Lorraine was fed up with her new neighbors. They weren’t noisy or anything, but they were just not her kind. Even though she had had her moments of dispute with her old downstairs neighbor, Salty, over his loud wood-working machines, she missed him. She liked dishing gossip with him, and she had lots of gossip to share. She decided to invite Salty and his new girlfriend, Saloon, for dinner on Thursday night. Salty could be counted on to bring lots of good wine, and he always made her laugh.
Salty claimed to be ambivalent about Saloon, but she seemed to be ever on Salty’s mind, and he talked about her a lot. She lived up on Number Nine, and had recently bought a vacation home at the beach. She had Salty in mind when she bought it, and even told him that she would buy him a big sailboat to keep at the dock beside the house. He told Lorraine that that would never tempt him, but she spotted Salty on Cherry St. wearing a jaunty sea captain’s cap he had just bought on Amazon.
Lorraine knew that Saloon spent lots of money on her clothes and jewelry, and she didn’t want to be outdone. She had seen a stunning black diamond necklace at Bella Gallery and had been looking for an excuse to splurge. Lorraine was a master of the art of the splurge. She could rationalize anything. The necklace was a delicate string of tiny, very lively black diamonds and it looked great on her, but she and Frederick were trying to be careful with money. Ever since Frederick had moved in with her, though, they had split the rent and she had hidden the money Frederick had given her in an empty Haagen Daz vanilla ice cream container (Frederick didn’t like vanilla ice cream) in the freezer. So she now had the cold cash to buy not only the necklace but also a new Eileen Fisher outfit from Two on Crescent. Maybe also a pair of shoes from Tops. Because her feet were so narrow, she could wear only the most expensive shoes, and Tops carried these brands. She had lots of shopping to do before the dinner. And she also had to figure out what to prepare and to buy the ingredients. She hoped there would be time enough to fix something good, but worst case scenario, she would get some Stouffer’s lasagna and a bag of salad.
As it turned out, it took longer at Tops than Lorraine had hoped, but she did find a pair of Sam Edelman booties that looked perfect with the black outfit she found at Two on Crescent. She didn’t even have enough time left to cook a frozen lasagna, so she stopped at Bojangles on the way back to Black Mountain and picked up a big tailgate meal. She would tell the guests that it was her grandmother’s recipe (her grandmother was Mexican, but they didn’t know that) and serve the chicken and fixins’ in her best Staffordshire serving dishes.
She had barely enough time once she had arrived home, showered, put on her new clothes, and applied make-up, to set the table and hide the Bojangles boxes. The doorbell rang and Salty and Saloon arrived, damp and cold from the rain. They came in with a flourish, bearing three bottles of wine with the prices still on the bottles. Lorraine squinted to read the labels, as she refused to wear her glasses, and she could swear that the bottles cost over $100 each. Could that be right?
Salty gushed that Saloon had brought the wine and that she had expensive taste. Salty opened the bottle of Champagne they had brought and poured it into Lorraine’s crystal flutes. One sip told Lorraine that this champagne was at a different level than the rot gut she usually drank. One sip and she was ruined for the wine she could afford. She loved and hated Saloon at the same time.
Saloon had also brought huge cooked shrimp and wonderful cocktail sauce from the Artisan, so the four of them sat down with their wine and raised glasses to good health and good gossip. “Have I told you about the guy who moved into your old apartment? Elrod.” Lorraine asked Salty.
“You said he was toothless and red-faced, but somehow has five girlfriends. Is there something else? Not another girlfriend, I hope!”
“Well,” began Lorraine, “One of the women calls him regularly at work describing the sex acts she is willing to offer in exchange for beer and cigarettes. He plays the messages aloud to entertain his coworkers.”
“That’s disgusting!” said Frederick.
“I agree,” said Salty. “It’s almost enough to put me off my shrimp. But not quite enough.” He helped himself to another jumbo shrimp and took a bite.”
“That’s not all!” exclaimed Lorraine. This woman, I think her name is Brandi, has come down with something serious and she is in the hospital. She is being treated for Hepatitis and while the doctors treated her for that they found other awful problems that they must address. It looks like she won’t get out of the hospital until early December. But that’s not the worst part.”
“Worst part?” echoed Salty.
“Elrod says that she is pregnant with his baby.”
“Oh my God!” bellowed Salty. “Can you picture a small version of Elrod? An Elrod ‘Mini-Me’?”
“Sadly I can,” said Lorraine. “With his balding head with a tuft of red hair and a toothless grin, he already looks like a giant baby.I can just picture a look-alike father and son with the baby in a forward facing Baby Bjorn.”
“You are awful, you two!” said Frederick. “I can’t believe how mean you are. Stop it now!”
“You’re right, Frederick. That’s enough about Elrod. Shall we proceed to the dinner table? I have fixed my grandmother’s recipe for fried chicken and dirty rice. I hope you like it.”