Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode X

In our last episode, Dolly, Lois, and Pamela discovered that Mrs. DeWitt has a mysterious daughter. Just as Dolly rallies the Magdalena Arms tenants to search for the missing heiress, Angelo and Lon emerge from Angelo’s shuttered hair salon, where Angelo has given Lon an illicit trim.

Missed the earlier episodes? You can find them all here (in reverse order) Or start from the beginning with Episode I and use the “next” button at the top the screen to move between episodes.

The Magdalena Arms Rallies ‘Round

“Lon! Angelo! What were you thinking?” Dolly scolded. She had to force herself to assume a severity she didn’t feel; she envied Lon their professional cut, and by the look in Pamela’s eyes, she wasn’t alone.

“What’s wrong? Is someone sick?” 

It was Phyllis, bursting out of the basement stairway in response to the breakfast gong. When she caught sight of Lon and Angelo she stopped so abruptly that Laura, just behind her, nearly crashed into her civil-service colleague. “Lon—Angelo!” Phyllis cried in dismay. “What were you thinking?”

“What happened?” Maxie skittered to a stop on the landing overlooking the hallway. “What did Lon do?”

Above her, heads poked over the bannister on the third, fourth, and fifth floors.

“They got themselves an illegal haircut,” Dolly told Maxie grimly.

“Oh!” said Maxie. And Dolly could have sworn that her old friend gave a sigh of relief under her mask.

What did she think Lon had done? Dolly wondered.

Phyllis was lecturing the guilty pair. “”These rules exist for a reason. You two have endangered the whole building!”

“Plus visitors!” Lois added.

“We wore masks!” Angelo defended himself. “I’m bleaching my scissors now!” 

“It’s my fault,” Lon spoke for the first time. “I pushed him.”

“I’m sure Lon’s very very sorry,” Maxie called from above, like Juliet defending Romeo.

Lon stayed mum, but their face above the mask showed no signs of remorse.

“The fact remains, Lon, that you’ve made Angelo liable for eviction.” Laura’s gentle voice was grave.

“That can’t be true!” Angelo’s voice was high with alarm.

“If you want to kick someone out, kick out me—”

“I’m not saying he should be, I’m just pointing out—”

“Now everyone, calm down,” Dolly’s voice carried to the fifth floor and drowned out the confused clamor of contending voices. “This isn’t a public hearing! I didn’t ring the gong because Angelo gave Lon a trim—which is very serious, and will certainly be dealt with— but because we’ve got Mrs. DeWitt’s missing heir to find!”

“Missing what? Missing hair?” Sue asked from the third floor. Sue had just gotten home from a stressful supermarket shop, and was both bushed and bewildered by the unexpected hullaballoo.

Heir, missing heir,” Dolly repeated. “Or heiress, I should say. Turns out Mrs. DeWitt left a daughter!”

Dolly waited until the hubbub of exclamations had died down before continuing, “The way I see it, we might as well take advantage of the fact that most of us have empty hours to fill, and put our heads together to find this girl—well, not really of course,” she added hastily. “Putting our heads together, I mean. I just meant—”

“We know you were speaking metaphorically,” Maxie called down. “But how’ll this work? Should we just all do internet searches for ‘Harriet DeWitt’ ‘Bay City’ daughter or something? The libraries are closed, and the city offices…”

Pam held up a hand. “Lois and I will be coordinating efforts.” Even with a plaid mask and butchered hair, she commanded attention. Next to her Lois had whipped out a steno pad and was taking notes. “As Dolly pointed out,” Pam continued in her carrying contralto, “There’s a lot of unused talent in the Magdalena Arms.  You—” She pointed at Maxie—“You can work your old press contacts; maybe Mamie—” here, Pam couldn’t help wrinkling her nose in distaste as she named Bay City’s notorious gossip columnist—“will have heard something.”

“Of course!” said Maxie. “If anyone’s got the dirt on Mrs. DeWitt it will be Mamie!” 

