PITY by Jennifer Conroy

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Jennifer Conroy

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The Irish Pub. Nearly all of their stories- the important ones at least– had begun and ended nestled among the heavy footed oak chairs, stained with a finish long ago faded by the worn bodies of those who had come before. The chairs gave an exhausted creak with every slight movement, but in their resilience they held strong, having been made during a time when men were men and craftsmanship was no longer an antiquated reference to a past long ago.

It was a pub like many others. It shared its name with that of the owner, as was the old custom with most Irish born businesses. The ceiling, ornate with tin tiles would often reverberate the music on nights when local three-man bands took the stage. The sound from their drums bouncing off the tin, escalating the energy and pushing the fiddler to move his fine, fine bow ever faster, faster, faster. The menu was brief, but eloquently put down with the clarity of a woman’s hand- the owner’s stern and intolerant mother? His American wife? Patrons knew to stay away from the Grilled Cedar Planked Salmon (One could never quite trust the freshness of a salmon in a pub so far north), but hungrily came back time and time again for the Shepard’s Pie. The ground sirloin beef was expertly blended with an assortment of fresh herbs, sweet summer peas, crisp onions, and deep orange carrots. The mashed champ that sat on top was always looked upon with the greatest of reverence.

She uncrossed her legs. The top leg had gone numb. Her right leg found the floor and she wiggled her toes feeling the prickly pins scatter throughout her foot. She re-crossed her legs, and the chair -with the one uneven leg- gave a wobble and a groan as she readjusted. Her arms remained folded, tightly. She leaned away from the table and pressed her back into the curved nook of the chair. She swallowed hard, pursed her lips, and took a breath. The warm air was thick with the smell of beef and potato.

Pleasing him had come naturally to her. After all, she did love him. There had been a time, her memories now dulled in color, that she had carefully chosen her words and stories when in his presence. Each narrative unfolding in careful anticipation of his reaction, baiting in his approval with hopeful purpose that her stories might connect with his stories. That her stories might evoke from him a past that he only bestowed on those moments he felt most alive. It was in these moments that his youth shone most brightly. He would roar with a deep, rich laughter barely able to get through his story before prematurely laughing at a punch line only he knew. It was this premature laugh that most strongly peaked the listeners’ interest. His laugh so genuine, so deeply soulful that this punch line of his must, with certainty, be worth the wait. Must be of such worth that they would hang on his every laugh and breath until he was able to finish the story- the listeners always erupting in a chorus of laughter. Age and gender made no difference. Everyone wanted to be a part of his story. This was, she felt, what one would call charisma. She was captivated in these moment by his natural inclination to spin a story, painting each character in their given role. To him, a man was black or white. It was this perception, she had later realized, that perhaps became the first line in the sand. A small line, but still– it remained and eventually veiled his eyes in a curtain of fog.  However, it was this inability to see a gray area, which allowed him such confidence and surety in telling his stories.

His stories ranged from childhood through adolescence. Among an audience in his small-town he would fondly recall the day he skipped catholic school to ride around with the milk man. Among his college friends, he was sure to reflect on the day a motor cycle was driven from the elevator onto the fifth floor into the dorm room of a haughty, tightly-spun resident director.  It was through these stories that she caught a glimpse of who he had been in his golden youth. And so when she could, she had earnestly tried over the years to mirror his craft- secretly hoping it would elicit in him a reminder of who he once had been.

Again she uncrossed her legs, and rather than re-crossing this them time, she placed her left ankle behind her right and sat up straight. He was nervous. She could tell. He was not one to smile without purpose. He joked- almost too heartily with the waitress. Shared news of friends that she neither knew nor cared to know about.  Desperate to fill the space with anything. She reached for her pint glass. He was not drinking today. She emptied her glass and leaned back in the chair. Still thirsty for answers and forgiveness and the past. She said nothing. Smiling curtly at his weightless words.

Glancing around the room, she eyed a couple she guessed to be in their mid-forties perched upon two stools. He with a close cropped hair-cut, neatly tucked in shirt milking a dark, leathery looking stout. And she with her short brown hair, calm demeanor and neutral colors. They sat and talked. Comfortable with one another. The woman said something funny and he laughed, briefly placing his hand on top of hers. Each wore a wedding band. Did they have children? A shared life?

It was on those same stools that she recalled sitting nearly four years ago with him. Celebrating the completion of her graduate degree and then a year later – opposite those stools- in the booth that was tucked under the stairwell- the one with a black and white photo that hung above the table- that they talked for hours following the death of her grandfather. Each of them recalling warm memories of the man he had been.

And here they were. The middle of a snowy afternoon, again burrowed away in this corner pub. Still she said little. The waitress came around with her soft pretty eyes. She too exerting an extra attempt at friendliness; sensing the thousand-ton tension which rightly deserved its own seat at the table. The waitress collected the empty plates and eyeing the girl’s empty glass, asked if she would like another.

“No.” A real smile for the waitress.  “No, no thank you.” She did not deserve to be drawn into this table of three.

The waitress nodded, and smiled in a knowing way, the way that waitresses do, and moved on. Her hands full. Her hair stylishly pinned back.

He pulled in his chair. It was heavy though and did not move very far. He leaned forward and placed his elbows on the table, folding his arms. A new light had spread across his face. He cleared his throat.

“I’ve met someone.” He narrowed his eyes, tipped his head ever so slightly and waited for her response. Her words. Her reaction.

She knew that he had no one else to tell and she pitied him. Not a confident nor a brother to share such an announcement with. It was only her. He only had her left to tell. She hated that she pitied him. Loathed it.

She gathered the pieces of her voice; arresting them to come forth from the corners of her throat and asked, “What is her name?”

Later, she would ask the other questions.  And far after that, she would curse herself for the tears that balanced on the tips of her eyelids in the midafternoon, in a pub on the corner while it snowed. She would tip her head back and gaze at the tin ceiling above, willing the tears to stay within their confines. The waitress would walk by, careful to avoid eye contact.

After the questions were asked and the tears had had their time, she sat in rigid silence. Her only weapon. He had expected words. He had prepared for words. Her questions too had been expected. The silence though was uncomfortable; an itch he could not scratch.

When she left the pub, she left in somber silence. The tables to her left were being cleared and prepared for the early dinner crowd. The long, wrap-around bar to her right, was beginning to fill with a sprinkling of locals who worked in the surrounding area. Careful to avoid any familiar faces, she pulled her scarf around her face and pushed open the door with the wrought iron handle. In the darkening hours, the snow fall had quickened its pace and fell with emphasis all around her.

Arriving home, she pulled off her boots; her socks slightly damp.  She smelled of the cold, a smell those only from the North can truly know. Her fair skin was raw and red from the wind. Peeling off her scarf and coat she took a deep breath. The drive home had calmed and renewed her. She opened the door from the mud room and gently stepped into the kitchen.  The scent of roasting tomatoes, garlic, and mozzarella stung her nose and her stomach grumbled in hunger.

In front of the stove, her mother held a glass of red wine and stood stirring a large copper pot. Steam rose from the pot in a curvy, wispy manner.  “How was lunch with your father?”

She always asked. What she really meant was, “How are you after having lunch with your father?”

“It was fine.” She paused.  “What’s for dinner?”

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Jennifer Conroy, a native of Upstate New York, currently resides in Dublin, Ireland. When she isn’t nestled away at a café writing her own stories, she is listening, reading, or imagining the stories of those who surround her. Jennifer holds a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Women’s Studies and an MA in Adolescent Education. She is humbled to have her first story appear on Storgy.

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