Like short stories?
I do too. One of my favorites is The One Bedroom Ark, which has recently been published in my latest book – A Box of Memories – which is a compilation of short stories I’ve written over the years. I had the pleasure of reading this story at my recent book launch. It seemed like it was time to do a follow-up story and Part 2 was born.
** Please note that this is an unedited version and I would be happy to hear any comments.
The beginning is posted today. Watch for the second and last installment on Wednesday, July 3.
One Bedroom Ark – Part 2
(Copyright is held by the author)
Clair Callahan begins her day by counting the float. She’s running a little late and Coyne’s Confectionary always opens sharp at 8 a.m. The flashing of the crosswalk light on the corner causes her to look up. Her reflection in the store’s front window outlines her slender face, a loose strand falling on her forehead, the sharp nose and wide happy eyes of the faintest green, stare out at the busy street in front of the store. The pavement, wet and slick from a drizzling rain, shines yellow and black, yellow and black, until the warning light suddenly stops. She wonders if the person crossing the street might be coming this way – the first customer of the day.
The float balances. She shoves the cash drawer shut and grabs the Specials sign to prop it outside where it’s squatted for sixty-three years. She had to replace the chalkboard last summer much to Noah’s chagrin, said it was fine. When she first started working for Noah, she pestered him for new hinges, reminding him that it might fall over. Appealing to his sentimentality, she hinted that his father wouldn’t have liked that. Extending the board open until a chain holds it in a perfect triangle, she takes a piece of chalk from her jeans pocket and with sweeping curves and precise letters; she marks the day’s specials on both sides.
Welcome to Coyne’s
$0.52 / lb.
Fresh bread from Bonnie’s Bakery
Sliced and unsliced - $0.89 / loaf
She’s only wearing a short sleeved blouse, her favorite pink one, and the first of June is still cool. Rubbing her arms, she looks up and down the street, thinking she’s glad the drizzle has stopped and the sun is blinking on the horizon. There’s not as much traffic since the city built the bypass. She prefers it this way, safer for kids and business is still good. She likes the smell of wet asphalt the rain leaves behind. The couple that crossed the street are heading this way. She squints because she needs glasses for distances and recognizes the Barclays, Fred and Diana.
Since Clair convinced Noah to add a small breakfast nook, they come every morning for what they call their treats, as does Bobby Belliveau and the Gillespies. Coffees, tea for Joanne Gillespie, Bobby and Fred will each have a donut or a Vachon cake, Diana has toast and cigarettes, so slips out back a couple of times for a smoke. They chatter like myna birds on uppers. Bobby’s the joke teller and usually brings two or three so there’s always gaiety in the gathering. They stay for roughly an hour, eyeballing, and no doubt, criticizing the other patrons.
Normally Noah looks after the café but this morning, Marsha Kershaw, their part-time helper looks after it. A retired widow, she comes whenever they need her. Anna woke up with sweats and a high temperature this morning and Noah offered to look after her. He looks for every chance to be with her, spoils her rotten. Walks her to kindergarten and picks her up every day. Clair can’t imagine what she would’ve done without Noah. Nowhere to go, no one to turn to when Anna was a baby, Noah took her in, gave her a roof, gave her a job, gave Anna a home. Her heart is heavy this morning because she has to tell Noah that she needs to find another place to live because the one bedroom apartment is too small. She has other disappointing news for him and hates to tell him but knows she must.
The first lull in the store traffic comes around 10:30 and she straightens up the cash in the register, wipes the fingerprints off the glass on the counters, stocks the shelves with new product which came in yesterday. She can hear Marsha emptying the dishwasher; the pinging of the glassware pleases her. A calendar hangs on the narrow wall to the left of the cash register. Compliments of Eddy’s Service Station, it has a new picture of the Maritime Provinces every month. The Rocks at Hopewell Cape remind her that it’s not May anymore. In fact it’s the first Monday of the next month. She flips it over and clips it on a brad nail protruding from the wall. The white sand of Cavendish Beach in Prince Edward Island glows orange in a glorious sunset over New London Bay on the new page.1990 is looking good she thinks.
She glances up when she hears the ringing of the bell by the front door and sees Noah and Anna coming in. Anna is wearing her butterfly costume with the small wings sticking from the back. It’s her favorite dress and always gets Noah to dig it out for her. She can mostly dress herself now but needs help with the buttons. Noah is beaming as usual. Once inside she releases Noah’s hand and rushes to her mother.
