Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode IX

In our last episode, Lois, Pam, and Dolly found Mrs. DeWitt’s will while cleaning her apartment — and discovered that their beloved landlady had a daughter no one knew about. The flabbergasted trio begin to speculate as to when and where Mrs. DeWitt produced the mysterious Gertrude DeWitt.

Missed the earlier episodes? You can find them all here (in reverse order) Or start from the beginning with Episode I and use the “next” button at the top the screen to move between episodes.

Missing Heiress

Dolly burst into the hallway, will in hand, Lois and Pam six feet behind. She couldn’t stay in the stuffy parlor a second longer—the flood of emotions had her spinning like a whirligig. She wanted simultaneously to shout the news from the housetop and to rush down to the sub-basement storeroom and tear off the rest of the molding as an outlet for her astonished joy. Mrs. DeWitt had a daughter! Dolly’s heart twanged with new hope. Somewhere, there was a younger version of Harriet, waiting to be found. There could be no better bequest than this living, breathing descendant, no, not even the walnut bedroom set and bust of Shakespeare Mrs. DeWitt had left her!

“I bet this was why her family kicked her out!” Dolly exclaimed.

“Or did it happen during her wild years in Berlin?” Pamela asked, evidently following her own train of thought.

“When did she reunite with Mrs. Payne-Putney and get put in charge of the Magdalena Arms?” Lois demanded. “Does anyone know?”

All the tenants had heard stories of Mrs. DeWitt’s colorful past; how she was cast out from her wealthy family, the years working as a chanteuse in Berlin nightclubs, her more genteel association with the Bay City Shakespeare Company, and the boarding school friendship with Lily LaPorte (later Mrs. Payne-Putney) that had led to the establishment of the Magdalena Arms.

The had all listened to their landlady’s burbling stream of reminiscence with half an ear. Now it was too late to ask questions, to fill in the gaps, or untangle contradictions. “How on earth are we going to find this person?” Lois broke the silence that had fallen as the three women pondered Mrs. DeWitt’s hazy history.

“We’ll hire a detective,” Pam began in her old take-charge way, then paused, “except, I’m not sure if they’re essential workers.”

Dolly smacked her fist into her other hand. “Listen! We don’t need to hire any private dicks, essential or not! We’ve got a whole houseful of brainy girls just twiddling their thumbs!” Before either Lois or Pamela could stop her, she strode to the back-hall doorway, where the old-fashioned breakfast gong still hung, and sounded it with a quick clang-clang-clang that echoed through the building.

“Dolly no!” Lois exclaimed. “No large gatherings!” She tugged at Pamela. “I think we’d better be going!”

But Pamela wasn’t paying attention. She was staring, mesmerized, over Dolly’s shoulder. Lois gasped and clapped a hand to her masked mouth. Dolly swung around to see Lon, who’d evidently just emerged from Angelo’s hair salon. Lon’s stylish, close-cropped head made it plain what they’d been up to! Behind them was Angelo, key in hand as he turned to lock the salon door.  At the sight of his unexpected audience, he froze.

Next: The Magdalena Girls Rally ’round

Finding a missing heir is just the sort of puzzle the tenants need to distract them from their pandemic woes, but is there more serious trouble secreted in one of the small apartments — something more basic than boredom, anxiety, depression, irritability, rebelliousness and a mad desire to break free of all strictures? Is someone at the Magdalena Arms going hungry?

Tune in every Friday (or even oftener) for a new episode!

Find all the previous episodes here; or start reading from the first episode.

Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode VIII

In our last episode, Lois and Dolly clashed on what to keep from Mrs. DeWitt’s overstuffed apartment. Disturbed by Pamela’s strange lethargy, Dolly retreats to Mrs. DeWitt’s bedroom.

Missed the earlier episodes? You can find them all here (in reverse order) Or start from the beginning with Episode I and use the “next” button at the top the screen to move between episodes.

A Shocking Secret

Did she want Mrs. DeWitt’s old Theatre Guild Award? Dolly felt confused by the inchoate emotions sloshing around inside her, like water in a bathtub. Part of her wanted to treasure all that Mrs. DeWitt had treasured; but she knew if she took even half the mementos she she felt she ought to save, the one-bedroom she shared with Kay would be so clogged that even her even-tempered girlfriend would call halt.

