St. Anthony's Stories

Mark

“You’ll need to call the office of—“

Mark let his arm drop to his side. He could hear the squawk “Sir? Sir!” Her tone suggested a reprimand for his requests for assistance. He pressed the red circle on the screen and she fell silent. Just then his bus drove down the street without stopping, splashing dirty brown slush across Mark’s trousers and coat.

He began to walk without a destination in mind, dragging his feet as though he were dragging concrete blocks behind him. He gasped for breath and wished for a moment that he had been standing in front of the bus. It would be easier, maybe, than getting back on the phone with the Veterans Administration or any of the other offices they kept suggesting he call to remedy the error in the system. It would be easier than all these calls for one pill, just one to help ease his pain.

He began moving faster and then, without warning, his feet were suddenly lighter than air, flying in front of him as he hit an icy patch beneath the fresh fallen snow. The sound was sucked right out of his chest, prohibiting him from bellowing an expletive at the top of his lungs.

Mark lay on the sidewalk, his hat rolling into the street and quivered. He stared up at the lacy branches interlocking across the steely sky above him. A large, swiftly falling flake landed directly on his eye and he closed them, fast. There was a warm wetness at the corner of his eye that traced a meandering path down his face and into his left ear. Then, what was this? Another. And another.

Mark let his shoulders sink away from his ears and his feet droop to the sides as he let his body conform to the soft snow beneath him. His chest began to lighten and the sound returned.

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Happy Little Writer Sarah, St. Anthony's Stories

Ted

They sat on the driveway in their lawn chairs chasing the shade. By late afternoon, the entire concrete pad would be bathed in white hot July sunlight and they’d be forced to retreat to the shade of the garage or inside entirely, but for now, the moved their chairs every twenty minutes or so as the shadow of the oak tree crept across the lawn. Laura was cradling a mystery novel from the library in her lap and the edges made a sweaty crease across her thighs. Adam absently poked at his phone from time to time and the dog, Fred, lay on her side and panted miserably.

Laura knew she would lose this battle. The couple of hundred bucks they’d make on their junk would not convince Adam that the whole ordeal was worth it. After weeks of stockpiling old clothes and unused kitchen appliances and hand-me-down tools in the garage, hours of pricing and tagging, and now this, the hottest day of the year. If the woman hadn’t knocked on their door an hour before they were ready to open for business, perhaps she could have managed a truce. That violation of Adam’s privacy, however, had pushed the whole charade from “tolerable” to “absolutely not fucking worth it.”

Ted and Bea rounded the corner and inched up the street in Ted’s little Ford Ranger. Laura pressed her lips together. She was pretty sure Bea had a car, she glimpsed an older model Buick in the garage, behind the door that was always shut. But Ted insisted on driving her everywhere, escorting her to and from the market and the bank like an antiquated chauffer. Bea bounded out of the passenger seat dressed in white and pink, her tan legs still shapely. She carried a tennis racket and wiggled her fingers in their general direction by way of greeting. Ted was still swinging his legs out the door and, with great effort, was pulling himself out of the truck with one arm gripping the door handle and the other precariously placed atop his cane. Bea steadied him by the elbow and helped him to his place on the glider in their side yard. When he was appropriately settled she bounded up the stairs and into the kitchen door. Laura could see her cracking ice into glasses.

“She takes awfully good care of him, the old grump,” Laura said.

“He’s not so bad.” She got the distinct impression that any idea she had at this juncture would provoke disagreement in her husband and so she shrugged, leaned back and closed her eyes, pointed refusing to engage.

He wasn’t so bad, though, that was true. When they’d first moved into the house a year ago, Ted—slightly more nimble then—had hobbled up the driveway and offered Adam the use of any of his tools. “Anything atall,” he’d said, making the last two words into one, like her grandfather. Laura suspected he had more interest in seeing what Adam was working on in the garage—he’d been building her a bench. Ted made a few pointed suggestions, Adam graciously thanked him and then he’d returned to his glider.

Nosy old man, Laura thought.

