43 comments

Contemporary Drama Funny

“That’s the thing about this city,” I say as the shot of tequila burns its way down my throat. "Too many fucking bridges.” 


The bartender nods in sympathy, the green bottle poised for another tip into my gullet. “More?” he asks.


I tilt my head back.


“Closer,” he says, raising the bottle, “I can’t reach ‘at far.” I lean towards him, and he pours another shot into my mouth.


“More,” I sputter. But he’s already walking away, along the two-foot width of the wooden bar, stepping over a shot glass, and weaving between two pints of lager and a bottle of Black and Tan that’s longer than his legs.


“The bony bridges grip muddied banks, as salty cars crawl across their span.”


“What?” I say, turning to the right to see the source of the voice. A twenty-something woman, wearing a saffron sweater, sips a glass of red wine, her face half hidden in shadow.


“You were talking about bridges earlier, to Shaun,” she says, nodding towards the midget bartender who’s pouring tequila into the waiting mouth of the woman with a purple pixie haircut and a full sleeve of tattoos.


“So?”


“I’m writing a book of poems about Pittsburgh,” she says, holding a small leather notebook.


“Uh, huh. You an English major at Pitt or something.”


“No,” she smiles, tucking a strand of black hair behind an ear, revealing a silver raven dangling from her left lobe. “You could say I’m a student of Psychology.”


“That’s even worse.”


“I’m here visiting my Aunt Helen.”


I grunt and watch the bubbles float to the top of my ale.


“I’m Melinoe,” she says, holding out a pale hand. "But you can call me Mel."


“Andy.”


“So why the animosity towards bridges?”


I glance to the TV bolted above the bar. A replay of Hill Street Blues flashes across the screen. “It’s not about the bridges,” I say. “They’re just the symptoms, a thousand outcomes of the rivers and the gullies and the hills, and the terrible maze of one-way streets. The bridges, they stitch together the patchwork of neighborhoods hugging the hills and river banks. They connect the Poles, the Jews, the Germans, the Italians, the Irish. The manual laborers and knowledge workers, architects and jazz singers, computer whizz kids and storytellers.”


“Get in!" a frat bro yells as the door swings open. He points to the bartender, turns to his friend and says, “I told you so. Midget Monday Madness!” The stench of stale beer and soured privilege fills my nostrils as they pass behind me, before muscling their way to the middle of the twenty-foot bar.


“And fucking college kids and Mr. Rogers with his prim cardigan,” I continue, beckoning to the bartender. “And the willowy women walking down Walnut Street in their tortoiseshell sunglasses and high heels.”


The bartender shuffles over to me. “Another.” I say, tilting my head back, trying to make my mouth as large and steady a target as possible. He pours a double shot, not missing a drop. I swirl my tongue, making a tequila whirlpool, before gulping down.


He raises the bottle hopefully toward Mel. She shakes her head and taps a painted black fingernail against the wine glass. “I’ll have another, when you get a chance,” she says. He sighs heavily and trudges toward the frat boys. She flips a few pages in her notebook and reads aloud.


“Plastic breasts

Suctioned hips

Cold wax

Electrolysis

Silicon, saline

Preparation H cream.”


“What the hell you on about?”


“Those willowy women on Walnut Street. I noticed them too. We only see the finished product. The façade. They’re pretty skinny things who volunteered for aesthetic torture. Their dreams are full of needles.”


“If you say so.”


“You don’t care for poetry?”


“Not if it’s bad.” I say, letting my eyes roam up the exposed brick wall behind the bar until they reach the geometric pattern in the black, pressed-tin ceiling.


“Andy Warhol used to drink here,” she says. “His dreams were the same as his waking life. Full of celebrities and soup cans, molded plastic and mushroom clouds.”


“Next you’ll tell me Gene Kelly danced on the bar.”


“No, but Martha Graham did,” she says with a wink.


The frat boys are cheering each other on, seeing who can chug bottles of Iron City the fastest. I wave the barkeep over.


“I’ll have more of that,” I say, pointing to the vessel in his hand. “But first, I’m buying the college boys a platter of pierogis. The deadly hot ones, stuffed with the habanero peppers.”


He smiles and pours me a triple shot. I wipe the drop that’s dribbled down my left cheek and continue, "And fuck the people sitting in their cars, at the red light, in the oncoming lane of traffic, who see your left-blinker blinking, and wave you through when the light turns green.” 


