99 Welcome Wagon

It was Memorial Day morning. Mrs. James had made no special plans for the day, just assuming that she’d have the girls, part of the reason on Saturday she’d wanted them to stockpile some library books. Memorial Day weather was usually iffy, at best; even a nice day could be quite variable, long experience had told her, making it hard to plan for anything outdoors. Then Greg had unexpectedly called her on Sunday evening to say that if she didn’t mind getting them packed up, he’d take them for Monday and return them to Georgia’s that evening. Gina wouldn’t be available. Mrs. James couldn’t help but think that Bert would be disappointed; perhaps she should let him know not to look for Gina to pick up the girls. Or maybe not. His interest in Gina was as transparent as the windows she and R.T. used to clean together, one on each side of the pane, rapping on the glass to indicate an imperfection, teasing about a non-existent smudge.

Chapter 99 Welcome Wagon

Greg didn’t explain to Mrs. James that he was doing some scheming of his own on hearing it slip in fits of giggles from Poppy and Pansy that on Monday, Gina was going to ‘old Mc’Steinhardt’s farm.’ He’d quickly approached Georgia to ask if she’d consider a get together with the girls and him, his treat of course, preferably something outdoorsy or at least active; they were turning into couch potatoes, and he’d like to nip that in the bud before school was out in a week or so. He was excessively proud that he’d accessed the school calendar online and was fully in the loop. During the long pause after he made this proposal, he scrambled for some specific ideas, kicking himself that he hadn’t researched this first, didn’t have a list of suggestions. Into the void, he threw out the first thing that came to mind.

“How about skating?” It was apropos at least but he still felt on thin ice. Pretending that he didn’t already know, he added, “And I’ll get them back to your house, if Gina wants a break on Monday evening.” So it was all arranged, except for locating available ice and gear for the ladies; his assistant, less than busy in the post-season, could find these for him. Maybe he wasn’t so useless a father, after all.

Mrs. James knew that Hans and Sebastian were making a long weekend of packing and painting, so not much company was available there unless she wished to join the crew, or offer to feed it. Lee, after her coup in persuading her Dad to allow in a party of ping-pong players on Saturday, was holed up cramming for her impending exams. Gertie was away with friends in Chicago for the whole weekend so no pressing cookbook work awaited. Gervase was off for the day. She turned to the cat for company but he was asleep, off in an un-interruptable routine of his own.

On a whim she decided to bake some cookies, testing a submitted but suspicious looking recipe, and take the results up to the new association member, a Mr. Thuss. Bachelors, as a type, generally ate anything so she had no compunction about this intrusion. She was the secretary after all, and had performed the same self-imposed duty for every previous move-in.

“Mr. Thuss?” she asked an hour later of the man inside the barely opened unit door. “Hello, my name is Mrs. James. I’m our building association secretary and I’ve brought you a Welcome Home gift.” Here she raised up a plate, calculating it into the still chained space between them, her offering still deliciously warm and bakery fragrant.

The subsequent rattle indicated her admittance to the Thuss sanctum. She’d never visited inside in the time of his predecessor and expected it would be similar to Bert and Gertie’s place, where she’d been spending more time of late. Even from the remoteness of the foyer, the feel and illumination of it was different, though she wasn’t free to stare. Instead, she politely looked at its new inhabitant standing brilliantly before her, clearly accustomed to adoration. He was stunning in his good looks. His voice, when he spoke, completed the picture. She could only about imagine what he might do for a living, what role secured a single, not yet middle-aged man a space like this.

Side by side penthouses, added to the rooftop of this warehouse conversion condo building.

Side by side penthouses, added to the rooftop of this warehouse conversion condo building.

“Why, thank you, Mrs. James. Home-made? How thoughtful! Won’t you come in for a moment?” He waved her to the nearest chair and stood nearby, setting down the offering on an upturned box. “As you see, my move-in is far from complete and I have only the rest of today to get the place in order.” Mrs. James felt she had rarely been so skillfully handled. She was tempted to wait for more and sat still for just a moment too long, pretending to have missed her cue.

“On behalf of the association, welcome to the Prospect on Prospect. We encourage all of our new residents to become active in our association. We have a smaller board of just three people, and welcome resident participation in our special committees. You, as a penthouse owner, have an opportunity to serve on the one regarding the construction proposed next door.” She smiled sweetly at his face, at his toothy, fixed disinterest. She estimated her exit would occur in less than a minute.”Perhaps when you are settled in,” and here she permitted herself a longer look at her surroundings, “you might contribute a favorite recipe for our cookbook, soon to be published with the generous help of your neighbors, my friends, the Steinhardt’s, just opposite.” Thus claiming his peers on the penthouse level as her equals, she stood up to go.

“Good-bye then, Mrs. James. So nice to meet you, and all our…my thanks for your delicious baking.” With this slip of his normally practiced tongue, a thousand absent and forgotten church ladies swooned in gratitude for his pittance of attention, instantly forgiving him any oversight of their constant efforts, unlike his own expedient ones, on behalf of congregants.

“Mr. Thuss.” Mrs. James swept past him out the door assuming a regal air, enjoying herself thoroughly at his expense, all the while realizing that the remainder of the day might prove a trifle flat.

  • * * * *

Kitty Doyle set out on Monday for the casino, any casino. Anything dark but not venomous, like the six o’clock in the morning stare-down, someplace human and full of sinners. Soon she hoped to be paid for devoutly looking for venues where people behaving like vipers, reptilian or poisonously philistine, would instead observe the miraculous; the miracles she’d been learning at Herbie’s side, or feet, or elbows, or whatever other of his sticky-out parts she’d tolerated his thrusting her way. Maybe Jesus had spent so much time with ordinary people just to get away from the sanctimonious prigs that permeated his last days, those scribes and pharisees nailing down points for their sides.

And lo and behold whom should she meet, alone and downcast just like a pre-repentant sinner should be, but her very own lost soul of a principal, Principal Sheer, the exemplar of poor decision making. He was drunk, and suitably morose. She ordered two drinks, doubles of his preferred adult beverage, and snaked into the booth beside him.

“Here, this one’s on me.” This never failed as a pick-up line.

“Oh,” came his slurry recognition, ”iz yu.”He slurped at the proffered glass.

“Come all the way, just to see you.” Kitty had been Herbie’s victim for nearly a week. She was so ready to dish.