Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode XXII

Previously: Angelo demanded a rent reduction from Dolly; Beverly returned from her shift at the hospital coughing that she’d caught Covid; as the news spread, Lois and Pamela reeled, while at the Magdalena Arms, tenants bickered about who would nurse Beverly. Meanwhile, Millie’s midnight cooking spree came to naught when she dropped her precious jar of salt pork, and encountered Ramona, who suspected the new tenant of taking Mrs. DeWitt’s Meissen figurine for her own financial benefit.

Nursing the Nurse

After leaving a breakfast tray outside Beverly’s door, Dolly headed downstairs to join the group in the garden. They’d agreed to meet and hash out the question of Beverly’s care that morning, although everyone was heavy-eyed from lack of sleep.

Dolly hadn’t mentioned the meeting to Beverly. She knew instinctively that the nurse would hate having her health discussed. Beverly had already refused the coddled egg Dolly had urged on her.

“I don’t need protein,” she’d said impatiently. “Just boil up some thin gruel and I’ll sprinkle some flax meal on it. And could you fetch me a thermos of hot water? Maybe slice some ginger into the water.” Beverly’s voice was hoarse and muffled as she issued these instructions from behind the closed door to 503. She coughed before adding, “Maybe boil the ginger a little. It will soothe my throat.”

Dolly had had to go all the way down to the basement kitchen to find the big old Stanley thermos that held a half gallon. If Beverly wanted hot water, she would least make sure the stricken nurse had enough to sink a battleship!

The preoccupied landlady had paused on the threshold to the quiet kitchen, a sixth sense pulling her away from her problems and back to the present. Something seemed different about her domain. She sniffed the air. 

There was a distinct…porky smell in the kitchen, mixed with a boiled cabbage kind of dampness. Dolly glanced about suspiciously. The table and countertop were gleaming—too gleaming. Someone had definitely used the kitchen recently, for a private cooking party.

Dolly knit her brows and chewed her lip. Was this another infraction of pandemic protocol? Would she be expected to hunt down the culprit and chastise her? She ticked off the most malcontent of her tenants: Jackie of course, but she and Ramona leaned heavily on take-out. Lon, in their quest for solitude might be the culprit…or perhaps Sylvia’s daughter Patty, attempting to escape from the smothering parenting of Terry?

Dolly shook her head and dismissed the mystery from her mind as she filled the kettle and got out the thermos. It could wait. 

But when Dolly pushed open the door to the garden, she looked around the assembled anxious faces, wondering if one of them had been cooking a late night batch of pulled pork and why. “Beverly’s got water enought to last the day,” she reported. “She says she’s not hungry, but I’m going to make up some chicken broth, or maybe beef tea all the same.”

“Make it chicken broth,” Ramona advised. “I believe Beverly’s stopped eating beef.” 

“She certainly has!” Jackie broke in.

Jackie and Ramona occupied opposite ends of the long bench, like strangers avoiding contamination. Angelo was under the grape arbor, on a straight-backed chair he’d carried out from the lounge. Lon perched on the fire escape ladder, long legs twined in the rungs. The ladder swung ever so slightly back and forth. 

Dolly took the hammock chair, turning her head from side to side to address everybody. “The point is,” she said patiently, before the participants got hung up on the best flavor for the broth and began advising her on spicing, “The point is that we can take care of Beverly and keep safe with—well, let’s call it distanced nursing. I’ll just keep making meals on trays and…” 

She trailed off as the rest of the group shook their heads. “We have to plan for the worst-case scenario,” Ramona declared, with a certain relish. “What if Beverly becomes delirious? Can’t feed herself?”

“Or needs to go to the hospital!” Jackie burst out. “Someone has to monitor her!”

“Take her temperature,” Angelo seconded his old friend.

“Administer alcohol rubs, keep a chart, assess lung function.” Lon was clearly pushing their medical expertise.

