Hatter’s

This is a short story I’m working on based off of a Tumblr post I found forever ago. Comments/critiques and suggestions are appreciated. There are other scenes I want to add, and change some of the dialogue around.

“Is the boss here?” Charlie slid into a seat at the bar.

The bartender glanced at Charlie from where she mixed a rainbow of cocktails. “Probably.”

Charlie looked the bartender over. This girl was new. Then again, they always were. “Any chance I could get a word with ‘em? It’s about the want ad.” She peeked over her shoulder. The biggest changes in this place were the larger barroom and the massive gas fireplace in the new addition. And maybe the booth upholstery, but Charlie couldn’t be sure since she always occupied a seat at the bar.

“Hold on.” The bartender put the drinks on a tray before she snatched a phone off the back counter and pushed two buttons on the keypad.

It sounded like the line barely rang on the other end.

“Boss, someone’s here for you.” The bartender turned and gave Charlie a once over. “About the want ad.”

They stared at each other.

Charlie caught sight of this bartender’s nametag. Lucy.

The person on the other end of the line still seemed to be talking.

Lucy balanced the phone between her ear and her shoulder. “What’ll you drink while you wait?”

“Finger of scotch. None of that cheap stuff,” Charlie said.

Lucy chewed the inside of her lip. She grabbed a short glass, poured a fair amount and put the glass down in front of Charlie. Not a moment later Lucy hung up and set the phone back on its cradle. “Go back towards the bathrooms and take the stairs up.”

Charlie picked up her glass while sliding a twenty onto the counter. “Thanks.” She didn’t wait for change and headed toward the bathrooms. In the new addition, the fireplace was surrounded by couches occupied by who Charlie assumed were college students. Their burst of laughter seemed to cut through the other conversations. A few of the nearby customers glanced over before they went back to their brews and meals.

As Charlie turned into the hallway for the bathrooms she stopped to look at the frames on the wall. Each frame contained a photo or a newspaper headline from the city. They spread across the bar and marked the years since it opened. The farther down the hallway Charlie went the more the photos were of the bar staff. When she reached the stairs Charlie examined the grainiest black and white photo that had a small dull brass plaque that read “The Milliners, 1872.” She swallowed some scotch and noted the most familiar face, the boss. Their names went through her mind and once satisfied she recognized them all, Charlie went upstairs.

When she reached a door five feet down the next hallway, Charlie knocked twice. The door opened to a young woman with brunette hair pulled into a ponytail. Charlie noted her face hadn’t changed since that photo was first taken.

“Took you long enough,” she said. She grinned and opened the door wider. Charlie walked in.

“Hi to you too, Jo.” Charlie trailed behind the brunette as they went down another short hallway before they entered a spacious apartment. “Have a problem with walls?”

Jo shrugged. “Seemed time for a change.”

Their eyes met.

Charlie reached over and pulled Jo into a hug, which caused some scotch to spill over the glass. She didn’t expect to get it reciprocated right away. After a moment Charlie felt Jo’s body relax and her friend’s arms around her. “How long has it been?”

“Seventy years?” Jo’s voice was muffled in Charlie’s shoulder. “I dunno, I lost count.”

They separated but stayed within arm’s length of each other.

“Yeah. The last time was when you renovated this place after the war,” Charlie said.

Jo’s brow furrowed. “Was that the year Capone died?”

Charlie laughed. “Yeah. We joked you should name a drink after him.”

They smiled at each other before a noise went off.

Jo reached into the pocket of her sweats and retrieved a small device. She stared at the screen before she looked up to Charlie. “I have to change for work.” Once she weaved her way around the furniture to the open closet door, Jo started to gather random clothes in her arms.

“I thought you didn’t need to work in the bar.” Charlie sipped her scotch while Jo changed and dropped her dirty clothes in a pile next to the closet.

“I don’t. I work the nightshift at a hospital in the pediatric wing.” Jo tugged on a t-shirt and shimmied into a pair of jeans.

“What was that thing you looked at?” Charlie gestured to Jo’s pillow where the device sat from earlier.

“Cell phone. I’ll teach you. But I have to catch the train,” Jo said. She slid on a jacket and shoved her cell phone and wallet into her purse, and stuffed her feet in a pair of worn sneakers. “Make yourself at home. There’s food in the fridge. Alcohol is in the usual cabinet. Your keys are still by the door, go explore the city if you want.” Jo went for the door, but stopped and pulled Charlie into another hug. “Welcome back. I missed you.” She squeezed her tightly and then walked out.

