Free Short Story: Lunch at the Italian Plaice by Madeleine McDonald

I had not eaten properly for months. On the day Sam died, a neighbour made me sit down at her kitchen table and swallow a bowl of hot soup. Among many kindnesses, that simple gesture stands in my memory as the most practical form of help. Helen, my neighbour, did not tiptoe around the finality of death. “You must eat,” she told me. “You’re in shock. You will be in shock for months. Your body needs food to cope.” Over the next few months, she made me more meals and nagged me to look after my own health.

I always promised to heed her advice and forgot that meaningless promise as soon as the words left my mouth. My health no longer mattered. Nothing mattered. Day after day, I waded through treacle. The children did what they could, but a mass of paperwork still awaited my attention, and I put off making decisions. It took an effort of will to shower every day and dress in clean clothes. Clean, but mismatched. My appearance no longer mattered.

Food became a necessary evil. Before Sam died, we had enjoyed cooking together. Long before it became fashionable, the two of us cared where our food came from. We shopped for plump vegetables on market stalls and filled the freezer with meat purchased from the farm gate. After the funeral, I lost interest. Helen’s meals tasted of wet flannel. Frozen meals reheated in the microwave tasted of wet flannel. Occasionally, on the days when Helen’s nagging registered, I remembered that I should eat fresh produce and bought a bag of apples.

About six months after Sam’s passing, I had to sign some papers at the bank. When I emerged into autumnal sunshine, the street was busy. People swirled around me, walking with purpose, the clack of heels on the pavement announcing their haste. I had a choice. Grab a sandwich and a coffee or go home to another solitary meal of reheated flannel. Home to an empty house.

On a whim, I decided to take a bus out to the docks and have lunch at The Italian Plaice. When Sam and I first discovered it, forty years ago, it was the only restaurant in town which served proper espresso coffee from a hissing, steaming machine on the counter. With time, and cheap air travel, our town became more cosmopolitan, but we stayed faithful to The Italian Plaice.

Back then it was called The Lemon Tree, a name redolent of sunshine and the south. In so many other ways it reminded us of our Italian holidays. An aperitif of dry white wine was served with a little dish of mixed olives. The tables had paper tablecloths. Nonno Guido had scrubbed the premises inside and out when he moved in, but his son never saw the need to update the facilities.

It was Guido’s wife, Nonna Doreen, who was responsible for the restaurant’s incongruous name. Way back when, a newly arrived Guido had patrolled the docks area on foot until he spotted a run-down fish and chip shop called The Battered Plaice. He invested his savings, repainted the facade, and named his new kingdom The Lemon Tree. Word of mouth soon won him discerning customers, but the taxi drivers who brought them to the door persisted in calling it The Old Battered Plaice, as did the locals. Then Guido married his English waitress and in the first flush of love suggested renaming the restaurant in her honour. Doreen suggested a compromise between Latin pride and English stubbornness, and The Italian Plaice was born.

Outside the restaurant, I hesitated. Of course I had eaten there on my own. This would be different. Instead of enjoying my own company for an hour while Sam was occupied elsewhere, I would be killing time in another empty day.

I took a deep breath and entered.

A cautious sip of chilled wine and a bite of olive catapulted me back to our continental wanderings. The days when I dressed to please myself and the world, the days when I pirouetted for Sam’s approval before we went out.
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Reality dealt me a sledgehammer blow. What would Sam say if he saw me now? I even heard his voice. You can’t go on like this. I was a mess. A dejected, careworn, shapeless mess. Why would any café owner want me under his roof, oozing despondency and putting other customers off their meal? I had forgotten that we all owe the world the courtesy of a pleasant face.

Yet the staff had welcomed me like an old friend. I took another bite of tangy green olive, seeing Sam’s smile across a pavement table. Many tables, for we explored a country through its food.

The sudden radiance of Italian sunshine and the reassurance of that smile fizzed through the room and through my veins. Come on, love, you can do it.

Nonno Guido and Nonna Doreen had retired, but pride in their hard work permeated every corner of the restaurant. Their legacy still attracted customers. I too had a legacy to maintain. For a start, I would stop driving our children mad with worry.