“I’m putting down Janet for legal research,” Lois said. “Surely there will be a copy of the birth certificate somewhere, and perhaps other legal documents.”

“I can help with public records!” “—with city files!” Phyllis and Laura chorused, then laughed self-consciously as they exchanged a look.

“What can I do?” Kay’s query floated down from the fifth floor. “I’m just a clarinet player. I’ve got no detecting expertise.” 

“You know the music world,” Pamela called back, her face turned up, hands cupped around her mask-covered mouth. “You can work on Mrs. DeWitt’s days as a chanteuse!”

“I have some contacts in Berlin,” Maxie put in.

Lois scribbled furiously, “And there’s Jackie, too, for the theater side. Perhaps Mrs. DeWitt confided to one of her friends in the Bay City Shakespeare Society.”

Sue was conferring with her fellow third floor tenants, who were evidently hanging back in the hallway. She turned back to the stairwell. “Terry and Sylvia want to know, what can they do?” Before anyone below could respond, she held up a hand, “Wait a second—what? Oh, okay.” Turning back she reported, “They said that Patricia said she doesn’t have time to help out because she’s still in school.” 

“That’s fine!” the response from below was universal.

“She should concentrate on her studies,” Angelo added.

For the time-being, Pamela announced, after conferring with Dolly and Lois, the rest of the tenants would be assigned to help Dolly sort through Mrs DeWitt’s belongings. “With a fine-toothed comb!” Dolly said. She figured that given Mrs. DeWitt’s penchant for saving, and given the higgledy-piggledy state her possessions were in, this would take a least a few weeks.

“This will be a wonderful project for the unemployed tenants,” Phyllis said to Laura in a low voice, as Pamela shouted up assignments to the tenants overhead. “This sort of distraction is tailor-made for relieving stress.”

Laura nodded her agreement. “We’re really very lucky, here at the arms, that that’s our main problem.”

“You don’t think…does Angelo need money?” Phyllis blinked earnest eyes behind her gold-rimmed glasses. “I’d hate to think that he broke the rules out of financial need!”

The two friends glanced at Angelo, who was still standing a little too close to Lon, his expression defiant.

“I think he’s just fidgety,” Laura diagnosed. “He kind of hinted he could give me a trim the other day. I doubt it was for grocery money. No,” she continued, “Everyone here has a roof over their heads, enough food to eat…” Her face was sober as she thought of the growing demand at the Bay City Food Pantry, whose efforts she’d been instructed to aid.

The social scientists had no way of knowing that on the second floor, just over their heads, the Magdalena Arms’ newest tenant was rummaging desperately in her kitchen cupboard and coming up empty.

Next: Millie

Who is that girl with the rumbling stomach on the second floor? Will she manage to find a bite to eat? And when will the rest of the Magdalena Arms crew remember the overlooked new tenant who’s been hidden away by the confinement?

Tune in every Friday (or even oftener) for a new episode!

Find all the previous episodes here; or start reading from the first episode.

Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode IX

In our last episode, Lois, Pam, and Dolly found Mrs. DeWitt’s will while cleaning her apartment — and discovered that their beloved landlady had a daughter no one knew about. The flabbergasted trio begin to speculate as to when and where Mrs. DeWitt produced the mysterious Gertrude DeWitt.

Missed the earlier episodes? You can find them all here (in reverse order) Or start from the beginning with Episode I and use the “next” button at the top the screen to move between episodes.

Missing Heiress

Dolly burst into the hallway, will in hand, Lois and Pam six feet behind. She couldn’t stay in the stuffy parlor a second longer—the flood of emotions had her spinning like a whirligig. She wanted simultaneously to shout the news from the housetop and to rush down to the sub-basement storeroom and tear off the rest of the molding as an outlet for her astonished joy. Mrs. DeWitt had a daughter! Dolly’s heart twanged with new hope. Somewhere, there was a younger version of Harriet, waiting to be found. There could be no better bequest than this living, breathing descendant, no, not even the walnut bedroom set and bust of Shakespeare Mrs. DeWitt had left her!

“I bet this was why her family kicked her out!” Dolly exclaimed.

