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BAG LADY BLUES • by Mark Dalligan

Alice wakes as the first commuter train rolls into the station. Before opening her eyes she feels to make sure her handbag is still buttoned safely within her overcoat. The warm tongue of the Jack Russell teases the searching fingers.

“Good boy, Ben, you looked after Mummy.”

She’ll need to find a hostel soon, even if people do say bad things about them. It’s early December. Last night she kept warm sleeping by the air conditioning vents of an office building, moved on only once by a security guard. At least here they don’t hose your doss with water.

Rubbing the circulation back into her legs, she uses the wall to help her into a standing position. The arthritis starts to gnaw almost immediately. The only thing that will keep it at bay is movement. She squeezes back into her sensible flat shoes.

They take the stairs down to the station concourse, wheeled suitcase bumping down after them. Ben hates the elevator.

She counts out the change and descends into the ‘pay for your pee’ public toilets. In the cubicle, she changes her underclothes and stockings. The cream blouse and grey suit she wears again.

The last of the Elizabeth Arden moisturiser helps smooth some of the wrinkles in her seamed face.

Looking like an ordinary rail traveller, she enters one of the many coffee shops and purchases a pot of tea for breakfast.

A free newspaper left by an earlier customer confirms the world still functions without her. There’s doom and gloom and tales about celebrities. House repossessions are at record numbers. She frowns at the thought of being part of this statistic.

The commuters are arriving in floods. She’s come to identify the ‘clerks’ racing the clock; the heavy-booted ‘workers’; the ‘bosses’ meandering, unhurried croissant munchers.

Thinking of pastries stirs Alice’s hunger. She spends thirty minutes checking the telephone islands for rejected coins. She has to add from her hoard to buy a plain cheese roll.

The day passes her like a stream, hardly touching the bank. A walk down to the street market and a laugh with a fruit stall owner yields some apples.

She passes young people sitting on the pavement, heads down and a collection box in front of each of them. She selects a despondent boy and gives a note fished from the depths of her handbag. Now she has only small change to see the day through.

She thinks about buying another coffee and eating the apples. Perhaps a walk to the West End to see the Christmas lights will numb the pain in her legs.

Entering the pedestrian subway, a shove in the back sends her sprawling. Eyes full of tears do not register the youth pulling her handbag from her shoulder. She sees another youth, the one she gave the money, pick up her case and run away, laughing. People are fussing around her.

The same evening, sitting with a police woman, she is laughing. The case and all her clothes are gone but the handbag has been found, torn and muddy. The photograph of her husband is safe inside.

By day Mark Dalligan is a City banker but he shares his body with a writer who has started to emerge at night. He’s having some success, with work taken by Boston Literary Magazine, LitBits, Apollo’s Lyre, Bewildering Stories, MicroHorror, Static Movement, Clockwise Cat, Ranfurly Review, Twisted Tongue, Delivered and EDF.

GD Star Rating
BAG LADY BLUES • by Mark Dalligan, 3.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating
Posted on April 17, 2009 in Literary, Stories
  • Paul Freeman

    That was a bit of an emotional roller coaster, and very well written. You created a 3-dimensional character of note.

    A few things jarred, though. You say ‘She has to add from her hoard’ when she’s taking money from her hoard. Also, I wouldn’t expect her to give a ‘note’ for the charity box when she’s been scratchign around for change.

    Otherwise, a great piece of flash.

  • http://www.annebrooke.com Anne Brooke

    A very strong story and I particularly liked the ending. I do though agree with Paul’s comments above.


  • Oscar Windsor-Smith

    I agree with Paul that you have painted a wonderful character fully in the round, and, yes, possibly the wording about the hoard is slightly illogical, but I disagree with him about her giving away the note. That single action tells us volumes more about her ‘untold’ story, as does her laughter in the end knowing that the one most important vestige of her past – her husband’s picture – is safe. A wonderful story by any standards, but in flash word-counts, brilliant. How dare anyone give this less than five? Good on you, Mark. Give us more, please.

    😉 scar

  • Alan W. Davidson

    I agree with the others…so much said in so few words. The use of the word ‘hoard’ didn’t strike me as odd on the first read, but perhaps a better word could have been used. As Oscar noted, the generosity of the woman by giving a note really speaks of her character and generosity. Well done, Mark!

  • http://jfjuzwik.blogspot.com Joyce

    This was really well done, and I agree. Her gesture speaks volumes about her own generosity and empathy for those she feels need help, perhaps even more than she. Really great story.

  • http://www.russheitz.com Russ Heitz

    Beautifully done, Mark. And painfully realistic!

