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“What can I do?” said Maggie, “Maybe I should start trying the exact opposite of what I think I want or just stop trying altogether.

 “Do you ever begin to think that everything you’ve wanted all along in your life—especially early on, well, none of that mattered and most of it was wrong.”

Maggie paused, squinting her eyes. A small frown formed as she compressed her lips, as though she were concentrating.

“There was a time when I wanted nothing more than to dance. And there was Claire living out that dream. She seemed like a better version of me. I just remember being so jealous of the fact she was doing what I thought I wanted to do.

“You know, I saw her across the street the other day. We were on out for a stroll with George. She looked somehow, I don’t know, shrunken. I don’t know what happened to her. She never really settled.”

She glanced out the large bay window. “That could’ve been me, you know?”

“Dodged a bullet if you ask me,” said Jeanie.

“Ah, what does it matter anyway, this.” Maggie leaned forward for her cup of tea. She held the cup in her hands. “But you know, it really makes you think. What was it that got me to where I am?”

“A guardian angel? murmured Jeanie. “Fate?”

“Maybe back then professional dance was just a dream and not something that was ever really in the cards. And I can say that of so many other things. Men.

"How can you tell what’s a dream from what’s really yours?”

She looked down into her mug watching the steam waft around the edges and disappear into the air.

“But it does make you think, you know, do we ever get it right?

“I’m going to take that attitude with George. Encourage him do what comes naturally. Not to try so hard. Be disciplined when it matters and reach only for what counts. We don’t have unlimited energy. Are we going to spend it with the ones we care about, the ones it comes easily to, or waste it, see it evaporate into thin air? Then, soon we ourselves. We’ll soon be gone, poof.

“You know what I was thinking the other day? I was watching George and thinking of the time, where was he? Before George—where was he?

“Wherever he was, that’s where we’re all headed.”

Jeanie said nothing.

“Well, I think I’m a bit high on caffeine” Maggie exclaimed with a sigh and smiled. Her smile revealed a neat row of white teeth. “How are you doing, Jeanie?”

“Good” said Jeanie, as Jeanie let her gaze linger for a little out the window. Something had caught her attention.

Maggie looked over at her friend across the small wooden table and shrugged.

“I’m sorry for talking so much,” she said.

“Not at all,” replied Jeanie. “I’ve enjoyed this. It’s so nice to see you. You really haven’t changed at all. And I’m so happy for you and Michael—I cannot wait to meet George.”

As Jeanie began to look for her coat, Maggie leapt up and drained her cup in one mouthful.

Jeanie picked up Maggie’s empty mug and her own from the table and deposited them on the counter.

“So, we’ll see you Thursday night then?” said Jeanie.

“Yes, of course,” said Maggie.

And they said their goodbyes.

Stepping out of the shop, Maggie remembered George and as she remembered him, her chest tightened and her pace quickened.

Her thoughts began to bubble as she walked. The time had flown by so quickly she wondered how long they’d been there. She felt as though she had talked on and on. Now only the cold air was waking her up.

Maggie looked up. The sky was a clear blue. The horizon was a pale yellow. In between, little clouds were flecked grey on the top, where the sun was just beginning to descend.

Her eye caught on the massive blue container cranes that rose from across the port. The sun made an impressive silhouette of their frames. She noticed a miniature staircase that climbed up the side of the crane. One storey, two storeys, and so on. Did someone climb that staircase every day to get to work?

The thought was pushed away as soon as it came. Maggie was trying to backtrack in her mind the meeting with Jeanie. Maybe she should get out more. What had she told Jeanie exactly? Jeanie had talked a lot about her work. She was working with teens. She’d seemed happy with where it was going, like she had found a purpose that wasn’t there previously.

Maggie noticed two figures were coming her way in the opposite direction, one had an aggressive walk and the other a bit of a stagger. Was he drunk? Maybe I should cross to the other side. But as they drew closer, she realized it was a limp. Maybe a club foot. His eyes flashed across her periphery. Odd couple, she thought.

