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!)