  • JohnOBX

    I enjoyed the nuance of this story. There was no attempt to beat the reader over the head with a brick about hard times or cruel people and the word “hope” was not mentioned even once, but to me “hope” was the theme. Alice doesn’t complain, she perseveres. You cheer for Alice because she shows kindness, she finds a way to laugh at adversity, and she soldiers on despite her wretched situation.

    Nicely done.

  • Angela

    Lovely, haunting, moving. I have always wanted to write a story about those who must endure street life…you captured it beautifully Mark!

  • http://gretaigl.blogspot.com/ Greta

    Sad story, Mark, but uour character shines with dignity.

  • http://shamelesscreations.blogspot.com/ Kevin Shamel

    Excellent story, Mark.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Well described, interesting situation, the well written details developing it and bringing it alive. The character placed in the situation is stuck in its misery and her own repetitive attitude of depending on luck brings further loss. A more aware, usual and characteristic reaction to such difficulties would be her tossing the husband’s picture into the collection box of the beggar along with some coins, and saving the paperwork for herself. Probably the paper money indicated to the beggar not generosity but “a lot she got.” Poor woman! Wake up woman! She couldn’t even count on her son, “Ben” who disappeared on a staircase and was never mentioned again. Moral: Count on yourself before you count on others.

  • http://www.poundingthekeys.blogspot.com Mark Dalligan

    Thanks for reading and commenting every one. I agree that my use of ‘hoard’ was a little clumsy! Interesting analysis Roberta.



  • Pilgrimage

    Roberta, Ben is the dog. A Jack Russell can’t be expected to do much against a purse-snatcher. I agree that her giving when she had so little to live on shows her character well. Changing her underwear spoke to me, showing har self-respect and that she had not lost all hope. The story engaged me, the character moved me. Well done.

  • Jen

    Very sad, but *real* story. I liked the shifting emotions, that even though all her troubles weren’t solved, she could still laugh with the police officers after everything.

  • kathy k

    good story, nice depth, but what happened to the dog?

  • http://www.MadelineMora-Summonte.com Madeline Mora-Summonte

    Well done, Mark. I enjoyed this very much. I would love to see Alice again, to see her have further adventures… :)

  • Sharon

    I loved this story and gave it a 5. Wouldn’t change a thing. Having worked with “our friends who live outdoors”, I completely understood the use of “hoard”. Alice was trying to save to get herself out of the wretchedness she was in, and her only bank was her handbag. She would not dip into her savings for cheese rolls and such. She took from her hoard to help someone who may have reminded her of a child she had or knew in her earlier, more prosperous life; unfortunately, her compassion was rewarded in the manner of the streets.

    Her laughter at the end was a mixture of relief at the return of the picture and frustration at having to start over again. She’s certainly not going to repeat her naive mistake–she’s learned her lesson.

  • Helen Hudspith

    Superb…all said already. But what happened to Ben? I liked Ben.

  • Sharon

    Ben is a plucky little street dog. He’s likely right outside the police station, waiting for Alice–or else off foraging for himself, and the two will meet up again later at their “spot”.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Sharon – I’m sure glad Alice obeyed Ben and didn’t take the elevator. The dog might have chosen it for his “spot.”

  • http://itsnutsoutthere.blogspot.com Jerry Constantino

    Thank you… enjoyable, well told tale. Are dogs welcomed in hostels?

  • http://nowplayinginseattle.blogspot.com/ kcball

    Jerry, Hostels are open to all, regardless of race, creed or collar. 😉

  • http://canyonsofgray.blogspot.com dj barber

    Wonderfully rounded story. Marvelously detailed in so small a space.


    I was goig to give a 5, but the ratings wouldn’t let me do anything.

  • http://www.poundingthekeys.blogspot.com Mark Dalligan

    Thanks for commenting everyone. I think Ben would normally have tried to defend Alice but he was off sniffing through the market stalls.



  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Very well developed and interesting situation in which the protagonist loses continually because of trusting to others (such as her husband instead of maintaining strength of her own.) Giving the boy a note instead of some coins in her desparate situation was not only unwise but the “generosity” gave a false indication to the beggar-thief that she had lots of money herself, focusing his interest on her, and bringing her further misery.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    I don’t know what a “Jack Russell” is. Can anyone supply that information?

  • http://www.poundingthekeys.blogspot.com Mark Dalligan

    Hi Roberta,

    a Jack Russell is a small, usually white and brown terrier dog that leaps,bites and yaps but does what it’s told if it respects you. They were originally bred to go down fox holes, assisting the Hunt, but nowadays most are of a short-legged variety that delight in catching rats.



  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Mark –
    Thank you for answering me re: Jack Russell.

  • http://www.erinmkinch.com Erin

    I wasn’t sure what to make of this story at first, but by the end I was totally wrapped up in the M.C.’s plight. Well done!

  • http://www.poundingthekeys.blogspot.com Mark Dalligan

    Glad you liked it Erin.



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