This is part 6 of a 6-part short story I wrote. It’s written from the perspective of Bala Davies, a fictional woman living in the Welsh town of Y Gelli. Please read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5 first.
The look on Kyffin’s face when Nate asked out Elsi right in front of him was classic. I’ll never forget it.
“What have you done, woman?” he said as they walked out of the store. Elsi’s satchel remained in his quivering hands.
“Whatever do you mean, dearest?” I replied, smiling to myself.
According to Nate, the date went well. He kept it simple at first, limiting their encounters to walks through the town or along the river. He’d always tell me about it the next day, as if to make sure that he was fulfilling my instructions. “I don’t care,” I’d say. “What you’re doing is fine—keeping her out of my house.”
Then one night I got a call on the bedside phone, which hardly ever rings. Kyffin, a heavy sleeper, didn’t awaken.
“Hello?” I said.
The muffled voice on the other line was Nate’s. “Bala, hi. Sorry for calling so late.”
Nate had never called me before. Gilliam must have given him the number.
“No worries. Why the call?”
“Well, I just had to tell you. Elsi and I went out to dinner tonight. Over at the Old Black Lion.”
“Oh, Kate’s place. How was it?”
He sighed. “It was wonderful. I just…I know this was all supposed to be a ploy, but….”
I switched the receiver to my other ear. “You like her, don’t you?”
“I do. I really do. Is that…are you okay with that?”
“Of course! I know I spoke poorly of the girl before, but I had no place doing that. I barely know her. Just assure me that she’s more than a pretty face.”
“Oh, she is. Bala, she really is. She has this great passion for acting, and we talk about books and relationships and our messed-up families. And we laugh. Her sense of humor is almost as good as yours.”
I blushed a little. “I’m sure that’s not true. But the rest of it sounds delightful. You don’t need my permission to like this girl, Nate. I don’t want to see you get hurt, but you’re a grown man. You can handle it.”
Nate sounded relieved. “Thanks. Sorry again for calling so late. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
The two of them started spending more time together, not just at night, but during Elsi’s workday as well. She’d change out of her beggar costume to have tea or lunch with Nate. He asked me to join them a few times; at first I refused, but then I saw it meant a lot to him.
An old maid like me hates to change her mind about much of anything, but I had a distinctly different impression of Elsi after that lunch. I think most of it had to do with the fact that she was clearly smitten with Nate. Reminded me of my early days with Kyffin. Also, up until that point I had just seen her bat those dark eyelashes at my husband, but after hearing her speak, I realized that she had some substance behind her. She was the one who moved the conversation past pleasantries and local gossip. In fact, she asked me a question.
“Bala, where do you see yourself in ten years?”
It was a simple question, but one I had never thought to ponder before. I delayed my answer by taking a bite of sandwich, holding up a finger to let her know I was thinking about it.
Then I said, “Well, I love my shop. I know that. Doesn’t make me rich, but I’m happy.” I paused. “But I don’t think that’s the rest of my life. Kyffin and I always talked about owning wind farms all across Wales. Now and then he brings up the idea of doing the same thing with his current business.” I cringed at Elsi. “No judgment, but I just can’t see us organizing beggars across the land.”
Her reaction to my statement, which, despite the preemptive words, was full of judgment, really impressed me. She said, “Honestly, we prey on pity. It disheartens me enough to do that to Y Gelli, much less the rest of our country.”
Nate looked at me. “Elsi wants to get out of the business.”
“Please don’t tell Kyffin yet,” she said. “But really, he doesn’t need me. He could easily find someone else to do it.”
I looked at her sympathetically. “You’ve been doing it for over two years, dear. I think he’ll understand.”
She looked relieved. “I hope so.”
“So you didn’t finish your answer,” Nate said. “What’s life look like for Bala Davies in ten years?”
I shook my head and smiled tight-lipped. “I really don’t know. I wouldn’t mind traveling a bit more—I’ve barely crossed the English border, and never far out of Y Gelli.”
Elsi nodded. “Kyffin’s talked about that too.”
“Has he?” I said, surprised. This was the first I’d heard of such talk.
“Yeah. He’d stand in front of those windows in the attic and point out how far he’d been in either direction.”
I thought about her comment at my desk for the rest of the day. Had Kyffin and I talked about such things back at the beginning? So many of our conversations had gone late into the night, us laying on our backs, looking at the stars. It all seemed like a dream to me, and I found it difficult to put my finger on any particular topic we had discussed.