It was time to take myself in hand. When Guido’s son stopped at my table and asked after Sam, I managed to explain his absence, with dignity, without tears.

He brought over a tiny glass of liqueur to accompany my coffee. “I am sorry for your loss, signora. It was a pleasure to see your husband enjoy his food.”

Time melted away. Yes, he did enjoy his food. And so would I, beginning from today. I sat up straight and held each forkful of pasta in my mouth, savouring chicken, thyme, pine nuts and garlic. A wholesome dish. Perhaps I could cook something similar when the children next came to visit.

The carapace of misery had split and a fragile, vulnerable creature had crawled out into the sun. A new human being bewildered by a world in which the rules had changed. But one who could look life in the face.

About the Author: Madeleine McDonald writes romance novels, poetry and radio pieces. She finds inspiration walking on the beach before the world wakes up.

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Free Short Story: The Date by Wendi Zwaduk

“Love can come from a first date.” Nixie folded her hands on the table and waited for the guy to appear. She’d talked to her date three times online, and felt so close to him even after such a short time. That had to be a farce, right? She wanted to flip through his description on her phone, but opted to keep the device in her purse. If she checked on him, she’d jinx the date…she just knew it.

Her mind wandered to his profile. Adam Maddow. Gamer, comic nerd, movie buff and tech wizard. She hadn’t believed he was all those things and opted to background check him. The man did exist and worked as the IT person for a local law office. Would he be as handsome in person as he was in the photos? Or was she about to meet Mr. Wrong?

He reminded her of the guy she’d flirted with at Christmas. The man had been sweet. They’d danced and laughed together without him making a move on her. He’d been a gentleman. After her last relationship, she needed someone who could go slower and be strong for her. She wished she’d have written his phone number on something besides a soggy napkin. By the time she returned home, the ink had blurred and the napkin tore. She’d chalked her luck up to having none and wished she’d asked him for a date.

“Nixie?” A man who looked like Adam from the dating website and her Christmas party strode up to the table. “You’re early.”

“I like to know what’s going on.” Just like she’d admitted on her own dating profile. She hated being late and being surprised. She stood. “Adam?”

“The very one.” He smiled. The dimple in his cheek became more pronounced. Pale blue eyes, thick lashes and a perfect haircut, he reminded her of one of her comic book heroes, but more human. He hugged her, then sat opposite her at the table. “I wanted to treat you.”

“You still can do that.” She settled on her chair. “I’ve ordered water for drinks.” Her hands shook. Drat. She hated to look nervous. “Was the drive nice?” She gritted her teeth. So much for not appearing scared.

“Vermillion isn’t that busy,” Adam said. He sipped his water. “No traffic.”

“Ah.” Words teetered on the tip of her tongue, but she stayed quiet. Not talking wasn’t her usual behavior.

“Nixie, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” She forced a smile. What was she doing? She wasn’t a meek person. She ran her own business and refused to let anyone push her around. “I’m a little scared.” She met his gaze. “Most people think I’m too forward and I’m trying to be softer, but it’s not working. I liked talking to you in the chats. Are you working on another comic book?” There. She’d stuck to her personality and her fear subsided.

“You remembered the books.” He toyed with his water glass and grinned. “I am. I turned book five into the publisher and I’m waiting on their response. The first four books are getting great feedback.” He paused. “I like the forthright approach. It’s you.”

“Most guys find it a turn-off.”

“I’m not like most guys.” He ran his finger through the condensation on his glass. “You don’t remember me beyond the chats, do you?”

She frowned. Remember him? If she’d have known a guy like Adam in any other part of her life, he’d have stuck in her memory. He kept playing with his glass and teasing her—she wanted to be touched and caressed like that. To be wanted. “No?”

“We’ve met.” Adam sipped the water, then moved the glass out of the way. “I met you at Dodds during your company Christmas party. We danced and talked out on the balcony.”

She pressed her lips together. She could still remember the taste of his kiss, but Adam couldn’t be that guy. He looked more refined and older tonight.

“You don’t remember, do you?” He laughed. “Well, that proves my charm is on the fritz.” He sat back in his seat. “I wondered why you never called. I wrote my name and number on that napkin.”

