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‘I don't belong here.’

The coffin sank slowly below the broken earth, mourners circling the graveside. She was reminded of crows in their blackest feathers from her hillside vantage point near the gravel parking lot. "They call them a murder." the thought startling in its context.

’I didn't even know his name until yesterday. Damn Cara and her big mouth!’

[i]Cara had been teasing her, as was her way. Still it got damn annoying after nine hours of lustful eyes and lecherous advances spent behind the faux mahogany bar.

"Kirsten, check this out. It seems that tall, dark, and creepy kicked the bucket last weekend." Cara slid the paper under Kirsten's nose, her oval face expectant.

"Piss off, Cara." she replied without looking up.[/i]

She wasn't quite sure how she made it from there to here, watching a memorial service for the quiet man who had eaten his lunch at the end of her bar for as long as she could remember.

They rarely spoke, other than her perfunctory; "The usual?" with him replying with a distracted "Please". There was nothing more between them than an endless string of club sandwiches, empty beer glasses, and ashtrays filled with exactly three crushed butts, smoked to the filter.

It was the other girls, Cara in particular that noticed his stare. At first, Kirsten ignored it. Other men did far worse than stare. One even had the audacity to spill a glass of ice water on her white shirt and claim it an accident. ‘Accident, my ass!’ she had thought on her way to the storeroom for a dry shirt. The lustful eyes of one quiet middle aged diner didn't faze her. Not one iota.

At least not at first.

It was later, after endless witless speculation and mockery by the like of Cara and her gaggle of sorority harpies that Kirsten began to feel the weight of his eyes on her as she poured beers and mixed drinks. She quickly decided to turn the tables. She watched him as he watched her. Thankfully the bar was full of reflective surfaces that allowed such makeshift surveillance. Kirsten quickly realized that there was no malevolence in this man. He simply watched, his face never showing even a shadow of lechery. It was as if he were bird watching, making tiny notes in some backward slanting mental shorthand. He seemed to study her, trying to understand something just out of reach. She wondered what question he thought she was the answer to. After a few months of almost daily patronage even that didn't matter, the middle aged eyes at the end of the bar with their ten dollar tips and the fifty under then empty beer mug at Christmas were just part of the job. A nicer part than horny alcoholics in shit kickers and cowboy hats to be sure. It became almost comfortable, like he was watching out for her.

Kirsten was so lost in thought she didn’t realize the service had ended. The gathered mourners had begun the walk up the hillside towards their cars. Several men, somber in their black suits had walked by their faces puzzled at the sight of a stranger at so intimate event.

Feeling like an interloper, Kirsten turned from their unspoken questions and toward her waiting car.

"You're the waitress. Aren't you?" a strained voice interrupted.

It wasn't a question; Kirsten could feel it in the woman's voice. She turned.

"I'm Kirsten." she replied. The words came out blunt, like a shield.

"I'm Eleanor Poole. Raymond's wife, or I was." the woman explained, her voice crumbling under the strain. "He spoke of you...told me I should come see for myself...but I couldn't." she continued, the tremors gaining strength.

Kirsten could only look on, puzzled and somehow embarrassed by the older woman's grief.

Noting Kirsten’s bewilderment, Eleanor dabbed at her eyes, streaking her mascara.

"You don't know, do you? I should have known he wouldn't tell you."

Kirsten shook her head slowly, once. She wanted to bolt, Eleanor’s pleading blue eyes held her still.

Eleanor produced a slip of paper from some pocket in her purse. Handing it to Kirsten with trembling fingers she spoke.

“Do you see? Do you understand why he had to keep coming into that bar, while I cried into my coffee alone?”

One look at the photograph was all it took. Raymond stood in his Sunday suit, Eleanor beaming at his side, and a young twentish girl grinning from her place between.

“You look...” Eleanor sobbed, her sorrow tearing her voice into ragged pieces. “She was so young…drunk driver…Ray… never recovered…” she stammered throwing her arms around a surprised Kirsten. The older woman was sobbing uncontrollably calling her Heather at least twice. But strangely Kirsten didn’t mind.

