On Monday Loretta Venters said to her friend Alice from
across the street, "There ought to be one day when everybody could
be invisible." She dried her mug with her red apple dishtowel, put
the mug on the shelf and hung the towel on its white hook by the sink.
"Why?" asked Alice. She sat at Loretta's kitchen
table with her week's Find A Word book. She'd already circled the names
of American heroes. Now she started warships. Arizona. Missouri. North
Carolina. "Too much going on now I can't see and don't half understand
without making more."
"It would be better than being naked," Loretta
drank her Apricot Ginger tea. Longevity tea they called it at the market.
She didn't know what was longevity about it. The apricot or the ginger.
She liked the orange color in her cup and the bite of spice that hung on
Out the window redbud trees in Wallace Post's yard reddened.
Loretta loved March. She didn't care what that silly rhyme
said about March and lions and goats or sheep and lambs. She just stayed
snug in her blue and white checked kitchen. Her kitchen of the apple collection.
Wooden red apples, plastic apples, ceramic apples, apple magnets, red apple
canisters, apple dishes, apple dish towels, apple pot holders. She was
almost sick of apples though over the years they'd been given by people
who knew she collected apple "things". All her birthdays and
Christmases and Mother's Day. Even anniversaries. Sometimes she felt she'd
been applied to death. But they did go with her kitchen and she did feel
snug surrounded by it all. Snug as nesting bowls. Snug as her red apple
"Naked," Alice circled Wisconsin. "Who'd
want to be naked? Even birds have feathers."
Loretta shut her eyes and shook her head. "All these
women write Dear Abby how they do their housework in the nude must be crazy.
Why, I'd lean over to clean the bathtub and get something caught. Or be
throwing a load in the drier and have those wet, cold clothes up next to
me." Loretta shuddered. "That's why God made clothes. To protect
our bodies. Adam and Eve knew that. One of the first things they did was
piece together some fig leaves. But that's not what I'm talking about.
Naked and invisible are two different things."
Alice blew on her tea. "They call this longevity
tea 'cause it takes you longer to drink it. Stays hotter than Lipton's."
"Who'd want Lipton's when you can have this?"
Loretta said. "Only somebody who doesn't know tea comes in more than
one flavor. And so do people and so does life,." she finished and
looked at the ceiling where a ladybug inched toward the light fixture.
You'll fry, Loretta told the ladybug. Is that what you want?
"Life comes in flavors?" Alice circled Nevada.
"I thought that was Life Savers."
Loretta ignored her. "If I could be invisible one
day I'd choose tomorrow...from midnight till midnight."
She laughed and looked at her left hand that looked even
more bare since she stopped wearing her wedding rings.
"That's the craziest thing I ever heard, " Alice
licked the point of her pen. Ink stained a spot on her lip like a purple
mole. "What's Tuesday but another day?"
"That's the day Wallace Longstreet Post takes Fairmont
Royster to be his awful bride."
"Lawful," Alice said.
"Awful," Loretta repeated her original word.
"Those two will find themselves looking at somebody they don't know."
"How do you know?"
"'Cause I been knowing both of them for over fifty
years and one's as peculiar as the other. This is no match made anywhere
but in First National Bank."
Alice hooted. "I'll say. It's a wonder they're not
doing the ceremony right there in the lobby. Letting Richard Lieby do the
honors...if that was legal. Money begets money and that's the truth. They're
getting married in the church parlor," Alice circled another word.
"And she's wearing brown."
"Brown? What's that color for? The shade her hair
dye comes in? Or the shoe polish he uses on his mustache?"
Loretta felt the tea pot with palm of her hand, poured
herself the last six or seven drops and stood. "I don't know about
you, but I got letters to write and cakes to bake."
"You're wasting your time if you're baking it for
them," Alice rolled her Find A Word and tucked it under her arm. 'They
don't eat sweets. He's boderline diabetic and she's watching her waistline
because that's what he's watching too." Alice laughed, fluffed out
her gray curls and headed toward the door. "It's tofu they eat if
you want to know." Alice was half way out. "And I don't suppose
you do. "
"Tofu," Loretta sang, toadfood, toe food, any
food was good enough to get her in the door even if she wasn't invited
to the service nor the reception. She didn't know what it took to get invited
to either or both, but being neighbors thirty years ought to count for
something. And grade school. She'd been in grade school with Wallace and
Fair. And high school. They just didn't go on from there like some people
did. People who thought education ought to make you amount to something."
Loretta pulled at her curtain, trying to see anything moving in Wallace's
yard. Well, if truth be known, and it never was, Wallace was her first
love. He'd kissed her first playing Spin the Bottle at Molly Horne's thirteenth
birthday party. And took her to the eighth grade dance. He kissed her then.
On the way home. A lot. And tried to do a few other things which she promptly
put a stop to. Still they stayed an item until she spent that summer after
graduation at the farm when her grandmother was dying.
Lord, that hot summer. And only Lauretta and that ninety
year old woman for miles. What could the rest of the family have been thinking?