She must have drifted off there on the driveway, because what seemed like moments later she was blinking her eyes open, aware of the tell tale tingle on her nose and shoulders. The shade had moved and she had not moved with it. She looked around for Adam, how could he let her fall asleep in the midday sun like that? A shadow fell across her lap.

“I’d like this here garden hose. How much?”

“Hi, there, Ted.” Laura squinted up at him, his face dark and backlit by the sun directly behind him. “Adam priced it at $3.”

“I’ll give you two.” He held out his hand and impatiently shook a pile of quarters at her as if the decision had been made. Laura gritted her teeth and took them.

“She had Alzheimer’s, you know.” Ted stood awkwardly. Laura still couldn’t make out his face and tried to shift to see him better. “We’re going to have to leave this house. I’ve done my best for so long, but I—“

“Oh, Ted, I’m sorry.”

“I just can’t bear putting her in a home, but I.” To her horror, his voice caught. “I can’t do it anymore. I want to. But I can’t.”

He let out a noise that Laura was sure was more animal than human, a sort of wail and groan and snort. He put his free hand over his eyes, the green garden hose dangling from his wrist. Laura tried to stand, but before she could, Adam was there at Ted’s side. He put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed for a moment. Laura marveled at how tall he was there, next to this old man who seemed to shrink by the minute. Her young, lithe husband, so boy-like, seemed to know just what to do.

“Thank you for telling us, Ted. We’ll do whatever we can to help.” Adam said.

“I just didn’t want you to think she was crazy if she started talking about her babies. Her babies are older than you all. You might find it peculiar—“

“Well, we’ll be happy to listen either way.” Adam said, taking the hose from Ted’s arm. Ted fixed his eyes on him over the tops of his glasses.

“Yes, well, that’s kind of you. Would you mind helping me home, now?”

Laura, unable to breathe or swallow, watched the two of them amble tentatively across the yard to where Bea stood, holding two glasses of lemonade, beaming.

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St. Anthony's Stories

Molly

“Toronto is the best city I’ve ever been too.” Sherri pushed her hair back from her face and continued to buff her long, curved fingernails, neglecting to mention how many cities she’d actually visited. Molly knew she’d only been to St. Louis and Chicago. “Blake goes there for his work meetings, conferences, whatever, every year. He always takes me with him and I go shopping while he works. It’s the best place to shop. Better than Chicago.”

“Where’s Toronto?” Brandi asked, twirling a lock of permed hair around her finger.

“Don’t do that, you’ll make the curl fall out.” Sherri said, lifting her eyes from her fingernails. Brandi put her hands in her lap. “It’s in Canada.” She said the word as though she were saying Borneo. Molly had been to Canada, once, to Niagara Falls with her family. She never talked about the vacations she and her family took every summer, even though everyone in the room knew, they all lived on the same block after all. She knew if she spoke of her trips it would be gloating, and she didn’t want to gloat. Besides, Sherri’s trips to Toronto and all the things she and Blake did together were far more interesting than some national park.

Sherri sat on the cream colored couch in the Strickland’s small living room, while Brandi and Molly sprawled on the floor. The room felt smaller with the weight of the frames adorning the buff colored walls, pictures of Sherri and Blake in their wedding garb, Sherri and Blake and their families on their wedding day, and Sherri and Blake with eighteen attendants between them. Molly admired how the bridesmaids and groomsmen all lined the concrete steps in front of the church according to height, forming a perfect pyramid. She wondered if that was by design, or if Sherri and Blake were just lucky enough to like their friends in direct proportion to their height. She was pretty sure it was the latter.

“Molly, you’ve been working on the same math problem for fifteen minutes,” Sherri observed. “Do you need help?” Molly didn’t. What she wanted was to put aside her math and give her undivided attention to Sherri’s tales of buying a two piece and shopping for strappy sandals like Brandi who rarely brought her homework to Sherri and Blake’s. Molly wanted to be the first to hold Baby Kirk when he woke up from his nap and she wanted to hear Sherri laugh at one of her jokes. Besides, she didn’t need help with her math, though sometime she let Sherri help because she seemed to enjoy it.

