Confessions of a drinker student abroad

Friday, September 17, 2010

Alleyways and Storytime

This blog is guaranteed 100% less angsty than past ventures of mine, however, I cannot resist a story. Recently my family and I were on a weeklong camping trip over on the Carolina coast as a last family event before i fly off into the rising sun, and it was awesome. We went to the small town of Beaufort, there were some beautiful views, and yet, something heavy there. Part of this made me particularly wistful as I passed by the alleyways. Something about the narrow passages, leading to courtyards shielded from inquiring eyes, a paradise tucked away among the bustle of main street, struck a chord with me. So now I present you with a story, a rather poor one. I laid awake late trying to discover the ending, but I could not see it, therefore, I must write it, and find out when I reach it.

Sarah Foster was in love with a soldier. Not that this was a particularly unusual case for a girl from Beaufort. Many of the fairer denizens of this small town had pledged their undying devotion to local boys, who, seeking a life of adventure away from their fathers' shrimp boats ran off to join the military. No, what set young Miss Foster apart from her fellow betrothed maidens was that her man was coming home. Yes, even as her friends bid farewell to their knights in khaki, she had received the letter informing her that Douglas was coming home, home to stay.

She paced up and down her room, pausing each time to look out through the lace curtains that shielded her windows from the prying eyes in the Plum Cafe below. Rare were the occasions she glanced down from this vantage, for most of her time was spent in the cafe, where she worked as a waitress. So much time was spent there in fact that she frequently kept the curtains drawn, hoping to forget that her prison of responsibility lay so close at hand.

A breeze coming off of the harbor stirred her wispy protectors of imagination. The autumn sunlight reflecting off of the shining water struck a small bauble upon her left hand and sent dazzling beams of colored light spinning through the room. She gazed listlessly upon the sullen golden band that housed the beautiful gem. Douglas would have known she didn't like gold, but unfortunately, the ring was not his. It had been given to her by a rather wealthy young fellow who frequented the Plum Cafe.

After Douglas had gone away, she had spent many long hours staring out over the harbor, trying to find an answer to the questions in her heart, but it was in vain that she asked the seagulls and sweetgrass whether or not Douglas loved her. If they knew, they had been sworn to secrecy, along with the bobbing pines across the bay.

As the weeks went by she grew convinced that her love was unrequited, and that it was hopeless to wait. Then had come the young Mr. Gregory. Mr. William Gregory, grandson of the Gregory's that lived in the great brick mansion over on Pinckney street in the upper end of the Victorian District. Mr. Gregory had cast his eye upon young Miss Foster and been instantly convinced that she was the most lovely girl in town. With his sails set and his eye upon the great heart that had so often eluded the local hounds. And so he courted her, day after day, gradually wearing down those stalwart defenses, until she accepted from him, early in the summer, a small token of his affection. He had insisted that she merely try it out to see how it felt. When his parents came down to visit him he had discovered that the stone was loose, and took it back to the jewelers for repair. Thankfully the jeweler was able to repair it, but not until after Mr. and Mrs. Gregory had gone away again.

Sarah had noticed then, for all people assumed she hadn't. She was a sharp girl, not one given to silly notions and the building of fantasy kingdoms. Yet she kept the ring on, hoping that perhaps it was a passing phase, that perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Gregory merely had to be eased into the idea of a waitress in the family. This one circular castle she allowed herself, believing that unless she hoped for something she must surely die.

Then had come the day of the letter. It had been a plain one, not full of flowery words as Mr. Gregory's were. It was written in a strong hand, one which appeared unfamiliar with the attention it was giving to detail. The meticulously formed letters seemed to cry with pain at the ages it had taken to write them, and if she had cared to inquire as to the page's family, she would have heard a long tale of many brothers and sisters left lying crumpled in a wire basket across the sea. The letter contained no declaration of love, but what lay between the carefully sculpted lines spoke louder than any sonnet. After finishing with the pleasantries and news of his own return he had simply asked if she still had the painting of the seagull over the harbor.

Her mind had fluttered back to that night while her body performed the same action across the room to her nightstand, where the small painting, lovingly framed and matted, rested upright against her mirror. The night he had given it to her, the night he had almost said something, but had held back, choosing instead to tell her of his imminent departure. All of her dreams came flooding back with the memory of those unspoken thoughts. The circular bastion of Mr. William Gregory grew inconsequential in her mind.

It was a quarter past noon when Mr. William Gregory strode into the Plum Cafe. He winked at the hostess, then wound his way to his usual seat. As Miss Foster took his order he tried in vain to catch her eye. As the clock down the street struck 12:30, Mr. Gregory's food began wending its way towards his table. The faint growl of a diesel engine announced the arrival of the bus from Charlestown. With a clatter the dishes were deposited on the table. Mr. Gregory shouted a protest but his words struck only air. A glance down at his sandwich revealed a small golden hoop with a shiny protrusion resting upon the bread. As realization dawned upon him, the jingle of the cafe door opening danced its way into his ear. Too late he had shouted, and too late he had decided to be true, for the hand that had so recently been burdened by that circlet of settlement was flailing for balance and Sarah raced down the sidewalk towards the bus station.

A screeching seagull gazed down upon them as he swooped over head. The fair one, trembling with joy, leapt into the arms of that khaki clad son of Beaufort. The cries of the gull united with the whisper of the sweetgrass, both proclaiming that well had they kept their secret, and now, relieved of his vow, the gull climbed into the heavens to announce that the artist had returned to his muse.

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