Chapter Two, Part Two

Sella was right about Cold Haven: there was nothing to look at, unless one liked their world in shades of gray. From the steel of the unforgiving sky to the grimy stone buildings and pitted asphalt of the streets, there was no charm, no bright point of interest. Colors seemed a violation, as if they had been outlawed by some unreasonably puritanical town council of many years past. Even the few pedestrians who were about were dressed in dark muddy hues, as if they had no higher ambition than to be part of the landscape.

Grasping at anything, I headed left. "I'll show you where the store is," I said. "You might be at home by yourself one day and need something." Sella pouted but tagged along beside me to the corner and across the street. "That's it." I pointed needlessly to the sad-looking storefront. "Lucky's is open 24/7. Crackers, chips, cookies, beer...there's coffee in the mornings, but it sucks. You're better off asking your uncle to make some, if you want caffeine."

Sella looked away, which I took for indifference, so we continued on. There weren't many points of interest, but I did my best to tell her about what little there was: the barbershop that never had customers and was a front for drug-dealing, the pizza place that would only disappoint if one had ever had a decent pizza anywhere else, and the grimy pub that always smelled vaguely of fish. "They guys from the docks and the cannery like to hang out here," I explained.

"Are we near the water?"

I had become so accustomed to her silence that Sella's question startled me. "It's a few blocks away. Do you want to go there?"

She didn't say yes, but there was a spark I hadn't seen in her eyes previously.

"It's not much to look at," I warned. But since she was still watching me with that oddly hopeful expression, I took her to the next block and across the street. Getting to the docks meant going through a blighted area of pawn shops, bondsmen, and liquor stores. Here the dope dealers and street-walkers had their unmarked territories where they performed their daily hustle, although they were thankfully few in number today. As we passed a man passed out drunk in a doorway, I wondered if this had been such a good idea after all. Father Cash would be pleased I had gotten Sella out of the house, but he wouldn't be so happy about where I took her.

This was only confirmed a block later when a sallow man with a thin mustache and a grimy knitted cap waved to me from a stoop. "Yo, Judy! Got a little work for you if you want it."

I could sense Sella tensing up beside me, but I couldn't ignore one of my best leads on drug hand-offs, so I gave Arlo a little wave. "Uh...yeah, man. I'm showing a friend around, but I'll call you in a little while."

Arlo grinned at Sella. “Welcome to the neighborhood, little lady.”

Sella mumbled something noncommittal and I grabbed her by the elbow and steered her away. We continued on, and I waited for her questions, that thankfully never came. Soon we were among the fishing gear shops and dockside chowder dives, with the masts of a few docked boats visible in the distance. The street made a jog to the right, broadened out, and there in the distance was the iron-gray water, with a few fishing vessels bobbing at the pier. Seagulls soared overhead and squabbled over trash near a well-fed ginger cat who lounged in the satisfaction of being one of the few creatures to actually thrive here.

"The fishermen mainly go for herring," I told Sella. "Or maybe it's sardines." It was a little embarrassing to have lived here nearly a year without knowing what species of fish maintained the legitimate portion of the local economy, but the girl paid me no mind and seemed transfixed by the dull water.

"Can we go out there?"

Why anyone would want to get any closer to that filthy water was beyond me, but since it was the first time I had heard her express any sort of desire or preference, I nodded. Gulls sullenly moved out of our way as we went out onto the dock, which was slippery with sea spay, fish slime, and who knew what else. Sella walked out ahead of me, keeping her footing with surprising ease. When we neared the end, a few boys in grimy baseball caps who had cast their lines in hope of catching something edible, glared up at us but said nothing.

Sella ignored them, and stood for a long time gazing out to sea, the ends of her red scarf fluttering on the breeze like a caress, the only color in a world of gray. Not wanting to stare, I cast about for something worthwhile to look at, occasionally stomping my feet from the cold and wishing I could hurry Sella home so I could find out what kind of work Arlo had for me today. With any luck, the pay would be sufficient to get my gas turned back on.

Either my impatience communicated itself to her or she finally grew bored with the dismal view and glanced my way. "Can we go back now?"

I took her back down a different route, avoiding some of the rougher blocks where I risked running into more of my contacts, or where we might have even run into Father Cash, hunting up a little afternoon delight. It was with an odd sense of relief that we reached our clapboard apartment building, scarcely distinguishable from others like it, except for some chipped trim that had at one time been green, and a crude representation of a fishing boat carved into the mantel of the front entrance.

We went inside and climbed the creaking stairs to Father Cash's flat, where Sella hesitated at the door, as if debating whether she should invite me in. I had a contact to call, though, and headed off that thought before she could speak. "I'll see you around, I guess."

Sella nodded, her hand on the door frame. "It was nice to get out."

"Sorry it's not much to look at, but we work with what we've got."


Her eyes met mine, and her lips parted as if she might say something else, but no way could I get stuck here. Not when I needed money so badly. If I didn't call Arlo soon, he'd give my gig away, and there was no telling if anything else would come up today.

"Gotta go now." I affected a brisk demeanor and a cheery smile. "Let's do this again tomorrow or the next day, okay?"

Sella looked away, an opportunity to communicate and maybe connect, now past. "Sure. You know where I am." She closed the door.

Feeling guilty as hell without knowing why, I pulled my phone out of my jacket pocket, speed-dialed Arlo's number, and hurried up the stairs, taking them two at a time.



  1. I love your description of the town I can picture it all and I'm really loving this story.

  2. Thank heavens she took Sella home first before arranging her business and possibly leaving her vulnerable. Nowhere appears safe and even Father Cash is flawed but life has to be lived somehow. I love how in all your stories there is urge to read the next!

  3. Would Arlo have called her if she hadn't been out walking? I hope that momentary laps doesn't presage something like Stella throwing herself into the water.

  4. That red scarf speaks so loudly...maybe a grey world can be lightened even in the smallest ways