One thing was certain, though: Kyffin and I were now speaking amicably with one another for the first time in many years. I had worried at first that without his vise, he’d be grumpier and more standoffish than ever. But that wasn’t the case. At first he withdrew into himself, quietly going to bed earlier and earlier. I started holding his hand while I read after he fell asleep.
Then the thumping of his boots on the stairs became an hourly sound instead of a daily one. For a while he’d just come downstairs and not say anything, browsing the books like any other customer. But then he began lingering near the desk, talking about business or the weather. I’d bring up whatever town gossip I had to share.
I think the true turning point was when he and I first saw Nate and Elsi together on a date. Kyffin was sitting at the base of the steps, me at the desk; we were talking about a wolf that had recently been seen up near the police station.
All of a sudden, something caught outside caught and held his gaze. I leaned over to see what the attraction was, and just as I did, I saw Nate and Elsi walk by the store. They were so entranced by each other that I don’t think they even knew what street they were on.
Kyffin sighed. “They remind me of us. I mean, well, you know.”
I smiled. “I know.”
From then on, Kyffin was distinctly different. It was like he decided to tap into his charm, his personality, his natural demeanor, all of which had lay dormant for so long. But it didn’t seem like an act, and he wasn’t trying to sweep me off my feet. I don’t think either of us had the energy to go through that again. It was just little things, tiny flirtations and winks and private jokes and references to “us.” And I tenderly reciprocated.
I have to say, I had grown so much since our original courtship that I didn’t quite know what to do. I wasn’t even sure that Kyffin would want to fall in love with me again. Before I had been this little sprout, seeing the world for the first time. Now I was a grown woman. I owned property, I had friends, I was a part of this town. My naivety and innocence were no longer his to marvel at. That had long since been replaced by confidence and self-awareness.
Perhaps Kyffin didn’t even know if I was what he wanted. Maybe he had once considered Elsi an option, I don’t know. But without her around as much, it was as if a fog had been lifted and he could see me again.
One night, Kyffin and I were lying on the slope of one of the hills where he had once harvested. He asked me about the idea of traveling around the country. I had completely forgotten about the topic since pondering it at that lunch with Elsi and Nate.
“You sure you don’t want to be alone with those loose girls in Newport or Cardiff?” I teased.
He sat up with a seriously, slightly hurt expression on his face. “No,” he said, “I want to see those places with you.”
I was just teasing, but I knew it then: He had chosen me. For the second time. For real, this time, it seemed.
A month later, we packed lightly and set off for the train station. Nate and Elsi stood in the doorway of the Reed as we left. They had agreed to watch after the business—both businesses, actually, as Elsi was going to supervise Kyffin’s new hire temporarily—while we were gone.
We had similar arrangements with them in the future as we increased our radius of travel. Wanting to give our native land its due, we stuck to Wales for the first few trips. Next we expanded to England and Ireland, and then we crossed over to France and the rest of Europe. We fleetingly fell in love with a tiny town just east of Prague, but we decided that we’d always want to come home to Hay-on-Wye. I mean, Y Gelli. No one outside of Wales knows what I’m talking about if I say Y Gelli.
Of course, Nate and Elsi got married and shagged like rabbits and had tons of kids. Well, three kids is a ton from my perspective (Kyffin and I never did conceive. No shame in that. We had more money and more freedom to travel thanks to it. And whenever we wanted kids for a few hours, we’d babysit). Nate bought Start from Gilliam, who he still employees as a cook to this day. Elsi runs the local theater and coordinates all theatrical performances at the festival, a huge undertaking now that the festival has expanded well beyond simple book readings.
Kyffin finally gave up the beggar business, selling the rights to Booth in a gentlemen’s agreement. The two of them are now fast friends, each one equally distrustful of the other. With the money he made from the transaction and that which he had saved over the years, Kyffin bought an inn in that tiny town east of Prague. He converted part of it to a bookstore, and now that tiny town is considered by many to be the Hay-on-Wye of Eastern Europe. We stay there whenever we visit, of course.
But my favorite place to be with Kyffin is our old wind farm. On cool summer nights we curve our creaking spines over the felled turbines, which have remained perfectly white after all these years. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we lay in silence, but our hands are always clasped together. His hands don’t quiver when they’re wrapped in mine. That’s how I know—how I’ve always known—that we’re stuck with each other forever.
Thanks for joining me for this short story! I submitted it to a few literary magazines a while back, and the rejection letters said they liked it but wanted more conflict at the end. What do you think?