Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode IV

Missed the earlier episodes? You can find them all here.

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!

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