“You don’t appreciate the Pittsburgh Left?”


“I’ll turn left when I’m good an’ ready. Not just ‘cause I’m invited,” I say, wobbling on the bar stool slightly. “What time is it?”


“Almost midnight.”


“I got ten hours left.”


“Then what happens?”


“I gotta get outta town. Never to set foot in the Steel City again.” 


“What will happen if you do?”


“There’s a thirsty crowbar with my name on it.”


“How deliciously dramatic!”


The frat boys are crying and slamming their fists on the bar, shaking the platter of half-finished pierogis.


“Yeah, I got a way of upsetting people. And I upset the wrong people too many times.”


“Will you miss it, this city?”


“Hell no. It's just a city with parasitic bridges and manufactured fog. And re-purposed churches serving indian pale ale and pierogi pizza," I say, watching the beer slosh in the glass as I roll it between my hands. "Christ, it doesn't even earn the pointless sentimentally of being my hometown.”


“But you've adopted it, as your hometown.”


“What? How would…Are you some kind of demented mind-reader?”


“I see people’s dreams. And nightmares. Yours are colliding.”


I try to fix my gaze on her, but I can’t reconcile the double vision before me. There’s two of her now. One shimmering like silver, the other dark, absorbing all the light.


“Can I give you some advice?” she asks.


I shrug half-heartedly.


“In your dream tonight, take the left turn. It will make all the difference.”

March 14, 2021 17:55

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43 comments

Rachel Smith
14:00 Mar 15, 2021

Ooo, interesting and mysterious. This story lingers afterwards. I particularly liked "His dreams were the same as his waking life. Full of celebrities and soup cans, molded plastic and mushroom clouds". Good work!

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H L Mc Quaid
17:35 Mar 15, 2021

Thanks, Rachel! Yeah, it's kind of an acid trip, with midgets and frat boys and the goddess of dreams and nightmares. Glad it lingered. :)

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David Gottfried
21:47 Mar 14, 2021

This is outstanding. You’ve come a long way in a short time, Heather. This reminds me of the Baltimore stories by David Simon and George Pelecanos. I read it listening to Action Bronson on my headphones and it was absolutely perfect. This blew me away: “I glance to the TV bolted above the bar. A replay of Hill Street Blues flashes across the screen. “It’s not about the bridges,” I say. “They’re just the symptoms, a thousand outcomes of the rivers and the gullies and the hills, and a terrible maze of one-way streets. The bridges, they stitc...

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H L Mc Quaid
22:11 Mar 14, 2021

Thank you, David. Honestly your comment means more to me than a Reedsy win. I've been working diligently on improving my creative writing, and I'm thrilled that you see progress (you were one one the first people to comment on my debut story, and I was, and am, impressed with your work). Btw, I did a first read of your story this week and laughed out loud. I'll drop some comments tomorrow. :)

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David Gottfried
23:11 Mar 14, 2021

Don’t feel compelled. Only if you want to. I’ve spent some time in Pittsburgh. It’s a city ripe for more story settings. It’s gritty in the way of Philadelphia and Baltimore, but with a fascinating Midwestern sensibility and a west coast tech industry overlaying everything. Great town!

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H L Mc Quaid
13:05 Mar 15, 2021

Yeah, I really liked living in Pittsburgh. Great music scene, and food, and friendly people. And some very quirky bars on the South Side. And you're right, there's loads more stories that could be set there. :)

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K. Antonio
19:12 Mar 14, 2021

Midget Monday Madness 😂😂 I enjoyed how this piece was so dialogue forward and contained so much movement and action. Everything the character's did followed an action that made the scenario a lot more tangible. The dialogue seemed real and the way you start the story with the prompt was great. Love that this character was basically taking tequila shots all throughout the piece, she gonna sleep 10 hours minimum for sure. 😂😂

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H L Mc Quaid
19:21 Mar 14, 2021

Thanks K! I was a little concerned that I might not be providing enough detail to make it tangible. But like Claire said in her comment...you meet strangers in a bar, and you don't know that much about them, so it's sort-of realistic in that sense. And Andy gonna have one helleva hangover. ;) Glad you like it. :)

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Claire Lewis
18:42 Mar 14, 2021

I love the ending, I vote leave it. A reference to Robert Frost, yes? This story is wonderful. It’s cynical, funny, and mysterious, all tied up in your masterful prose. Your characters are fascinating and this story raises more questions than it answers about them, which makes it exciting and a bit confusing in the perfect way. It captures that interaction between strangers so well— the idea that you can meet someone and get a glimpse into who they are but that’s all you’ll get, just the intersection of two mysteries. Also, I loved the p...

