuart shrugged. “Not much different from prison, is it?”

 

“Perhaps it’s not supposed to be.”

 

“So what’s next for you?”

 

Gus walked over to the bookcase and put the books Stuart had touched back in their rightful places. He had pondered that question a lot. What would be waiting for him when Cooper came in the morning? Was it Heaven? And if it was, would they be there waiting for him? Would they forgive him? “Good question,” he finally said. “I’m sure Cooper will do what’s right.”

 

“Who is Cooper anyway?”

 

“Good question. How old do you think he is?”

 

“I don’t know… thirty?”

 

“Yeah, what would you say if I told you Cooper was the one who found me over 50 years ago? Same face, same hair, even the same black suit. As I’ve grown into an old man, he hasn’t aged a day.”

 

“How can that be?”

 

“Don’t know. And I wasn’t the first.”

 

“That would make him…”

 

“Perhaps as old as that clock,” Gus replied.

 

“So is he an angel? God? The devil?”

 

Gus shrugged. “Or perhaps he just has a really good plastic surgeon.”

 

“So, every day you wind that clock and you don’t know why?”

 

“I do know why.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because Cooper asked me too”

 

“But-.”

 

“Enough talk. I’m tired. You take the bedroom.”

 

Gus lay down on the couch. He curled into a ball and covered himself with a plain brown blanket and closed his eyes. “Go on,” he said. Stuart watched him for a while, then sighed, got up, grabbed his suitcase and went into the bedroom closing the door.

 

***

 

There was a knock on the front door.

 

Gus woke up. Outside the sun was cresting the hill, spilling its light over the landscape. The wind was still restless, causing a rustle of dead leaves that sounded just like the rain that revives the earth in spring. 

 

It was morning. Gus got up and realized he was still wearing his clothes. He walked over to the door and peered through the peephole. It was Cooper. He opened it and Cooper came in.

 

“Did you fill him in?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Is he going to work out?”

 

“Well, he’s not me, but he’ll do.”

              

Cooper smiled. “Good, you want to shower or anything before we go?”

 

Gus glanced around the apartment, the books, the desk, the clock. “No, I’m good.”

 

“Don’t you want to at least say goodbye?”

 

“No.” Gus paused. “Just… tell him to watch out for the kids on skateboards. Oh, and tell him that Mrs. Robinson makes the best stew.”

 

Gus grabbed his coat and paused. “Can I ask you something?”

 

“If you must,” Cooper replied.

 

“Why?”

 

“Why what?”

 

Gus motioned around the apartment and then at the clock. “I never once questioned you, but now I have to ask. What’s so special about the clock? Is it magic? Does it keep the world spinning or something like that?”

 

“No. It’s just a clock.”

 

“Then… why?”

 

“Well, had you still been in prison, who would have taught Dennis how to run a business, or those elementary kids how to appreciate their elders, or Trent about tolerance? Who would have helped Mrs. Patterson over the grief of her husband? And who would have saved Emma from that car? Redemption is not about big and miraculous things, it’s about doing little things every day.”

 

“It wasn’t about the clock?”

 

“Yes, it was about the clock. Had you not been here to wind it, you would have not done all those things. You spent your life helping others in your own way. As far as we’re concerned, your debt is paid.”

 

Gus frowned. All this time he was focused on the clock when that had nothing to do with it.

 

“It’s not what you expected, is it?”

 

A smile slowly crept across Gus’s face. “No. It’s not. But then again, life never is.”

 

Gus plopped the keys on the table and followed Cooper out the door. SLQ

 

+  +  +

 

Bio: Russell Heidorn lives outside Minneapolis and scatters his time between working and raising a family while pursuing his dream of writing music and fiction. His songs have received local airplay as well as won an award from the Music City Song Festival and his writing has been published in local periodicals. He is currently working on a novel about a suburban man who scatters his time between work and family while pursuing his dream. However, any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

 

Watching

A short story by Amanda Zaldua

I watch you, my love, drag your weary body to sitting and then sitting still for a moment on the edge of the bed, contemplating what? I don’t know. You slowly rise and spend time carefully making the bed, our bed, our love nest we used to call it, remember? We used to laugh at that. Then you go downstairs achingly slowly, supporting yourself with the bannister. You let yourself out, out into the cold morning bare foot, your cotton nightie barely covering your legs, your once beautiful legs. They used to turn heads, those legs. You pretended not to notice but I knew. You make your way down the street. Continue reading