“Did you hear that Melissa got her—“ Brandi stopped and smiled sheepishly, then whispered, “her period?” Molly felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. She loved to hear Sherri talk about growing up as one of ten girls. She loved the stories of her wedding day, the shenanigans the guys caused by being late after a night out drinking, the girls that gave her special trinkets at breakfast and dancing to The Time of My Life for their first dance. She loved that Sherri trusted her to retrieve Baby Kirk from his crib after his nap, change his diaper and warm a bottle and then carry him around the house balanced on her own twelve year old hip as though he were hers. But she did not want to talk about periods. Periods led to talking about boobs and boobs led to talking about boys and, well, Molly didn’t even want to think about boys and boobs and periods in the same paragraph, much less the same sentence.

Everyone else seemed to love to talk them, though. Brandi was dying to know everything there was to know about all of the above. Sherri had plenty of advice to share. You didn’t swim with your period, nor did you wear white pants. You probably shouldn’t do anything in gym class, either. Bras were very important, you should start wearing one as SOON as you had a ghost of a tit, or your nipples would crawl toward your toes before you were thirty. Bras and panties should match, except during your period, at which time you should just wear granny panties no matter what so as not to ruin your nice ones. Once they talked about trimming your hair down there, but Molly said she needed to go to the bathroom and stayed there until she was sure the conversation had shifted.

As far as Molly could tell, when you got your period, your life was over for the next forty years of your life until something called menopause happened, which meant that you were old and even more miserable. And when it was your time of the month, if you could just hibernate in your bedroom that would be best for everyone.

“Tell me more about Toronto,” Molly said quickly.

“We stayed in this hotel and it had this giant chandelier in the lobby. Oh. My. God. It was bangin’.” Sherri stopped and looked over her shoulder out the window at the car that pulled up in the driveway. “Kinda early for Blake to be home.”

Molly ran to the refrigerator and pulled a can of Miller Lite off the bottom shelf. She was ready—this was the running gag she and Blake had. She stood in the doorway between the kitchen and living room and waited for him to notice her.

“You’re home early,” Sherri said.

“Yeah.” He ran his hand through his hair and glanced around the room at Brandi painting her toenails on the living room carpet, Sherri reading a magazine and finally, Molly standing in the door with his can of beer. He sighed and held out his hand. She grinned and pretended to shake the can. She wasn’t really, she was shaking her body more than the can, and besides, Blake was good at drinking the foam. This time he snatched the can from her hands and turned on Sherri.

“Why is it that every goddamn day I come home and there is a gaggle of kids hanging out in my living room?”

“Because I like them,” Sherri said, staring at her fingernails.

“They don’t belong here! They are not my kids, they are not your sisters, they are just neighborhood kids! I just want to come home and sit on my couch with a beer in peace.”

Sherri looked at Brandi, her face apologetic. Brandi shrugged in response and began to collect her cotton balls and nail polish remover. Sherri turned to Molly, but she’d already backed through the kitchen.

“It’s ok, Molly,” Sherri called, but Molly had slipped through the kitchen door and began to weave her way back through the yards, up the block to her own backyard. She’d left her math homework on Sherri and Blake’s living room rug, she’d have to go back to get it and she couldn’t bear the thought of returning.

The next morning he heard Blake’s voice talking to her father. She hid at the top of the stairs, breathlessly waiting for Blake to leave. She was sure he was telling her father she was never allowed to return, that she took up too much of his wife’s time and energy

“Molly.” Her father stood on the landing and held out her math book, papers sticking out of the binding. “Keep better track of your things. You’re almost a teenager. Act your age.”

 

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St. Anthony's Stories

Jess

I always walk to my yoga class so Ben won’t wonder why I’m so rosy and cold when I get home. It’s a half-mile walk, straight shot, really, just ten minutes or so. Every Thursday I think about it all day long, I watch the minutes tick by, closer and closer to six o’clock and I begin to feel my heart race. Every week I think maybe I’ll be sick or tired and I won’t go. And every week I go anyway.

