WEBS a short story in ten parts by Cheryl Ernst Wells


for Katherine Roberts Perl and all the people of San Francisco



January in San Francisco is piercingly cold. At six in the morning the fog can be so thick you wouldn’t recognize your own mother from three feet away.

     Barbara stood on the sidewalk, shifting from side to side to keep warm as her Boston terrier, Seamus, took a shivering pee on a leafless oak. Without a quick sniff for interlopers, Seamus scrambled up the steps for the warmth of their apartment.

      “Good boy,” Barbara said, hanging her coat on the rack in the hallway she shared with two other tenants. She lived alone in the lower flat of a two story Victorian building in the wealthy, Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco.  She lit a cigarette and put the kettle on for a cup of instant Uban. Barbara’s life was as gray as the fog. Every weekday morning was a repetition of the one before and a rehearsal for the one to follow. Shower and dress at five-thirty. Walk and feed Seamus at six. Coffee and cigarettes for breakfast at six-thirty before catching the seven-thirty Fillmore bus to her job as a toll taker on the Golden Gate Bridge.

     “Yoohoo,” Daniel called from the open door of Barbara’s flat. He and his partner, Patrick, lived in the spacious, upper level of the stately duplex. Daniel was a buyer for Gump’s department store downtown. He was always impeccably dressed for work in Italian suits and shoes, gold cufflinks engraved with his initials and meticulously pressed, pastel shirts cinched tightly at the neck by a color coordinated silk tie.

     “I’m in the kitchen,” Barbara directed him.

     “I’m returning your copper bowl,” he called from the living room. “There’s a boy. Come here, Seamus.”

     “His paws are wet. Don’t let him jump up on you,” Barbara called, stubbing out her cigarette. Daniel set the bowl on the table and fanned the lingering smoke from his face in disgust.

     “I thought you were quitting.”

     “Easier said than done. So, how did the souffle come out?”

     “Disastrous. He was devastated, poor thing. I love him to bits but he can barely boil water. Why he thought he could make a souffle is beyond me. It’s a good thing the way to my heart isn’t through my stomach.” He paused to smooth out a crease in her tablecloth. “We’re going to Perry’s on Union for drinks after work. Want to join us?”


     “Oh, come on. It’s tapas night.”

     “We’ll see.”

     “Well, have a nice day.” He air kissed her.

     “You too.”

Daniel called up the stairway in the hall.

     “Come on, Miss Thing. We’re going to be late.”

     “I’m coming,” Patrick responded from the landing above. He was five years Daniel’s junior with none of his partner’s fastidiousness. He spiked his blonde hair at odd angles with gel and wore vintage clothing from the sixties. As Patrick descended the stairs, Daniel softly groaned, “Oh, God.”

     “What?” Patrick asked, putting on his velvet jacket.

     “That shirt.”

     “What’s wrong with it?”

     “That print is hideous. Where do you find these things?”

Patrick smiled, patiently. “Let’s go, Mr. Blackwell. Bye, sweetie,” he called through Barbara’s doorway.

     “Bye,” she called back. When they’d gone, she stood at the hall mirror putting on lipstick. She had never been pretty, even as a child. She had an aggressively strong jaw, close set eyes and thin, lifeless hair of non-discript color. She was plain, getting plainer with every passing year and at thirty-five, she looked older. Her job was mind-numbingly dull and she was perpetually lonely. Hers was a ghost life, moving unseen amongst the living.


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