Fiction by Marc Munroe Dion
Simone LaCroix, fellow reporter and girlfriend of Mill River Standard Times columnist Jack Dupont, stared sullenly at a computer screen displaying 50 pairs of men’s gold cuff links.
“Oooh those are nice,” said Standard Times lifestyle editor Linda Santiago, leaning over Simone’s shoulder and pointing at a pair of cuff links shaped like tiny pencils. “He is a writer.”
Three weeks before Christmas, the newsroom of the Standard Times was not busy. Simone, who had just finished writing a story about schoolchildren caroling in a nursing home, was doing her shopping in the office.
Fifty feet away, Dupont crouched at his desk, manfully struggling to hang some tinsel on a story about the high school’s dropout rate, which was more than 40 percent.
“Last Christmas, I bought Jack a $65 silk tie and a slushee cup,” Simone said. “What’s a slushee cup?” Santiago asked. “It’s a plastic cup, about 10 ounces,” Simone said. “You put the cup in the freezer for eight hours, take it out, fill it with soda, stir, and the soda freezes. It makes a slush like they sell in convenience stores. Jack loves those.
“Jack likes the tie, but he loves the slushee cup. He keeps it at my house and he washes it himself. He sits on my sofa and he pours grape soda into it, and he stirs it up, and when the slushee is done, he takes a big spoonful and he says, ‘This is the best present anyone ever gave me.’
“Cost me $14.99 at Target and it’s the best present anyone ever gave him. I’m dating a 12-year-old.”
Christmastime may have been slow in Mill River, but the rest of the year wasn’t too hectic, either.
“Every obituary we print says, ‘former,’” Dupont often said. “‘He was an employee of the former Puritan Carpet Mill,’ or ‘She was a stitcher at the former American Curtain Company.’ There’s nothing for anyone to do now, not now.” Mill River survived on city jobs for the few, part-time construction and retail work for the many, Social Security and welfare for the elderly and the sin- gle mothers, and drug dealing for a lot of young men. It was December of 2015, and the yearly overdose total stood at 774 people, not all of whom had died. The city’s population was 88,000, not including its undocumented residents.
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