“Hi Momma, Grampy Noah let me wear my butterfly dress today. He told me he would teach me to fly but I told him only birds and angels can fly. Isn’t that right Momma?”
Clair hugs her daughter, holding her tiny body close. Noah has a big grin.
“Yes, that’s right honey. Don’t you believe everything Grampy Noah tells you. Are you feeling okay?”
Anna’s already focused on the lollipops and not listening. Her nose and hands on the glass front.
“She’s feeling much better now Clair. I gave her some scrambled eggs and orange juice, didn’t affect her appetite it seems. I don’t know where she tucks it all in.”
Anna turns to the two of them.
“Can I have a purple one Grampy Noah?”
Noah raises his brows at Clair who smiles and nods.
“Sure sweetie, c’mon in behind the counter with me and you can pick one out.”
Clair watches them. Noah takes out the glass jar full of colored sweetness and holds it while Anna digs in. She has to take out two or three and even though they are all the same, she makes an issue out of picking the right one. Anna’s short brown curls flounce around when she shakes her head or nods at Noah. She can’t help but marvel at the two of them, Noah with his gray wavy hair and gentle lines around his eyes, the darkest blue she’s ever seen. A warm and gentle man, he’s still as handsome as ever. His grandchildren are young adults now and live so far away. She knows he misses his daughter and the two kids but travels to Vancouver every six months for a couple of weeks and always says that’s about as much as he can tolerate his boastful son-in-law. Clair has never met them but she will meet the grandson soon, he’s coming to spend a week with Noah. Her thoughts are interrupted by customers. Noah, Anna and a purple sucker wave goodbye.
When Clair questions him with open hands, he says, “Going to the park on Dufferin Street, Anna wants to go on the swings. I’ll bring her back at lunch time.”
The customer is a regular, buys his smokes here often, and knows who Anna is and how much Noah dotes on her. Clair is shaking her head as she bags the purchases.
“I swear if Anna asked for a purple dragon, I think Noah would find one for her.”
At noon, Marsha takes over in the store so Clair can go eat. The café is self-serve for the rest of the day. Clair will keep the coffee fresh. To access the apartments, you have to go out of the store. A door to the second level is on the far left of the building. The large windows of the store are separated by the main entrance, where the sandwich board is perched. When Clair comes out, she sees Noah and Anna at the crosswalk waiting for the light. Anna must be telling Noah a story because her little hands are waving and circling in the air. She’s laughing when she looks up at Noah and Noah gives her his full attention, his shoulders moving in the quiet way he laughs. Clair waits for them. She meets them at the doorway to their apartments.
“Oh Momma, I was flying on the swings, Grampy Noah was pushing me real high.”
This causes a frown and Clair confronts Noah.
“I asked you not to push her so fast, she might slip off.”
Noah looks like a boy being scolded for peeking in the girls’ room, he knows he’s guilty.
“I just did it for a little bit, isn’t that right sweetie?”
Anna is looking up at them with open mouth knowing when her mother is upset. She doesn’t want Grampy Noah to get in trouble. Puts on a pretend smile and nods.
“Un-huh. Just a little.”
Clair purses her lips and tsks at them.
“You two, one’s as bad as the other.”
She wags her finger at them.
“No more high pushes. Now Noah what are you having for lunch?”
“I put minestrone in the slow cooker this morning when I got up and it’ll be done now. You two can join me if you like. I made lots.”
Anna makes a puckered face.
“It’s a soup dear, you like soup. Okay then Mr. Chef, we’ll do that.”
Unlocking the door, she lets Anna head up the stairs first and she turns to Noah.
“There’s something I have to tell you.”
Noah sees bad news written all over Clair’s face. He thinks he knows what it’s about and has a solution.
“I have something to tell you also. Let’s go eat. I’ll put cartoons on for Anna after and we can talk, ok?
Later Clair and Noah are sitting at the kitchen table in Noah’s apartment sipping their coffees and finishing up the blueberry pie Clair made yesterday. She’s comfortable here, likes the way he decorates, lots of orderly clutter. Rooms are large, holding many antiques. She puts on her best smile and starts to tell him what’s on her mind. Before she starts, Noah holds up his hand.