Esther’s Visitor

The clatter of pottery shattering into a basin brought Esther running from the parlor.

“Aubrey, I swear, if you’ve broke another mug…”

Her anger evaporated when she realized Aubrey was staring at something out the window.

“Mama,” the girl whispered, “there’s a man out there.”

Esther squinted through the leaded glass. Standing just inside her gate was a huge man with a bushy black beard. His horse was tied up beyond the fence, and he was holding his hat in his hands.

Sure. She’d seen that trick before.

“Stay here. If there’s trouble, go get Curtis.”

And she took shotgun from over the door, tossed her graying black braid over her shoulder, and went to meet the stranger.

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Four Bottles Left

When I went to England, my friends had some advice for me.

“Try Strongbow,” they said. “It’s a cider they have over there and it’s really good.”

I was a college sophomore, spending the better part of a month in the UK learning about writing and British writers. I liked England, with its gray drizzle that reminded me of my Northwest home.

I didn’t like feeling like an outsider because my goal wasn’t to be the next Great American Novelist, unlike some others in the class.

But I liked the frigid, dark, rainy January evenings spent in the pub with two or three friends – others who were writing for fun, not academia or accolades – before we went back to the hotel to work on our stories or watch this weird show we’d discovered, “Doctor Who.”

I liked being of legal drinking age, and I really liked Strongbow. I liked the crisp dryness of cider, something more grown-up than the Mike’s Hard Lemonade and (shudder) Smirnoff Ice I was used to drinking at the time.

So when I got home, I wanted to try to find Strongbow stateside.

Shopping for Strongbow became an ongoing quest, something archived in my mental grocery lists for around six years. Strongbow wasn’t easy to find, at least not where I lived, but occasionally I would find myself in a liquor store or specialty grocery store that happened have a six-pack. Then, I would savor my purchase, only cracking open a bottle for the most anticipated of parties or the worst of bad days.

Strongbow was my drink of choice on my birthdays. My then boyfriend, now husband even bought me a six-pack for my birthday one year. It had a red bow on it. When one of my England classmates returned home from a semester abroad, we drank Strongbow. (I remember texting her on a winter break, having just tracked down another six-pack: “Captain Strongbow rides again!“) And when other friends went to England, I passed along the recommendation.

Roll the clock forward on those six years. I graduated. I got married. I had three or four jobs. We bought a house. And all that time, I kept an eye out for Strongbow.

It turned out that the nearby Fred Meyer carried Strongbow right there in the beer aisle, a phenomenon I hadn’t experienced before. Strongbow? Just sitting there, waiting for me? Mission accomplished! I can just grab more whenever I want!

I took it for granted. That doesn’t mean I went crazy with it – in fact, I still have four bottles from the last six-pack I ever purchased. I still wanted to save them for special occasions.

Those occasions are going to have to be very special, because they stopped selling original Strongbow in the US in 2014.

I should’ve been paying more attention. Hindsight being 20/20, I realized I had begun to notice some kind of change. The beer aisle seemed to only offer something called Strongbow Gold, a sweeter variety I had no interest in. I just assumed the market was changing and I would have to resume actively searching for the Strongbow I liked. After being served the Gold stuff in a British pub in Portland, though, I finally looked online and found out Strongbow as I knew it didn’t even exist in this country anymore.

Four bottles left. How long does cider keep? How much longer can I preserve my nostalgia?

Hopefully it’ll buy me enough time to visit Canada and restock.