Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode XX

Previously: Angelo roused Landlady Dolly and her girlfriend Kay with news of Nurse Beverly’s illness. Joined by Lon, they argued about who was best fitted to nurse the nurse. Jackie fretted over her quarrel with Ramona and other pandemic problems, while Millie continued her attempts to wrestle her oversized pork loin into submission in the basement kitchen.

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.

Back to Bed

Lon stepped aside and they saw Jackie, her face anxious, teetering a scant six feet away.

“What’s going on?” Jackie demanded. “Why are you all up? Where’s Ramona?” She craned her neck up, down, sideways, as if she suspected Ramona was hiding in Apartment 502.

Before Jackie had finished Dolly was on her feet making shooing motions. “That’s it! It’s getting too crowded here—everyone, back to bed!”

“But—” 

“I have no idea where Ramona is, I’m just glad it’s not here on the fifth floor!”

As Dolly advanced to the apartment doorway, Angelo jumped up from the plaid club chair and scurried out of the apartment. Lon and Jackie retreated down the hall, then Jackie stopped, like an orrnery cow.

“What were you talking about? Why break up just when I get here? What’s the big secret?”

“We’ll discuss it tomorrow,” Dolly tried to glare sternly at Jackie. With Beverly laid low, it behooved the landlady to hold the fort when it came to social distancing standards! “It’s—it’s quiet hours!” she reminded her tenants. “You’ll wake up Phyllis!”

“Phyllis wears earplugs at night,” said Kaye behind her. Dolly hoped that the other three hadn’t heard.

“Scoot now!” She flapped her hands. 

But the three tenants stood arrayed along the hall like points on a socially distanced triangle. “I can’t ‘scoot’ with Jackie blocking the stairs,” Angelo was aggrieved.

“I’d like to go up the fire escape to the roof,” Lon gestured at the window behind Dolly. “I don’t want to wake up Maxie.”

“Just tell me what the hush-hush is all about and I’ll be on my way,” said Jackie stubbornly.

Dolly opened her mouth when a series of hacking coughs broke out from Apartment 503. Then Beverly’s ragged voice asked hoarsely, “Would you please all go to bed so a body can get some sleep?”

Jackie looked at 503 and gave a start when she saw the quarantine sign. Her jaw dropped. She turned to Angelo and whispered, “Beverly’s—?”

“Sick, yes!” hissed Angelo. “So move!”

******************

Ramona was in the lounge, looking at real estate; the Magdalena Arms’s wifi signal was stronger there. She’d told herself sternly that she’d just do a quick scan, purely for the purpose of calculating rental range; but she couldn’t stop herself from lingering over each storefront photo, imagining signage, calculating the foot traffic—so much more complicated now that locations devoted to leisure activities were closed. What use was it to be on the edge of the now deserted downtown, for example? 

What I want is a spot between a big grocery store and a pharmacy, she decided.

She’d just clicked on street view for a likely prospect when there was a muffled crash from the entry way, like breaking glass. Ramona lifted her chin, listening intently. A series of rustly, chinking, clinking sounds followed. She tucked the laptop under her arm and went to investigate.

In the dim glow of the chandelier, a girl was kneeling on the mosaic floor, using a piece of cardboard to clumsily sweep what looked like a smashed jar of pink pickles into a pile. 

It was her neighbor, Ramona realized. The new girl who’d moved into 203, right before the confinement started. Ramona barely knew what she looked like, she’d only gotten a fuzzy impression of youth and brown hair, behind a homemade mask. Her name was Missy or Mamie, or something like that.

The girl was maskless tonight, but Ramona still couldn’t make out her features as she bent her head over her the mess and made futile dabs at the odd pink pickles.

“Dropped your groceries?” Inquired Ramona.

The girl’s head shot up. She froze for a moment, and then recognized Ramona. “It was my salt pork,” she said. From the tone of her voice you might have thought she was talking about her dead mother.

“Too bad,” Ramona said perfunctorily. She wrinkled her nose under the polka-dotted mask. Who ate salt pork?

“I was trying to carry everything,” her neighbor murmured. Belatedly she pulled up the mask that dangled around her neck, but not before Ramona had inventoried her features: square jaw, snub nose, heavy brows arched over brown eyes.

Cute, Ramona summed up, her interest sharpening. “I can give you a hand up the stairs,” she offered, stepping forward to peer into the canvas bag on the floor. A knife, papers, tupperware containers, and resting on top—

“Why, that’s Mrs. DeWitt’s Meissen figurine!”

Ramona plucked it from the bag as Missy or Mamie stuttered, “That was—I saw it in one of those boxes—” she gestured at the clutter outside Mrs. DeWitt’s former apartment. “I was just keeping it safe—I mean, I didn’t want it to get put out with the trash.”

“Of course not.” Ramona winked. She liked this girl. Her neighbor had an eye for good quality and the initiative to—reorganize it, you might say.

“I was going to give it to the landlady in the morning!”

“Sure you were, Missy,” Ramona soothed.

“My name’s not Missy!”

“Sorry, I meant Mamie.”

“It’s Millie!”

“Well, a word to the wise, Millie. Everyone at the Arms knows about Mrs. DeWitt’s Meissen figurine. It was a gift from a Prussian officer back in her bad old days as a Berlin chanteuse.”

Millie took a deep breath, as if to blow more excuses at Ramona. But instead she stayed silent, letting the air out in a long hiss, like a slowly deflating balloon.

“More’s the pity,” said Ramona, examining the figurine. She’d calculated the figurine’s value more than once, and it was enough to set up her new dispensary in style. With an unconscious sigh, she told the younger girl, “I’ll make sure it gets back to Dolly. She’s executrix.”

“Thank you so much.”

Ramona arched an eyebrow at the sarcasm, and Millie added, “I’ll be sure to let Dolly know you have it—just in case you forget.”

This made Ramona smile broadly under her mask. “I like your style,” she told the new girl. “There’s a broom and dustpan in the lounge closet. Let me get it, and I’ll help sweep up your pickled pork.”

Next: Shock spreads through the Arms and beyond with the news of Beverly’s illness, causing unexpected repercussions!

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