“Or did it happen during her wild years in Berlin?” Pamela asked, evidently following her own train of thought.

“When did she reunite with Mrs. Payne-Putney and get put in charge of the Magdalena Arms?” Lois demanded. “Does anyone know?”

All the tenants had heard stories of Mrs. DeWitt’s colorful past; how she was cast out from her wealthy family, the years working as a chanteuse in Berlin nightclubs, her more genteel association with the Bay City Shakespeare Company, and the boarding school friendship with Lily LaPorte (later Mrs. Payne-Putney) that had led to the establishment of the Magdalena Arms.

The had all listened to their landlady’s burbling stream of reminiscence with half an ear. Now it was too late to ask questions, to fill in the gaps, or untangle contradictions. “How on earth are we going to find this person?” Lois broke the silence that had fallen as the three women pondered Mrs. DeWitt’s hazy history.

“We’ll hire a detective,” Pam began in her old take-charge way, then paused, “except, I’m not sure if they’re essential workers.”

Dolly smacked her fist into her other hand. “Listen! We don’t need to hire any private dicks, essential or not! We’ve got a whole houseful of brainy girls just twiddling their thumbs!” Before either Lois or Pamela could stop her, she strode to the back-hall doorway, where the old-fashioned breakfast gong still hung, and sounded it with a quick clang-clang-clang that echoed through the building.

“Dolly no!” Lois exclaimed. “No large gatherings!” She tugged at Pamela. “I think we’d better be going!”

But Pamela wasn’t paying attention. She was staring, mesmerized, over Dolly’s shoulder. Lois gasped and clapped a hand to her masked mouth. Dolly swung around to see Lon, who’d evidently just emerged from Angelo’s hair salon. Lon’s stylish, close-cropped head made it plain what they’d been up to! Behind them was Angelo, key in hand as he turned to lock the salon door.  At the sight of his unexpected audience, he froze.

Next: The Magdalena Girls Rally ’round

Finding a missing heir is just the sort of puzzle the tenants need to distract them from their pandemic woes, but is there more serious trouble secreted in one of the small apartments — something more basic than boredom, anxiety, depression, irritability, rebelliousness and a mad desire to break free of all strictures? Is someone at the Magdalena Arms going hungry?

Tune in every Friday (or even oftener) for a new episode!

Find all the previous episodes here; or start reading from the first episode.

Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode VIII

In our last episode, Lois and Dolly clashed on what to keep from Mrs. DeWitt’s overstuffed apartment. Disturbed by Pamela’s strange lethargy, Dolly retreats to Mrs. DeWitt’s bedroom.

Missed the earlier episodes? You can find them all here (in reverse order) Or start from the beginning with Episode I and use the “next” button at the top the screen to move between episodes.

A Shocking Secret

Did she want Mrs. DeWitt’s old Theatre Guild Award? Dolly felt confused by the inchoate emotions sloshing around inside her, like water in a bathtub. Part of her wanted to treasure all that Mrs. DeWitt had treasured; but she knew if she took even half the mementos she she felt she ought to save, the one-bedroom she shared with Kay would be so clogged that even her even-tempered girlfriend would call halt.

The important thing is my memories, not a lot of junk, she lectured herself as she attacked Mrs. DeWitt’s walnut wardrobe. Swiftly she emptied a drawer of socks and underwear into the discard box. No one would want Mrs. DeWitt’s worn out hose and old-fashioned lingerie. 

Unless–maybe this antique corset was old enough to be valuable? Could Jackie use it for a theatrical costume? Dolly fished it out and laid it on the bed. 

Then she turned to the hanging garrments. Mrs. DeWitt had an enormous selection of dressing gowns, her preferred garb, day or night. The rose wool with the hem coming down went into the discards, but Dolly hesitated over the watered maroon silk with the mink collar, before dropping it in the giveaway box. But what should she do with the quilted lilac silk that had been Mrs. DeWitt’s favorite? Surely that was memento-worthy, even with the staining on the lapel? And look, there were the lilac lounging pajamas! Dolly had never realized they matched the quilted dressing gown–Mrs. DeWitt had always paired the pajamas with a wool sweater.