Dolly capitulated. “Fine, we monitor. But that means,” she looked around the group sternly, swiveling her head like an owl, “whoever monitors will have to isolate too, so…”

It was time to address the elephant in the room, the coupled volunteers who were apparently hell-bent on escaping their other halves. Contemplating Jackie in her sulk and Ramona who was egging her on for some reason, Dolly felt a wave of grateful affection for steady, serene Kay, upstairs cleaning her clarinet. As for Lon…Dolly turned her head to study the taciturn in-betweener, who was harder to read than ever beneath their mask. She’d never been quite sure how Maxie and Lon’s liaison worked anyway.

“I’m on the roof already,” Lon called dibs on the nursing job before Dolly could finish her thought.

“But Lon, it’s only April. The weather could still turn cold!”

They all looked up. It was Maxie who’d spoken, hanging over the fourth floor balcony railing.

“It’s not that I mind sleeping alone for a few weeks,” she added, her cheerful voice carrying to every apartment in the building. “But you know you’re prone to chilblains, Lon!”

“And besides,” Angelo began, but Lon interrupted, “Then I can sleep in Angelo’s salon. I’ll sublet it.”

Angelo, who had been about to bring up Lon’s mysterious afternoon outings, closed his mouth. Dolly cocked her head. They looked at each other, evidently sharing the same thought: The idea had possibilities.

“That might work,” Angelo conceded.

“Fine!” Dolly said heartily. “That’s settled then—”

“Wait!” cried Jackie. The thwarted thespian saw her escape from Ramona and their romantic turmoil receding from her reach. “Beverly knows me! We’re friends! Besides, Lon’s not the only one with medical expertise! I did extensive research on onion plasters when I played in that adaptation of Where the Lilies Bloom!”

“She knows ’em backwards and forwards!” Ramona declared.

What is Ramona’s game? Dolly wondered. Does she want to get rid of Jackie?

“Onion plasters have been debunked,” Lon said gently.

“I could just as easily sublet Angelo’s salon,” Jackie persisted. In desperation she turned to her older girlfriend. “Can’t I—I mean, we?”

“Well—that’s a possibility. Sure.” Ramona’s lack of enthusiasm was evident. Angelo couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for the unemployed actress, who was clearly grasping at straws. Everyone knew Ramona was saving every penny she could get to open her own cannabis dispensary.

“Gosh, Jackie,” Dolly hated to disappoint her one-time protegé. “It does seem like Lon’s got the plan and the medical experience. I’m sure you can find some way to contribute. Maybe reading aloud over skype, or—”

But the incensed ingenue had leapt from the bench and slammed back into the Arms.

“Oh dear,” Dolly fretted. “I hoped we could avoid hard feelings.” She turned to Ramona. “Don’t you think you better go after her?”

“These days, it’s best to let Jackie cool down on her own,” Ramona said drily, standing up. She looked around and saw that Angelo was already conferring with Lon. “Say,” the entrepreneurial girl lowered her voice, “What can you tell me about that cute number on the second floor, that Missy—no, Margie—no, that’s not it,” She snapped her fingers. “Millie!”

“Oh Ramona,” Dolly said reproachfully. “This is no time to go sniffing after someone new!”

Jackie stormed into the Arms’s entranceway, her eyes too full of angry tears to notice Laura, sitting on the bottom step of the curving staircase, almost as if she were waiting for someone. 

Laura jumped to her feet and blocked the angry actress’s headlong path to the front door. “Wait! What did you decide? Who’s going to nurse Beverly?” the normally serene Bay City bureaucrat seemed unusually anxious.

“Lon is!” spat Jackie. “That—that—kept quack!”

And with that she pushed open the front door and darted out.

Laura stood a moment, undecided. She hated to interfere in anyone’s life, and she wasn’t sure Beverly would thank her, but—

Beverly was a sister, and she’d introduced Laura to the Arms. And while Laura had nothing against Lon, she thought stiff-necked, proud Beverly might prefer someone…closer. 

The housing expert nodded, once, decisively, and spun around to the stairs. She had a phone call to make.

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