by Wayne Wightman
1st Place - Best Story - 2011
1st Place - Best Cover Art - 2011
was a little bit taken with Noreen Brown, the woman in the tea shop across the
street from his pet store, Walter's Used Pets. Both in their aimless thirties, Noreen,
he'd learned, had divorced herself from a lawyer husband who had promised her
lifelong poverty, and on this he had delivered. Walter had never had the marriage
experience, he suspected, because of the purple birthmark on his left cheek, the
size and approximate shape of a small hand. People assumed he was
psychologically strange. Thus, he thrived in the company of cast-off animals. He
knew this made him vulnerable.
Walter developed an every-other-day tea habit in her shop where he could say
hello to Ms. Brown and, perhaps today, say something else. Now, sitting at a little
table, he tried not to squirm. Perhaps he'd ask her how she was doing, a question
he heard people ask each other a lot, but whose purpose eluded him, since the
answer was never meaningful. Out of desperation, he asked her how she was
For a moment she looked like she didn't know the answer to a hard question. Then
she said with a happy-sad face, "Another day, another dolor," and placed the cup
of Assam before him.
That was when he realized he was a little taken by Noreen Brown.
The next day, through his front window, a no-tea day for him, he saw her delicately
bustle out of her shop, holding a tray with a teapot under a cloth thing.
Noreen came through his door backside first, to keep the tea tray clear. "I have to
get right back," she said as she set it on his counter, "but I thought perhaps you
could return these this evening, about when I close?"
He froze -- she actually stood in his shop, Noreen Brown, in front of him, talking.
He unfroze just enough to say, "Yes, I will." Walter, for the rest of his life,
remembered her faintly sly smile and wide-eyed expectation. She smelled of flour
and her final words, ". . . this evening, about when I close?" -- the saddest and
most hopeful words he had ever heard.