The important thing is my memories, not a lot of junk, she lectured herself as she attacked Mrs. DeWitt’s walnut wardrobe. Swiftly she emptied a drawer of socks and underwear into the discard box. No one would want Mrs. DeWitt’s worn out hose and old-fashioned lingerie. 

Unless–maybe this antique corset was old enough to be valuable? Could Jackie use it for a theatrical costume? Dolly fished it out and laid it on the bed. 

Then she turned to the hanging garrments. Mrs. DeWitt had an enormous selection of dressing gowns, her preferred garb, day or night. The rose wool with the hem coming down went into the discards, but Dolly hesitated over the watered maroon silk with the mink collar, before dropping it in the giveaway box. But what should she do with the quilted lilac silk that had been Mrs. DeWitt’s favorite? Surely that was memento-worthy, even with the staining on the lapel? And look, there were the lilac lounging pajamas! Dolly had never realized they matched the quilted dressing gown–Mrs. DeWitt had always paired the pajamas with a wool sweater.

Overwhelmed again, Dolly sank down on the bed. Why was she stewing over these schmattes? Mrs. DeWitt didn’t care about clothes; her head was in the clouds, on her poetry, on her girls, on the Magdalena Arms. What was that poem she used to quote? 

Oh the something something go on
To their haven under the hill
But O for the touch of that vanished hand, 
And the sound of a voice that is–

“Dolly! Come here a minute!” Lois’s voice from the other room was urgent. Dolly heaved herself off the bed, leaving the lilac lounging pajamas in a heap.

Lois and Pam were clustered around the rolltop desk under the window. The rolltop was rolled up, and the deep drawer to the left of the kneehole was open. Lois had evidently emptied it of papers, sorting them into piles on the desktop. Dolly recognized one pile as Mrs. DeWitt’s handwritten compositions, her scraps of verse and philosophical musings. But Lois was holding up a typewritten document.

“Look at this!”

Gingerly Dolly took it from the tips of Lois’s fingertips, and read out loud, “‘I, Harriet DeWitt, sometimes known as Trudi Frisch, as Madame d’Esprit, as Hattie White, domiciled in Bay City, being of sound mind and memory do hereby declare…'” she looked up. “Mrs. DeWitt made a will? I guess we’d better call Janet.” Well, this meant putting off the giving away part of the clean out! 

“Look at the bequests,” said Pamela. 

Dolly skimmed down the page, thick with the names of tenants past and present. “She made me executrix,” she said, feeling flattered and bereft all at once.

“The last bequest,” Pamela urged, and Lois added, “It’s three-quarters of the way down.” 

…the remaining manuscripts, after all other bequests have been made, together with all copyrights; likewise my journals and correspondence, I leave to my daughter, christened Gertrude DeWitt, if she can be found.

Dolly looked up at Lois and Pam, open-mouthed, utterly dumbstruck.

“So, even you didn’t know Mrs. DeWitt had a daughter?” Pam demanded.

Next: Scandal at the Arms

Dolly rallies the Magdalena Arms tenants to join the hunt for Mrs. DeWitt’s mysterious daughter and inadvertently uncovers a serious health code violation!

Check back often this weekend for bonus episodes! We’re posting once or twice a day in honor of LGBTQ+ Pride.

Find all the previous episodes here; or start reading from the first episode.

Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode VII

Missed the earlier episodes? You can find them all here (in reverse order) Or start from the beginning with Episode I and use the “next” button at the top the screen to move between episodes.

In our previous episodes, nervous Lois and newly-shorn Pam have arrived to help Dolly clean out dead Mrs. DeWitt’s apartment. Health code conscious Lois has sent the more casual Dolly to retrieve her mask while she and her depressed girlfriend begin the sorting process.

Sorting Spat

Back in Mrs. De Witt’s rooms, Lois and Pam were hard at work. With her usual organizational acumen, Lois had set Pam to sorting figurines and framed photos into separate boxes, while she stacked scrapbooks and clippings on the carved walnut breakfront that stood against one wall.  She’d clustered the potted ferns in front of one of the whatnots and it was marginally easier to move through Mrs. DeWitt’s salon, as the deceased had referred to it. 

“What should I do?” Dolly queried. 

“Why don’t you tackle Mrs. DeWitt’s wardrobe?” Lois asked. “We’re sorting everything into three piles: discards, charity, and possible mementos or items of value.” She gestured at the already full box of figurines. “I thought we’d put those in the hall for the girls to look through and take what they want.” 

