In previous episodes, unemployed archivist Millie Marr brought home an oversized pork loin from the Bay City Food Pantry. With no place to store the frozen meat, she resolved to make a clandestine trip to the building’s ancient basement kitchen to either cut up or cook her unexpected bounty.
The Magdalena Arms at Night–Part 1
It was past midnight when Millie cautiously opened her studio door. The building had been exceptionally lively that evening, beginning with the buzz of voices from the garden that had kept the unemployed archivist company as she boiled up her first batch of mush. “For me, as an actress,” one of the garden group kept repeating in a carrying voice, while Millie stirred.
More salt, Millie wrote on her copy of Flora’s recipe. Maybe the Jernfelt clan had used the mush as a bed for their salt pork; the recipes of yesteryear were vague about so many details. Maybe some grilled onions? Millie’s pen hovered over the xeroxed recipe. What else would help? The mush she’d made was filling, yes, but disappointingly flavorless.
On second thought, she scratched out the grilled onions. The student of Bay City pioneer life decided to persevere in fidelity to the past over the more flavorful present. Hmmm…would it perhaps be possible to turn a chunk of her loin into a style of salt pork similar to the 19th century staple?
After she’d eaten, she researched recipes, then lay down on her couch-bed and read while she waited for night and quiet to fall. But it was hard to concentrate on Flora’s diary from 1872 (“half of wheat crop spoiled by hail; cousin George brought the headcheese”) with one ear cocked to the sounds of the other tenants. There was more running up and down stairs than usual. “Careful, don’t drop it!” she heard the landlady cry out, and someone responding in a phlegmy, throaty contralto, “Well, it weighs a ton—what’d she collect, iron ingots?” The door down the hall where the couple lived slammed loudly, and Millie heard the older one, the redhead with a pair of sharp eyes behind her cats-eye glasses, say, “Jackie don’t be that way,” before the door opened and closed again, this time more softly.
Finally, quiet fell; and then the deeper silence of lights clicking off, soft conversations dwindling down, eyes closing, the breath of two dozen people slowing. It felt to Millie like the whole building exhaled and settled to sleep, and she felt soothed by the tranquility, and at the same time exhilarated to be alert and awake in the slumbering night, mush in her stomach and a project in her head. She peered out her peephole, confirming the coast was clear, then picked up the bag with the pork loin and her other supplies. Switching off her light, she cracked her door—then closed it instantly. Out of the corner of her eye she’d spotted a hulking silhouette, rising out of the stairwell.
She applied her eye to the peephole again.
It was only Angelo, her cross-the-hall neighbor, who she’d observed earlier that day, on the receiving end of a dressing-down from their landlady.
It was a trick of the light that had made him loom so large. The slight young man with his round face under luxuriant dark hair coiffed in a Presley-style pompadour, shrank back to his usual size as he came down the hall, swaying slightly. He stood unsteadily, fumbling for his keys, and with some difficulty unlocked his door. After he disappeared inside, he pulled the door closed behind him a little too forcefully.
Angelo was…drunk? Where had he been drinking? With whom?
The why, Millie thought she knew, and it sobered her. Like her, Angelo was feeling the pandemic’s economic pinch. Maybe she should tell her neighbor about the Bay City Food Pantry? But Millie hated to stick her nose in other people’s affairs; for one thing, it opened you up to the same treatment, and advice, however well-intentioned, irked the independent girl. Part of her wanted to remind her neighbor in misfortune: Drinking isn’t going to make your money problems disappear! Yet on the other hand, who was she to tell the hairdresser how to manage his difficulties?
Millie waited a long moment, eye glued to the peephole, until she heard the bolt turn in the door across the hall. Then quickly, quietly, she picked up her heavy bag, eased out the door, carefully closing it behind her, and stole soundlessly down the stairs.
Next: Angelo’s Hangover
Despite his drinking, Angelo’s myriad problems refuse to be drowned in slumber, instead multiplying as the insomniac stylist’s anxious musings spins out of control–until they are dwarfed by an unexpected discovery!