Last we saw Frederick he had awakened in the bed of his across the hall neighbor, Ellie. The night before as he had calmed his jangled nerves with a few stiff drinks poured by Ellie. He had just watched the departure of the Black Mountain police to whom he had reported the disappearance of his darling wife Lorraine. He had heard one of the policemen say to another as he walked out, “He’s guilty as hell. It’s usually the husband, ya’ know?”
The police had promised to take the case to the FBI, but they were convinced that Frederick had murdered his wife and were planning to simply wait for the body to start to smell and then lock him up. They wanted to add this easy case to their solve list. They would consider taking it to the FBI if the body didn’t turn up until spring. Until then, they headed to the Black Mountain Donut Factory.
Ellie was a natural caretaker. Nevertheless, her husband had left her in Black Mountain and moved back to the midwest because he found North Carolina too blue. in a political sense (not the sky, although it too was very blue.) Ellie kind of agreed, but she fancied herself an artist and thought that the liberals were better at supporting the arts, so she stayed. He took with him almost all their furniture , kitchen stuff, and knick-knacks. He took their dog, Ronald Reagan, and even the canary, Nancy, so Ellie was left with a sterile, bare apartment with no pets and no husband to take care of.
The morning after his embarrassing situation, Frederick awoke in a strange place, his head throbbing. He sat up and looked around. First he noticed that the bed itself was covered not with the fluffy down Ralph Lauren comforter he was used to, but with a scratchy wool army blanket and mismatched, mixed fiber sheets. He shuddered with the damp sweat on his naked body which had not been absorbed by the low thread count sheets. The walls were bare gray with the outlines of the previous tenant’s art visible, but no paintings, calendars, or posters on the walls. There was a ratty looking bureau with the drawers not completely closed, a small round table and a single wooden chair. There was not a spot of color anywhere and it hardly looked as if anyone lived there. It looked more like a prison cell than an apartment. Where was he?
He glanced down beside him and jumped when he saw the skinny back of a woman with messy gray hair and faded flannel nightgown. Ellie! OMG!! How did he get here? And most important, had he betrayed Lorraine? Oh this Ellie! She was a temptress. But he loved Lorraine and was so worried about her! He jumped out of the bed and nearly tripped over his clothes in a heap on the bare floor beside the bed. He didn’t want to stay there a moment longer, so he grabbed his things in a bundle and clasped them in front of him. He raced out of the apartment and across the landing to his apartment where the door was closed but not locked. Suki was whining inside the door and gave him a knowing and disgusted look as he rushed by the dog.
Frederick raced into the bathroom and ran the water in the shower until it was very hot and jumped in, letting the scalding water run over his body and turn it bright red. He lathered up with the Greenwich Bay Lavender Chamomile Soap Lorraine kept in the shower, rinsed off, and repeated the process. When the hot water ran out and turned cold Frederick climbed out of the shower, toweled off, and put on a pair of sweatpants and a Carolina sweatshirt and his running shoes. He grabbed Suki’s leash and tiptoed past the door of Ellie’s apartment and down the stairs. He certainly didn’t want to face her this morning. He was mortified and hoped that she was not now pregnant. OMG! He was too old for a baby. And what would Lorraine say? Oh, his head! It was killing him.
Meanwhile, Ellie had awakened as Frederick had jumped off the bed. He had left with such a leap that the bed had bounced like a trampoline and she had risen a couple of inches off the mattress and woke up with a start as she plopped down. She turned over to see Frederick’s bare butt hurrying through the door. What was he so upset about? Did he think they had done something shameful? Certainly not! She was a good religious girl. She was no sinner. She decided to get dressed and go over to Frederick’s apartment later to clarify any misunderstandings. She heard him tramp down the stairs a bit later and turned over and went back to sleep. Her visit could wait.