Overwhelmed again, Dolly sank down on the bed. Why was she stewing over these schmattes? Mrs. DeWitt didn’t care about clothes; her head was in the clouds, on her poetry, on her girls, on the Magdalena Arms. What was that poem she used to quote? 

Oh the something something go on
To their haven under the hill
But O for the touch of that vanished hand, 
And the sound of a voice that is–

“Dolly! Come here a minute!” Lois’s voice from the other room was urgent. Dolly heaved herself off the bed, leaving the lilac lounging pajamas in a heap.

Lois and Pam were clustered around the rolltop desk under the window. The rolltop was rolled up, and the deep drawer to the left of the kneehole was open. Lois had evidently emptied it of papers, sorting them into piles on the desktop. Dolly recognized one pile as Mrs. DeWitt’s handwritten compositions, her scraps of verse and philosophical musings. But Lois was holding up a typewritten document.

“Look at this!”

Gingerly Dolly took it from the tips of Lois’s fingertips, and read out loud, “‘I, Harriet DeWitt, sometimes known as Trudi Frisch, as Madame d’Esprit, as Hattie White, domiciled in Bay City, being of sound mind and memory do hereby declare…'” she looked up. “Mrs. DeWitt made a will? I guess we’d better call Janet.” Well, this meant putting off the giving away part of the clean out! 

“Look at the bequests,” said Pamela. 

Dolly skimmed down the page, thick with the names of tenants past and present. “She made me executrix,” she said, feeling flattered and bereft all at once.

“The last bequest,” Pamela urged, and Lois added, “It’s three-quarters of the way down.” 

…the remaining manuscripts, after all other bequests have been made, together with all copyrights; likewise my journals and correspondence, I leave to my daughter, christened Gertrude DeWitt, if she can be found.

Dolly looked up at Lois and Pam, open-mouthed, utterly dumbstruck.

“So, even you didn’t know Mrs. DeWitt had a daughter?” Pam demanded.

Next: Scandal at the Arms

Dolly rallies the Magdalena Arms tenants to join the hunt for Mrs. DeWitt’s mysterious daughter and inadvertently uncovers a serious health code violation!

Check back often this weekend for bonus episodes! We’re posting once or twice a day in honor of LGBTQ+ Pride.

Find all the previous episodes here; or start reading from the first episode.

Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode V

Dolly in Mourning

Dolly stood just inside the door to Mrs. DeWitt’s suite of rooms on the first floor, hands on her coverall-covered hips. The prospect before her was a daunting one.

The sitting room was stuffed with armchairs and sofas, nested walnut side tables, and overgrown ferns in brass pots balanced on top of rickety stands. There were walnut whatnots in every corner, their shelves loaded with figurines, crystal decanters, old packs of playing cards, vases of swizzle sticks, or piles of poker chips.

But worse than the chaotic collection of curios to be sorted and disposed was the intangible heaviness that weighed Dolly down, the sadness that squeezed her heart. A melancholy seemed to rise from the room and wrap itself about her like a heavy, damp turkish towel.

Dolly squared her shoulders. She mustn’t let herself be immobilized by her grief. Action—action was what she needed. 

And light! She’d go blind if she tried to work in this dimness. 

“Musta been terrible for Harriet’s eyes,” she muttered as she squeezed between a loveseat and a low teak tea table, then skirted a brass-bound trunk and circumnavigated a small statue of Shakespeare. Finally reaching the front windows, she stretched over a rolltop desk to yank apart the dusty velvet drapes. Sunlight fell in a swath over the room, illuminating piles of magazines and books. Dust motes danced in the air.

Lord knows Dolly had loved Mrs. DeWitt like a mother, but there were no two ways about it—the Magdalena Arms’ Landlady Emerita had been a pack-rat.