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H L Mc Quaid
18:58 Mar 14, 2021

Thank you Claire! I made that change. And yes the ending is a nod to Frost, well spotted. :) btw, there was a pub that had "Midget Monday Madness" where a midget named Shaun would walk along the top of the bar, pouring booze into people's mouths. Pittsburgh has a lot of quirky bars. And all the folks named in the story, were from Pittsburgh (Andy Warhol, Gene Kelly, etc.). Anyway, I'm glad you liked it. And i loved your phrase, "the intersection of two mysteries"...that sounds like an intriguing title for another story.

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Frances Reine
19:01 Mar 17, 2021

Oh my gosh, Heather--I swear you're getting more and more impressive with every passing week. Loved the delicious dialogue and the whole thing's a careful, scene of solid details. No dragged pace. (pace is perfect btw) (and the mc had too much tequila for sure) Can't even brew up a single suggestion this time. It's perfect :)

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H L Mc Quaid
08:59 Mar 18, 2021

Frances, thank you, that means a lot. :) For the past few months I've been watching videos and reading articles and books on best practices in storytelling and creative writing (and reading more short stories). Then I pick one or two things to I want to practice for each story, It's hard to judge one's own work, so it means a lot to hear that you see some progress. Also, I've seen you deleted some of your stories (I deleted a few of mine as well, a kind of spring cleaning, ha!), but just checking if you're okay?

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Frances Reine
15:39 Mar 18, 2021

Payed off definitely. That's a lovely way to improve :) Aw, thank you for asking! Part of it is spring cleaning yes, haha. And then partly because they didn't make me super proud or anything--not that the ones I have up now are masterpieces, but they aren't as rushed. I hope you're posting next week, Heather ;)

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H L Mc Quaid
15:59 Mar 18, 2021

ah, okay. I like a lot of your work, but I understand if it doesn't meet your personal standards. We're often our own harshest critics. As for posting next week, I've entered a screenwriting contest that start this weekend, so I'll probably post whatever I write for that, to get some feedback. Which is even more important because I've never written a screenplay. 😂

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Frances Reine
21:25 Mar 19, 2021

Whoa, screenwriting. Best of luck! You'll do amazing, I'm sure :)

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Howard H
23:22 Mar 16, 2021

Hello Heather, Yet another intriguing twist on the prompt and another interesting voice to add to your repertoire. I loved the atmosphere you created and the details you’ve included in the narrative. I thought it had touches of David Lynch in there somewhere; part dream and part illusion. I half expected the lady with the log to appear and share her thoughts or a hidden door to creak open and offer a permanent exit... Well done and very enjoyable to read. HH :)

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H L Mc Quaid
16:38 Mar 17, 2021

Hi Howard, Thanks, I'll take a comparison to David Lynch any day, even if it's ephemeral and fleeting and undeserved. ;) I was trying to balance the gritty (yet quirky) reality of a Pittsburgh bar with the delusions and illusions of the patrons. Glad you picked up on that. :)

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Nina Chyll
12:00 Mar 25, 2021

Hey, you're in my critique circle this week! The part I enjoyed most dialogue-wise was around the time they talked about the left turn custom - I had no idea that was a thing, so I learned something new, and I liked the protagonist's disgruntled response. His whining sounded very real just then, and I could almost hear it in my head. I liked the mysterious woman character and how she's unashamedly herself - I think it may have been my favourite part. I also couldn't help but wonder what kind of a drama queen she is towards the end, and I t...

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H L Mc Quaid
12:20 Mar 25, 2021

Hi Nina! Thanks for reading and commenting. Glad I could educate others about the Pittsburgh Left. 😂 I agree about Andy's monologue about the bridges..that it may not sound 'natural.' Part of it was drunken musing and the other part is that he's a poet (that's part of the backstory I imagine for Andy, not something I wanted to say out-right say in the story). That's also why he's extra annoyed at Mel reciting her poetry. The question is whether I should have revealed that part of his backstory, to make his speech mannerisms more believable...

