This sample of “Ipswich” was my reading selection at the Barbaric Yawp 10th Anniversary, held at the Underground Music Cafe in Falcon Heights, Minnesota on April 29th, 2018.
Tom and Sara had just opened their menus when Shaun Talbot walked into the restaurant, accompanied by a young, slim, dark-haired woman dressed all in black. Talbot wore his vintage black suit with a white shirt, giving the couple the appearance of having arrived from another era.
“That’s him,” whispered Sara. “By the door. Talbot!”
With the care of a trained observer Tom slowly turned his head just far enough to see the medium and his companion. “What should we do?” he whispered back.
“Let me lead, and trust me. I think it’s time he met the débutante I’m supposed to be.” She concentrated on Talbot as the hostess led him into the restaurant, staring just enough to be conspicuous.
The medium turned his head and noticed her immediately. “I don’t believe it,” he said. “Aren’t you…”
Sara looked back at him blankly, trying for vacuous. “Do I know you?”
“Well, no, but I’ve seen your picture before. Aren’t you Sara Winchester?”
She smiled broadly. “Why, yes I am!”
“I’m Shaun Talbot,” he said with a curt bow. “Ipswich’s resident medium. Did you come here for the séance, by any chance?”
“Yes I did, as a matter of fact!” she exclaimed. “That’s where I’ve seen your picture. I knew you looked familiar! This is my friend Tom. Would you care to join us, Mr. Talbot? You and…”
“This is Jenna,” he said. “And we’d love to. But are you sure? It looks like you two are having a romantic night out. I wouldn’t want to intrude.”
“Nonsense. Half the fun of traveling is meeting new people. Especially since you’re the famous Mr. Talbot.”
He shrugged, feigning modesty. “I suppose I am. Please, call me Shaun.” He pulled out a chair for his date and then moved to sit down at the table himself. The hostess nodded politely and set two more menus down on the table.
“And you can call me Sara. Now go ahead – have a seat. I’ll treat both of you to dinner. This’ll be fun!”
“I couldn’t possibly…” began the medium.
“Don’t be silly. I own a dozen manufacturing plants, hundreds of retail establishments, an airplane, and a whole lot more. Besides, you know what they say – you should never argue with anybody in the gun business!”
“Wait,” spoke up Jenna, “Winchester. Like the department stores?”
“The very same,” beamed Sara.
“I heard about your mother,” said the girl gravely. “It was in all the papers. I’m very sorry for your loss. It must be hard being back here.”
“I appreciate your condolences,” replied Sara, matching the serious tone. “But I’m here to have a good time, and live it up. That’s what she would have wanted.” She carefully brought the bouncy lilt back into her voice. “Now what would everyone like? I think some good wine would be in order. How does that sound?”
“Fine,” replied Shaun flatly.
Tom simply looked befuddled at her performance. She shot him a quick wink and squeezed his hand, then picked up the wine list and started paging through it. “Let’s see now. How about this one?” She pointed to the most expensive selection on the menu. To be fair, she thought to herself, it really is supposed to be good, and I’ve never tried it.
“Maybe something a little less pricey,” suggested the medium.
“Oh, don’t be silly!” Sara exclaimed. “If you’re spending under two hundred a bottle you’re wasting your money. Let’s see – will two bottles do? If it’s as good as the review I read a while back I might drink one all by myself!”
Over the course of dinner Sara proved insufferable. She downed one expensive glass of wine after the other, ordered multiple rounds for all the patrons at the bar, and gushed about fashion, shoes, and the paranormal. The questions she asked Shaun were maddeningly stupid, like whether dead people could still use the toilet. Every time he and Jenna explained that they should be going, she managed to draw the medium back into another round of senseless questioning. By the time he finally was able to excuse himself and his date from the table, the young woman looked positively pissed. She flounced out the door as he followed behind her, muttering what sounded like awkward excuses.
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