Below is the beginning of a fictional story I wrote, the name of which is so awesome I dare not publish it here.
Chapter 1: Seeking Refuge
Misfortune befalls the innocent, often tragically, just like evil.
It was a sticky spring afternoon and the air was so thick she could hardly swallow. Tallulah hurried into Liam’s Bar where the air conditioning hummed a sweet symphony. She discovered the place two years prior on a rainy October afternoon. The bar offered little outside of bad beer and cheap whiskey but she returned day after day, finding comfort among the unassuming regulars and peculiar décor.
Her body felt ragged and her brain foggy, not unexpected given that for the past ten hours she had sat curved over a desk listening to narratives that imprisoned her mind. Tallie, as most people called her, was a social worker at the city’s local homeless shelter. She hoped her work made a difference but hope was really all she had. Tallie’s doubt about the tangible impact of her job was as suffocating as Missouri’s April air.
Tallie headed straight to her favorite booth. She loved this booth both for the refuge it offered and its proximity to the bar. She did not even mind when its frayed pieces of duct tape stuck to the back of her legs. Out of habit she shoved the bench’s stuffing back behind its ripped vinyl cover but her efforts were futile as usual. Tallie gazed at the weathered and sepia-toned photograph that hung off-center above the booth, a Victorian woman with eyes so sad they could bury her alive and a chin so fat it could eat her the same way. The first time Tallie saw this photograph she mused that its subject looked like a Mildred. Ever since, Liam’s regulars had referred to the sad, fat Victorian woman as Miserable Mildred.
On her way into the bar, Tallie had caught a glimpse of herself though the film of cigarette residue that covered the smudged mirror. Her curls piled on top of her head like a mound of withering vines, her eyes sunken like a wrecked ship. Now, Tallie considered that Miserable Mildred looked better than she did and wondered if Victorian-era women also had jobs that tore away pieces of their souls and sliced their hearts into slivers.
Tallie lit a cigarette while she waited for the bartender, Kenny, to bring her some soothing suds. Kenny’s deeply-set eyeballs were the color of lemongrass and framed by bushy brows but his eyelashes were sparse, each one the color of a tiny, smoldering fire. Kenny’s eyes were often blood-shot from lack of sleep or too much booze and he could never stop them from wandering in Tallulah’s direction. Kenny had worked on the rainy October afternoon when Tallie first stumbled into Liam’s, her tendrils steeped in rainwater. He felt as drawn to her as he did to whiskey and every one knew it. Everyone, that is, except Tallie. Four days earlier when Tallie left Liam’s with a perfect stranger, Kenny drank so much that he woke up in a pile of his own vomit.
Tallie crushed the remainder of her cigarette into the chipped ashtray and watched her Lucky Strike drown in a sea of American Spirits. She laughed to herself about all the hipsters who seemed to want their lung cancer of the organic variety. Tallie shared her first cigarette with her grandfather when she was twelve years old. Gramps, as she called him, was a World War II veteran who had smoked four packs of Lucky Strikes each day between his eleventh birthday and his death at the age of 93. Tallie could still hear him say, “It’s Toasted,” each time she struck a match to light her own cigarette.
Kenny brought Tallie a Schlitz tallboy and a shot. He was still secretly angry with Tallie but could tell her day had been a hard one by the way she scrunched her cheeks. Tallie greedily clasped her hands around the can, the chill a comfort to her clammy palms. She lit a second cigarette. In her head, Tallie replayed the events of her day like a film reel, a montage of suffering, heartache, loss and tragedy with no happy ending in sight.