Dolly glanced at the box and stiffened. “That’s her Theatre Guild award,” she pointed at a gold statuette of a woman in grecian robes holding a lamp. “You think anybody should just grab it?” Her hackles rose at the idea.

“Well–no, not if you want it–“

“I don’t want it, but—” Dolly’s eyes fell on a stack of old theater programs. “What, you’re putting her old shows into the discard pile?” Her voice rose.

“We didn’t think anyone would be interested—”

“That’s her history!” Dolly flung her arms out.

“Nothing’s set in stone,” Lois said, her patience wearing thin. “These are just piles, Dolly. Would you rather Pam and I came back another day?”

“Don’t get me wrong,” Dolly tried to rein in her irritation. “I appreciate you’re coming over and helping. But there’s not such a rush to clear out that we need to throw every memento into the trash!”

Lois stiffened at the criticism. “I’m not throwing everything into the trash, Dolly, I’m simply applying the scientific sorting techniques I’ve developed in years of managing the paperwork left over from hundreds of ad campaigns! In my experience, the more you brood over decisions—”

“I’m not saying we should brood, I just want a little—a little—”

“Girls, calm down.” Pamela, who’d been standing by lethargically, holding the disputed theater guild award, roused herself at last. “There’s no need to turn a simple cleaning session into World War III. We’ll just leave the piles as is. Dolly can decide what to do with them.”

Why, she doesn’t even care, Dolly realized. Pamela seemed to be in another world. 

“I’m only here to help Dolly,” Lois said huffily. “If she’s not interested in my expertise…”

“Of course I am, Lois,” Dolly caved. She could never stay mad long. “I’m sorry I got a little bent out of shape. It’s just…shouldn’t we put a little thought into this, and not go putting everything up for grabs or in the trash like so much junk?”

“I never meant to treat Mrs. DeWitt’s treasures like junk,” Lois said earnestly. “But with the price of storage space what it is today, there simply has to be some judicious sifting for what’s truly worth saving!”

Pam had absentmindedly set the golden theater trophy on top of the programs. Her eyes stared unseeingly into the distance. If Dolly hadn’t known Pamela’s was violently opposed to drug use, she would have suspected the erstwhile retailer was nodding off on dope!

“Pam, are you feeling all right?” She asked.

“Who, me?” Pam’s eyes focused again. “I’m fine.” But she turned in a circle, as if she’d lost her way. “So…we’re sorting still?”

“Yes,” said Dolly, staring. “Let’s keep sorting.”

“Pam, you can keep working on that whatnot,” Lois instructed her older girlfriend as if Pam was a small child.

Dolly wished she could pull Lois aside, whisper in her ear, “What’s up with Pam?” but the masks, the distance…the smallest social exchange seemed impossibly difficult suddenly. Just thinking about it overwhelmed the normally lively landlady.

“I guess I’ll have a go at Mrs. DeWitt’s wardrobe,” she muttered, picking up a box.

Next: A Shocking Secret!

As Lois, Pam, and Dolly sift through the detritus of their ex-landlady’s life, they make a startling discovery that has unexpected consequences for all the Magdalena Arms girls!

Check back often this weekend for bonus episodes! We’re posting once or twice a day in honor of LGBTQ+ Pride.

Find all the previous episodes here; or start reading from the first episode.

Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode VI

Quarantine Lunch à Deux

Entering the basement kitchen in search of her missing mask, Dolly surprised Laura and Phyllis, seated at opposite ends of the long table where Dolly had once kneaded dough for her sticky buns, mixed up waffle batter, or chopped green peppers and ham for omelets, making the hearty breakfasts the Magdalena Arms was famous for.

The communal breakfasts were now a distant memory. And a good thing, too, Dolly reminded herself. It certainly would have been awkward, feeding her boarders buffet style, given the new health requirements!

The two Bay City civil servants started guiltily at Dolly’s entrance, as if their landlady had interrupted them in a clinch rather than munching sandwiches two yards away from each other.

“Hello!” she greeted them. “Just getting my mask. Don’t let me interrupt your lunch date.”

“Oh, we’re not on a lunch date!” said Phyllis.

“That is, we’re having lunch,” clarified Laura, as if to explain the half-eaten sandwich in front of her. “But, we just came down here to…escape our apartments.”

“Yes, we both had the same idea, but it wasn’t planned,” said Phyllis, who planned her life down to the second. 

“Two minds, with but a single thought,” murmured Dolly, as she rummaged around the kitchen sink, trying to remember where she’d left her mask. The last thing she wanted to do was interrupt this promising tête-à-tête!

