A Short Story By
Ida Margarita Nieves
February 24, 2021
Unlocking her front door, Phyllis Albertson walked into her living room. She was glad to be in out of the cold early January was ushering in. After her long day at work, she was looking forward to her nice warm pajamas, and it wasn't too late for a cup of tea. Turning on the lights, she looked at the kitchen counter clock. Flashing red, "9:45 P.M.", she realized that she could still manage to check her emails for any acceptance letters on those submissions she had sent out a couple of weeks ago before going to bed. She walked over to the counter, put down her keys, put down her big black patched messenger bag, and opening it began to look through her things. That is when, with horror, she realized that she was missing her notebook.
"No! I can't believe it! It can't be! Where could it be!" She shouted in desperation.
She overturned every inch, every corner, of her bag onto the counter. After several minutes of looking and not finding it, she realized it was gone. She got that sinking feeling in her stomach, and on the verge of tears said,
"It figures, the way things are going."
This night was ending how the past year turned out – totally forgettable and unremarkable. Losing her notebook with all her work was the icing on the cake of irony. 5 days into the new year, and things seemed utterly at a standstill. Especially the last 3 months.
Last year she struggled to make a name for herself with her work. Phyllis was a Writer. She had been writing since she was 15 years old. She loved reading, wrote a lot of Poetry and Fiction, and even tried her hand at a novel. Mostly she wrote whatever came into her head.
During her years in school, she worked on her high school yearbooks and worked as a Writer and an Editor for her school literary magazine. She had impressed many of her peers with her work, and after a lot of soul searching, decided that she really wanted to develop her writing and become an Author. Her dream was to become a famous Author with a novel on the shelves of bookstores all over.
Writing was what she wanted to do. It meant a lot to her. Writing was the best way she could express herself. And she saw a career, a future, in it. So, she took that to heart and she looked for a good college that would help her. Her parents were very understanding and open-minded. She had been born and raised in Tarrytown, New York, and she longed to escape what she felt at the time was comfortable, quiet living. She wanted to see what else was out there for her. What she could make part of her dream. While they weren't exactly poor, her parents had enough to help send her to a good school in the city. She managed to get a scholarship with her writing, and so began her experience at Hunter College.
Standing there at the counter, tears streaming down her face over her loss, she remembered how much that time meant to her. It was something that she had never expected. Her thoughts soared. Her classes fascinated her – especially her English Literature courses which she became quite fond of. The writing community, her classmates, the school environment all served to add to her writer's experience. She adored it all and wrote, and wrote, and wrote. She
made her work known writing for the school literary magazine. She had success. She was happy. She never knew being a Writer could be so.
The day she declared herself an English Literature Major her sophomore year was the day she felt her dream began. She wrote every chance she had, and she knew she wanted to go to graduate school to continue her education in Creative Writing. Her heart was in it, and while she knew she had the support of her parents, she did not want them to always support her financially. She decided to look for work to help pay for some of her schooling and books and whatever she needed for her writing. Phyllis had always been proud of that moment. That was her first adult act, and while it was nerve-wracking, she managed with the help of her Guidance Counselor to get her little work experience together into a resume. After a few first disastrous interviews, she managed to get an interview at Brooklyn Diner on the West Side for a Waitressing Position. They liked her gumption, desire to learn, and her eagerness to work hard. They called her with an offer the next day.
Four years later, she was still there. Phyllis remembered the exciting time she had training and getting better and getting to know the ins and outs of it all. She got to know her employer and coworkers, and they turned out to be great people. The pay was good, and the tips helped. Her customers were pretty good, steady and regular. She always offered a friendly smile and great service. She had a great rapport with all of them. Others were quiet. Like this one gentleman who had been coming in every night for the past month. Always at the same time - 9 P.M. She was usually there when he come in and always took his order. Always a cup of tea and some sort of a sandwich. She noticed he had a British accent, was at least 10 years older than her, was polite and always smiled when he ordered. He said please and thank you, never seemed to talk too much, and was always reading a book. He was always nice enough to leave her a $10 tip. That was her life, and she enjoyed it.
Perhaps secretly, what Phyllis liked the most about her job, was when it was quiet. There were so many times you could wipe down the counter, or fill the salt and pepper shakers. She took that time to write in her notebook. She always kept an eye out if there were one or two customers, but she always managed to write something down. That's why she was so appreciative of her work family. She did her work - and she did it well - and they never complained. They knew how important this all was to her.
"Alright….so what on earth happened to it?" Phyllis asked herself putting her things back in her bag.
She looked at the time. 10 P.M. Putting her bag on the chair near the counter, she walked over to the sink, washed and filled a teapot, and set it to boil. Grabbing her cup and a Raspberry Zinger tea bag, she sat down at the small kitchen table. She took a breath and realized it was quiet, and that she was alone. Her roommates weren't home. That was a blessing. Lately, it had been getting a bit difficult living with them. Before graduation she had decided to stay in the
city. She definitely couldn't afford it on her own, so she had to get a roommate. A couple of
months before her final semester ended, she met 2 girls through the school magazine who were looking for roommates as well. They seemed to get along, and after searching several places, they found a pretty decent 3-bedroom apartment down on 13th Street and 2nd Avenue. That was 2 years ago. They all moved in a week after graduation and honestly, while she didn't know what to expect, Phyllis was excited.
