It is late at night in the middle of November when the story’s unnamed narrator tries to find some peace and quiet in a roadside pub. At this time of the day, only a barmaid and a man are hanging around the pub. The man is a shameless flirt trying to lure the barmaid who he keeps calling Paula into a conversation she clearly doesn’t want to have. So while nursing a double whiskey and waiting for her food to arrive, the narrator eavesdrop on their chat.
You’re not married, are you, Paula? the man said.
You are, the woman said. I can tell a mile off.
I’m not married, the man said. I’m as single as the day is long.
This time of the year you’ll be less single, then, she said.
You what? he said.
The days being shorter and all, the woman said.
When the man realizes that he is getting nowhere with Paula, he tries to drag the narrator into the conversation, probably to get Paula’s attention. However, the narrator escapes him by rushing back to her car, where she gets hit by a flood of memories concerning an unfortunate incident that took place around Christmas when she was a child. And this makes her wonder what would have happened if she had stayed in the pub and shared her story with Paula and the man.
Present is a story that just went over my head in this collection. I appreciated Ali’s attempt to show that it’s nice to connect with people, even at the most basic level (which I think the point of the story?), but I’m not a big fan of this one. 2 stars.