“If you’re that guy, then what was I wearing?” The man from the party had complimented her on the strand of pearls she’d worn and the pin on her dress.

“A red dress with thin straps. One of the straps broke and you’d pinned it together.” He tipped his head to the side. “And a strand of pearls you’d inherited from your grandmother. The necklace shimmered against your skin.”

She didn’t answer. Anyone could’ve seen the strap or the pearls.

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“I might have said those things.” She’d uttered ever one of them.

“I’ll never forget the way you felt in my arms when we danced. I’ll never hear soft rock and not think about you. Your hair tickled my ear and you whimpered when you danced. I figured it was from those high heeled shoes,” Adam said.

She’d put him through enough hassle. “I remember.” How could she forget now that he’d pushed? “The napkin fell apart before I could add your number to my phone. I felt so silly, but I wasn’t sure how to contact you.”

“I understand.” He reached across the table. “I’m glad we found each other.”

“Me, too.” She grasped his fingers. The sizzle shot from her hand to her heart, then her brain. He made her weak in the knees. “Did you know when you stumbled on my profile that I was the same woman?”

He nodded. “How could I not?” Adam asked. “Your friend, Darcy, told me you couldn’t stop talking about me.”

Darcy… the woman had a big mouth. Nixie tensed. But why argue? Darcy was right. “You know her?”

“She’s my sister’s best friend,” Adam said. “I’d already been on the dating site for six months, but she and Darcy helped me find you. I wanted a second date.”

“We never had the first one,” she blurted.

“Then let’s make this our first date.” Adam nodded to the dance floor. “You love jazz music, slow dancing, quiet evenings and blush wine, but only one glass.”

When he stood, she accepted the invitation. “You like comic books, action movies and loud music. Are you sure we’ll work?”

“I’m positive.” He tucked his arm around her and led her to the gathering of couples on the checkerboard dance floor. As the music played, he held her close. “Opposites attract and we’ve got chemistry.”

“We’ve also got biology and physics,” she blurted, then wished she could take the words back.

“We do.” His voice rumbled down her spine as he spoke in her ear.

When he gazed into her eyes, her mouth watered. She longed for his kiss. “Adam?”

“Um-hmm?” He brushed a lock of her hair from her face. The band played Moonlight Serenade, setting the mood for the evening. He brushed his nose along hers. “Yes, ma’am?”

He smelled like heaven and felt like sin in male form. She loved the way he held her and the hunger in his eyes. Passion sparked between them and she wanted more. “I want another date.”

“Whatever you want, I’ll do it.”

Nixie rested her head on his shoulder. She should’ve pressed that first night and ensured she had his number, but good things did come to those who waited. She had Adam and a second chance at love. Best date ever.

About the Author: Wendi Zwaduk is a multi-published, award-winning author of more than one-hundred short stories and novels. She’s been writing since 2008 and published since 2009. Her stories range from the contemporary and paranormal to LGBTQ and white hot themes. Find more about Wendi at: website ~ Blog ~ Fan Page ~ Amazon Author Page ~ BookBub ~ Instagram ~ Goodreads ~ Twitter

Want to have your story published here? Click here for information on what we’re looking for, the payment schedule and instructions how to submit.

Short Story: The Road Home

The Road Home
by Judy Thomas
The old house wore a deserted look. Wind whistled through the ancient oaks, the Spanish moss waving like a ghostly presence. I walked toward the foreboding house and muttered, “If not for my promise to Mama, I wouldn’t come within a hundred yards of this place.” Being a psychologist, I should be able to deal with this, but it wasn’t easy. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that Grandfather was a sick old man. From what Mama had said, if I wanted to make peace with him, I better do it now.

I put one foot on the rickety step. Before I could move, a banging from around the corner of the house startled me. I veered right and, skirting the edge of the walk, walked to the doorway of the barn. My eyes adjusted to the darkness within and I made out the figure of a man bending over the rusty old jalopy, a large flashlight shining on his work area. I opened my mouth to ask him who he was, but I could say the words, my shoulder hit a pitchfork leaning against the door, sending it clattering to the wooden floor.