The romance between the serious statistician and her sociologist soul-mate had been simmering for so long that if love was coffee, theirs would be sludge by now. First Phyllis was recovering from a failed fling with a two-timing supervisor; then Laura was finishing her masters while working full time. “We must help Laura stay focused,” Phyllis had repeated to the Magdalena Arms girls, but it was clear she was talking to herself. 

Everyone thought the frustrated romance would finally burst into bloom after Laura’s degree was conferred, but another obstacle arose: Laura was offered a plum job at the Bay City Planning Department–where Phyllis was Assistant Zoning Manager. Even though Laura didn’t actually report to Phyllis, both Bay City bureaucrats were too ethical to embark on an office romance that might be misconstrued.

At the time, Dolly had asked Laura, “What about that other job offer, to be policy analyst at the whatsamajigger?”

“The Urban Institute? I’ve thought about it,” Laura admitted. “It would be more interesting, in some ways, but the benefits of working in Bay City bureaucracy can’t be beat!”

“Aren’t there other advantages to working at the Urban Institute?” Dolly pushed.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Laura parried.

“Well, you wouldn’t have any qualms about dating Phyllis, for one,” said Dolly bluntly.

“Who says she wants to date me?” Laura asked, nervously smoothing her hair into the tidy chignon she’d worn back then. “She thinks of me as a protege, not a dating prospect!”

“Oh Laura, you’d be a catch for any girl in the Arms!” Dolly protested.

It had often astounded the veteran landlady that attractive, accomplished Laura had fallen for the single-minded statistician.

“So is Phyllis,” Laura retorted. “I know you and your gang think of her as nothing more than a fussy bureaucrat, but in our profession she’s got quite a reputation–why, no one can make a chart do the things Phyllis can! I feel fortunate that she’s given me so much of her time and advice over the years. And I’m sure,” she added as Dolly tried to interrupt, “That it has more to do with her sense of — of noblesse oblige to the next generation of civil servants, than anything else.”

Dolly had given up trying to interfere, hoping that her two mixed-up tenants would manage their love lives without her help. But instead she’d watched the two fall further into a muddle of misunderstanding.

It was at the party celebrating Laura’s degree and job offer. The Arms’s lounge had been packed. There’d been cake and champagne; toasts and impromptu dancing. At the end of the evening, as the crowd thinned, Laura and Phyllis, with one instinct, had moved to the buffet table to tidy.

“So you really think the planning department job is…is right for me?” Dolly heard Laura ask Phyllis. The landlady peered around a pillar and saw that Laura was looking down as she asked the seemingly casual question, apparently focused on fitting the remains of her “Happy Graduation” cake into a too-small tupperware container.

“Well, of course!” Phyllis exclaimed, vehemently. The statistician was sweeping energetically around the buffet table. “You’ll be wonderful at it!” For a moment she slowed her vigorous sweeping and stole a glance at the younger girl, “Why do you ask? Do you have any…reservations?” 

“Not about the job, per se…” Laura carefully concentrated on fitting the tupperware lid over the cake.

“Because you’re perfect for it!” Phyllis attacked the crumbs under the table again. 

“I was just thinking, won’t it be…be…”Laura groped for the next word before finishing “odd to be working in the same department?”

“You mean, with me?” Phyllis seemed taken aback. Then she began sweeping so hard Dolly feared for the broom. “I can assure you–“

“Not odd, that’s not what I meant–“

“I will be completely professional. No one will even know we’re–we’re acquainted.”

“Well, of course, I would expect nothing less,” Laura busied herself brushing crumbs off the table onto the newly swept floor. “I’ll be the same.”

“You’ll have free rein to make your own–connections. Professional, collegial I mean.”

“I won’t get in your way either,” Laura said briskly.

At which point Dolly had intervened, sending Laura to say good night to a cluster of departing guests, and taking the battered broom away from Phyllis. But the damage had been done. Even after Laura transferred to the Housing Department, relations between her and Phyllis had stayed cooly professional–especially when Laura took up with a nurse friend of Beverly’s.

The pandemic had been both a blessing and a curse. The crisis had acted on the two women’s feelings like spring on frozen sap; but what was the next move? Phyllis and Laura had never been clever about closing the distance between them–how could they possibly manage when six feet was mandated by health department order? 

Now Laura broke the awkward silence while Dolly hunted for her mask. “We heard the front door buzzer,” she said. “Another package?”