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Nina Chyll
12:36 Mar 25, 2021

Ah, I see! I had him down as some sort of a thug when the crowbar was mentioned, and I think it may have been a natural train of thought. He seemed a little brutal (not that a poet couldn't be that, but it all just added up to this criminal image) in his responses to everyone and the little piece of pierogi malice. He also seemed really confident in his delivery, which again, I took as a sign he could be a mildly dangerous person. I think it might make sense to reveal the truth about him, or hint at it. For me, that would shift the artificia...

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H L Mc Quaid
13:02 Mar 25, 2021

Yeah, I can see how you might see him that way. I pictured him as a cynical character, but not violent. He gets into trouble because of his mouth, and his attitude , and his passive-agressiveness (sending pierogis to the college kids), but he's not brutal (in the sense of being physically violent). If I get a chance to revisit this, I'll see if I can work something about him being a poet. :)

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Holly Fister
02:48 Mar 23, 2021

Pitty Left! My husband and I only visited Pittsburgh briefly for a wedding, but we took their driving style to heart and always try to get away with that quick left turn. This was a fun read, although I didn’t get a real sense of purpose behind the characters. But your writing skills had me hooked as always, and I was happy to read about Melinoe again. Was this written to set up another story?

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H L Mc Quaid
13:16 Mar 23, 2021

Hi Holly, Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Yeah, the Pittsburgh Left, it should be a national driving style. ;) Thanks for your thoughtful questions, too. This was not intended as a set-up to another story. The main character is actually Pittsburgh, as seen through the eyes and experience of Andy and, to a lesser extent, Mel. Andy has a love/hate relationship with da 'burgh (he complains about it, but doesn't want to leave, it feels like home to him) and Mel is a verbal (and psychological) sparring partner for Andy to express his...

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Holly Fister
21:32 Mar 23, 2021

Ah, I get it now! I don’t always catch onto these things, so thank you for patiently explaining it to me. 😄

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H L Mc Quaid
21:45 Mar 23, 2021

Well, you were right, Andy and Mel don't have a real sense of purpose, and that could be a flaw (probably is, ha!), but it's a on-purpose flaw. Not saying I made the right choice, just explaining it. And I hope you'll continue to question my choices (for reals, that's a key way I hope to improve). :)

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Holly Fister
22:28 Mar 23, 2021

No, I totally get it now, and honestly, I don’t think all stories have to have that sense of purpose or even make sense to all readers. I love your creativity and experimentation. Your bravery in stories like this one makes you stand out.

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H L Mc Quaid
07:59 Mar 24, 2021

I'm jazzed that you tolerate my experimentation. :) If I were me, I'd tell myself that I ought to learn the rules first before I break them. But sometimes I just wanna have fun. haha.

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Julie Ward
15:17 Mar 21, 2021

Ahh a love letter to Pittsburgh! The first line drew me right in - I thought of so many ways to play around with that prompt and everything felt trite. Your take on it told me so much - mainly hw done your main character is with the city, but how he really doesn't want to be. I love his gruff descriptions. It's a trippy story, the way a night in a bar can be. A drunken dream. I love the repurposed church, midget bartender night, the frat boys, and the reappearance of Mel. So many great details and descriptions..."stale beer and soured priv...

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H L Mc Quaid
17:56 Mar 21, 2021

Thanks Julie! I'm so glad you picked up on Andy's love/hate relationship with Pittsburgh. I don't normally use the f-bomb, but Andy definitely would. ;) So glad you liked it.

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Ash Jarvis
02:54 Mar 20, 2021

Yay—Mel’s back! You’ve built another marvelous story told mainly through dialogue, which I really love, and managed to make the bar and its patrons incredibly vivid with the bare minimum of description. Fabulous job accomplishing that! Now I’m really wondering if that left turn is the dream or the nightmare...

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H L Mc Quaid
17:29 Mar 20, 2021

Thanks, Ash! There was a lot of sinestral symbolism, so I wouldn't be surprised if Mel were guiding Andy down a darker path. ;)

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Cathryn V
00:01 Mar 20, 2021

A Pittsburgh story! right here on British Reedsy. I remember that you lived in da'burg and can see that you know your stuff. My favorite part is about Walnut street. I used to live in Shadyside, a long time ago. You've captured the energy of a bar so well by using snappy dialogue. I can picture it. The story is a fun read. You had me all the way until the end. I'm a bit dense sometimes. But I didn't get it. This person is drinking up large, her last night in pgh, and some chick tells her to turn left. (a Pittsburgh left :)) Pierogi piz...