A buzzer sounded and Dolly maneuvered her way back to the door, and pushed the button to unlatch the front entrance for her visitors. She stepped into the hall and watched as Lois and Pam came in and let the heavy double doors with their elaborate brass grille swing closed behind them. The pair paused inside the entrance.

“Pam! Your hair!” Dolly exclaimed.

The redhead self-consciously smoothed her head. She was shorn as close as a spring lamb. “Lois did it.” 

Pam seemed subdued to Dolly, or maybe it was just that she was muffled by her mask. The usually modish merchandiser was dressed like a dockworker, in old jeans and a worn men’s shirt of blue chambray. A white t-shirt peeked out at her throat, and the rolled-up sleeves revealed her swelling biceps.

“I’d forgotten how well you butch up,” Dolly said approvingly.

“I didn’t mean for it to be quite so short,” Lois explained. “But I kept trying to even it out, and suddenly there just wasn’t much left!”

Pam glanced wistfully at Angelo’s hair salon.

“I like it,” Dolly reassured her old friend. “If Gruneman’s could see you now!” 

It was the wrong thing to say. Pam’s whole frame seemed to droop.

“Dolly, where’s your mask?” Lois demanded.

“Down in the kitchen, I think,” Dolly replied. “Can’t we just stay six feet apart?”

“Go get it,” Lois ordered. “We want to help, but we simply must follow the health department’s guidelines!” 

It was Lois who’d decreed a two-week decontamination period before anyone even entered Mrs. DeWitt’s former apartment. Now she handed Pam a pair of latex gloves before donning her own. 

There was no point arguing with the adamant office manager. “Well…I guess you two can go ahead in and get started, if you want, while I mask up. There are empty boxes inside the door, for sorting.”

And Dolly took her time descending to the basement kitchen. She had to admit, she didn’t mind delaying the mournful task. 

When Mrs. DeWitt’s old apartment was cleaned out and rented to someone new, Dolly’s beloved friend would be really gone. Gone for good.

Lunch à Deux

Dolly interrupts a lunchtime tête-à-tête between civil servant tenants Laura and Phyllis and recalls the multiple misunderstandings that have muddied the course of true love for the otherwise consummately compatible couple. Will she go through with her impetuous scheme to trap the misguided twosome together in a malfunctioning elevator? Or is there a better way to wake up the pining pair?

Tune in every Friday for a new episode! (or maybe even oftener! Always depending on the author’s unpredictable schedule!)

Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms, Episode I

On the Fifth Floor…

In Apartment 501, Phyllis was hunched over her laptop, studying a graph as intricate as a spiderweb, tiny intersecting lines representing death rates and confirmed cases from around the world. “There’s hopeful news from Estonia,” reported the steadfast statistician, ever-eager to find a bright spot in the gray clouds of the pandemic.

“That’s nice,” said Maxie, who was sitting the required six feet away on Phyllis’s bed. Her second cup of coffee was on the bedside table, her nimble thumbs were flying busily as she texted her friend Stella. “But what’s the news closer to home?”

Ooo! Send me a picture! Maxie texted. I’m still in my dressing gown and negligée, the dark pink one.

Down the hall in apartment 502 (a spacious one-bedroom Dolly had constructed out of rooms 505, 506, the communal bathroom, and the end of the corridor), Kay played “Sophisticated Lady” on her clarinet. She had the place to herself; her landlady-girlfriend was off somewhere in the building doing maintenance, or maybe making a trellis for grape vines in the backyard. Kay had been watching a YouTube video on embouchure when Dolly announced her plans over breakfast, and hadn’t paid close attention. She lipped her reed, trying to remember the YouTube teacher’s instructions, but the different tongue placement felt odd. Do I sound any different? She took a breath and blew the next phrase, And in this heart of yours burned a flame…the mournful notes drifted through the Arms. 

