I changed up my writing routine this week, switching to mornings instead of evenings, and I got back to work on the next chapter of the thing I began sharing with you in January. As you may recall, “The Strumpet’s Sister” ended with modern-day Michael telling us that he had quite a story to tell. Well, here’s the beginning of that yarn. Enjoy!
In the autumn of 1976, in the small hospital of a small Portlandian suburb, Arthur Worthing’s wife was safely delivered of two babies for the price of one. This was one infant more than the young man had bargained for, and indeed one more daughter than he and his new bride were prepared to name. Had the second child been a boy, he would have been Jade. But Arthur's wife, her head swimming in the green haze swept in by the drugs they'd forced upon her, she swore that was not a girl's name. Or not her girl's name — Arthur couldn't be sure, so slurred were the words of this young woman he barely knew, that he'd knocked up on a night where he'd been slurring just as hard as she was now. And so, behind the glass of the nursery window, in neighboring glass bassinets, there slept Melancholy Worthing and her unnamed twin. Around the corner, in the dive bar just opened in the basement of his family's furniture store, sat their father — their father, he thought to himself — huddled into a booth with a textbook on abnormal psychology and tall glass of whatever Cumberland County concoction they had on tap.
“Whatcha reading?” asked a passerby, once Arthur had drained his glass.
Thinking it might be the waiter, and not yet paying heed to the words coming his way, Arthur held up the empty vessel and nodded that yes, he’d like another.
The passerby gave a brief chuckle, and it was only then that Arthur looked up into the older man’s face. It was only then that he examined the tweed jacket and the sensible spectacles and the neatly trimmed beard.
“I’m sorry, sir,” said Arthur. “I thought you were — ”
The passerby laughed again, with more bluster this time. “Sir,” he said, shaking his head. “I guess I do look old enough to be a sir, don’t I?”
“I meant no offense,” said Arthur, closing his book, offering up his full attention as a kind of apology. “It’s been a long day.”
The passerby looked down at the book to gain the answer he’d sought for at the beginning. “A long day that ends with abnormal psych must be a long day indeed,” he said. “You studying, or is that a sleep aide of some sort.”
Now Arthur laughed, for the first time since they’d put the second baby in his arms and he’d run the numbers in his head about how two college juniors were going to afford two newborn babies.
The passerby slid into the other side of the booth, looked over toward the bar, and, once he’d grabbed the attention of someone over that way, held up two fingers.
“Thanks,” said Arthur. “But I only had enough for — ”
“I’m buying,” said the passerby.
“Thank you,” said Arthur. “I could use another.”
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