Jeanie had lost a lot of weight. In fact, was she even the same Jeanie? Maggie tried to put her finger on what she felt. Had she been a little disarmed by Jeanie’s stylishness? Again, she pushed this thought out of her head.

But as soon as she pushed it away, a second train of thought appeared. She hadn’t bought clothes in awhile. Clothes were the last thing on her mind after George’s birth. Without slowing her pace, Maggie cast a glance into the reflection in the storefront window, catching a flash of straight brown hair, a white face, and pair of boots. She let the image go, agreeing to herself that she would investigate the reflection later, in the mirror.

Maggie reached home and had begun climbing the stairs when she heard a call from across the street. She was greeted by the neighbour, Bev who seemed to have come out of her door in a rush. This was unusual. “Someone stole your package,” said Bev, “I saw him run up your stairs and snatch it off the steps. I’d been keeping an eye on it for you the past couple of hours. I came out and I yelled at him ‘Hey! That’s not yours!’ And he took off running down the street. He had on a black hoodie and white sneakers. Anyway, I called the cops.” 

Maggie was surprised. No one had ever stolen anything from her. But Maggie’s head was still somewhere else, so she was slightly amused by the whole ordeal. Except a little worry that gnawed at her. Had an intruder really climbed the ten steps to her door? And if this could happen, what else might happen? As for the package, she dismissed it. She hadn’t been waiting for anything important to arrive. She didn’t recall ordering anything at all, in fact.

“Thank you Bev, I really appreciate it,” said Maggie, “We appreciate you keeping an eye on things.”

“Well like, I said, I’d been keeping an eye on it since they dropped it off. It was sticking right up out of your mailbox. They shouldn’t just leave them like that.”

Maggie thanked Bev once again and went inside. As she closed the door, she glanced over her shoulder through the window. Bev had re-entered her living room and was framed in her picture window, sitting at her station on the couch.

In her own living room, Maggie could hear something stirring. “Hello?” she called, as she lifted her coat and kicked off her boots. “Where’s my George?” she cried.


Not before long, Thursday evening arrived. Maggie and Michael sat at a round table set with a white tablecloth and napkins, with cutlery folded into the front pocket. Maggie was looking out the window.

“Great spot,” she said. She thought of how she used to pass this window almost every day on her way home. She enjoyed looking at the cast of characters about to dig into their meals. It was almost like eating, without the bill.

Maggie and Michael did not seem to mind waiting almost twenty minutes before Jeanie and Eric arrived. Neither did they notice the happy gaggles of middle-aged bodies and quiet pairs of young couples. All had faded into the background as soon as they had taken their seats, as though they were on stage.

Michael ordered a bottle of Malbec for the table. Maggie watched with satisfaction as the waitress poured the bottle, held in a pristine white cloth. She noticed that less had been poured in her glass, but dismissed this. As the waitress poured the bottle, she rotated it. Maggie saw it had spotted the cloth with a drop of wine.

Jeanie raised her glass to initiate a cheers: “To friends, to the new baby, who is but six weeks old, and to his health.”

“Thank you,” said Maggie, “How about a cheers to my first glass of wine, in, what Michael, a year?” The four laughed.

Maggie was halfway through eating her meal when she realized her dish had arrived cold. She had been in the middle of the story about the stolen mail incident. “What do you think it is?” asked Eric.

“I don’t know,” she said, “I checked my order history I’m sure I didn’t order anything. It was probably just a mistake. Maybe a clock radio?”

“Do they still make those?” said Michael.

“Whatever it was, you should be able to get your money back. They reimburse you for those things,” said Jeanie.

“But I have nothing in my order history,” said Maggie.

“Well, your home insurance may cover it,” Jeanie said.

It wasn’t before long the waitress came to collect their plates. “How was everything?” she asked.

“Great. Really delicious,” Maggie said.

Once the waitress had left, Jeanie turned to Maggie. “Well, why didn’t you tell her?”

