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"Prodigal Daughter" by Sally Simon

Da died suddenly, leaving Maggie no time to plan or properly pack. She’d thrown a handful of underwear, a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and sweater in her suitcase. None of it was black.

She’d called Weston Gallery to inform them she’d be gone a day or two. Death in the family. There was no one else to tell since Ginny left her last year. Ginny never met Da anyway.

Maggie retreated into Da’s study after the funeral, avoiding as many people as possible. She sat in his brown leather chair and ran her hands down the armrests. As a child, Da would read to her as she snuggled half on his lap, half on the billowy cowhide. Maggie tried to breathe in the scent of well-worn leather, but only the faint smell of old books lingered.

Maggie made her way to the doorway. As she glanced across a crowded room of people who felt like ghosts to her, something took hold. A faint longing to have them envelope her and carry her back to childhood—back before she escaped the never-ending green pastures to attend college in Dublin. Before she’d become what Da called “my city girl.” Since then, her yearly visits for Christmas ended with the eggnog toast. Maggie always found herself snug in her flat by the wee hours of Boxing Day.

Maggie watched as Mrs. McFarland, the church organist, stood at the punch bowl, cup in one hand, flask in the other. Mr. Watkins, the piano teacher who’d called her playing “charming,” sat on the couch chatting with Mr. O’Reilly, the owner of the local pub and Da’s best friend. Neither seemed to have aged in twenty years. Father Murphy was in the far doorway consoling her Ma. His face full-on Irish blush, Ma’s full-on sorrow.

Maggie seemed to be floating in a bubble, as if she wasn’t there at all. She wondered if anyone noticed her multiple piercings or that she wore the black dress from high school graduation she found in her closet, slightly tight in all the wrong places. Maggie was in a time warp, but she was still the one out of place.

“I can’t believe you stayed after the funeral,” a familiar voice echoed behind her.

Maggie turned. It was Harriet, her first crush from middle school, all bouncy brunette curls and piercing blue eyes.

“Daughterly duty.” Maggie straightened out her dress.

“Nice dress by the way. Looks familiar.” Harriet offered her a glass. “You need this.”

Maggie took it and drew it toward her lips. The distinct smell of Jameson’s reminded her of Da.

“He was a good man.” Harriet took a step closer and leaned against the wall.

Her Da was a good man. Maggie admired him as a child, and they were close until she reached puberty and withdrew the way teenage daughters do. She knew better than to discuss her fondness for girls with the man who said grace at dinner and tried to set her up with every farm boy for miles. Da went to his grave thinking she was too picky to say yes to marriage.

“That he was,” Maggie said, before draining the glass.

Harriet laughed. “You learn to drink like that in the big city?”

Maggie wasn’t sure if Harriet was teasing or flirting. “An Irish lass doesn't have to learn.”

Harriet took the glass, letting her hand linger a moment on Maggie’s. “I didn’t realize it then,” she said with a smile, “things are different now.”

Piano music erupted from the living room. It wouldn’t be long before the walls would rattle from a cacophony of voices crooning Irish ballads. Someone would come looking for Maggie to ask her to play, surely she could still play.

Harriet read her mind. “You’re going to have to play, you know.”

“I didn’t think you remembered—”

“I remember everything about you, Mags. Another?”

Maggie nodded.

Harriet started for the kitchen, but turned around, “It’d be nice if you stayed around longer.”

Mr. Watkins spied Maggie from across the room and motioned her to join them. Mrs. MacFarland was pounding out My Wild Irish Rose when Harriet returned and handed her the glass. Without saying a word, together they took two steps forward.

Sally Simon (ze/hir) lives in the Catskills of New York State. Hir writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Emerge Lit, Truffles Literary Magazine, (mac)ro(mic), HerStry, and elsewhere. Sally is a reader for Fractured Lit. When not writing, ze’s either traveling the world or stabbing people with hir epee. Read more at

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