Since the shutdown, the influx of packages had increased to the point that Dolly had left all of the Arms inmates know she could not be expected to answer the door every time a delivery person rang, and that if they wanted their packages, they’d better keep an ear peeled.

“No, it was just Pam and Lois. They’ve come to help clean out Mrs. DeWitt’s–aha!” She spotted her mask, made from an old flower-sprigged sheet, dangling from the antenna of an ancient radio on top of the refrigerator, and whisked it on. “Ta ta, you two.”

Behind her she heard the sound of chairs scraped back. 

“I should be getting back to work.” 

“Me too. Thank you for sending me the link to the Iceland study’s raw data. The model that they used…” 

Dolly rolled her eyes as she climbed the stairs. She’d considered trapping the pair together on the elevator, disabling it between floors and pretending it had broken. But what good would it do? No matter how many hours she left Phyllis and Laura penned up together, she’d open the elevator doors only to find them maintaining as much distance as possible and discussing statistical models. 

Dolly sighed as she thumped upstairs. Hadn’t the pandemic taught those two that life was too short to be spent pussyfooting around with statistics while suppressing their true desires?

Next: A Sorting Spat

Lois and Dolly quarrel over the disposal of Mrs. DeWitt’s detritus, and Dolly worries about Pam’s strange lethargy.

Tune in every Friday for a new episode! (or maybe even oftener! Always depending on the author’s unpredictable schedule!)

Find all the previous episodes here; or start reading from the first episode.

Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode V

Dolly in Mourning

Dolly stood just inside the door to Mrs. DeWitt’s suite of rooms on the first floor, hands on her coverall-covered hips. The prospect before her was a daunting one.

The sitting room was stuffed with armchairs and sofas, nested walnut side tables, and overgrown ferns in brass pots balanced on top of rickety stands. There were walnut whatnots in every corner, their shelves loaded with figurines, crystal decanters, old packs of playing cards, vases of swizzle sticks, or piles of poker chips.

But worse than the chaotic collection of curios to be sorted and disposed was the intangible heaviness that weighed Dolly down, the sadness that squeezed her heart. A melancholy seemed to rise from the room and wrap itself about her like a heavy, damp turkish towel.

Dolly squared her shoulders. She mustn’t let herself be immobilized by her grief. Action—action was what she needed. 

And light! She’d go blind if she tried to work in this dimness. 

“Musta been terrible for Harriet’s eyes,” she muttered as she squeezed between a loveseat and a low teak tea table, then skirted a brass-bound trunk and circumnavigated a small statue of Shakespeare. Finally reaching the front windows, she stretched over a rolltop desk to yank apart the dusty velvet drapes. Sunlight fell in a swath over the room, illuminating piles of magazines and books. Dust motes danced in the air.

Lord knows Dolly had loved Mrs. DeWitt like a mother, but there were no two ways about it—the Magdalena Arms’ Landlady Emerita had been a pack-rat.

A buzzer sounded and Dolly maneuvered her way back to the door, and pushed the button to unlatch the front entrance for her visitors. She stepped into the hall and watched as Lois and Pam came in and let the heavy double doors with their elaborate brass grille swing closed behind them. The pair paused inside the entrance.

“Pam! Your hair!” Dolly exclaimed.

The redhead self-consciously smoothed her head. She was shorn as close as a spring lamb. “Lois did it.” 

Pam seemed subdued to Dolly, or maybe it was just that she was muffled by her mask. The usually modish merchandiser was dressed like a dockworker, in old jeans and a worn men’s shirt of blue chambray. A white t-shirt peeked out at her throat, and the rolled-up sleeves revealed her swelling biceps.

“I’d forgotten how well you butch up,” Dolly said approvingly.

“I didn’t mean for it to be quite so short,” Lois explained. “But I kept trying to even it out, and suddenly there just wasn’t much left!”

Pam glanced wistfully at Angelo’s hair salon.

“I like it,” Dolly reassured her old friend. “If Gruneman’s could see you now!” 

It was the wrong thing to say. Pam’s whole frame seemed to droop.

“Dolly, where’s your mask?” Lois demanded.

“Down in the kitchen, I think,” Dolly replied. “Can’t we just stay six feet apart?”

“Go get it,” Lois ordered. “We want to help, but we simply must follow the health department’s guidelines!” 

