Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode XIX

Previously: Tension mounted between unemployed actress Jackie and her business-minded girlfriend over Ramona’s private plans to expand her cannabis business; Millie took her pork loin to the unused basement kitchen for some clandestine cooking, only to encounter the enigmatic Lon; the hungover haircutter, Angelo, went searching for aspirin and discovered nurse Beverly, suddenly sick with the dread flu; this sparked an impromptu emergency meeting with landlady Dolly and clarinetist Kay that grew to include first Lon and then Jackie. What was Jackie doing up anyway? Let’s find out!

Missed the earlier episodes? You can find them all hereOr start from the beginning with Episode I and use the “next” button at the top the screen to move between episodes.

Jackie

Jackie woke up when Ramona slid out of bed, but she lay still and made her breathing slow and regular. She was curled on her side with her back to Ramona, and she listened to the soft sounds Ramona made, seeing, in her mind’s eye, her girlfriend feeling for her slippers and shrugging on her maroon and red striped bathrobe. Maybe she was glancing over her shoulder now, as the bedroom door creaked open, to see if Jackie was still asleep.

It was child’s play for the thwarted thespian to act a scene of innocent slumber. You’d think Ramona would realize that by now.

When the bedroom door latched shut, Jackie turned and stared at the ceiling. Misery fell on her like a heavy weight tumbling from some celestial luggage rack, the familiar accompaniment to consciousness. Only sleep kept this black mood at bay. 

What had she been dreaming about? Jackie blinked and tried to remember. She was at the theater, but she wasn’t allowed onstage; her job was to wait in the wings and cue the actors. Her dream thought, just before waking, was, but at least I’m working in the theater

If only that were the case!

Jackie knew she had no right to be so bitter about Ramona’s rosy business prospects. On the other hand, couldn’t her girlfriend just admit how purely wrong it was for a mere commercial enterprise like Green Dreams to flourish while the arts lay wounded and dying in the middle of the road, an almost expired carcass, ignored by oblivious passersby in their hurry to stand in line at grocery stores and other so-called essential businesses? Couldn’t Ramona just say something along those lines?

Instead she kept giving Jackie those “chin up” pep talks; and tonight made that outrageous suggestion that Jackie could “pivot” to publicity, and work at Green Dreams, “part-time to start,” Ramona had said, with indecorous enthusiasm. “But once we expand, it could be full-time!”

Pivot! It was one of those horrible words the would-be cannabis queen had learned from the online business tutorials she listened to nonstop.

She had no understanding of Jackie’s state of mind. Absolutely none.

I’m in mourning for my life, Jackie thought. It was a line from her cancelled play, tragically apt.

She cocked an ear, listening for the faint scratching of pencil on paper as Ramona projected labor costs, rent, inventory; or the click of the keyboard as she added the information to her spreadsheets. 

Money—that’s all Ramona thinks about. How to get her hands on some capital. Profit and loss. The embittered girl’s lip curled. The world was rushing to its doom,  and Ramona saw a business opportunity.

At this point, Jackie had worked herself up into an indignant lather, making it impossible to lie still any longer. Jumping out of bed, she flung open the door to the living room.

It was empty. Jackie’s bellicose, “Ramona!” died on her lips. She poked her head into the narrow kitchenette, the tiny bathroom, both empty. “Ramona?” she queried uncertainly.

The laptop was gone too, Jackie noticed, and the copy of Small Business Accounting Basics, which was Ramona’s bible.

So. Jackie glared at the empty desk, hands on her hips. Her girlfriend had taken her business planning underground, in a pathetic attempt to conceal it from Jackie! The agitated actress was instantly awash in contradictory emotional currents, like a storm-plagued beach, beaten by crashing waves of rage while a powerful undertow of melancholy sucked her seaward. She stood stock still in the empty apartment, struggling to stay calm. 

Melancholy won, sending Jackie to slump on the couch, wondering forlornly what had happened to the affection that had bound her and Ramona all these years. How much she’d once admired Ramona, how rapt she’d been, listening to her older girlfriend’s tales of shady adventures in far-flung locales.

Like Desdemona and Othello, Jackie realized dolefully. What an ominous model! 

Was her relationship going to be another corpse littering the pandemic landscape?

She reached a foot out and poked at one of the boxes of Mrs. DeWitt’s detritus they’d been assigned to look through. Her questing toes knocked the lid ajar, revealing yellowed papers. Pamela and Lois had put Jackie on theater detail; this box contained the Bay City Shakespeare Society papers, and the one next to it was full of old playbills. Jackie hadn’t had the heart to start looking through either.

A breeze came through the open window, bringing the scent of night-blooming forsythia. 

And bringing the sound of voices as well. An animated conversation was occurring, some floors above, by the sound of it. 

Turning to kneel on the couch, Jackie opened the window wider and leaned on the sill, listening. “Coddled eggs!” she heard Dolly exclaim.

Eggs? What was Dolly doing discussing eggs at two a.m.? Was she going to re-institute communal breakfasts? No, that would be madness in the midst of a pandemic! Beverly, the Magdalena Arms’ unofficial medical advisor, would never allow it.

She strained her ears, but the other voices were mere murmurs, next to Dolly’s powerful projection. Still, she detected a familiar high tenor. Was that Angelo up there? It had to be, he was the only man in the place! And that low murmur—was that Ramona? 

Were they having some sort of midnight planning session without inviting Jackie? The girl on the couch seethed at the idea.

“…needs nursing!” said Dolly.

Who needed nursing?

Maybe Ramona hadn’t left the apartment simply for a clandestine session of business calculation. Maybe she was delirious, wandering the Arms like a mad Lady MacBeth! 

The thought had only to form and Jackie was in motion, springing off the couch, out the door, and up the stairs, without bothering to lock the apartment behind her.

Next: Where is Ramona, anyway? And when will everyone finally go to bed?

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