Phyllis remembered that first year. She started working full time at the restaurant. She got herself acclimated to living in the city, and was able to juggle the apartment and rules that they had set in place. She worked on her writing. She began to create a portfolio thanks to a notebook she always had on hand, and started to sort out how to get her work "out there". She discovered the world of Submissions, and that was a start. She picked up reputable magazines, looked on line, followed rules and guidelines. She had hope that it would all begin with this.
As last year progressed, things quickly changed. The Honey Moon Phase with her roommates fizzled out. The apartment started getting messy, some of the bills started piling up, and they began to keep strange hours. Male visitors came calling – and overstaying their welcome. The apartment got loud in various ways. And at the worst times. Especially when she was trying to write. After a while, she couldn't concentrate. After she spoke with them the first couple of times, they seemed to be sorry. But it didn't stop. She became frustrated. She couldn't afford to throw them out and risk losing rent. Finding a roommate – and in this case two – would prove difficult. She couldn't afford the extra money to cover all the expenses. As it was, during that summer she had started using her savings to help pay for submission entry fees. She knew she was taking a risk, but she just felt her work was going to be accepted. In the end, they were all rejected. Well, she was glad she had the restaurant at least.
The whistling of the teapot brought Phyllis back to reality. She got up from the kitchen table, filled her cup, and, sitting back down thought,
She was beginning to realize that the real writing world was not like what she experienced during high school and college. Was she expecting too much too soon? Was she not as good as she thought she was? Did she really have the talent? Her heart ached every time she got a rejection notice, and she honestly began to wonder if she had gotten herself into something she couldn't get out of. Was it too late? Is this what she really wanted? Could she just give it all up and do something else?
Sipping on her tea, fresh thoughts of the loss of her notebook hit her. And it hurt. All that work- all her thoughts. GONE! She had been writing in that notebook for 3 months. So many ideas. Good Ones. She was hoping this work would be what she needed – her breakthrough. She needed that notebook, because otherwise her thoughts were just a jumbled pile of thoughts, words. This is how she wrote, and she feared she couldn't change. Hers was a process only she
could understand. It wasn't just a simple write something down, edit it, and type it up. And now, she panicked because she wasn't sure if she could remember any of it.
Sitting there finishing her tea, Phyllis closed her eyes and tried to see if she could
remember something – anything. That's when it all come back to her. It had been a particularly long shift that evening. One of her coworkers had an emergency and her employer asked her to come in early to cover for a while. By the time closing came around, she was exhausted. She managed to catch her Crosstown M57 Bus relatively on time, and the wait for the M101 Downtown Bus to 14th Street helped to keep her awake. It was cold, and she hurried on and took a seat. She was hoping traffic would be good so she could get home fast. She decided to take out her notebook to go over something she had written earlier. She didn't get too far before her eyes started closing. She put her notebook down on the empty seat next to her, rubbed her eyes, and stretched. She closed her eyes again, and before she knew it, she dozed off.
Sometime later, she woke up in a start. She realized that she had fallen asleep and might have missed her stop. Taking a quick look around, she realized that she had woken up just in time. She wasn't too far off. She pressed the bell, closed her bag, and quickly got up to leave the bus…leaving her notebook behind. As those memories came back to her, her world came crashing down around her.
"It could be anywhere by now." She said to herself. "What if the bus driver found it and threw it out?'
This is not what she needed or wanted right now. She needed and wanted her writing career to take off so she could feel her writing was worth it all. Phyllis Albertson, who was always so sure of everything, found herself not knowing what to do about the most important thing in her life. In defeat, Phyllis got up and dropped her cup and the teapot into the sink to wash in the morning. Turning off the lights, Phyllis made her way to her room to try to get some sleep.
"Somehow…' She thought, "…this has to get better."
Two days passed. Phyllis was not feeling any better. She called The Transit Authority's Lost and Found, but unfortunately, nothing resembling her black and white marbled composition notebook was turned in. As that was her normal route, she asked the bus drivers if they had seen anything, but to no avail. She hadn't been able to concentrate on anything since that night. Work had begun to drag on without that time she had with her writing. If she could have had anything come into her head, she could have used a napkin to write it down - but there was nothing.
Phyllis was at work that night, wiping down a table. It was almost closing time. There weren't any customers at the moment, and she was glad for it. She just really wanted to get home. Suddenly, she heard the door open. Instinctively she said,
"Just give me a second, I'll be right with you."
She quickly finished up wiping down the table and turned around. Before her
stood the nice gentleman that usually came in at 9 P.M. and left her a nice $10 tip.