“I’d already eaten three quarters of it” said Maggie, “If there’s food in front of me, I don’t know. I’ll eat it—must be in the genes. History of scarcity.”

It wasn’t long before the cheques came. “All set?” asked Michael. Maggie looked at her watch and thought about George. It was the first time they had been apart for this long. She hoped George had done well at home with Nana.

On their walk home, Maggie revealed to Michael that Jeanie suspected Eric was cheating on her. “How does she know?” Michael asked.

“Well, she saw some messages on his phone,” she explained. “It seems pretty obvious.”

“Poor Jeanie,” said Michael. “That’s just the worse. But why didn’t they just cancel?”

“I’m not sure,” said Maggie, “Jeanie has a way about her. She wants what she wants. I wouldn’t put up with it.”

“Well,” Michael said, “I had fun anyway.”

“The meal was cold and the company was good,” cried Maggie, and their laughter lifted up into the dark night sky.


A few days later, Maggie was out walking the dog. As she turned the corner, there, coming towards her, striding down the opposite side of the street was a man of less than average height and build, wearing a black hoodie and white sneakers. It’s got to be him, she thought, but I can’t confront him. What if he’s got a weapon? She looked over at him again, sizing him up.

Her heart began to race. “Hey, you!” she shouted. The shout seemed to come from somewhere outside herself.

But he didn’t seem to hear or chose not to notice her.

“Hey!” she tried again. He didn’t even look up.

Maggie crossed the street, forgetting that the dog was attached to her hand. “You,” she said. “You stole my mail. You stole my mail and I want it back.”

A blank face looked back at her. “Listen,” he said, “I didn’t steal anything. But just tell me what you ordered, and maybe I can help you out.”

“Well, I don’t know what it is,” she said.

“You don’t know what it is?” 

“My neighbour saw you take it. Don’t make me call the police, I just want it back.” And Maggie gave him her address.

“Follow me,” was all he said.

And Maggie fell in line behind him, surprised that this was happening.

His hoodie had an unwashed look. He was wearing sweatpants. She began taking notes to herself for police description.

He stopped in front of a large brick apartment complex. “Wait here,” he said, and he was gone.

 “What?” she told the dog. “You couldn’t give a little growl, or anything?”

It seemed like an hour of waiting. As she was scolding herself for giving away her address, suddenly the man in the hoodie re-emerged from the building.

He handed her a brown mailing envelope and disappeared. The envelope had her name, address, and shipping code printed on it.

As soon as Maggie was home, she ripped the seam of packaging and drew out a book. The book had a faded brown cover with stencils of four figures on the front and the title “Granny, Iliko, Illarion, and I” it read. The author was Nodar Dumbadze. It must’ve been five or six years ago that she ordered the book? How long had it taken to arrive!

She’d ordered it before she’d met Michael. Before there was a George.

Ten years ago she’d visited the home of the famous poet, who lived in the tiny village in the Caucasian mountains. His home had been turned into a museum. That day, she’d set out with the two other English teachers from the village of Khidistavi. But it was winter. The snows must have been ten feet high, as she remembered. All she could catch a glimpse of was the gate to the house. After considering for a moment scaling the gate, they though, well what would be the point of that anyway, and departed back to their host families.

The book flipped open to the first page. It began “To the right of my village flows the river Gubazouli, to the left, the stream Lasheh teeming with…” She skipped a paragraph “Still and all, my village is the prettiest and the merriest in Guria. I love it more than any other village in the world, because it is here that we all live, Granny, Iliko, Illarion and I, and also my dog Murada.” 

December 03, 2021 20:35

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1 comment

Karen McDermott
10:32 Dec 09, 2021

From the critique circle. I found it tricky to follow whether it was Maggie or Jeanie speaking at first but got then stuck into it, appreciating the small details - the staircase on the side of the crane, the droplet of wine on the table. Your story has a Lynchian feel to it. Nice writing.


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