Some time ago, I was working on a series of stories called 44 Cherry St., based loosely on Armisted Maupin’s Tales of a City, and Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland St. I created some fictional characters and planted them at the fictional address of 44 Cherry St. These characters lived in an apartment building at that address, and were familiar with all of us on Cherry St. It was fun to write those short stories, and I am moved to write a new episode to keep readers up to date with what is going on with the Cherry St. gang,
One day last week I got a call from Lorraine who used to live with her tiny spoiled dog in one of the upstairs units at 44 Cherry St. until she married Frederick a short time ago. Now the two of them live in wedded bliss in the cramped apartment. Lorraine wanted to meet me for lunch at the Veranda. She hadn’t lunched there since the place had changed hands, and she wanted to be sure the new owners hadn’t changed the recipe for the Hungarian Mushroom soup, her favorite.
I was a few minutes late on a particularly steamy afternoon, but spotted her immediately already seated at a table beside the brick wall. She was wearing her usual uniform even though the day was hot and humid: long black pants and a white linen, long-sleeved blouse. As a concession to the weather, her sleeves were rolled up to her wrists. There was not a wrinkle anywhere, and she looked radiant. “Aren’t you hot?” I asked her.
“Of course I am. I’m dying! but you know that I do not show my upper arms or my legs. I am so fat! I jiggle all over, so I keep it all hidden. Ugh! You are so skinny! I really hate you. I wish I were skinny like you! I want the soup, but it’s so fattening! I think I’ll just have a side salad. No dressing.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Lorraine! You look beautiful as usual. And you are not fat! ” I explained truthfully. She wasn’t at all fat. In addition, Lorraine never just flew out of the house with hair in a rat’s nest and no make-up whatsoever. She was always put-together and elegant, her hair meticulously coiffed and make-up subtle and perfect. I looked down at my outfit: oversize overalls, torn and patched, and a tee shirt with a small hole at the shoulder. Chuck Taylor sneaks. No make up. Rat’s nest hair.
I sat down opposite her. I didn’t need to look at the menu as I knew what I wanted. “So tell me! What’s new with you? I haven’t seen you in ages,” I said.
Lorraine opened her mouth wide and pointed to her back teeth. “These are new. And expensive. I paid $25,467.00 for these teeth. Crazy!! I am so broke now. I have hardly a pot to pee in. But you know I didn’t have teeth back there for a long time. A person needs teeth! Frederick told me, ‘Lorraine, I don’t care how much it costs.Get some teeth!” I couldn’t chew anything, you know. I lived on wine and milk shakes. You would have thought I would have lost weight! But my luck, I actually put on five pounds. I don’t understand how that happened, you know?”
Just then Kathy, the new owner, approached the table, said hello, and asked if we were ready to order. I ordered my usual cup of Hungarian mushroom soup. Lorraine checked the menu and exclaimed, “I have to have the soup! And while I am at it can I have a large salad with extra blue cheese dressing? On the side, please! And iced tea with Sweet and Low. Oh, and by the way, do you have any cake today? Save me a piece.”
She looked up at me with a guilty look on her face. “It’s just that I had to do without for so long before I got my implants! A teeny bit of cake can’t hurt, can it?”
I shook my head. “Of course not.” How are things with you and Frederick?”
“Oh he’s the sweetest man! Really! I love him so much. It’s just his stuff. Honestly, I have barely enough room for my own things, and he wants to fill a closet with his raggedy shirts. I told him to put all his clothes in the trash because even Goodwill wouldn’t want them. I mean, I was just being honest after all.”
“Really? How did he react?” I asked.
“Well, first he went into the bathroom and closed the door. I could hear him sobbing in there, but didn’t want to embarrass him by interrupting, so I just started cramming those old faded shirts into a garbage bag. They had that old man smell on them. Ugh. And when he came out he just looked at the bulging garbage bag and went back into the bathroom, closed the door, and turned on the tap. I guess he just wanted to wash up to be sure there was no old man smell on him.”
Just then Teesa from Seven Sisters approached our table. We all hugged and air kissed. “Lorraine, I just wanted to tell you that we are having a show of Cheryl Keefer paintings and you had said you were interested.
“Thanks, Teesa,” Lorraine gushed. “I’ll be over just as soon as I stop by Visions of Creation to see June about that ring Frederick ordered for me. I told him not to, but you know Frederick. He’s so poor, but so generous.”
“Oh, Lorraine!” I said. “Poor Frederick! Won’t you let him keep any of his things?”
“Of course I will,” she answered. “Just as long as he burns all the old pictures of his first wedding. He has a few nice old things that we can squeeze into the apartment. I’m not sure what they are, but I’m sure there is something. And as soon as I have some money, I’ll buy him some much nicer shirts at Brooks Brothers’ next sale. I wouldn’t want my brothers to see him dressed like a beggar. I would never live it down. Our daddy was such an elegant man and he told me, ‘Lorraine, never wear torn underwear. You never know when you’ll have an accident and end up in the hospital. You wouldn’t want those nurses to see your nasty underwear and talk about you behind your back.’ Those are words to live by, and I’ll never forget them.”
“Wise words,” I repeated. The soup arrived at the table and was delicious, and I turned my attention to eating it. Lorraine dug in as well, eating the smallest bites and setting her spoon down at the edge of the plate between bites. “So did your father give you any other advice?” I asked her.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “He told me never to be seen with a man in a short-sleeved dress shirt. So blue-collar!!”
“Your daddy was a smart man,” I added. “Torn underwear and short-sleeved dress shirts should be outlawed. That’s what’s wrong with the world today. That and climate change.”
Lorraine nodded vigorously as she took the last bite of salad drenched in blue cheese dressing and gazed at the slab of cake Kathy had set in front of her. “I just hate climate change. But I love cake.”