The first mistake I made in my life was not joining the army. Or at least that’s what my family said. My father joined the fight, my friends did too. Heck, even my sister got a factory job making bullets. It was the beginning of spring, 1947. I was 22 years old and an outcast. My parents still let me stay with them but I was made sure I was barely welcome. I remember a good 2 weeks in March when all I did was walk around my small town in Mississippi. I didn’t go to any shops or anything. I just walked around until I was tired of everyone’s looks or my legs felt dead. Then I’d go home, eat dinner on my own, and crawl in bed. I was barely alive. No one could understand why I didn’t join. To be frank, I didn’t care about the war. I didn’t care about the countries involved and I lost respect when America only went in when attacked. It killed any patriotism in me. I also managed to dodge the draft, thankfully. I saw what war did to people and I wanted nothing to do with it. The only person who talked to me after the war was my sister Sherry who we all just called Sher. She was 3 years younger than me and about to be married. I hated her fiance. He was a smug guy who had his heart set on getting rid of me. I’m not quite sure why. Sher knocked on my door one Sunday afternoon after church.

“Clay” she rasped from behind my door. “Can I come in?” She didn’t have a typical southern accent. It sounder more of buzzing bees than anything.

“Sure,” I said. I tossed aside whatever I was doing. I’m not quite sure what. She opened the door lightly, looking around my room as if wondering if it was safe to come in. I patted my bed and asked her to sit down. She walked slowly into the room, her hands behind her back. She didn’t sit. She walked halfway across the room.

“I’m worried about you Clay.” I didn’t respond. We’ve never had a heart-to-heart. 

“I’m serious!” she said frustratingly, waving her arms in front of her. “All you do is mope around. Is that what you’re going to do for the next 6o somethin’ years of your life?” I shrugged but I knew what she was saying. Get a plan, you can’t keep living like this. It made me aggravated that she thought that I hadn't thought about a plan. I had. Nothing came up. I graduated high school but that was it. I did nothing during the war and worked sometimes in construction after. I had about $200 under my name. 

“What do you want me to do?” I half-yelled back at her. Here’s the thing, never yell at the only person who wants to talk to you. It will never end in your favor. She took a few steps back, scrunching up her nose. 

“Forget it,” she said, turning to leave my room. She looked over her shoulder at me and said, “I just had an idea.” She shut my door behind her. I waited a beat. I then rushed out of my room, met her in the hallway, and asked her what her idea was.

“You listen to me and you’re not going to say a word.” I nodded. “We’re going to get you a ticket outta this country. Yes, we. Me and you. I know you don’t have much but I’ve got plenty. I’m going to give you $400 bucks, and you’re going to work somewhere until June. With all that money saved up you’re going to get on the RMS Queen Elizabeth, sail to England, and start up a new.” Her face was glowing by the end of her speech. She must have thought about this long and hard.

“How do you know I don’t want to stay here, in the United States?”

She gave me a look. 

That’s how I found myself in England 2 months later. I wish Sher had come with me. I stayed for her wedding but her husband didn’t allow her to come with me. That ass. He did at least, after a lot of begging from Sher, give me the name of a friend in London who was looking for someone to split rent with. It cost me £50 per month. That first week in London I did a lot of walking. It was a good mode of exercise, entertainment, and job scouting. I still had no idea what I was going to do. I had £172.31 in a bank account that I opened up. I needed to get my move on. One night I couldn’t sleep. I think it was Sunday, the last day of my first week. My head was throbbing and I was dying just to go on a walk and smoke. So that’s what I did. I didn’t bother switching my clothes, it was 2 am. I knew of a small park down the road so I headed that way. There was no wind or clouds in the sky. There were barely any cars out as well. It felt like walking through a painting. I remember touching every lamp post I came across. It stained my index finger black. London at 2 am is my favorite London, there is no doubt about it. When I finally came across the park, I took a seat on a bench closest to the artificial pond in the middle. There was a duck or two swimming lazily in the pond. I wished that my life was just as simple. I sat there for a couple of minutes, looking and smoking when a figure appeared on the path around the pond. I was beyond confused. It broke any sense of dreaming that I was in. This was no longer a painting. The figure walked straight towards me, materializing into a 40 something-year-old woman. She was wearing loose clothing, her hair was up, and smoke was coming from her mouth. I couldn’t make out any more.