“What?” said Netta into her phone. “Sorry, Kay’s playing her clarinet down the hall, I couldn’t hear you.” She listened to Lois’s rapid flow for a few moments. “Lois, you have to be realistic. You can’t read every improving book your email newsletters recommend. And I don’t think watching all of Ingmar Bergman’s films is the best idea, especially not on top of the online philosophy class–” The voice at the other end got higher and more urgent. “Lois, stop! There’s no percentage in turning the pandemic into some marathon self-improvement binge!” She listened for a moment, then said, “Even if it’s a meditation class, it’s still a knee-jerk need to cling to some sort of warped work ethic.. And aren’t you still working from home anyway?”

Across Town…

“We don’t have much work, now that our retail clients are all closed,” fretted Lois. She stood in the kitchen of the apartment she shared with Pamela, her phone to her ear. The dishes were done, the floor had been waxed and polished, and she had completed the annual spring cleaning of her personal files two weeks ahead of schedule. “I have nothing to do,” she said forlornly. “I might as well use this—this situation for a productive purpose!”

Back in the Arms, Netta rolled her eyes. Lois didn’t like to even say the word pandemic. It was too depressing. But Netta’s old fondness for Lois blunted the left-wing teacher’s penchant for plain speaking. Instead she asked, “Speaking of retail, how’s Pamela?”

Lois glanced towards the bedroom door at the far end of the hallway. It was still closed. Her eyes travelled to the stove, where the scrambled eggs and bacon she’d left warming in the oven were probably beginning to shrivel. “She’s fine!” Lois hoped Netta wouldn’t notice that her cheeriness was a trifle forced. “Pamela’s been using this—this opportunity to catch up on her rest.”

The Fifth Floor again…

The clarinet launched into the second part of the song, the notes dancing back and forth as they climbed upward, before swinging back down. They sounded clear in Beverly’s room. If the hard-working nurse had been home, she might have hummed along under her breath, singing her favorite line: Smoking, drinking, never thinking of tomorrow…nonchalant… But the room was empty. At that moment, Beverly was in Bay City General hospital, carefully donning protective garb as she prepared to go on duty.

On the Fourth Floor…

Lon heard the clarinet on the fourth floor as she panted her way through a series of push-ups. Six years ago, when Dolly had embarked on the big overhaul of the Magdalena Arms, turning the single rooms and communal bathrooms into small studios and one-bedroom apartments, Maxie had taken over the entire fourth floor. She claimed she needed room for her many enterprises, and her lavish renovation dwarfed all of the apartment conversions put together. She’d gutted the space down to the rafters and studs, then a horde of workers had remade it to her specifications, resulting in a sort of extravagant artist’s loft. Dolly had refused to let Maxie alter the Magdalena Arms’s granite facade with the cantilevered deck, she’d proposed, but Maxie had persuaded the dubious landlady to allow a more modest balcony in the rear of the building.

Now a wall of windows overlooking the tiny back garden ran along the rear wall, flooding the lavish loft with light. Sunlight sparkled on the rarely used chromium fixtures in the kitchen: the convection oven, the gas range capable of frying dozens of pancakes at once. There was a marble-topped island with a concealed cooling element for rolling out pastry, and a special carbonating machine for producing seltzer water. “I need them for recipe testing,” Maxie had claimed. The apartment featured a concealed sound system and an shelf unit of Brazilian mahogany that lit up to display the books it held–all publications put out by Fifth Floor Editions, the press Maxie had founded. 

Maxie loved luxury—the more unneccessary the better. Lon often thought that the only truly essential parts of Maxie’s showplace were the couch, cocktail cart, and telephone. Eight times out of nine you could find Maxie comfortably ensconced in the corner of the L-shaped couch, feet up, a tray on the glass-topped coffee table, phone to her ear, as she spun some new scheme.

When she was in town, of course. It was purest chance that she’d flown back to Bay City from Switzerland just as the shut down began. Lon had been so relieved to see her walk in the door unannounced, scarcely days before the first confinement order was issued.

But now…

“Is that all you really want?” Lon sang between gasps as she performed a second repetition of pushups. She was in the small room she’d insisted on, her only contribution to the redesign. “I need privacy if you don’t,” she’d told Maxie.

Now she wondered if this room would be enough.