Smile if you're stupid,
laugh if you understand.

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The following comments are for "Barfly"
by Bartleby

I liked this, Bartleby. I seem to use these words a lot in my responses-- probably because I gravitate toward stories like this-- but it was quiet and somber. I could see everything perfectly. I didn't even think til the end that she reminded him of someone he had loved, although that's been written about many times, so that's a good story-telling.

I only had two problems. The first is my own fault. I must have read that second paragraph five or six times, confused as hell, until I remembered that a group of crows are called a murder. Duh on me. But with that period there: '"They call them a murder." the thought startling in its context.', I couldn't figure out what you were talking about.

"After a few months of almost daily patronage even that didn't matter, the middle aged eyes at the end of the bar with their ten dollar tips and the fifty under then empty beer mug at Christmas were just part of the job."-- the "their" and "then" throws off the sentence, and confused me.

Good job.

( Posted by: Elphaba [Member] On: November 13, 2003 )

I agree with Elpha on this Bart. Very nice, descriptive, muted writing. I liked the end and I really thought you pulled it off well. I think maybe you could have built up to the end more, although I can't really place what it feels like you didn't do. It just felt a tad bit slow. Perhaps that's just the nature of this kind of writing though. God job overall though, and take care. =D

( Posted by: Darkshine Raven [Member] On: November 13, 2003 )

Bart's Barfly Benediction
Good, smooth writing. The only small crit I will make is petty: the woman's voice may "crack," "break" or "tremble" with strain. Crumble is a word I would choose for describing an emotional collapse and not for a woman's vocal inflections (unless it was an unflattering verbal portrait of an animated stone statue: shades of Pratchett's Trolls!). Of course, that is just my take on it. So take THAT with a dumptruck of salt.

Alastair Gruell

( Posted by: Alastair Gruell [Member] On: December 8, 2003 )

Well written piece with excellent characterisation and unusual (to me anyway) plot which I found totally believable.

I am a recovering alcoholic with a grown-up daughter I haven't seen in years - which makes the story particularly poignant.

Thanks for sharing.

( Posted by: orraloon [Member] On: December 8, 2003 )

Thoughts for Bartleby
Funny Elphaba took so many words out of my mouth on this one, including the opening... I was planning on saying "At risk of repeating myself, I like this story a lot." Good grief.

She's right on her point about the passage referring to the 50 under the beer mug. I had to read that section twice before I got it. (Although I understood the murder of crows reference right off the bat -- could be because the obscure reference has been kicked around this site recently)The biggest difficulty for me lay in all the flashing-back and forth. I assume that's why the bracketed lowercae i's in the first instance? I think that may be your biggest difficulty with this story, although I can't think of a way to iron it out successfully.... hmmmm. One final quibble -- why'd the daughter have to get killed by a drunk driver? It's a little bit after scool special to my mind. What if she were killed by a rare degenerative genetic defect? An exotic heart condition like the recently discovered SUDS? It would contribute the same effect of inexplicable loss without slipping into a sense of cliche.

Don't let all my ruminating fool you. I really *really* liked this short story. It's proof positive that I should be slipping over into the prose section more often, and I'm looking forward to reading more of your entries on this side of the divide :)

( Posted by: hazelfaern [Member] On: February 17, 2004 )

whatever it takes--
--to get the newbies reading your back entries, hey, bart?

teasing. i love it. thrown off by grammar stuff here and there, though; maybe half a dumptruck of salt here. i wanted to red-pen some of the spaces where i think commas should go. and some bits of spelling, too.

i knew it was good because i forgot i was reading a story. you know what i mean? probably similar to elphaba's experience, i could see everything perfectly. it took me a bit to get into it, though. i think you could cut Cara altogether, since she's not mentioned again once we arrive at the funeral itself. maybe kristen could find out the news just by reading the paper herself.

very good work. and i don't know if the drunk driver thing was a problem for me. at least not until hazel mentioned anything... now i'm rethinking... as i'm sure you are.

( Posted by: ark [Member] On: February 18, 2004 )

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