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Tyler

Tea and Pies

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Tyler

Lines of men and women zigzagged from the door of the diner to the broken cash register where two young employees prodded. The lunch hour was upon them. Soon the corking lines that broke off toward nothing merged and created one ball of foot-tapping customers waiting to be seated or pay to leave. Francis walked just inside the large glass doors. The place smelled like grease and suitcases. She stood on her toes and scanned the room. Balding heads and pomade-covered monstrosities and perfumed locks and short bobs and off to the distance blue and white walls with knickknacks hung all across them. She pulled out a cigarette and held it to her lips, sifting through her purse for the matchbook. Before she could find it an unfamiliar arm emerged from the crowd with a lit lighter in hand.

“Jerry.” Francis said before inhaling deep.

“It's good to see you, Franny”

“Oh don't call me that.”

“You loved it when I called you that before.” The man said. He put his dull lighter into a pocket and tried to hug Francis. She took a step back and looked past him.

“That was before, Jerry. Call me Francis please.”

“Okay, Francis.” He said. He looked off and nodded toward the section to the left. The two of them pressed through the crowd. He put an arm behind Francis and led her alongside him. Some of the gathered workers in line smoked cigars and talked business. Words meshed together as one group talked over another. The cashier at the helm of the broken register apologized as the line began to move again. Lunch meats sizzled on the oven surface – a black grill that went on six feet, manned by two men. One old and white-haired and the other young and confused.

Francis sat opposite of the man at the table. She took a few drags from the cigarette and studied the pictures on the wall.

“So how've you been, Francis?”

“I've been fine. I got a job here in the city and I'm living with a friend just across from the park.”

“That's good. Really, it is. Y'know you've grown up so much since I last saw you.”

“Well I had to. Last time you saw me I was eighteen. Girls have to grow up and become women some time, Jerry.”

“I suppose you're right, Fran.”

“I told you: don't call me that.”

“You said not to call you 'Franny.' Never said anything about 'Fran.'” He said, smiling. The way his face curled made Francis sick. It was obviously fake.

“Why are you here, Jerry?”

“What do you mean, girl?”

“Don't play with me. Why are you here? You were supposed to be in the hospital for another three years.”

“The truth? I got out for good behavior. Which is something I'm glad to say,” he laughed. “I couldn't have taken it in that place for another three months let alone three years.”

Francis stared forward. He was wearing the same green cardigan he'd had on when he was being hauled away. His watery eyes met hers as the police car rode off toward the dim lights of the city in the distance. His sweater was stretched out on the shoulders and looked laughable on his small frame, now.

“I don't remember good behavior being a reason for release. The attorney never said anything about it. Are you lying to me?” She asked. A waitress in a faded blue dress with an apron pulled over stopped at their table. She said her name was Samantha and pointed to the nametag on her chest for evidence.

“What can I get fir you two? Special today is mighty nice. It's cucumber-”

“I'll take a black tea with ice. Biggest glass you have, please. Lots of sugar too. And a slice of wildberry pie.” Jerry said.

“Sure thing, sir. And you, ma'am?”

“Iced tea, same as him. Nothing else.”

“I'll be right back with your drinks. Sir your pie won't take no time at all.” The waitress said, hopping off to another table. The front of the diner was decongesting but the sections were still filled with customers at most tables.

Francis pulled out another cigarette. The man across the table from her went on smiling. She watched a couple behind him for a while. The woman was flirting and they both shared whiskeys.

“So how're you out already, Jerry?”

“Can't a man be let out for good behavior? It's not like I killed anyone.”

“Yeah. You just beat our father half to death and gave our mother a heart attack.”

“That's not fair Franny and you know it. I couldn't have known she'd have one of those.” He said. His lips straightened out and his face became flat.

“No, of course not. That doesn't make it okay though, Jerry. Neither does whatever they diagnosed you with.”

“Look, sister: I know what I did was bad. I'm sorry about it. Every day I'm sorry about it.” Jerry reached to put his hand on Francis'. She rolled her eyes and pulled her hands off the tabletop. She dug fingers into her temples.

“You know I spent five years in there. The routine was grueling: they treated us like chimps with bleached prison garb. Everything smelled sterile. No one was called by name – only numbers and med doses. There's no way I could have lived in there any longer.”

“What are you trying to say?” Francis asked.

“I'm not... I'm not saying anything, sister. I just couldn't take it there. Do you understand what I mean?”

