(here is a picture of Michael Stang on Casual Friday)
Oh my beloved Literati!
My temptation is to post this story without even reading it. It IS after all, sent to us by none other than Michael Stang and I have just had the second of my two-beers-for-four-bucks at Bucher’s Coffee House and Pub across from the towers that are A Word with You Press in downtown Moscow. I could simply say this is a brilliant piece, post it, turn out the lights and go home, knowing that Michael never fails to deliver. I could just drop a few superlatives and leave it at that…But every now and then I am overcome by editorial integrity (I swear, it happens only infrequently) so I suppose I better read it before I hit the “publish” button. Hang on a few moments, won’t you?…
…ok…ten minutes later..here is…I trust you to pick your own superlatives…
BEHIND THE BIGGER ONE
by Michael Stang
“Did you hear from Tommy yet?” Pen’s weary voice echoed in the hall as she filed into the third floor walk up past her husband’s office.
The clicking of keys stopped suddenly. “No. The phones went dead just after you left.” Interrupted, frustrated, Shawn said nothing else and went back typing.
Her briefcase fell heavy on the oak floors. Pen remembered looking at the flat the first time with Shawn, holding his hand. The classifieds boasted new hardwood throughout. Spring had the sidewalks lined out on Symphony Road covered with Dogwood blossoms.
The new hardwood metered out to be a patch in the kitchen where a previous tenant had a fire behind the stove. The young couple shrugged their shoulders, imitating the landlady. Love nests required little selling. Shamble, worn, and bare thin? “Cute,” Pen said. “Perfect for us,” Shawn whispered. “We’ll take it,” they told her.
Halfway down the hall, Pen leaned against a wall with one hand and jerked her boots off with the other; the snow melted off the heels. Missing the coat hook with her black classic wool overcoat as she entered the kitchen, she didn’t look back.
The apartment froze during Boston’s winters. Vintage boilers bent over backwards in the basement but could not keep up. Mr. Green, the super, kept a tight lip with a look that looked right through you whenever you complained. Late at night, however, bundled in two pairs of long johns, listening to the Bruins stay on top of the world, he empathized. Behind the closed door of 1-A, Mr. Green bitched like the rest of them.
Pen knew the radiator over by the phone would keep her butt warm if she leaned against it, but to get lead paint chips stuck to her flannel slacks was not an option.
The phones were still a no. The laptop stopped again.
Shawn appeared, leaning against the refrigerator. His arms were folded at his chest over a Boston University sweatshirt with the arms cutoff. Three days beard, shoveled hair, a pair of expensive reading glasses with the left lens cracked—smoker’s fingers, and a repulsive lack of sleep displayed.
“How’s it going, Shawn?” Pen asked for something to say when all she wanted to do was scream that his goddamned book was worthless and they were broke. She did not care about the writing. She cared about the sixteen-hour days she worked, she cared about freezing in the alley beside the dumpsters. She cared about Tommy.
“All right,” Shawn muddled. Figuring wrong that his wife’s assumed interest was an icebreaker giving him the go-ahead run to open the refrigerator and grab a beer.
“It must be forty degrees in here. How can you drink that stuff?” Pen looked at Shawn, and studied him. “You’re a bad circus act…you know that?”
“Been a long day. The map I created for the plot failed again. I’m lost in chapter ten.”
Pen started opening cabinet doors and pulling down can-goods to heat and serve. She was in no mood to cook.
Shawn raised the hoodie over his head, and started for the door. She heard him light up a cigarette and kick her boots out of the way.
Alone in the kitchen with all the stove’s burners on, one heating chili and black beans, the accelerated flames felt luxurious until her eyelashes singed. Memories of older winters flashed to earlier times.
Except for life’s steal, Pen never strayed too far from her soul mate. The turning of the wheel: lovemaking, excitement, happiness couldn’t hold more. That was back before Shawn got it into his head he was a writer.
Pen had spent most of the day preparing the St. Patrick’s Day menu. Fifty of their friends and family called confirming they would be there. Not a drop of Ireland flowed through her veins, but with Shawn’s encouragement and a little imagination, the traditional dishes were just as wonderful as her modern day twists. Someone surprised them with a keg of Guinness flown in from Shannon to Logan, and dragged it up the three floors. Everyone was Irish that night. Pen’s mom, a dyed in the dirt Sicilian, straight off the boat at fourteen years old, was dancing with Shawn’s father; doing the Jig for God’s sakes.
After the party, the two lovers were deciding on whether to face the mess in the morning when Shawn took his queen by the waist and pulled her close. “Never mind the dishes, Pen; I’ve got something to tell you.”
Pen slid her arms around her man and clasped her fingers at the back of his head. “Tell me, my king. Tell me anything, but tell me you love me.”
“I’ve decided something I want you to know. I’m going to write…what I’ve always wanted. You’ll work with me won’t you?” Shawn did not wait for an answer. “Stick with me and when I’m published, it will be your turn. Hell. By then you can do whatever you want!”
Pen felt like a cheerleader. With all the Jameson in her she went along, but that night she thought about whatever she wanted.
What he really meant, Pen whispered to the chili, what he was getting to, she told the brown bread, pulled from the oven too soon…was no children. He couldn’t write to save his teeth, she told herself, what else could it be.
Pen let the dinner grow cold. She peeked behind the stove at the postage stamp of new flooring aged with grease and dust. There was a side window in the kitchen no one could explain; she could see a part of the dome of the Christian Science Monitor Building gilded in copper, trimmed in white’s innocent snow.
The phone rang. It was Tommy. “Doing anything? Let’s catch a Bruins game at the Garden tonight.”
“Absolutely, I’ll call 1-A. I swear it’s not too late.
nor is it too late to enter our contest and win $500. which translates to 250 beers at Bucher’s in Moscow.