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Pretty How Town by WitnesstoitAll
Format: Short story
Chapter 1: Autumn
-Women and men(both little and small) cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn't they reaped their same sun moon stars rain-
They say that he is a peculiar lad – an only heir, born so high that he was suckled at the breast of the heavens herself, who chooses to play in the dirt over his place in the clouds. They say that he isn’t to be trusted – a Slytherin, of blood so pure rumour says it runs clear through his arteries and veins, who trounces around with the likes of Bones, Vance and the Prewetts. (revolutionaries, they’ll surely tell you if you ever care to ask) He is trouble, dangerous even, they say. You know such things. You hear them as they echo through the stale, yeasty air trapped within the walls of the pub. You hear them as you stand your post, diligently wiping the counters and refilling their mugs with ale. They always have something to say. (they’ll talk for hours whether or not you care to listen)
They (and all their words) hover in the back of your mind the first time you fill his mug.
He drinks the same ale – a harvest blend, spiced with a hint of pumpkin – and eats the same bread as they do. He is not adorned in gold leafing, nor carved from some rare, ancient stone. You study him through a curtain of thick lashes, hoping he won’t feel the intensity of your stare. The skin around his knuckles is chaffed from the barbs that skulk within the fierce autumn winds, and bits of dust clings to the bottoms of his robes. His eyes, a warm chocolate brown, offer gratitude in a rich baritone that his voice fails to match.
“Thank you,” he says.
You find the dissonance charming and wonder who it is they see when they look at this man, for as far as you can see, there is nothing grandiose or grotesque about him. (truly he is quite plain) He might as well be anyone.
You wear this realization over your plain, cotton robes like an elegant ball gown – as sheer as chiffon and as expensive as silk. It moves with you as you wait their tables, delivering stinking plates of fried foods and mug upon mug of ale. It glides over your words as a courage that is not your own takes hold of your frame and you step into their whispered conversations. (about him, no doubt)
“Well, I for one think he’s an intriguing man, perhaps even brilliant – and a sight better looking than you sorry lot.”
But you are merely a barmaid, they remind you. (their stern faces speak to your intrusion) You have hung around the pub long enough to know your role, and flies on the wall should not speak or prance about in fine gowns. Unless there are empty mugs to fill with ale or bruised prides to nurse with a flattering grin, unless there are grumbling stomachs in need of a hot supper or broken hearts in need of empathetic ears, you are no one to them.
He still sits at the bar with that first beer clutched in his hands, you notice as you turn away from them. It is captivating, you find, to watch him sip slowly from the mug, to wonder whether he is lost in thought or in life. The clatter of dishes and the roar of the cook alerting you to plates in need of delivery pull you towards the pub’s tiny, smoke-filled kitchen. Before disappearing, you glance back at him once more. (what you are hoping to find, you don’t know) Neither of you are a somebody – a part of the plural third – you are anyone and no one.
This is it – a secret sliver of knowledge that they know not. You alone are its sole confidant.
When he is gone, you gather the coins that sit at his bar stool. He left no tip for you – only the seven Knuts required to cover his tab. Typical, they say in disgruntled voices riddled with the stench of cynicism, but you know better – you see what they cannot. For in truth, what price can you put on enlightenment?
They (and all their words) are far away from your mind the second time you fill his mug, and are even further away the third and fourth times.
It is a Tuesday evening habit that you find yourself looking forward to – him entering the pub to a rapid decrescendo and a chorus of sidelong looks to take the same seat along the bar. He only ever orders a single mug of ale that he drinks slowly with the hardened heels of the day’s bread loaves; ‘thank you’ are the only two words he speaks, and he only ever leaves the seven Knuts to cover his tab. It is a comfortable pattern, though you’re not sure if it is due to the normalcy of it or to the small glimmer of pride that whispers ‘I know what they don’t’ from the back of your mind. (no one knows what they don’t)
So, you are surprised when on the fifth Tuesday he glances up at you with his warm, baritone eyes over the rim of his mug full of harvest-brewed ale and doesn’t say thank you.
“So, do you have a name?”
And with those words, the pattern breaks. (or is improved) You feel a flush rise up into your cheeks and your eyes fly to the counter-top – there must be clutter in need of cleaning or a speck in need of scrubbing. No one doesn’t have a name, but you do.
“Erm, yes,” you say, your voice a little more than a whisper, “it’s Rosmerta.”
“Rosmerta,” he says drawing the syllables out and swilling them around his mouth like a wine too fine to be served at pub such as this.
“Well, am I a fool to expect to hear yours, now?”
You leave him to mull over your question as you fetch him tray of hardened bread heels from the kitchen. His eyes follow you, leaving an over-exposed feeling to crawl along your skin.
“It’s Dearborn, Caradoc Dearborn.”
Of course you know this. Everyone in the pub knows his name, but there is something in the way he says it, a sense of humility, perhaps, that makes it sound new and lovely to your ears. You wonder what this man, who you had pondered and watched since the leaves had started to turn, may want to talk about. (what would anyone want to talk about in such a situation)
“It’s lovely to finally have a name to call you.” Idle chit chat is a fairly safe choice, you decide. “You’ve been coming here for a little over a month.”
A wide grin slowly sneaks its way over his face. “I hadn’t realised you’d noticed. Now I’ll have to make good on Bones’ bet. He’s my best mate, and he –”
“ – he comes here on Thursday evenings, yes.”
“Aye, you notice a lot of things, Rosmerta. He’s been encouraging me to say hello to you.” He finishes his mug in three quick swallows and sets it on the counter.
“A second?” you ask – a hitch astonishment lacing your words – pouring the rich, amber-coloured brew into his mug.
“You’re surprised – Salazar, am I that predictable? I suppose I never asked your name before because, well – this is going to sound wonky – but here, no one wants to talk to me – I know that.”
“Well, I’m rather enjoying talking to you.” You offer him a smile.
“Anyone would be lucky to talk to you.”
When he leaves the pub that night, seven Knuts sit where they always do. This time, the coins are accompanied by a rich tingle of excitement and the sharp scent of potentiality. You scoop it all into your apron.
Of course, they have even more things to say than usual – you speaking to him fuelled them better than any accelerant could – but for now, you don’t hear any of it. (he’s gone and bewitched her they say) Their words patter off the walls of the pub like fat rain drops that tell of the coming winter. His words are the only ones that that ring in your ears.
You are no longer your secret’s lone confidant, and his understanding wraps you like two warm arms.
No one wants to talk to him. Anyone would be lucky to talk to you.
This story is inspired by ee cummings' Pretty How Town. The quotation from at the opening of this chapter comes from this poem.
Author's Note: So this new little project of mine is the result of a bout of claustrophobia with my current WIPs. Stylistically, it is a bit different for me and so I'd love to hear what you think of it. Thank you so much for reading!