Today, I’m sharing a short story I wrote that was published in my book of 2018 titled The Postcard and Other Short Stories & Poetry. It’s set in London, a place I’ve only visited once, but loved. In striving to write about female friendships as I did in my new novel, Little Milestones, I guess you could say I practiced with this very short story. I love writing short pieces of fiction, as they test both your ability to tell a condensed story, as well as test your proclivity for further expanding the story.
This one stayed put as a short story, but another one I wrote for that collection, Life with Nan, turned into Little Milestones.
It’s fun when that happens.
Anyway, here’s UNLOST.
Unlost by Stephanie Verni
As published in The Postcard and Other Short Stories & Poetry by Mimosa Publishing, copyright 2018
Muriel finds the bench she’s been sitting on alone for the past three years. It has become her Friday ritual, one that she looks forward to the way she supposes young people look forward to going for a walk or a run with those tiny speakers shoved into their ears. They certainly can’t be comfortable, she thinks, forcing plastic into the ear cavity. Not to mention you can lose your hearing by playing the music too loudly. And yet those ear buds, as the youngsters call them, must bring some sort of happiness to them, for she often sees them smiling, singing, or banging their heads to the music whilst they go upon their merry way.
What a feeling that must be, she thinks, to feel merry.
Her 65th birthday is next week, and the thought of celebrating another one alone nearly kills her with each passing year. This will be the third birthday—since she was 21—without Gregory. Her son, Alexander, lives in Australia, and her daughter is married with three children to an American and lives in New York. Her daughter has begged her to come to America—come back to America to live with them—but Muriel won’t impose on them this way. London is home to her, and she is still self-sufficient in a lovely little flat and with few health problems. She was, indeed, born and raised in the States, and didn’t step foot on English soil until she was 21. Her trip had been a graduation present from her parents. Little did they expect she would never return from it.
Gregory was the first boy she’d talked to in London, right at the foot of Tower Bridge. From where she’s sitting now, she can almost see the whole of it and enjoys this vantage point, despite the state of the depressing grey skies. If she were to count how many grey skies she’s seen on her Friday visits, she is certain they would outnumber the sunny days by a mile.
She opens up her lunch bag and proceeds to take out her cucumber sandwich and her napkin, which she places neatly across her lap. It isn’t much to eat, but it does the trick with a few grapes and a bottle of water.
“Excuse me,” says a woman, who looks equal in age to Muriel, “may I sit here with you?”
“Of course,” Muriel says, moving her white, patent pocketbook to make room for the lady.
“So gloomy, eh?” says the woman.
“Ah, yes, rather grey indeed,” Muriel replies.
“I’ve seen you here before, I think,” says the woman. She dusts off an apple with a napkin she pulls from her coat pocket, which she then quickly puts to use after taking her first bite, as she delicately wipes away the dripping apple juice from her mouth.
“Yes,” Muriel says, “you do look familiar.”
“And you look quite sad,” says the woman.
“Is that so?” Muriel asks. “Why is that?”
“Ah, my dear, only you know the answer to that. I can only say what I see.”
It makes Muriel unhappy to know that she looks glum to other people. It’s not intentional. Two women forty years their junior jog by, laughing, shouting conversation to each other, both of them with their ears plugged in. Muriel shakes her head and giggles.
“I’m Kate,” says the woman to Muriel. “And I think you need a friend.”
“Do you?” says Muriel.
“Yes. Do you enjoy coffee?” Kate asks.
“I do rather enjoy a fine cup of coffee. I’m Muriel.”
“My daughter and son-in-law own a coffee shop not too far from here. They first thought they’d open up a tea shop, and I told them they were crazy. ‘In London?’ I said. ‘Do something different.’ I’m not sure how different coffee is, but it’s what we’ve got. When you’re through with your sandwich, we can take a walk over, and I’ll treat you to a cup. And then you can tell me what’s got you feeling a little sad and lost.”
Lost. That word.
Instantly, Muriel is transported across the water, remembering what Gregory had said to her when they first met.
“Are you lost, Miss?” he said, bending down slightly to meet her gaze at the foot of Tower Bridge, dressed impeccably in his policeman uniform.
“I just may be,” she said, smiling at Gregory, his hazel eyes shimmering from the sunlight bouncing off the water.
“Would you like to become unlost, then?”
Sometimes we meet the loves of our lives when we least expect it.
A funny, clever, non-existent word, and yet, from that point on, she became unlost with Gregory for forty-one blissful years. It’s been three years since his passing, and Muriel still misses his sense of humor, his passion, and his ability to turn a phrase—or a made up word—into something completely unforgettable.
“Come along now, Muriel,” Kate says, urging her to get a move on. “We’ve got to HTHU. They brew a scrumptious pot of Hazelnut. Do you fancy Hazelnut?”
Muriel knows this is a very kind offer.
“I do,” Muriel says. “And what does HTHU stand for?”
“Hurry the hell up. It’s one of my texting acronyms. Do you text? I’ll give you my number and you can put me into your contacts. We’ve got to stay current and relevant if we want to keep up with the kids today.”
“We probably need to get some ear buds, too,” Muriel says.
“Oh, I’ve already got some! Put them in when I walk. I play Sinatra and Elvis in there all the time.”
“Oh, I love them both,” Muriel says, giggling.
“This is going to work out splendidly then, isn’t it?” Kate says.
Muriel laughs and realizes that sometimes the best of friends may be made when we least expect it, as well.