We Stay

Short Story by Isabelle Sorrells

A crooked smile peeked its way through the folds of a frozen frown. Many assumed Dave did not like to smile, but really he did not have much time to or much reason.

                “Wouldn’t that be something? My father has been trying to find this fine stinking city for three decades. Geography was never his strong suit. I would show him the way back if only I hadn’t inherited his intelligence.”

                “So you stay.”

                “So I stay,” Dave nodded emphatically, flattening his large, hairy hand onto a shelf in the air. “This was the only place he was ever able to find. The only place he ever wanted to find. There’s something. I don’t know what had him so caught in the net about it.”

                “If it lured him once, it’ll lure him again.”

                Dave found a smile weak from disuse chasing his frown lines away. “The law of the land.”

                “The nature of man.”

                “Is that what you’re doing then?” Dave nodded to the wrought iron bench that held their weight.


                “Sure, sure.” Dave’s eyes rolled but his frown stayed away. “You know what I mean.”

                “Yes, yes. I am staying.”

                “For how long?” Bells rang to the nines and with their ringing reminders, Dave commanded his hat onto his grayed hair.

                “Until the day is done, but I hope sooner than that.”

                “For you, ma’am, as do I,” Dave slapped his knees with a sigh and hoisted himself to his feet. The frown may have returned to his mouth, but not to his eyes. “The net calls.” Dave tipped his hat and she nodded, watching his broad, burdened shoulders blend into the city that wanted to be found.


“Excuse me, Ma’am? Do you know where my mom is?” Marie Darling Thatcher knew not to talk to strangers. She knew not to show doubt, but the pleading impatience not to be alone pushed her to speak.

                “My dear, what is your name?”

                “Marie Darling Thatcher, Ma’am,” Marie Darling Thatcher twisted her neatly woven braid around her pinkie. “She told me to sit right by that tree. She said she wouldn’t be a minute. But I don’t know where she went.”

                “She’s been gone more than a minute then?”

                Marie Darling Thatcher nodded, bobbing her braid like a jump rope. Each fiery strand was tucked carefully into each fold, only a few around her finger started to fray.

                “I see. Now you just sit here with me, and we’ll look for her together.”

                Marie Darling Thatcher’s wide eyes scanned the crowd, now renewed by just a little hope, with her shoulders square and head high, all doubt was washed away. Quietly, the two searched, and despite the elder’s keen eyes, a familiar red was quick to draw the girl’s attention.

                “Mama!” Marie Darling Thatcher tossed aside her braid to wrap her arms around her mother’s neck.

                “Darling! Don’t you scare me like that!” Marie’s mother stroked her daughters’ matching red hair as she locked her eyes harshly into her own. “I told you to stay where you were!”

                “But you were taking so long! I thought you were gone.”

                “Marie Darling Thatcher, your impatience will be the death of me.” Mrs. Thatcher addressed the elder woman gratefully. “Thank you for looking after her.”

                “I was only a second set of eyes. Your daughter has a strong spirit. She would have found you with or without my help.”

                Marie Darling Thatcher dropped her braid and giggled with pride. “Goodbye!” Marie Darling Thatcher craned her neck to her mother’s loving gaze and asked, “can we eat now?”

“Sure, Darling,” Mrs. Thatcher laughed with relief. She held her daughter’s hand tightly in her own as she led her home.

The doorbell jingled above as Tom stepped out of the store. He passed his drink from one hand to the other to wipe his sweaty palms against his pants then looked for a place to wait for her. He’d never been on a date, but Mike and James told him enough to know what to do. Adjusting his tie and the bottle in his hand he sat on a bench to wait.

“A bit young aren’t you?”

“Pardon?” Tom asked the woman beside him.

“You’re young.”

Tom noticed the woman’s eyes travel pointedly to the bottle in paper in his hands. Shifting uncomfortably he tucked it into his side. “How would you know?”

“You are young, that much is clear. You are healthy too. But if you were old enough for what you’ve got hidden away in that bag, you would be somewhere far away from here.”

Tom’s thick brow curved downward as he loosened his tie. Most people thought he was an adult, he was not used to people addressing him as his age. He looked ahead of him at the sun glinting from twelve stories of glass across the street, saying nothing.

“What’s it for?”

“A girl,” Tom replied. “I… uh… was told girls like to drink,” seeing the woman’s disbelieving eye he rushed to amend himself. “I got the good stuff though!” Tom pulled the glass over the crinkling paper to show her the expensive label.

“Boy, that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard!”

“You don’t know anything! You aren’t a girl!” Tom bristled, hurrying to straighten his tie and gather his bottle.

“Honey, every woman was once. Not only that, I had a husband too, and he would never have won me over with an expensive brandy. Do you want the girl’s love or a hand to the face?”

Tom rubbed his hands on his pants and breathed out slowly. “Uh, her love I guess?”

“You guess?”

“Her love! I want her love.”

