Meet Me At Mary’s Place by Sreejita Biswas

He always had three legs, none shorter than the other two. In the corner of the room he stood in silence, year after year, gathering dust, like most of the other furniture in the old bookstore. Nestled in a quiet, dark alley, not too far from the bright lights of the main city, the little old store remained forgotten. Overwhelmed by the newer, brighter and bigger aisles of the glossy books of fiction and non-fiction, when the shop faded into the background, no one knew. No one knew when it shut down, no one knew how many days, months or years passed by and no one knew of the worn leather bound books lying around there in silence, gathering dust… the pages yellowing as days went by and some, crumbling to dust.

No one knew, apart from little old Tom who lived across the street. Little old Tom, as old as the store, as wise as the books, with eyes that saw perfectly and teeth that gleamed when he smiled. Little old Tom and his little old toys. With the crooked legs and the bells, with the hand-made clothes and the paint that never could be worn out. Little old Tom, who sat in his over-sized chair each night and smoked his well-worn pipe. Like the book store, Little old Tom lived in a world that was forgotten in the city of lights and life.

Every night, Little old Tom would sit in the chair, next to his window and watch the yellow lights cast shadows here and there. He would see cars and bikes zooming past the house, he would see drunks spray paint messages on walls, he would see young people in love walk by, hand in hand, occasionally stopping to peer through the rusty bars of book store and share the inevitable moment and sometimes, a kiss.

This one night, Tom sat and looked at the yellow light spill through the rusted bars that closed that little haven of stories from the world. He peered at the dusty glass windows and wondered why no drunk had ever stoned it to bits. He could see the street lamp light up the little three legged table he had once, rather long ago, made for Mary, and he wondered what happened to her.

Mary was, Tom still would admit sheepishly, the first woman he had ever fallen in love with. He was twenty, a rather impressionable age, and she, the daughter of Mister D, who owned the little old bookstore. Some sixty odd years ago, Tom was not the little old wizened man, as we know him now. He was the young man women turned to smile at. The man who smiled back at them, the man who helped the little old ladies cross roads, the man, whose eyes twinkled as he played with the neighbourhood dogs and of course, the man, who could make bits of wood come to life with minor movements of his fingers.  And Mary, was the girl he knew he would love forever.

It was a cloudy morning when she had first come to his workshop. It had been raining till a few minutes ago and Tom was lost in painting a puppet for the five year old down the street. He whistled while he worked and sang tunelessly and well, rather loudly. Unsurprisingly, he missed the first few soft knocks on the door and even the polite cough. He dipped his brush into the tin of red paint and was about to start on the mouth when he felt the light tap on his back. Looking at the messed up mouth of the puppet, he turned around, hoping to give the irresponsible nincompoop a good piece of his mind. But inevitably, he was at a loss for words. As he stared into her wide green eyes and her wet, stringy hair, he could feel himself smile a rather foolish smile and mumble things about wood and paint, which were rather incomprehensible and unnecessary. Something he never could imagine doing around a girl.

Mister D needed a carpenter, he needed shelves and counters to line up his shop, and Tom was the man for the job. Over the next year, working in the bare shop with closed boxes all around became a routine for Tom. He would sing tunelessly, whistle and sometimes entertain Mary’s five year old sister May with stories about knights and dragons, fairies and kings. He would occasionally drink bourbon or two with Mister D and would flatter the Missus rather shamelessly. But every time, he saw Mary, he would turn into a puddle of mush, who never had anything very sensible to say. And Tom had no intentions of declaring his steadily increasing love for her. He knew Mary was the girl all men loved. She was not exquisite to look at, yet her firm chin, twinkling eyes and red nails made all men behave in a rather juvenile manner around her. It was a shame.

The year saw Mary fall in and out of love. Quite a few times. It saw her walk down the street with quite a few men and it saw her kiss a few more under the birch tree that then stood in front of the book store. It saw Mary run to Tom and cry over heartbreaks and it saw Tom look horrified as she cruelly rejected men, for fun. Yet he loved her. Her laughter, her ridiculous sense of imagination and her wicked sense of justice.

It was her birthday when Tom was working on the three legged table. It was for Mrs Cooper, who lived next door. It was an ornate little thing. With carvings that told stories and polish that made them come to life. How Mary managed to convince him to gift it to her, is something he still doesn’t remember too clearly. It was perhaps the smile, or maybe, the red nails.

Tom stared at the window as the yellow light flickered. His mind bringing back to him memories. Both painful and pleasant. He remembered Mary’s wedding and then, the kids. He remembered the war and her mourning for her husband. He remembered spending hours in that little book store playing with the kids and he remembered little May growing up to be a nurse. He remembered Mister D’s death and the Missus leaving the town and going away. He remembered Mary remarrying a rather pompous fat man with a truckload of money. He remembered the town growing up to become a city and he remembered newer roads and brighter lights. But he did not remember how the street turned into the little old lane with the yellow lights. He did not remember when the store shut down and he really could not remember when Mary left.

But she did, and with her, gone were the neighbours and the laughter and the things that made Tom smile. As the years passed, he continued to make toys and tell stories to the little ones who came in, from time to time with their parents, who had once been little, eager and hung on to each word that Tom said. He did not realize when the other little houses on the street started to look different. Larger and less human. He did not realize that with the years, even lesser young ones came to his workshop, he did not realize that the puppets and toys that lined all the shelves, lay there, gathering dust. What he did realize was how empty life was without Mary. And he realized, over and over again, that he possibly did truly love her. Never mind her flaws.


It was around five in the morning and little old Tom had just nodded off to sleep. He did not know when the shiny black car pulled into the little old alley, he didn’t know when the young woman with light hair got off and he didn’t know when the Movers came along. He did not know when the mailman rang his bell; he did not know how long he slept. The loud clangs and crashes did not disturb him, the sirens remained unheard and he slept peacefully. He dreamt of Japan and cherry blossoms, of princesses and demons, of stories that would forever remain unheard and he dreamt of Mary. As he slept peacefully, he did not realize that the last memory from what he thought to be home, was being reduced to dust.

A year passed and Mary’s Place stood proud. A swank new coffee house with lights that lit up the entire alley, filled it with music and dragged it away to be a part of the city it so long remained alienated from. Steel, glass and bling defined it and the wee hours of the mornings no longer remained calm. What happened to Little old Tom and his little old workshop, no one knows. But once in a while a couple stops inside the coffee shop to stare at the little wooden table with the three legs. The one, that has stories carved on it, the light reflecting off the carvings and making them come to life. The one where the little hand painted puppet sits proud. Head bobbing up and down, smiling and evidently ignoring the careless smear of red paint on its otherwise perfect face.

About the Author

A writer (for hire), her relationship with words can only be defined as dysfunctional. There are times when they can be woven beautifully into tales of wonder and times, when they can only be defined as a hapless dyslexic disarray.

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