It was the essence of lemon – not the acrid smell that came when one dug a fingertip into the pulp, but the sweetness of oil that came from a gentle press of the tender peel between the palms. The oil was rich and smooth, and when it was rubbed into the wood it produced a deep sheen – one that brought the soul of the wood to the surface, leaving it vulnerable and pure.
The day was still young, and the early morning sun came in through the slatted shutters, laying soft, symmetrical patterns on the wooden bar, and dancing through the deep ambers and clear crystals of the liquor bottles that stood in rows just behind. Tonight there would be low gaslight, when the bar would turn murky and deep, but today the light of the day made the small pub come alive, the corners filled with treasures brought from the seas – carved shells, bits of silver, and pieces of worn, dull sea glass in varying colors of green that were kept in small jars. There were pictures of seafarers and far-away places, some bearing notes and inscriptions to Maggie.
She was the one who was always there – although her hair had turned a bit gray with time, her skin was like deep, rich cocoa – silky and perfect. She stood exotic and dreaming as she rubbed the bar with a small cloth, breathing in the familiar scent of the fruited wood and the stale cigar smoke from the night before. The cotton shift that she wore was flowered in the fashion of her home on the islands, in stark contrast to the New England coastal town that stood in stern shades of blue and grey, and she swayed to a song that played from the jukebox in the corner.
“Maggie, my love.” Jake was the first customer of the day, and she smiled, showing even, white teeth, with one that shone gold. She took a glass mug and filled it with the rich lager that foamed and spilled as she pushed it towards him. He was just in from the fishing fleet – they had been at sea for weeks, and he licked his lips as he pulled the glass towards him. She stood, chin in her hands, her wide set eyes deep brown and searching, and as she listened, she felt the pull and push of the tides as he spoke of his travels. As he spoke, she fingered a small silver bracelet. Although the links were hand-hewn and rough, the clasp was shaped as the sign of infinity, and her initial “M” was etched in a fine script, next to a small, dangling heart. It was the best he could give her, he would say, and she smiled a deep smile, knowing that it was the stories – those were his greatest gift.
It was a cold, dark day when she heard the news. For that one day, the shutters were closed, and the pub remained dark. Quietly, thoughtfully, she removed the bracelet and wrapped it in tissue paper, remembering the promises made. When the knock came - and she knew it would - she opened the door to a young man who entered quietly. It wasn’t the first time Michael had entered those doors, although normally he was loud – raucous, in fact – usually just in from the sea, just like his father had done so many times.
But today in a pub that was shuttered from the early morning they sat, this unlikely pair. He had a look like a child – after all, he had heard her name so many times as his parents argued. She had a look as deep and dark as the sea itself, and as she gently pressed the packet between his palms, emotions came to the surface, vulnerable and pure, and she spoke of love.