Short Stories – March 2018

Foggy, Foggy Dew

The last round was served and Brian drained it methodically, set his empty pint, rimmed with a bit of foam, down on the dark oak bar, and rose from his stool just after 12:40, leaving before the official closing time of 1:00 and beating the Saturday night—now early Sunday morning—pub crowd out the door.  He had bought “his” round for the bar earlier, which meant that he would be welcomed back by the regulars next time.  “You catch on quickly, lad,” one of them told him approvingly. 

The door to O’Donough’s closed solidly behind him, cutting off the raspy singing of yet another round of “…the girls are so pretty, I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone…” and he thought, those diehards will stay on singing until they’re turned out into the night by the curfew. 

It was the usual Dublin winter night, though tonight more foggy than drizzly.  Brian, jacket collar turned up against the cold-damp, threaded his way carefully through the dark, narrow, cobble-stoned streets, back towards his rooming house in this not yet quite gentrified section of city, close enough to Trinity College that he could walk there, yet far enough away to have rents that, as an exchange student, he could afford.  The street lamps were spaced far apart and they were little more than guide lights in the black, each dimly surrounded by a small glowing white sphere of shifting fog.  The cobble stones were dark, wet, and slick and he picked his way along with care.  I probably could have done without that last round of Guinness, he thought.  And here I was planning to read tomorrow, since I meet with my mentor on Monday.  I hope I don’t have too bad a hangover in the morning.

The idea had come to him at the start of his sophomore year.  To take his junior year abroad in Dublin at Trinity.  To study English literature and writing in Ireland, the home of poets and writers, Blarney and Guinness Stout.  But what I wouldn’t give for some California sunshine and starry nights right now, he thought.  No doubts about the Guinness on tap though, so different from what we get in the States.  Totally smooth and creamy and I guess that’s worth a little damp.

He still had about another ten minutes to walk before arriving at his door.  And that’s in the daylight and sober, he thought, but now it’s late and the fog is swirling and the stones are wet and I don’t want to slip and I overdid it drinking and singing and they don’t sing “Danny Boy” here like in Irish bars stateside and when I asked them to play it they laughed and said, “You Yanks always ask for ‘Danny Boy’ or ‘Galway Bay’.” 

Ahead in the dark, he heard the faint uneven sharp clatter of a metal wheel on the cobbles.  What, no rubber tires and this late at night?  A woman’s voice too, came softly out of the fog, a lilting, sing-song refrain he couldn’t quite understand.  Must be well fueled to be singing at this hour.  Probably heading home like me after pubbing and just couldn’t get in enough singing before closing. 

Up ahead at the street lamp he saw the dark silhouette of a slight figure in a dress pushing some sort of carriage.  And now he could just make out the words of her song or chant.

“Alive, alive oh, alive, alive oh…”

Oh yeah, “Molly Malone”—again.  Must be the city anthem.  Anyway, she’s got a young clear voice, and in tune, compared to those old sots at O’Donough’s.

He had almost caught up to her by the next lamp and, not wanting to startle her by coming up from behind, called out, “You’ve got a pretty voice, Miss.”

She stopped in the misty lamp light, red curls spilling out from under her bonnet, and turned towards him with a smile.  And you’ve got a pretty face to match your voice he thought.  In her teens?  Out late.  He saw that she wore a period dress.  In costume too, maybe singing with a group?  Or in a production? 

“You’re out late tonight, Miss,” he said inanely.  “Going home now?”

“Ah well,” she said still smiling, “I’m out late most nights and the darker the better, sir.”  The barrow she was pushing held woven baskets covered by wet cloths.

“Your wheelbarrow looks quite full,” he said.  “It must be heavy for you to push.  What’s in the baskets if I might ask?”

“Why cockles and mussels of course, sir,” she replied.

Brian unconsciously took a step backwards, feeling suddenly light-headed.  “And if I might be so bold as to ask, what’s your name, Miss?” he asked, his voice suddenly tightening.

“It’s Mary, sir, but most people call me Molly.  And it’s been a pleasure speaking with you, but now I must be on my way.”

Brian stood numbly in place as he saw her lift the wheelbarrow handles and head into the swirling dark beyond the lamp light.  The wheel clattered hard on the cobblestones and her clear young voice floated back to him, “Cockles and mussels alive, alive oh, alive, alive oh…”  And then there was only the swirling fog.

He became aware that he was still standing in the lamp light, staring into the now-silent darkness after her.  She must have turned into an alley and that cut off the sounds.  That and this fog.  That’s probably it.  Yeah, that’s got to be it.  No sense to go looking for where she went.

He resumed his way towards his rooming house.  All that singing and all that Guinness got my imagination over-active, he thought, as he got ready for bed.

