All Stories, General Fiction

The Outsider by Tom Sheehan

Piling onto the sidewalk after the celebration of Mass, the chatter was all the same. Mildred made the most noise, her face turning redder with each phrase uttered. “Who does Anna think she is! Refused my hand when the priest said give those around you a sign of peace, shake hands like you mean it. Just kept her head down like she didn’t even see me.”

She carried on: “My hand was right in front of her face. In fact, I sort of waved it, like maybe she was deep in some thought, but she kept looking down, like she was looking at her shoes, checking the shine on them. I couldn’t believe it. In church, of all places, to act so snobby. Just who the Hell does she think she is!”

An aura built itself around Mildred Persley as if she had just come out of an oven or a hot tub, with realms of steam in the trade-off.

With a shrug of her ample shoulders, a sneer worth all her energy, she flounced down the steps and walked away from all of us.

“There goes Mildred’s day,” Joe Halsey said. “That non-gesture is going to cost Mildred the whole day, if not the whole week. On the other hand, Anna could have a ton of stuff on her mind and we haven’t got a clue about any of it. She never cries wolf or sobs about anything that might bother her, a rock of a lady, if you ask me, and I’d sure tell you ahead of time, like they say in a few neighborhoods around here; ‘Easy come, easy go, pick up your tassel and let it flow, or ‘The tussle was worth the muscle and the bustle’. It’s like rhyme is worth your time.”

She went into a silent measurement, bringing the count up to snuff, almost counting the lot she knew and employed every so often, a ready part of her vernacular, like it came off a hanger in her closet when she got dressed for the day and what the day brought up along the way, such as Fridays always being a day too early or a day too late, and a whole week already gone to rot and ruin.

When word came that a former high school stellar athlete fell off a boat and drowned, she ran around the whole neighborhood announcing the loss as though it was her son that brought pain and ache to her message, including the rush of tears as if she turned a jug bottom’s up with momentary control.

The Outsider, never partaking a sign of peace, refuses to celebrate, will not touch anybody, the happy glad-handers, the supposedly max-trust people, so people start to talk in their own way, spilling enmity upon themselves, opening discussions about why she doesn’t shake hands, or even how to reveal a problem or a reason.

Friendly Fire/Force, hurt by not shaking hands, noted world-wide as Kostmann’s syndrome, like neutropenia isolation room, 7-year-old twin boys’ marrow transplant from twin brother…no immunities but highly susceptible to infections!

But I knew she had seen sketches of Norwegian Stave Churches of both the 11th and 15th centuries that stayed in place in her mind, as if her consecration had taken place in one of them still standing. Although much repair work had taken place on it, it made her a Norwegian Staven believer, and Royal Viking blood was in her veins, no doubt of that, and not being an Outsider all the way back.

When she passed on, by herself, in her lonely cottage, the silence must have told her what was at hand, a preview suddenly making her aware of a special intercession, a grand look at her tomorrow, in the great beyond.

Tom Sheehan

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6 thoughts on “The Outsider by Tom Sheehan”

  1. Tom

    Outstanding view at the “big little” perceptions in a small society–in which misunderstandings have uncommon power. The refusal to shake is a fine example of that.


  2. You really are the master. I don’t know that I have any other ways to praise your writing, but you do that thing that the greats (Cormac McCarthy, Paul Auster, Coetzee, Hemingway) all do which is present simple stories in simple language yet speak of humanity in such a deep way. I aspire to be one day this good.

    Liked by 1 person

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