“You’re in my spot.” her voice made it clear she wasn’t a born Brit, her English had french accents to it. She was two steps in front of me, smelling of tobacco and lavender. 

“There is a spot right next to me.” She sat down. Silence hung around us for a couple of minutes. We were both smoking and looking at the ducks, perhaps her mind was also racing on who I was. 

“I’m Clay.” I finally said. I said it to the ducks, not to her face. 

“Maive.” More silence. She was the first person, other than my flatmate, who I really met in London. I turned to study her face. Her nose was long and sharp, her hair could have been dark blond or brown, her lips seemed small, I couldn’t tell the color of her eyes.



“Please stop staring at me.”


I looked back at the ducks. I stubbed out my cigarette.



“What are you doing out here?”

“I could just as easily ask you the same question.”

“Yes, you could.”

I think she smiled. 

“I like to come out here and think.”

“At 2 in the morning?”

“Yes, at 2 in the morning.”

I nodded. Wasn’t that what I was doing? I had no room to judge. We sat there for I don’t know how long, maybe 30 minutes? The silence around us was comfortable, I didn’t mind it one bit. I think she didn’t mind it either. Then she got up from the bench. 



“I’m going to be here again tomorrow.” With that, she was gone. I came again the next day. I am a predictable man who is easily intrigued. This time it was she who was waiting for me. She was sitting in the spot I sat yesterday. 

“Clay,” she said.


“Would you like to hear a story?”


That’s how we got to learn about each other as if we were talking about completely different people in completely different worlds. She told me about this young girl, 18, in France. It was 1920. She was a suffragette, so was her mother. So were many of her friends. She held marches, burned a few buildings down, was imprisoned, force-fed. She was tired all the time yet she loved her cause. She got married in 1921, she was 19. She was a feminist deeply in love. Her husband didn’t know she was a suffragette. When he found out she was, she was also pregnant. He made her go to a doctor and abort it. How could she possibly be a good mother? He screamed at her “You have no right to carry any child!”. It stuck with her since then. In 1922 they moved to England. There she went undercover until women's right to vote was passed in 1928. After that she became a typist, her husband ran a women's clothes factory. I felt sick. It was like I was back on the RMS Queen Mary.

“Maive,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”

“What are you sorry for?” She replied. “It’s just a story.” The next night I told her about a young man, 22, who didn’t join the army. I told her that nobody but his sister cared for him. She then shipped him away on a boat to a foreign country which he knew next to nothing about. I told her about how this young man threw his time away, unable to find a job, stuck on what to do with his pointless life. I held my breath at the end of my story.

“Can this young man type?” Maive said. I nodded.  

“I know what job this man could have.”

“What job?”

“A reporter.”

A week from that day I was working at The London Daily. I was more of a coffee boy than anything, definitely not a “real reporter”, but the job suited me just fine. I still met with Maive at 2 in the morning. My sleep schedule was terrible.

“Maive,” I asked that day


“Why do we have to meet at 2 in the morning.” I think she scrunched up her face.

“Nobody's asking you to come.” 

“Oh come on, lay it off.” She brought her cigarette to her lips, blowing the smoke out slowly. Silence. A few minutes passed.

“ I like how I know you as Clay and you know me as Maive.” she finally said. “I know nothing more about you, and you nothing more of me.” I must have been very tired that day since I said something ridiculously stupid. 

“But the stories . . .” I began.

“Are just stories.” she finished. 

Silence. I continued to meet with Maive every night. I would even come to call her a friend. Of course by that time I had friends, friends I met within the day. Six months had passed since I had come to London. I met Beth. She was a typist at The London Daily. Her hair was long and blonde, her eyes were light green. I sometimes called her my Rapunzel.

“Maive,” I said one day to her. It was late January. We were both wearing our snow clothes.


“Do you remember the young American who moved to Britain?”


“He’s getting married tomorrow.”

“Is he sure about it? Why isn't he partying with his friends?”

“I think he is. He'll see his friends tomorrow”


“I wish him the best of luck then.”