It was Lois who’d decreed a two-week decontamination period before anyone even entered Mrs. DeWitt’s former apartment. Now she handed Pam a pair of latex gloves before donning her own. 

There was no point arguing with the adamant office manager. “Well…I guess you two can go ahead in and get started, if you want, while I mask up. There are empty boxes inside the door, for sorting.”

And Dolly took her time descending to the basement kitchen. She had to admit, she didn’t mind delaying the mournful task. 

When Mrs. DeWitt’s old apartment was cleaned out and rented to someone new, Dolly’s beloved friend would be really gone. Gone for good.

Lunch à Deux

Dolly interrupts a lunchtime tête-à-tête between civil servant tenants Laura and Phyllis and recalls the multiple misunderstandings that have muddied the course of true love for the otherwise consummately compatible couple. Will she go through with her impetuous scheme to trap the misguided twosome together in a malfunctioning elevator? Or is there a better way to wake up the pining pair?

Tune in every Friday for a new episode! (or maybe even oftener! Always depending on the author’s unpredictable schedule!)

Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode IV

Missed the earlier episodes? You can find them all here. They’re in reverse order until our overworked IT staff fixes this minor frustration, but if you can count, you can figure out which episode to read first, second, third, etc.

Love in a Time of Pandemic

As Phyllis stepped onto the third floor landing, she automatically glanced down the hallway and the three shut doors that lined it.

As if on cue, the door to Apartment 401 swung open and Laura stepped out.

Phyllis caught her breath at the sight of her downstairs neighbor. Had there ever been a more attractive Assistant to the Head of Public Housing?

Like Phyllis, Laura followed a regular routine, dressing each morning with her usual care, eating at her regular times, and had confided to Phyllis that it was her strict rule not to read any news after 9 p.m. In a dozen small ways she projected an air of serenity Phyllis found admirable. 

And unlike Phyllis, who had years ago abandoned the fight to stay fashionable for a utilitarian uniform in shades of gray and tan, Laura brightened the windowless hallway in a gayly printed tunic.

Earlier that morning, Phyllis had attended a zoom meeting along with Laura. Although she’d tried to focus on the charts the  Emergency Operations Committee were sharing, she couldn’t help but be distracted by her comely colleague. Freed from the confines of the computer screen, the flesh and blood Laura was doubly distracting. The oranges and yellows of her tunic were more vivid, the snug black leotards that encased her lithe legs a delicious detail Phyllis had missed in the online environment. The grainy quality of a Zoom video didn’t do justice to Laura’s warm complexion or the gold flecks in her dark eyes; and the square window had cut off the attractive afro that now framed the Housing Assistant’s face. Laura had recently gone natural, and Phyllis secretly thought the current trend was wildly becoming to her neighbor. 

All in all, Laura six feet away was ten times more vibrant than computer Laura. Phyllis wondered if she should recalibrate her laptop’s color settings.

“Phyllis!” Laura’s preoccupied frown turned into a wide smile. “Going downstairs for lunch?”

Phyllis had developed the habit of taking her lunch to the unused basement kitchen to eat. It helped her feel less confined.

And she often ran into Laura, doing the same thing.

Phyllis nodded. “You too?”

Laura sighed. “I need to get out of my room and move my body before the next meeting.” She circled her shoulders and rotated her head. “Sitting so long—”

“I could—” Phyllis stopped and blushed. 

“What?” 

“I was going to—that is, I wish I could give you a-a neck rub.” The social scientist laughed self-consciously. “But of course…”

“I wish you could too!” said Laura fervently.

The two women swayed towards each other, as if magnetized, and then immediately drew back. 

“Maybe in the lounge you could find one of those wooden balls on a stick, you know for rubbing out the kinks.” Phyllis stuttered, “I-I mean, muscle kinks.”

“Of course,” said Laura, politely. The two stood in a standoff until Phyllis realized that she was blocking Laura’s path.

“Oh, sorry!” she scrambled down the stairs.

“Don’t worry about it!” Laura followed, keeping six feet between herself and Phyllis’s dishwater blond head.

Next: Dolly in Mourning

The usually upbeat landlady must confront the reality of Mrs. DeWitt’s death as she begins to clean out her beloved predecessor’s empty apartment. Will Dolly’s stiff upper lip wilt before the chaotic collection of memories?

Enjoy this bonus “Humpday” episode and tune in every Friday for the latest installment!

Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode III

Missed the earlier episodes? You can find them all here. They’re in reverse order until our overworked IT staff fixes this minor frustration, but if you can count, you can figure out which episode to read first, second, third, etc.