The two sat looking at scratches and stains on the table as the diner sang on with muffled conversations from eaters wall-to-wall, underlined by a faint song from The Chordettes playing through the speakers. Francis sucked the filter black and ashed tobacco into the glass tray next to the ketchup and napkins.

“Why did you ask me to come here, Jerry? What were you hoping for?”

“I just want us to be like we were, sis. I miss the days when we could talk to one another about anything. Don't you?” He pleaded. Francis looked into his eyes and saw nothing but a dull void.

“It doesn't matter if I miss it: It's gone. We can't just go to the past. We can't just fall back onto the fields and play like children. We're grown ups.”

“So-”

“And aside from that, father sold the house. Our family doesn't own those fields and we aren't teenagers any more. I don't know what you're trying to find here.” Francis pursed her lips and looked out of the glass panels that covered three-forths of the front wall. People walked on in the afternoon sun. The whitewashed sidewalks went on forever in either direction and shops across the street attracted every other woman or man that walked by. Francis watched her brother scratch his face and look off in another direction. Something about him looked different. The waitress stopped in front of the table and sat the glasses down in front of the two of them. Yellow hair curled towards her cheeks. She told Jerry that his pie would be out soon. Then she set off for another table.

“So what are you saying? We'll never talk again or something? Why are you acting like this, Fran?”

“Stop calling me that. And stop being so dramatic. You're acting like a child. I'm wondering why the hospital even let you out.”

“Please sister: what's it going to take for you to forgive me?”

Francis sipped her tea. She looked at her brother as he sat silently across, crouching in his seat. His eyes shifted around and his skin looked more taut than ever. She wondered if they starved him at the hospital – Betty told her they did that to some patients. Something about him looked off anyway. It wasn't that he aged. In fact it looked like he hadn't aged at all. Aside from losing weight he looked just like the brother that she remembered.

The same one that grew up with her on the prairie miles away from this city. It was a quiet and lonely childhood but they got along well and they played together in the fields their parents owned. Sometimes racing through the corn, sometimes telling stories in the barn as thunder drummed on along the plains that surrounded them and went on ceaselessly. The two of them shared everything with each other.

Francis struck the butt of her cigarette into the ashtray.

“Just leave me and dad alone. You killed mom and you ruined everything you-” Francis trailed off as she looked deep into the eyes of the man hunched across from her. He was pale and sweaty. His face was crumpled into that hideous smile. Francis turned away. She picked at her fingernail and scanned the diner.

“Please, Fran. Let's just go back to the house and forget about all this trouble. We can do it. We just have to do it together.”

“Who are you?”

The man stuttered. “W-what?”

“Who the hell are you?”

“Come on, sister. You know who I am.”

“You're not my brother. You're someone else and you need to tell me who right now.”

She stared at him. Water drops slid down from their glasses, pooling in a shallow ring on the table. The man in front of her stared at her, his eyes like glass marbles. People from the lunch rush were leaving in packs and Samantha came back.

“Here's that pie fir you. Hope you enjoy it.” She smiled at the man who called himself Jerry.

“What is this?”

The waitress stood back. “What do you mean, sir?”

“Does this pie have raspberries?” The man asked.

“Well of course it does, sir, it's wild-”

“I'm allergic raspberries. Lady. Did you hear me? I'm allergic to these.”

“Sir I'm sorry but isn't that what you ordered?”

“I don't think so. Why would I order something I'm allergic to?”

Samantha looked down at the gel of sugar and berry juice that held little pieces of fruit in it. The crust was flaky and light.

“Mister, I'm sorry. If you want I could-”

“Are you trying to kill me?”

“Uh-”

“Because if you are just do it. Don't try to kill me with allergies. I've seen your kind before, you know.” The man nodded as he spoke. His voice grew louder and people at nearby tables looked over.

“Yeah, y'know I know your type. You dress up like you're some kind of innocent worker. You make me sick. Just do it if you're here to do it.”

“Sir I don't follow.”

“Yeah you do. You think just because I'm with some pretty girl at a diner that I'm not ready to defend myself. I've seen it before. Hundred times before.” He rambled on. Francis apologized and asked for a check. The waitress looked off nervously and walked away as the man called after her. She came back and put the check down, then moved on to another table before he started up again.

“Tell me who the hell you are. I know you're not Jerry.”

“Let's go out on a walk together, sister.”

“What?” Francis leaned back.

“To the park by your house. You said you lived by a park, right? Let's just take a walk there.”