“Listen to me then. Ditch the bottle and go get her some flowers from that kind, young florist on the corner. Take her to the cinema, a nice dinner, a stroll through the park. Take it slow and the rest will take care of itself.”

Tom stared at the woman blankly, gray eyes full of youth and ineptitude.

“Go, I said!”

Tom leapt to his feet and dropped the bottle to the ground, sending it rolling across the cobblestones.

“And for goodness sakes pick up after yourself boy!”

“Yes, Ma’am!” Tom snatched the bottle and tossed it into the trash on his way to the florist, straightening his tie on the way.

Plagued by a far-reaching heart, a stained uniform, pinching heels from a long run, and a bad hair day, Lola stood with her soaring hope outside the post. She did not have very long until she was needed again, but this letter could not wait. She slid a trembling finger beneath the envelope, careful to preserve the paper and the possibility it held within.

Message delivered, all her lucky stars fell to the earth and out of the sky forever. Clocks loomed above her and work called.       

Lola drifted until her heels would permit her to go no further. She slumped to the curb, numb to the crowds around her.

“Honey, come off the ground before you get kicked.”

Lola let the old woman lift her from the pavement and place her on the bench behind her.

“The music, the shine, the inspiration. The dream. It will never be mine,” Lola spoke, transfixed by the feet of the city walking and running around her, but never kicking. “I can go so high.” Lola turned to the woman beside her, desperate for someone to listen, to believe.

“I’ve waited for so long for this letter. Before I even wrote to them, before I even knew I could, I’ve been waiting for this. I can kick so high!”

“You’ve got powerful legs honey, I believe it.”

“But it’s not enough. For all I can do, my bones just aren’t long enough. It doesn’t matter how tall the heel, the Rockettes are too tall for me,” Lola lamented to this perfect stranger. Slipping off her shoes Lola gave in to the inviting arms of a mother’s embrace and let the world collapse around her. Far away she could hear her name, but the loss of her stars pulled her gravity deeper within.

“Lola! Oh, baby look at me!” Eleanor crouched on her heels to meet Lola’s gaze, pulling her to look upward, Eleanor’s halo of curls blocking the view of the feet of the city behind her. “Girl, where have you been?”

“The post,” Lola responded with resignation, wiping at the mascara she knew had run down her cheek.

“Oh, Lola. I’m sorry,” Eleanor ran her hand comfortingly down her friend’s arm. Eleanor locked eyes with the woman she did not know. Nothing was said, but nothing was needed. “We should get back, we’ve all been so worried about you. Even Bobby.”

Lola and Eleanor laughed softly, then with the woman’s support lifted themselves from the bench. Sharp heels in one hand, Eleanor’s arm in the other, Lola’s stockinged feet joined the sea of others to walk, maybe run, but not to kick.

With the sun sinking low over the empire two faceless men with honor and a duty to uphold approached a woman on a bench.

“Excuse me,” the man in the green uniform began, “are you Mrs. Jane Ellis?”

“Yes,” Mrs. Jane Ellis replied, wary of these strangers who knew her. “May I help you?”

  “Is your son Paul G. Ellis?”

“Yes.” Jane’s fingers twisted the only ring on her finger. “Do you have a message from him?”

The man in the deep, decorated green stepped forward. “I’m sorry Ma’am, your son has died.” There was more for him to say, but the faceless man became wordless too.

Jane’s fingers fell limp. “He was supposed to meet me here today.” Jane’s wisdom spilled from her old eyes and down the lines of permanent smiles now drawn into a frown.

“We know,” the decorated man confessed. “I’m sorry you didn’t get to see him.”

“You, gentleman, are mistaken. I have seen my son,” Jane’s lips trembled as she recalled him. His somber face, his fierce hair and wise eyes, his familiarity, his determination, his romance and honesty, his dreams. “He has met me here today. In pieces, in moments, in the parts of him he left behind in the city. He could not come to me whole, but he is with me still.” Mrs. Jane Ellis released a shaky breath. She could say no more.

With nothing else to say, one man stepped forward, clean green coat and light catching on the dip of a nose, a flash of lip downturned, a heavy brow, “Our country is honored to claim your son as our own. His name and his sacrifice will not be forgotten.”

Jane Ellis nodded. “I know.”

The man stepped back and away into facelessness and shadow to leave Jane Ellis alone in the city.

Dave stood out on the steps above a bustling crowd, the day releasing him into the life of night. Instinctively his eyes were drawn to a familiar bench, and what awaited him there did not surprise him at all.

“The sunset was one to remember,” Dave noted as he lowered himself beside her, gripping his hat onto his worn knee.

“I suppose…” Jane Ellis replied with a small glance of acknowledgment.

The light of the lamp above revealed what her words could not.

“Are you staying longer?”

Jane Ellis looked to the darkened, cloud-covered sky and sighed. “Much, much longer.”

A worn, hardened hand lay gently over her own and together they waited the grieving night away.

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