On the Third Floor…

In her apartment on the third floor, Laura did not hear the clarinet. She was on a conference call with her noise-canceling headphones covering her ears. “I think we should anticipate pushback from the union if we move forward with the disaster service worker call-up,” the civil service servant said. “There will surely be questions about PPE.” She listened and sighed. “Yes, I know.”

Down the hall, Sylvia and Terry were sitting in the kitchen. Terry was making a grocery list. “How about bread?” she asked. “Should I get some more?”

Sylvia was smoking and reading The Bay City Sentinel on her iPad. “Honey, we have five loaves in the freezer.”

“But we have another mouth to feed,” Terry protested. Two weeks ago Sylvia’s daughter Patricia had come home from her sophomore year of college.

“Patty’s gluten-free now,” said Sylvia. 

“She is?” Terry brightened. “I better track down some gluten-free bread.” The pint-sized butch sprang up and hurried over to the living room door, which was closed. She and Sylvia had turned that room over to Patricia when she returned home, agreeing that the college girl would need her own space. 

Now Terry knocked and called, “Patty honey? Do you have a brand of gluten-free bread you like? I’m doing some shopping today!”

After a short delay the muffled reply arrived: “I don’t care!”

“Are you sure? What about rice, are you okay with the white rice or should I get some brown?”

“I don’t care! I’m trying to do class!”

Terry sat back down at the table and frowned at her list. “I think I’ll try to get her some brown rice.”

On the Second Floor…

The music was just a faint echo on the second floor, which was three-quarters empty. If Ramona had been home in the apartment she shared with Jackie, she might have shouted “Turn up the volume baby! Swing it!” But Ramona was at the cannabis dispensary she managed and she’d taken Jackie with her. “You might as well come along since your show’s closed,” she’d said. “We’re busier than ever and could use the help.”

Angelo’s studio was also empty. The unemployed coiffeur grew restless in his home and preferred to putter in his empty salon

The third studio’s occupant was still asleep, curled into a little ball. She’d found a job in Bay City, moved into a new apartment, lost her job and been confined to the new apartment all in the space of a month.

On the First Floor…

Angelo was swiveling back and forth in one of the “Angel’s Hair” salon chairs, filing his nails and brooding. His thoughts followed a familiar pattern: How is hairdressing not an essential business? It’s necessary for morale! I have masks. I have hand sanitizer. Hairdressers know all about sanitation—everyone knows one case of lice can kill a business. We’re used to dealing with germs and vermin!

Across from the salon, On the other side of the grand hallway with its chandelier and mosaic tiling, Mrs. DeWitt’s apartment was empty. The last echo of music died out in the dim room, crowded with old-fashioned, over-stuffed furniture, silver-framed photos, piles of scrapbooks, magazines, newspaper clippings, theater programs, the paraphernalia of a long and varied life. No one had had the heart to start sorting and cleaning. “She was old and frail,” Beverly had reminded them. “It was bound to happen, even without the virus.” 

In the Sub-basement Storeroom…

Down in the sub-basement, underneath the old-fashioned, rarely used kitchen, Dolly was working up a sweat. She’d cleared all the remaining storeroom detritus to one side and was prying off the molding that ran around the room, midway up the wall.

“Come on,” she whispered, working her pry bar from side to side. The wood inched outward, shrieking on the ancient nails. She wedged a second pry bar foot down the length of board and gave both a simultaneous wrench. The molding splintered and a four foot length fell to the ground, taking a chunk of plaster with it.

Dolly, who had jumped back, looked at the wreckage and pursed her lips. She’d hoped to get the length of moulding off in one piece. But still, “Progress!” she told herself. 

Next: Pamela Has the Blues

Pamela Prendergast, former doyenne of dressing at a now shuttered department store, has been reduced to pajamas and bedhead! Whether sleeping until noon or sipping beer in front of the news, Pam is a shattered wreck of her former take-charge self. How can her concerned girlfriend snap her out of this catastrophic Covid-induced depression??

Tune in every Friday, for a new episode! (at least until the author’s work situation changes)