As I get closer to the big glass doors on the first floor of the fancy new condo building that just went up 18 month ago, I feel my pace slow. And as I’m approaching I can see the teacher through the windows, welcoming two rows of students in brightly colored tanks and pants. I think, I can’t walk in now, late. I’ll disrupt the whole class and what’s worse than disrupting a yoga class?

A couple of times someone ballsier than me has ducked breathlessly into class, trying to inauspiciously unroll her mat in a cramped back corner of the room while breathing deeply and trying to find her center.

Sometimes I watch the class for a while. I remember the poses for later. But mostly I just watch the students and how they react to the movements. Some are proud and limber, others clearly more in tune with their breath, some fold forward and their arms dangle many inches above the tops of their feet. Once I saw a man cry as he brought his hands to his heart.

More often, though, I walk through the neighborhood, carrying my yoga mat with me. I walk the dark streets with no destination or intention. I watch people coming home from work, struggling with groceries up the icy front steps, ungloved hands blistering red in the cold. I watch the dog walkers, talking on the phone or listening to music, cocking a hip to the side while their companions do their business. There is an old man that walks deliberately from his apartment in a residential living facility to the corner bar at six-thirty on the dot. Sometimes I follow him, afraid he’ll slip on the ice or trip over a crack in the sidewalk. He never has.

When I walk up the steps to our house, it is always at the same time, 7:25. Ben looks up from his computer and tells me that the baby is sleeping.

“How was class?”

“Great. So great.”

He looks at me with eyes full of tenderness and resentment.

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St. Anthony's Stories

Anna

She walked into the bar of Mimmo’s Café still clad in that awful pinstripe suit she thought made her look thinner. She’d pulled her hair back into a ponytail, but wisps still stuck to her sweaty cheeks. I was glad she wore a jacket so we didn’t both have to ignore her pit stains.

“I went ahead and ordered us a carafe, thirsty Thursday and all.” I said by way of greeting. Anna smiled wryly and filled her glass with the house red. She sipped and then sipped again, the muscles in her jaw flexing as she swallowed. At twenty-five, she already looked like a pro.

“I need to ask you a favor and I need you to not ask any questions.”

“I’m happy to do you a favor but we both know I’m not promising no questions.” She sat a little longer and then lit a cigarette. She smoked the whole thing down and then nudged it out in the black plastic ashtray between us.

“Can I come stay with you for a while?” I sat back in my seat and pulled a cigarette from her pack while I studied her. She met my gaze, her steady eyes giving away nothing.

Anna got married two years ago to the man we all assumed was the love of her life. And frankly, we were jealous. When Anna got into that car wreck, when she pulled the muscles in her lower back or whatever, she was told to take a warm bath in Epsom salts. She went out to the CVS, found the salts, got herself some tea and muscle rub and when she finally made it home to draw her bath, she discovered that their apartment bathtub was missing a stopper. So what did David do? He jerry-rigged a cloth stopper and a plastic cup and sat there at her feet, holding the cup in place so she could recline in her Epsom salts. That’s the kind of guy David was.

The only question was why on Earth Anna needed to leave her two-bedroom bungalow tucked away at the end of the cul-de-sac and that was not the question to ask.

“When?”

“Tomorrow. Or Saturday. I can wait until Saturday if you want.”

“Anna, if you need to come tomorrow, you should come tomorrow. I’ll clean out the spare room.”

She stared straight ahead into the mirror behind the bottles. She dropped her chin to her chest for a moment, then pulled her hair out of the ponytail, removed her earrings and set them on the bar. She shrugged that awful gray suit coat off her shoulders. She was wearing this magenta silk sleeveless blouse. I could see the curve of her biceps and deltoids. This was new.

“Thank you.” I put my hand on that newly defined arm muscle and squeezed.

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St. Anthony's Stories

Poppy

 

Poppy always requested Carla when her parents planned an evening out. It perplexed her mother because Carla wasn’t particularly entertaining. Other sitters came armed with activities that kept her occupied, but Poppy knew that if Carla came over, she’d happily let Poppy use her fountain pen while she watched television.