“Who. Are. You?”

“Let's go.” The man said. His faced peeled back once more and his teeth shown yellow. A single vein pumped across his left temple. He opened his bony hand and held it out for hers.

Francis shot up out of her seat and headed toward the doors clutching her purse. She heard shouting behind her and customers at their tables looked up toward her as she passed by.

The warm summer air surrounded her as she stepped outside. She began to jog away. Her heels pierced her every step. She pushed through groups of people enjoying their afternoon in the city. The sun burned on in the sky ahead of her. She dug into her purse and fished out a cigarette, pressing it into her quivering lips. Then she sifted for the matches once again. She marched onward in an irregular pace, eyes in her purse. The smell of fresh cut grass was in the air as she turned a block. She looked around and saw no one following her. As she reeled back around her heel was caught in a crack and she twisted downward. Matches and make-up fell out onto the sidewalk. Concrete met her face.

In her blurred absence she noticed a crowd gathering. Loafers and heels walled her in. A familiar voice opened the crowd. He explained that his sister was just out of the ward. She needed care and had ran off while they ate. A tall businessman on his way back to the office helped the brother get his sister into a taxi. The crowd dispersed as the cab rode off. Blood dried on the white sidewalk as the summer melted on.

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Abel.

I've not a lot of time so I'll keep this brief.

 

The piece is well written and elegant in its conveyance. I like the details you've woven into this, too--they're poignant and rich, but don't hinder the progression in any way. I liked this one especially:

 

Lunch meats sizzled on the oven surface – a black grill that went on six feet, manned by two men. One old and white-haired and the other young and confused.

 

 

I think this embodies the uncertainty of the conversation very well--old memories and new ones rather forgotten. Hell, I'm not sure if that's what you were going for but I thought it was cool.

 

The characters are intriguing too. I like the exposition you've given them as well as the mystique apparent through their respective body language and recollections.

 

Overall, I find little to criticise this for and found it to be a good, compelling little read.

 

Is this going to be continued, or be the first of a series of shorts?

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Mokrie Dela

I've not a lot of time so I'll keep this brief.

 

The piece is well written and elegant in its conveyance. I like the details you've woven into this, too--they're poignant and rich, but don't hinder the progression in any way. I liked this one especially:

 

Lunch meats sizzled on the oven surface – a black grill that went on six feet, manned by two men. One old and white-haired and the other young and confused.

 

 

I think this embodies the uncertainty of the conversation very well--old memories and new ones rather forgotten. Hell, I'm not sure if that's what you were going for but I thought it was cool.

The only thing that jumped out to me here is that an oven and grill are different things! pedantic, almost irrelevant, but hey.

 

The scene painting here is fantastic. I had no problem visualizing everything. I had a degree of sympathy for Francis, and at the end felt quite angry at Jerry. I certainly hope this is continued.

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Ava822

Very well written piece. Kept me interested so much . Great job.

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Tyler

Thanks for the feedback, guys. I've had this idea in my head for a while and I don't know if I did it justice but it's nice to have it out. Felt nice enough about it to share so I guess there's that.

 

 

Is this going to be continued, or be the first of a series of shorts?

 

No plans for continuation. The ambiguity is a point of the story itself, and as far as endings go an unsure one fits very well on an unsure series of events. Well, I think so anyway. I also don't think I'd have a good way to continue this story if I'm being honest. I rewrote the ending three times to make it less lame and convoluted because I originally had a more self-indulgent ramble than a quick cut.

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Ziggy455

I really enjoyed this. It had a sense of fluidity that just made it perfect to keep reading! elanman hinted at the allegorical examples you made so it'd be cheap to go into depth about them again. A lot of people have trodden afoot on the same ground so I'll try and give my own insight into it.

 

Ambiguity speaks out, from Franny's concern of Jerry as a person to the uncertainty of the situation as a whole. We don't really know if that man is Jerry because only the character truly refers to him as such. He is called 'the man' and it makes it so much better for the tale of ambiguity to hint as such.

 

I can't fault you editorial-wise. I can see the theme bursting through and it works well for the scene. We're never truly sure, which is a sure way to keep your reader enthralled. Who is Jerry? Is it Jerry? Is Jerry really insane or is it Francis? Is any of it real?

 

The only problem I have with this is that you won't continue it, and as such, we'll all have to be a a part of that ambiguity you have conveyed very well here.

Edited by Ziggy455

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