 

Charlie cracked two eggs into a sizzling pan. She glanced over at the king-sized bed in the corner where Jo had burrowed into the blankets. When Jo had come back four hours ago she woke up Charlie and mumbled something about taking the next few days off. And then Jo had put a pillow over her own head and she was out. Before Charlie had fallen back to sleep, she had reached over and touched the framed collection of classified ads on the bedside table. Hatter’s Millinery shop in need of another milliner. Inquire at 61 Cleveland Road. Another read Help Wanted: Hatter’s Millinery Bar. Must have milliner experience. Ask for the boss. This code worked for them even in this high-tech time Charlie found herself in.

“Teach me about this cell phone,” Charlie said. She used a spatula to break the yolks and stirred the eggs around. When she peeked at the bed it appeared that Jo had not moved. Charlie turned down the stove and walked over to the bed. “Jo.” Without any response, Charlie put her hands on her hips and sighed. “You asked for this.” She jumped across the bed and landed on Jo.

“Get offa me!” Jo’s voice could barely be heard from under the pillow.

Charlie laughed and sat on what she assumed was Jo’s back. “Wake up. I have seventy years to learn, plus all this tech stuff.”

Jo’s hand slid out from under the comforter and flipped off Charlie.

“Your mom is throwing a fit in heaven from your behavior. Come on,” Charlie said. She lifted up the pillow that hid Jo’s face and leaned in close. “I made breakfast. Let’s go.”

“I’m up.”

Charlie got up and checked on the eggs. She threw in shredded cheddar and plated up the food. As she opened her mouth to warn Jo, Charlie glanced over to see Jo out of bed.

“There better be coffee.” Jo’s path to the table diverged to a desk by a window where Charlie watched her take out a box from a lower drawer. When Jo took a seat in front of a stack of waffles and eggs, she slid the box to Charlie.   “Ask away.” She picked up the cup of coffee.

“What’s the point of cell phones? Why is a comic book villain the president? Who invented the cell phone? Since when did television screens get so huge? Why are—“ Charlie fell silent because Jo’s hand went up in a stop motion.

When her cup was set down, Jo took a deep breath. “Cell phones exist because people wanted to be connected and communicate ad nauseam. There were some people that felt our former president didn’t do enough in eight years and they wanted a change. I forgot about the phone inventor. And I don’t know about the television stuff.”

Charlie took a bite of her eggs and examined the box. “What’s this?”

“I got you a phone. I didn’t know when you’d be back so when I got a new one you did too.”

Charlie nodded. “Thanks.” She opened the box and looked at the shiny screen and silvery buttons. Before anything happened to the cell phone, Charlie pushed it into the middle of the table. “The world is in a bad place, huh?”

“We’re not in any kind of golden age.” Jo chewed on her eggs. “How many of those newspapers did you make it through?”

Charlie glanced to a stack of newspapers she left on the coffee table. “Just the headlines. I stopped somewhere around a mention of Star Wars.”

Jo smirked. “You’d like those movies.”

“I might not have the time to watch ‘em,” Charlie said. She went back to eating her breakfast and sensed Jo looking at her.

“One family’s drama is aired through an entire galaxy. There’s a lot of casualties and severed limbs.”

Charlie sat back in her seat. “Ever wonder when the cycle stops?”

Jo shrugged and continued to eat. “Yours might.  Mine probably won’t.”

Muffled car noise from the street below filled the quiet.

 

Charlie felt her fingers prickle as if they had fallen asleep. She shook her hands and made fists until her knuckles turned white. For a moment the stinging feeling went away, which gave her enough time to dig out her phone. The sensation would work its way through her whole body before she found herself somewhere unfamiliar. Charlie looked at the clock on the cell phone screen to calculate how much time remained. An image Jo called a “selfie” was layered under the clock, and the two of them smiled together at the camera.

She sprinted across the park, that she had wandered into an hour ago, and down the sidewalk. Charlie dodged traffic and turned the last corner to Hatter’s. When she pulled the doors open Charlie didn’t look to Lucy behind the bar or the other patrons as she rushed through. She skipped steps and dug out her keys. The sensation returned and Charlie shook her hands.

Once. Twice. Charlie finally got the key in the lock and the door open before she stumbled inside.

“Jo?” Charlie stopped in the middle of the apartment and looked around. Her eyes found the calendar on the fridge with Jo’s work schedule scrawled in black pen.

She had remained in this plain of time so long that Jo had gone back to work. They had fallen into a routine. There was enough time she adventured around the city to see what had changed. Charlie had filled up her phone with pictures of Jo. The city. Sunsets. Jo. Food. Dogs. Jo.

The prickling returned, much stronger now. Charlie found a piece of paper in the desk and the black pen Jo used for her calendar. Her stomach was tight and she had to wipe her palms on her pants. With a deep breath, Charlie started to write.

As the pins and needles sensation overtook her, she crossed the t’s on Charlotte and faded from the apartment.

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