Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode XXVIII

Previously: Anxious Lois turned to the Magdalena Arms for help as Pamela sunk deeper into a Covid-induced depression, while Laura explained she’d called Beverly’s ex-girlfriend to care for the stricken nurse, despite the political rift between them. Rifts remain between Jackie and Ramona, Phyllis and Laura, and important clues to Mrs. DeWitt’s daughter are in danger of getting lost in all the romantic distraction!

Faithful Readers: Another apology for a delayed episode! Your narrator was occupied from dawn until dark, dashing between disaster service work and the AMIA conference on media archiving. She suspects that many of her faithful readers read more slowly than she writes and may not have even noticed this schedule hiccup, but please pipe up with an “au contraire” if this is not the case!

Rifts and Secrets

By the following week Beverly’s fever was down and the stricken nurse was on the mend. Audley remained sequestered in Beverly’s studio and what went on between the ex-lovers aside from nursing was anybody’s guess. Dolly was loathe to ask Audley anything, even to query how contagious Beverly still was, and when the building would be free of the Covid taint. The big blond landlady shrugged her shoulders when questioned by her tenants, and supposed that the pair were following some health safety protocol known only to nurses. It seemed to Lon that Dolly was a little afraid of Audley.

Pamela, the other patient, proved to be a more stubborn case. A series of warm baths and some sets of sit-ups had somewhat restored the retail executive, at least physically. Her personal hygiene was improved, at any rate, and Lois coaxed her each morning into a semblance of normal attire. But Pam was a mere shell of her old self. The only activity that brought a spark of life to her eye was the search for Mrs. DeWitt’s daughter. She’d roused herself to look at the box of papers Sylvia had culled, but her energy flagged after twenty minutes spent perusing the crabbed handwriting from an earlier era, and she was soon sighing, “It’s hopeless,” as she lay back on Mrs. DeWitt’s bed for another lengthy nap. 

Lon sometimes wondered if Lois hindered her girlfriend’s recovery, for all her desire to help. The office manager’s obsession with hygiene weighed down every interaction Pam had with the outside world, whether it was Lon’s visits to check up on Pamela, or Dolly bringing a batch of muffins, or Sylvia lugging down another box of papers for Pamela to peruse. Everyone had to sanitize their hands under Lois’s anxious gaze; all inanimate objects were sequestered in a “decontamination zone” in a corner of the room. Lon couldn’t help comparing Lois’s behavior to the DSM’s criteria for compulsive disorder.

But was it any wonder, after these weeks of anxious confinement, that everyone was a little loony? Lon had rejoiced when the local restaurants at last began to reopen for takeout, and had immediately put in an order for cannelloni at Luigi’s. The familiar favorite gave off a faint flavor of normalcy along with the odor of garlic. They were carrying the bag of take-out up to the fourth floor to surprise Maxie when Millie accosted them on the second floor landing. 

“Could you please do me the favor,” said the standoffish newcomer stiffly, “Of not sharing my personal information with our landlady?”

“What are you talking about?” asked Lon, coming to a halt.

“You apparently told her I was starving and needed a handout, when I’m not and I don’t!”

“Oh?” Lon looked at Millie carefully, searching for signs of paranoia, and then remembered. “Oh. I did mention your visit to the food pantry. I’m sorry.”

“The last thing I need right now is some stranger interfer—”

“I’ll tell Dolly to layoff,” Lon interrupted.

“I’d appreciate that.” Millie unbent a bit. “I have plenty of food. It’s just a pity the pantry doesn’t include coffee with all those carrots—” She stopped as if she’d said too much. “But anyway, unemployment should kick in any day now. Don’t mention that to Dolly.”

“I won’t,” Lon told her. Although they thought they might mention it to Maxie. As a fellow caffeine fiend, Maxie would surely be moved to share her stash. Something about Millie brought out Lon’s protective side, and they hated to think of their young neighbor jonesing for a cup of joe.

“Your hair’s wet.”

The remark startled Lon. “Staying clean,” they said, passing a self-conscious hand over their damp head. Underneath their mask they’d put on an automatic smile, designed to charm and deflect.

For a moment Millie looked like she might say more—maybe remark that Lon was coming from the street, not the shower, and shouldn’t their short hair have dryed by now? But Millie only shrugged slightly and said, “Well, goodbye.”

Lon made a mental note: the new girl was observant. Even when distracted by her own woes.

A flight and a half up Lon crossed paths with Ramona. She greeted Lon cheerily and Lon caught a whiff of alcohol as she passed. The green entrepreneur had been having a drink with Maxie again, they supposed.

If Lois was ultra-vigilant in her sanitizing and protecting against contagion, the rest of the Arms’s dwellers had gotten more casual in their precautions, hobnobbing in the halls, masks askew, or in the case of Maxie holding intimate little happy hours on her back deck. It was as if Beverly’s recuperation from Covid had proven somehow that the pandemic could be survived, and so lessened their fears.

This new nonchalance made Lon a little uneasy. If the two nurses weren’t isolated and unaware in Beverly’s studio, they might have put a stop to such behavior. But why hadn’t Laura and Phyllis, the protocol-conscious bureaucrats, spoken up? They hadn’t hesitated to make a huge fuss about that haircut a few weeks ago!

As if conjured by Lon’s musings, Laura opened her door and peered out. “Oh—hello, Lon,” she said, trying to conceal her disappointment.

Maxie might have asked, “Who are you looking for Laura?” but Lon simply said, “Hi,” and continued to climb. She’d stayed out of the speculation as to what had blighted the growing bond between the bureaucrats this time.

Maxie was on the couch for once, scribbling busily on a legal pad. She greeted the cannoli with a squeal of delight. “Lon! How perfect! I thought we’d have to have the lentil stew or something healthy.” But she kept writing, and even brought her notes to the table, continuing to jot down words between bites, until finally Lon asked, “Big story?”

Maxie looked up. Instead of answering, she asked a question of her own: “Where is it you go, that you come back with wet hair?” 

Lon swallowed the last of their glass of water. “You don’t really want to know.”

“Ditto,” said Maxie.

Next: Ramona begins to wonder about Jackie’s continued absence, Maxie visits new girl Millie, and Lois leaves on an unexpected trip.

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