Peter climbed the steps to the second floor where his empty apartment was located across the hall from Lorraine’s. All his stuff had been either sold at a summer yard sale or had been dragged out to his backyard Prepper’s Paradise. He maintained the apartment so the landlord wouldn’t evict him from the back yard. So far it had worked. He thought for a second about entering his own apartment for which he still paid rent, but was not enthusiastic about curling up on the hard, wood floor. The thought of Lorraine’s plush, upholstered furniture lured him like Odysseus’s sirens.
He knocked softly at her door, and was surprised to find the door ajar. As it swung open, he called her name, but received no answer. He thought she must have stepped out for a minute, as the dog was also absent and the leash, which normally hung on a hook beside the door, was missing. She wouldn’t mind if he let himself in. Hadn’t she invited him in once before for Christmas brunch?
He entered the living room and crossed to the small, tidy kitchen. He opened her refrigerator to place the Buchi inside, and was transfixed by what he saw. He felt like Ali Baba first glancing into the cave full of treasure. He had been accustomed over the past half year to getting by on water from the hose spigot, crushed acorn bread burnt to a crisp on his wood fire, squirrel stew, and whatever he could retrieve from the dumpster behind Ingles. Here he saw a plump roasted chicken with just a small section already eaten, fresh strawberries, French cheeses, butter, whole milk, heavy cream, a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, salad vegetables, and a huge, green bunch of Kale. Also there was a Hopey’s container of tuna salad, and another or pimento cheese. On the cutting board beside the frig was a loaf of crusty white bread. He lifted the loaf to his nose and was surprised at how light it felt, compared to his rough acorn bread. He breathed in the aroma and almost swooned.
Peter staggered to the couch, his knees wobbly. His head was spinning as a result of the food fantasies he was experiencing and the heat in the room. He dropped onto the chintz-covered couch, resting his head against the back cushions. Before much time had passed, he dozed off and was lying limply against the sofa, snoring softly.
In what felt like seconds later, he awoke with a start to the sounds of a small dog yapping and a woman screaming. “Oh my God! Oh my God!!! What in the world are you doing here??? And look at the schmutz on my upholstery! How will I ever get that grease off these cushions?” Lorraine yelled rhetorically. Suki was barking herself into a seizure.
Peter rubbed his eyes and noticed that his hands were indeed grimy. He looked down at the seat and saw black smudges on the cushions where his hands had rested. He looked up at Lorraine guiltily. “Ohhhhh. Sorry. I was just stopping by to…”
“Just stopping by? What do you mean. I’d call this breaking, entering, and dirtying. How did you get in here, anyway?”
Peter looked sheepish. Just because he was a Doomsday Prepper didn’t mean he had been raised by wolves. His parents were fanatics about good manners, and meal times had been a battle ground between Peter and his siblings vs his parents. The more the parents stressed table manners, the closer the children’s faces came to their dishes until it looked as if the children were lapping their food directly from their plates like animals. This continued until their father would say, “If you can’t eat at the table appropriately, you can’t eat at the table.”
The children would be expelled from the dining room and moved to the kitchen table, where they would resume eating without their parents gaze upon them. Predictably their manners were restored to them and they ate like little ladies and gentlemen. Peter knew appropriate behavior and knew he had crossed the line when he entered the apartment without an invitation. “I am so sorry! The door was ajar and when I knocked it flew all the way open. I don’t mean any harm!” he stammered.
“Well you scared me half to death! Suki and I were just taking a walk, and when I came back and saw the door wide open, I was terrified. Then I saw the back of your big, dirty head on my couch. You might have been a rapist! What was I to think?” Lorraine asked.
“It was so cold out there in the yard, and it was beginning to snow again, and I just wanted to come in for a while and warm up. I was so cold…” Peter’s voice choked and it looked as if he were going to cry.
Lorraine had just seen a video on Facebook that had brought her to tears. It showed a young boy in New York City standing outside on a five degree day wearing just a tee shirt and bearing a sign begging for help. According to the post, he stood there for two solid hours before anyone reached out to help him. A kind Black man gave the boy his coat and tried to comfort him. Lorraine couldn’t watch the rest of the video because it was too painful. She asked herself how people could be so unfeeling that they could ignore a child who was literally freezing to death. And yet, here was this strange but human person right in front of her. Was she going to turn her back on him and send him back into the bitter cold? Was she no better than those cold New Yorkers? It was freezing cold outside and she was chilled to the bone from just a short dog-walk. Imagine living out there!
Lorraine felt herself softening. “Well, I guess the damage is done and you have already made a mess of my sofa. You might as well join me in a Hot Buttered Rum.”