Alice la Beale Pilgrim

“Well, we were poor,” Alice said, as though that explained everything — which perhaps it did — and sipped at her coffee. A woman glided past the window, vibrant in a long red coat, almost painful against the unsettled grey of the city. Alice’s eyes stayed on the coat and she drew a shuddering breath when it disappeared around the corner.

“So that’s how you met your husband?” His nails were dirty and his fingers stained from years of rolling tobacco into tapered white cylinders. He held the pencil between his teeth while he made a cigarette. “Smoke?” he asked, out of courtesy before he sealed the paper with his tongue. She shook her head, no, so he gave it a quick twist. Done and lit and his pencil poised.

“It was — yes, out of that. My father said, who’d look at me otherwise?”

He tsked.

“He was a cynic, but maybe he was right. Anyway, it made sense to me at the time, so I went along with it. I was twenty-three and terrified of being alone.” Her eyes were out the window again. “Now I don’t know. There are worse things than being alone.”