Thinking for a moment, Phyllis realized that he had not stopped by in the past 2 days. She hadn't thought anything of it. She just thought that maybe he had gone somewhere else. She smiled.
"Hi there. How are you doing?" She asked.
"I'm great, thank you." He answered smiling back at her.
"Great to hear that. We'll be closing soon, but if I can get you a cup of tea…" She said sweetly, letting him know she hadn't forgotten him.
"Oh no, you needn't bother. Actually, I'm here for a different reason. I'm glad I found you here." He said
Phyllis was surprised.
"Yes, I know you'll be closing soon, and I don't want to bother you…", He said reaching for his bag, "….but I think this is yours, and that you might want it back."
Phyllis didn't understand what was going happening. She panicked for a moment, but it soon turned into utter amazement as she watched the gentleman take out a black and white marbled composition notebook from his bag. Her notebook! She was flabbergasted. There was no mistaking it. It was her notebook. She would know it anywhere.
"What?...How?...Where did you find it?" Phyllis asked overjoyed.
The gentleman smiled.
"So, it is yours! Great! I knew I saw you writing in a notebook like this."
He handed it over to her.
She couldn't believe she had gotten it back. Phyllis clutched that notebook to her heart as if her life depended on it. It did.
"How did you know?" She asked.
The gentleman blushed at the question.
"Well…I have to admit, I kind of noticed it after the first couple of times I came in."
Phyllis cleared her throat. What had he noticed? Why was he looking?
"You noticed?" She asked raising her eyebrow.
It was his turn to clear his throat.
"Well, I noticed how every night when it was quiet you would sit by the counter and write in that notebook." He said.
Phyllis was embarrassed. Honestly, she didn't think anyone would notice.
"Oh. Well, I mean, most of the work was already done. There weren't many people here,
and to be fair I did manage to keep an eye on things." She said trying to save face.
"Oh no, I didn't mean it like that." He said. "I would see that you would write before closing time if there weren't any customers. I may have been reading, but every once in a while, I would see you writing in that notebook. I didn't want to bother you. That's why I never said anything."
"Oh. I appreciate it. I try to write down things when they come to me, or when I have the time." She said.
"Sounds like you're a true writer to me. Well, listen to me go on, and you're probably wondering who I am!" He said holding out his hand to her. "My name is Oliver Hughes"
"I'm Phyllis Albertson." She said shaking his hand.
"I was just transferred here from the London office of my publishing house. I am an Editor." He said.
Phyllis began to listen intently.
"That's wonderful. How do you like the city so far?" She asked.
"Well, from the little I've seen in between work and meetings, it seems pretty fantastic. Actually, I was on my way to a morning meeting a couple of days ago when I saw this on the bus I was on." He said.
"The M101?" Phyllis asked.
"Why, yes. I had taken a seat and spotted it just sitting there across from me on an empty seat. I figured I should pick it up, to see what it was – and if there were any clues as to who it belonged to." He said.
"I'm glad you did!"
'You know, while there were no names written anywhere, I did remember seeing you
write in a notebook similar to this. So, I thought I'd take a chance and ask it if it was yours." He said as a matter of factly.
"I'm sorry I didn't come earlier. Actually, I got caught up reading your writing. I have to admit, I think it fantastic." He went on to say.
The gentleman, Mr. Hughes, looked her straight in the eyes. Phyllis could tell he was being sincere.
"Well, thank you so much. That means a lot. This all means a lot." She said holding her notebook close to her.
"You have no idea what I've been going through the past couple of days. When I lost this, I thought it was the end of everything." Phyllis tried not getting emotional. She breathed.
Mr. Hughes looked at her, touched.
"I definitely understand how it feels to work so hard and have something happen to it." He said.
Phyllis could only smile. Mr. Hughes put his hand into his jacket pocket.
"I know you have to close up so I'll let you go, but I want to give you my card. I'd really like to discuss working on some sort of a manuscript. Your work is great, and you have a lot of potential. That's if you're looking to publish right now though?" He asked.
He handed Phyllis his card and she really just had to laugh. Was this really happening?
"Are you serious?" She asked.
"Absolutely. Give me a call and we'll set up a meeting as soon as you're available." Mr. Hughes said emphatically. "We have a lot to discuss." He smiled.
This was really happening!
"Well, alright. Thank you, Mr. Hughes." She said shaking his hand again.
"You're welcome. Good night, and keep at it." Mr. Hughes said smiling. "And, if I can give you one piece of advice…" He said.
Phyllis was curious.
"Sure. What is it?"
"Make sure you write your name on your work." He winked at her, and she laughed.
"I'll do that from now on. Thanks." Phyllis said happily, and with that he turned and
walked out as quietly as he came in.
Phyllis looked at his card and had to sit down for a minute. She took it all in. Breathing a deep sigh of relief, she thought that fate sure was funny. Despite the uncertainty, despite the heartache, despite the loss, in the end her dream was going to happen. She was really going to have a chance. Things were going to happen.
She was meant to be a Writer, and she would never doubt that again.