I, of course, told Beth about Maive. I didn’t want her thinking I was sneaking out at 2 am for a hookup. She looked at me funny.

“Yes I understand but technically you’re still heading out to meet with another woman.”

I told her it wasn’t like that, how she could even come and they could meet. Beth declined.

“I trust you.” We left the conversation at that. 

I met with Maive for years. All we would do was sit on that bench and tell stories. I could tell she was getting older, she knew I was too. Both of our times were running out. I told her about the American having a daughter, 1 year after that a son. Every time she would reply with

“I wish them the best of luck.” 

One time I told her a story I knew she wouldn’t like, but just had to tell her. I needed her to know.

“There’s this reporter.” I began “Who is set to write a story about a man who owns a women's clothes factory.”

“I see.”

“He is having trouble whether he should write it. He'd hurt the man's wife.


“You already know my opinion.” Don’t burst what we haveDon’t go looking more into who I am. I wrote the story. I didn’t go to the park for a week. When I finally came back, we didn’t talk about the event. I knew she was hurt. I grew to love and hate Maive. She was my half friend half stranger. I loved yet hated waking up at 1:30 and making my way down to the park. One day I rushed out as soon as I could and waited. It was 1964. She was old and wispy, she struggled to make it to the park. I didn’t care. I attacked her as soon as she came. 


“Do you remember the reporter's daughter?”

“How could I forget?”

“She was 16 and was working at a women's clothes factory. Fire came out of nowhere from down below. She was trapped on her floor. Come to find out the company and all involved knew about the fires and unsafe working conditions.” All she did was nod. Tears welled in my eyes.

“Why didn’t the factory owner's wife tell the reporter? Why didn't she try and stop hundreds of women from getting hurt?” 

“Because she’s tired, old, frail, and fed up with trying to save everyone.” 

“Why not tell the reporter?”

“Because she is true to her word and wants nothing to do with the reporter's real world.”

I left the park in a rush that day. I was beyond hurt. Sher called me the next day telling me our father had died, mom and she wanted me there. I gladly accepted it. I wanted to put as many miles between me and Maive so I wouldn’t strangle her. The funeral went how funerals go. Sher consoled me on the loss of my father and daughter. I didn’t care about my father but I broke down in Sher’s arms. She had also become old and wrinkly but she was still the same. I went back home to Beth and together we were both sobbing messes. The next time I saw Maive was 4 years from then. I hadn't got used to sleeping through the night and I decided to go see if she was there. She was. I think she was 66 at that time. She sure looked it. I sat down next to her. She handed me a cigarette. 

“Clay,” she said

“Maive” Silence. There was nothing more to say. I had almost forgiven her by then. 1968. My son was attending University in America, Beth was still Beth. I was still a reporter. I came back to the park a couple of times that year. Times were changing, the park was going to be bulldozed over.  



“What’s going to happen to the old woman when her park gets destroyed?”

“She’ll move into a nursing home.”

“What about her husband?”

“He’s been dead for 3 years.”

She never told me. 

“What nursing home?”

“Meadow nursing home.”

I visited her there. I went as her son. It was 1970 when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. She was going to forget me, and our park. I barely knew her, and in the past years I’d come to know her even less, but I could not picture her forgetting me. I was hit with a pang of gratitude and sorrow. I was grateful for this frail old woman in front of me. I knew her yet I didn’t. That was perhaps the hardest part. My whole life was built around her. I came in one day. The doctor said it would most likely be her last. I sat in the white plastic chair next to her bed.

“Maive?” She stared at me with cloudy eyes. They were brown. 

“Clay?” she remembered.

“Would you like to hear a story?”

“Go ahead.” I took in a big breath.

“The first mistake I made in my life was not joining the army.”

May 08, 2020 22:29

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Zea Bowman
12:58 May 11, 2020

I loved this story! It was intriguing from beginning to end. I loved how descriptive and entertaining it was! Any chance you could stop by and give me feedback on my story, "Come Quietly" and like it if you enjoyed it? If so, thanks so much! If not, it's all good. Anyway, I look forward to reading more of your stories. Good luck!


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Kathleen Jones
14:49 May 09, 2020

Loved this story! Has a great way to show the passing of time, and how much impact one person can have on another!


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