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H L Mc Quaid
17:42 Mar 20, 2021

Hi Cathyrn! Yeah, the thing about the 'burgh, is that facts are stranger than fiction. There was bar on the SouthSide that had midget monday madness, and the Church Brew Works (on Liberty Ave, in Lawrenceville) was church converted into a pub that serves pizza with pierogis on top. As for describing Andy, I did think about it, but it's tricky to do that with first person without being awkward. Maybe I could have him look in mirror or something, I dunno. Open to ideas if you have any tips and tricks? And the ending depends on whether y...

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Beth Connor
16:20 Mar 17, 2021

Another brilliant story. You just keep getting better! I love the ending, and think you should keep it, it suits the mystery, and I love Frost's poetry. In another life, I worked for NH parks and rec- and you can go to his farmhouse in Derry for tours and there is even a nature trail... I loved that Mel made a cameo and that it was in such an unobtrusive way. The story has so many layers. Sometimes when I travel out of the country, I am a bit embarrassed to be an American, but this made me feel oddly proud and protective. Your line ...

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H L Mc Quaid
16:45 Mar 17, 2021

Hi Beth, I'd love to visit Frost's farmhouse! What a great idea for a little side trip, when I can travel back to the US. One benefit of living outside the US for so long is that I'm no longer embarrassed about being an American, as I've had plenty of experience letting the judgements (real or imagined) roll off into the corner. ;) Pittsburgh, like many cities, is such a great melting pot. Blue collar and white collar, and high-tech and acoustic. I was trying to capture that in my story, and glad you picked up on it. Thanks, as always...

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Beth Connor
17:26 Mar 17, 2021

I'm hoping to be able to travel out of the US again someday soon, and I am trying my hardest (in travel and life!) to let any stereotypes assigned to me roll off! If you ever make it to Frost's farm and enjoy history, let me know. There is so much in that area! I have never been to Pittsburgh, but I am intrigued. I've found sitting in a quiet corner of a bar or pub is better entertainment than Netflix!

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A.G. Scott
08:53 Mar 16, 2021

Wowowowow. I cannot imagine a fate worse than being maudlin drunk and trapped with an outgoing poet who drinks wine at a BAR >:(. I have been to Pittsburgh only once before, but this already feels really similar to the impression I got. You REALLY achieved that 'local flavor,' and very efficiently. Every detail felt important. This was a very fun read, and I loved the mind-f ending. Would love some eyes on my latest if'n you get the chance!

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H L Mc Quaid
09:46 Mar 16, 2021

That would make a most excellent logline: "a maudlin drunk is trapped in bizarre bar with an extroverted, wine-drinking poet." 😂😂😂 Thanks for reading and commenting. I've been in those bars (though I was NOT drinking wine), and am jazzed you think I've captured the local flavour. I'd be delighted to read your latest, as I enjoy your writing very much.

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H L Mc Quaid
18:06 Mar 14, 2021

An ode to my adopted hometown. Not sure about the ending of this, tho. 🤔

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Kristin Neubauer
20:43 Mar 26, 2021

I am late to this but, once again, blown away by your ability to pack so much depth into such brevity. Have you heard of Furious Fiction? if not you need to Google it and enter. I loved everything but particularly the opening line. The whole thing was so unique and gave us such a full sense of Pittsburgh - with a mysterious plot and intriguing character mixed in. I loved everything about it!

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H L Mc Quaid
13:29 Mar 27, 2021

Thanks so much, Kristin. :) And thanks for recommending Furious Fiction (based in Oz), I think I'll have a go at their next contest. Are you writing for that as well, or maybe you have enough on your plate! :)

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Kristin Neubauer
13:52 Mar 27, 2021

You should totally do it - you were made for Furious Fiction! I also like the fact that when the contest is over and they announce the winner, the judges write up what they liked about the winning entry and the short-listed entries. That has been a great learning experience for me. I have had a half-hearted go about three of the contests, but I think I might step back and just keep reading the winners and short lists. I am feeling pretty overloaded right now. Now that I'm in my advanced year at school, they are assigning us a paper or essay...

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H L Mc Quaid
14:11 Mar 27, 2021

I hear you. Finding time to write for fun/pleasure is tricky when most of the week is spent writing for school/work. And you have a much fuller life than most! Thanks for the encouragement, it means a lot. And maybe I'll see you on the FF list one day. :)

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