“Will you help me with my homework?”

“Sure, what is it?”

“I need to write a thank you letter. But I am not very good at spelling. Would you write it out? Just to help me with the words?”

Carla hesitated, as though she thought she might be aiding some cheating plot. Poppy could hear the opening notes of her favorite television show’s theme song. Carla shrugged, took out her pen and began to write while Poppy dictated.

Poppy watched as Carla’s thin, pale hand danced lightly across the page. The ink seemed to flow like the tiniest faucet, gracefully appearing on the paper. It glistened there for a moment before drying. The letters looked like art work.

When Carla was settled into Poppy’s father’s recliner, Poppy uncapped the fountain pen and began to duplicate the letter. She examined each character in Carla’s neat script and did her best to mimic it. The letters seemed to lift toward the top of the page, as though there were an imaginary string that pulled them northward. They canted slightly to the right, speeding toward the edge, and her G’s and Y’s looped effortlessly. Poppy spent the hours before her bed time writing the words over and over, trying to make her hand form the letters just like Carla’s did.

When Carla came into her room to turn out the light she stopped for a moment.

“Why do you try so hard to write like me?”

Poppy thought a moment. Carla’s long, straight blonde hair hung over one shoulder like a curtain. Poppy fingered her own coarse hair. When she was in first grade her mother explained that no matter what she did, her hair would never look like Carla’s or any of the other girls in school with straight, light colored locks. Poppy had resigned herself that her own reflection would never resemble girls like Carla.

“Your handwriting is pretty.”

“Huh. Thanks. Well, good night then.”

Poppy pulled the thank you notes, folded into dozens of tiny squares so it would fit into the palm of her hand, out from beneath her pillow. She could examine them in the square of blue light coming into the window from the street. It was close, but she could still tell the difference. Her A’s were too round and it was evident by the weight of her script that her writing was more deliberate than Carla’s.

It was ok. She would keep practicing.

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St. Anthony's Stories

Ben

He stood at the bar and stared through the front windows, watching the snow fall in what looked like white sheets. He’d been in Michigan five years and yet his southern heart was surprised over and over at the variations of winter that could occur here. He’d never imagined snow falling in sheets like rain, pulsing and driving with the wind, and yet, it did.

He thought of Jess at home with Alfred, sipping herbal tea, the two of them tucked beneath flannel and blankets, burrowed in. He was just weeks old and still seemed to want to crawl right back into Jess’ body, as though he was furious that he’d been evicted in the first place. And she, despite months of panic and anxiety, seemed to know just how to console him in his grief.

She called him Freddie. Much to Jess’ disgust, Ben called him Alf.

Ben would have thought a snowstorm of this nature would drive people indoors. Instead, it drove them to their local watering hole. In this case their brewery. He fingered the barn wood bar that he’d worked tirelessly to lacquer to smoothness, the tiles he’d painstakingly placed behind the taps, the copper ceiling he’d put in, late on summer night listening to James Brown. He was proud of it. It had been his part of the dream, carefully designed and crafted, day in and day out, ignoring her impatient pleas to hurry because they were nearly out of money and needed to open.

But this part, the people, they were hers. These people, the dozens of them that sat swaddled in down, Sorel boots dripping snowmelt, hair plastered to their faces and necks in odd ways thanks to the snow and sweat and the wool hats that they crammed over their ears, they’d be here until close. He knew this. Jess would love it.

“Heya, man, how about a stout? Feels like stout kinda day, right? Actually, can you tell me a bit about it? What’s it taste like?” Like a stout. Ben poured a taste in a glass and slid it across the bar. “Oh, yeah, that’s good, real good. I’ll have a pint of that. Actually, nah, I’ll take a Pale. Yeah, I’ll go with a Pale Ale. That’s good, too, yeah?”

Ben stared at him and shrugged. “If you like Pales.”

“Huh. Yeah. I’ll go with the Pale.”

Ben poured the beer, marked the tab and turned back to the window. He heard the fellow in his red and black plaid turn to his friend, “not super friendly here are they?”

This was never his dream.

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