Irregular Hours, continued

It was almost noon when Phyllis closed her computer.  Getting up from her desk with a sigh, she conscientiously went through a series of stretches designed for the sedentary office worker: she rolled her head from side to side, shrugged her shoulders, clasped her hands behind her arched back, bent forward, backward, sideways. 

From her spot on Phyllis’s bed Maxie watched with interest. When Phyllis stood upright again, breathing hard from her exertion, Maxie asked, “Is that the same workout as yesterday?”

“Yes it is. It’s important to follow a regular routine in these irregular times,” Phyllis glanced at her wristwatch. “For example, now It’s time for lunch.” 

“I’ve just finished breakfast,” said Maxie.

Phyllis refrained from comment as she went to her icebox and pulled out the day’s lunch, already prepared and labeled Tuesday. She’d long ago learned that Maxie just couldn’t follow a regular schedule. It was a waste of breath to try to make her understand the many benefits of routine.

Maxie got up and slid her feet into a pair of marabou-feathered mules as Phyllis opened her door, then followed the statistician into the hall. Across the way Kay was playing “Lush Life,” the clarinet mournfully dreaming about the very gay places. 

Phyllis turned right towards the stairs. Maxie followed. Phyllis moved faster, widening the gap. Maxie sped up, closing it. “Maxie!” Phyllis held up a warning hand. “Six feet!” 

Maxie slowed obediently, but complained, “Oh Phyllis, we’re practically co-contaminants! Shouldn’t we just think of everyone in the Arms as family?” 

“Maxie, I’ve explained,” Phyllis began with threadbare patience, but Maxie backed down. 

“All right, all right. You don’t have to go into that guff about large groups again.”

“It’s not guff!” Phyllis said hotly. Nothing incensed the statistician more than lack of respect for data. “Honestly Maxie, you must take this pandemic and the health protocols more seriously. If you don’t, I’m not sure I want you visiting me in my room, even with the six foot rule and washing your hands first.”

“Oh please, Phyllis,” Instinctively Maxie stepped forward and then caught herself and retreated. “Don’t cut me off! The lack of company is giving me the heebee-jeebees!”

Phyllis was standing on the landing between the fourth and fifth floor, and Maxie was on the flight above. Speaking as quietly as she could and still have her voice carry, Phyllis asked, “But you’ve got Lon for company. Or are you two having…difficulties, again?”

Maxie shrugged. “Not so’s you’d notice. But Lon hates being cooped up even more than I do,” she wasn’t sure the serious scientist could understand how confinement, even with a long-time lover, affected the intensely secretive student of sea creatures. “They’re used to having a whole ocean to roam and being alone on a boat for weeks at a time.” As Phyllis still appeared unconvinced, Maxie fibbed, “I think they’re having flashbacks to that stint in prison back in 1964, so I’m trying to give them space. That’s why I’ve been visiting so much.”

“Well,” Phyllis relented. “I guess we can continue as we’ve been doing. If you take precautions.” She began to descend the stairs again, then turned around, struck by an idea. “Perhaps we should take our temperatures each morning?” 

“Whatever you say,” Maxie agreed. Now was not the time to remind Phyllis of the Iceland study and the possibility of asymptomatic contagion.

She waited dutifully until Phyllis had left the landing, before descending the rest of the flight and letting herself into her fourth floor loft, which her friend’s had nicknamed “Maxie’s manse.”

“Hellooooo?” she called. Her mules clacked as she crossed the polished marquetry floor of the entryway and then were muffled by the turkish rugs that layered the living area. She tapped on the door to the spartan room she thought of as ‘Lon’s little hidey-hole.’ “Lon?”

After a moment she opened the door. The single bed against the wall was neatly made up, the bedclothes pulled tight enough to bounce a quarter. The orange crate next to it held an alarm clock, cigarettes, a paperback book. Lon’s standard equipment. 

Briefly, Maxie debated poking into Lon’s armoire, to aid her speculations about where her lover had gone and what they might be up to. But instead she backed out and closed the door. 

It was better not to know. Then she wouldn’t have to lie to Phyllis.

Next: Phyllis’s Weak Spot

The serious statistician is tempted to break the very health protocols she advocates when it comes to luscious downstairs neighbor Laura! How long can she repress her unsettling impulse to close the distance between them?

Tune in every Friday for a new episode! (or maybe even oftener!)