Lorraine knew she was in trouble before she even crawled out of bed. Frederick was moaning and loudly clearing his throat as if there were a whole biscuit stuck in it. She could hear him scrambling for a Kleenex from the box on his night stand. Then came the trumpet of his nose-blowing. Uh-oh. A Man Cold!! This would test her last shred of patience before he declared himself well.
“Good morning, Dear,” Lorraine trilled. “Are you feeling under the weather?”
Frederick groaned and coughed up the tiniest bit of phlegm. Then he continued coughing as if he were dying. More Kleenex and loud honking. “I’ll say!” he managed to choke out. “I’m sick….”
“So sorry to hear that, Frederick,” Lorraine tried hard to sound sympathetic. She knew from past experiences with the Man Cold that it didn’t help to say things like “It’s nothing,” or “Shake it off.” It only served to make the noises emanating from a man even louder, as if he needed to demonstrate how sick he really was. “Can I fix you a cup of tea? Tea with lots of honey will make you feel better.”
“My throat is so sore!” Frederick moaned. “What should I do to make it feel better?”
“Hot tea with honey will help, but Emergencee, echinacea, or Belladonna, the homeopathic remedy, will help even more.”
Frederick was racked with a bout of loud, forced coughing. “No, no! I don’t believe in that stuff.”
“Okay then,” continued Lorraine. “We have some Dayquil in the medicine chest. Also, we have some other cold tablets. Let me get you one.”
“I don’t like to take meds! No, I’ll take my chances and fight this sucker off without meds,” Frederick continued stubbornly.
Now it was Lorraine’s turn to groan. “But don’t you think you’ll feel better if you take something?”
“I’ll be fine,” Frederick replied through clenched teeth as if he been stabbed. “How about that tea? My throat is killing me.”
Lorraine knew she would have to leave the apartment and stay away, or she would have to murder Frederick. If he were really sick, she might be more sympathetic, but these Man Colds could last for weeks and required more patience than she could summon. She went to the kitchen and fixed him a cup of his favorite tea, Asheville Grey, from Chifferobe. Then she stirred in great teaspoons of Sourwood Honey. He usually liked cream in his tea, but milk would just produce more phlegm, so she left it out. She brought the tea to Frederick who was still splayed out on the bed, the covers pulled up to just under his chin.
“Sit up, dear,” Lorraine encouraged. “Here’s your tea.”
He took a sip of tea and whined, “Too hot, too hot! Ow that hurts my mouth.”
Suki was still snuggled beside Frederick in the bed, and his latest cries startled her and she began barking. “I’d better get dressed and take her out. We don’t want any accidents,” Lorraine said. She showered and selected her usual uniform, all Eileen Fisher: Black slacks, black shoes, and oversized, ironed white linen blouse. She applied the black eyeliner and mascara she always wore, and styled her hair into a black cloud. That black cloud reflected her mood today. Even though she was in a hurry to escape the apartment, there was no way she would go out looking messy. She called Suki, grabbed her leash and left, shutting the door firmly.
She headed down the stairs to the front door and once again almost collided with moving men. Housing, especially longterm rental property was harder and harder to find in Black Mountain, and the apartment on the ground floor of 44 Cherry Street had been vacant for a short time since Salty had moved out to live with his new love, Saloon. Apparently, someone was moving in. Two burly movers were lugging a large chest of drawers. A loud raspy voice bellowed, “Don’t disrespect my Chester Browers, you A-holes!!”
Suddenly a large man with wild red hair and a face so red with anger that Lorraine feared he would have a heart attack on the spot. He grimaced and was muttering cuss words under his breath. As he was saying something that sounded like “Sons of b…” his mouth stretched wide to reveal that he had only a few yellow teeth left in his mouth.
“There goes the neighborhood,” thought Lorraine. “First Ellie and now this vagrant.”
The red-faced man spotted Lorraine and took off his greasy Red Man baseball cap. He spit tobacco juice into an open Mountain Dew can, missing the opening and letting the nasty brown liquid drip to stain the hall carpet. “How-dee- doo, ma’am. The name’s Elrod.” He smiled a terrifying Jack-O-Lantern smile.
Lorraine sniffed and spoke quietly, “Welcome to 44 Cherry Street, Mr. Elrod.” Then she walked away shaking her head.