He whirled around, took a deep breath and said, “You scared the stew out of me! What are you doing sneaking around here? ”

“I wasn’t sneaking,” I retorted, standing my ground although I was truly nervous when he stalked toward me. “I came to visit my grandfather.”

Wiping his hands on a grease-stained towel, he came further into the light. His dark brown hair tumbling onto his forehead, deep blue eyes and the mischievous grin that lit up his face brought back sudden memories. “Nell?”


“The one and only, Mistress Eleanor,” he said, with a deep bow.

My lips twitched at his foolishness, but I would not be swept into flirting with him. Those days were long past. I tightened my mouth.

“Why are you here, in Grandfather’s barn? The last I remember, he’d ordered you off his property with a shotgun.”

“Well, Nellie,” he drawled, using the nickname that I always hated. “That was ten years ago. Things have changed. What are you doing here? You haven’t been back to see your granddaddy in a long time.”

I felt my face harden into a frown that was all too common these days. “Not since I graduated high school.”

I looked away from the eyes that searched my face, unwilling to acknowledge the affection I saw reflected there. Too much time had passed and I was not the impressionable teenager I had been.

Without a word, almost as if we could read each other’s minds, we left the darkness of the barn and headed toward the house. “Your granddaddy isn’t in the best of health,” he explained. “I’ve been helping out a little when I can.”

“I can’t imagine him letting you, as angry as he was with you that night.”

“Ah, yes, that magical night,” he said, turning toward me at the foot of the steps. “Do you ever think of that night, Nellie?”

I tore my gaze away from his and lied. “No. It was a long time ago. And don’t call me Nellie.”

“I came back for you, you know.” He put his hand on my cheek and leaned toward me.

His touch brought back memories I thought buried forever, buried where they couldn’t hurt any more but the pain that tore through me proved me wrong. I stepped back and his hand dropped to his side.

He took a deep breath, then continued. “Your grandfather told me you had left right after the graduation ceremony,” he said.

“Three months… I left three months after the last time I saw you.” I turned away and swiped away the tears that slipped down my cheek. I didn’t want him to see he still had the power to hurt me after all this time.

“Nell.” He grasped my arms, turning me toward him. “I called and wrote every day, but your grandfather told me you didn’t want to see me. And, when you didn’t answer my letters, I began to believe him. Then, I came back for your graduation, but by the time I got here… you were gone.”

I looked up at him, remembering the countless days and hours I had spent in my room, watching the winding road out the window, willing him to come and whisk me away. I shook my head, not because I doubted what he said, but because it didn’t change anything.

“I never forgave him for what he did that night,” I admitted after a long silence. “I was angry at you for not coming, but I was angrier at him. Mama helped me realize, though, that he thought he was protecting me. And, I wanted to come and tell him I forgive him, before it’s too late.”

One side of Stephen’s mouth lifted, in a wry smile. “I realized it as well. He didn’t want a loser for his talented granddaughter. If I had a daughter, I would probably have responded the same way. I was hardly a prize back then.”

My voice caught in my throat as I said, “So, what made him allow you back on the property?”

We settled ourselves gingerly on the loose bottom step, then Stephen picked up a rock. He tossed it from hand to hand, his gaze focused on it. “After you left, I was mad, hurt, confused. Not so much at your grandfather for running me off. I would probably have done the same thing, but at you, for not wanting to see me. I figured you must not have meant what you said. That it was just an idle dalliance for you.”

At my quick intake of breath, he looked at me. I grasped his arm, willing him to believe me.

“Stephen, I never knew about any of the calls or any of the letters. All I knew is you were gone. For three months, I never heard a word. So, after graduation, Mama and I left and went to Atlanta. I couldn’t stand to be around here any more.”

“I finally figured it might have been something like that,” Stephen said, his voice low, “but by then it was too late. Your grandfather had his stroke just before I came back to town and couldn’t tell me where you were. So, I’ve just been coming and helping out here, hoping one day you would come home.”

We sat silently for several long minutes. I looked into those blue eyes, thought of a younger pair just like them waiting back at the hotel with her grandmother, and knew I had indeed come home.

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