The next morning Brian woke late with a headache and an acid taste in his mouth and sat up on the edge of his single bed.  Did that really happen to me last night or was it a dream?  Pretty bad if I can’t tell the difference.  A Tylenol and some food should help set me straight to read.  He pulled on his jeans to go out for breakfast and felt something hard in his wallet pocket.  Funny, my wallet’s still on the night stand, he thought.  He reached into the pocket and extracted what was there—and stared at the shell nestled in the palm of his right hand—round and cream colored with deep, parallel, even ridges—a cockle.

In the Water

Left reach and pull.  Right reach and pull.  Slow and even.  I’m in this for the long haul.  Haul-that’s a good way to think of this–haul myself along in the water.  Slow—two kicks for each stroke–just for balance.  At least I got through the night.  Sky’s greying up.  Soon a sunrise.  A little pink now in the clouds.  How many strokes?  Don’t even think about counting.  Don’t even think about how long I can keep this up.  Don’t even think about sharks.  Heard they are attracted to loud noises like explosions.  Lucky none came.  No sense calling myself an idiot.  No way to figure why she went down so fast.  Grab the life vest, no time for the inflatable.  Just time to get over and away.  Boom.  That’s all she wrote.  Must have lit up the night.  But nobody saw it, nobody came.  My bad luck.  Shit.  Keep the sun on my right in the morning–on my left in the afternoon.  If it goes that long.  Get that thought out of here.  No water.  Try not to swallow too much seawater.  No food.  Water’s more important.  Water, water all around and not a drop to drink.  Who wrote that?  Back in English class I think.  Sun up at last.  Pretty sunrise.  How many sunrises on the water over the years?  At least I’m not swimming into the sun.  Like driving in from Ewa–sun in your eyes the whole way in the morning.  Jody won’t even think I’m missing till a lot later.  Told her I’d be out till around noon.  What if the current takes me far out?  Don’t think about that.  Arms so far so good.  Holding up okay.  Don’t think about getting tired.  Count one, two, three, four, five six, seven, eight–slow, keep it smooth, even.  Why’d I wear a grey shirt–yellow would make me more visible?  Heard the horizon is three miles away looking at sea level.  In the water, it’s less.  So I was maybe four miles out?  Can’t see land yet.  Guess no one saw the boat go up in flames.  Or if they did, didn’t report it.  At least the life insurance is paid up so Jody’ll be taken care of.  Dump that thought.  It’s not a weekend when there would be more boats out here.  My bad luck.  Where’s the Coast Guard when you need them?  When will Jody call them that I’m missing?  Maybe she’ll call my cell at noon and when she doesn’t get me call them then.  Will she think to do that or just figure I’m not paying attention?  Or just late getting in.  Lucky the swells aren’t huge today.  I can rest a little and not get dunked.  Lucky for Mits he was working and couldn’t come with me this time.  He’ll call me an idiot for going out alone.  Yeah, maybe.  Hindsight.  Useless now that I’m out here in the water.  If I get to hear him tell me that I’ll be real happy to agree.  If I don’t get to hear him—dump that thought.  Shirt helps keep me warmer.  But the shorts are a drag.  Maybe I should just take them off and leave them.  But then suppose a shark comes up and bites off my balls?  Deep down below.  Dump that thought.   Don’t look down.  How’d the fire start and then the explosion?  No answers.  Never will be.  How far have I gone?  How much closer to land?  No way to figure.  Am I going in circles?  No landmarks—landmarks in the water?—stupid.  Just keep smooth even stroking and kicking.  Don’t think.  Keep mind empty and just stroke.  Right, how do I do that?  One and two and three and four and…. steady main thing.  Keep the sun on the right.  Right.  Will hypothermia get me first or dehydration?  Lose that thought.  Got to keep going.  Why?  Jody, I’m sorry I’m leaving you like this.  You know I love you, right?  Will you miss me a lot?  For how long?   She won’t miss you at all you idiot if you hang on long enough to get found.  How long now?  Sunrise around six.  Sun’s higher now.  I went out at three.  So maybe six hours.  Float a while.  Rest.  But not too long—muscles will stiffen up.  Stroke.  Loose, keep it loose, steady.  A drink would be good.  Don’t think about water.  A Bud would be nice.  Don’t think about Bud.  The next swell, look for land.  Nothing.  Did I drift too far?  Maybe I should just float and save energy.  If they find me, they find me.   Luck.  Not mine today.  Past breakfast time.  Sun’s petty high now.  More towards noon.  Lunch.  Food.  What would I eat first if I’m found?  Don’t think about food.  Corn beef hash and eggs easy over.  No!  Dump the thought.  Start to stroke again.  One and two and three and four and …. 

A plane?  A plane?  Wait—up on the next swell—yes!  Is it the Coast Guard C-130?  Yes it is.  Hey, over here.  Turn back.  Come back.  Wave.  Too far.  Damn!  So close and yet so far.  Who said that?  Can’t see it from down in the trough, but up there they should be able to see me.  If they looking for me.  Up again on the swell.  They’re turning back.  Please.  Maybe this time.  Please.  Wave!  Are they starting to circle?  Please.  They must see me.   Yes, circling!