They didn't. Just somebody to be with mama. That was all they wanted. Lauretta
didn't know any more about nursing an old person that she did milking a
cow. But she learned.
That was when Wallace up and married Rachel Lee Nance.
Now those two were a pair. You didn't see one but what you saw the other.
They were like earmuffs or mittens joined with a string. Till Rachel got
the brain tumor and just wasted away. Of course Wallace was right there
Some thought he'd go first, the way he suffered with her
and mourned. Then Fairmont, newly widowed and very well endowed moved back
to town. That was all it took to get him in his dancing shoes. Somebody
said they tore up the floor at the Senior Center. Somebody else said they
were beyond ridiculous...pawing each other in public all the time. Holding
hands in church even. Restraint. That's a word Loretta always heard and
lived by. That and moderation. She'd taught her daughters those lessons
and they turned out all right. More than all right. One was a doctor, the
other had her own private school. So what if they didn't write or call
much. They had their own lives to live.
Loretta wrote her daily email to both of them, something
about the weather and her recent insomnia, love always, then sent it. She
made out her shopping list. Tofu. She didn't know where she'd find such
a thing and she wasn't about to go to any of those little hole in the wall
"Asian" markets that had sprung up around town the last couple
of years. She wouldn't feel right in one of those places. If she said anything
out loud she'd be pronouncing it wrong. And she couldn't read directions
on any of the packages. If there was any. And she certainly was not going
Turned out she didn't have to. Tofu was right there in
the market's produce department. In little white boxes that looked clean
and cute even. And there was a recipe on the package. Lemon Pie. Which
suited her mood and the occasion. Of course when she ran into Louise Otten
in the checkout line, she hid the tofu under her bread and lettuce, the
little pack of ham she'd have for supper and the honeydew melon that was
on special. Honey Do that's what Leonard called her list. Honey, do this
and honey do that, he'd laugh, but do them anyway. That was what she missed
most. The plumbing repairs, replacing the furnace filters, taking the cars
for gas and oil. Tires. She never knew when to buy tires and had to take
the mechanics word she needed new ones. Sometimes she thought they saw
a mark coming when she drove up.
Roof repairs were the last mess she got herself into.
They tore her old roof out and it sounded as if the whole house was being
torn apart, starting at the top, working down. But they had given her the
cheapest bid...until it came time to pay. Because she didn't have it in
writing, they doubled the original figure. It was her word against somebody
theirs. One against three.
Alice poked her head in the door while Loretta whipped
meringue. "Smells like lemon pie to me."
"You're right," Loretta said. She pointed with
her elbow two perfectly beautiful pies cooling on her counter. Two carefully
fluted crusts held shimmering mirrors of gold.
"Smells good enough to eat," Alice said, easing
herself on in. "I've always said you can't beat a good old fashioned
lemon meringue pie. Anytime."
Lauretta spooned clouds of meringue onto the pies, swirled
them into peaks.
"I bet you used cream of tartar to get all that fluff."
"I bet I didn't," Lauretta said, stripping her
beaters between her fingers. If Alice wasn't here, she'd lick them herself.
Now she added the extra spoonsfuls onto the pies.
"Law, there's nothing better than a fresh lemon pie
and a cup of coffee. I could do that for a meal and be more than satisfied,"
Alice said. "Those look like a picture from a Betty Crocker Cookbook.
Why Loretta you ought to be one of those cooking people on tv."
"Who'd want to?" Lauretta said and rinsed her
mixer bowl. She'd let Alice go on hinting for some pie. She'd wait until
Alice practically drooled before she told her that's why there were two
pies One to take and one to stay, if Alice let it alone long enough to
The meringue turned tan and golden with little gold beads
popping up here and there. When Laurette took the pies from the oven she
put one in her silver serving dish with handles. It did look a picture
and a picture was worth a thousand words, wasn't it? Well, this pie should
say something to the love birds. There are other people in this world and
it doesn't stop turning just because the likes of you two decide to do
something dumb as go all mushy over each other. Fairmont Royster might
say she'd been left well off, but who was to know for sure? She always
was one for the little white lie. Except Larette knew her big one. That
Miss Head Cheerleader in high school had an abortion. Gone somewhere in
Charleston during Easter holidays, had complications and ended up missing
the rest of her senior year. Her mother told everyone appendicitis. Hah.
Other people had their appendix out and came back to school in two weeks.
Fairmont went to California and stayed. Stayed until somebody told her
Wallace Post was widowed. She probably waited all those years just to hear
that. Then come back and swoop him up like the floozy she was, had always
been, just tried to cover it more these days with Elizabeth Arden and every
bright stone she could dangle or pin on or wear as a ring. Larette never
had thought much of somebody who wore rings on all four fingers of BOTH
hands. That was tacky. And cheap. And who could tell these days if ANY
of them were real. People with that much jewelry didn't wear it everyday.
That's what bank deposit boxes were for.
"You gonna cut it?" Alice asked.
Loretta had forgotten there was anyone here. Had she been
mumbling to herself?
"When did you start talking to pies?" Alice
asked. "Or was it the stove?"
"Neither," Loretta snapped, "and I'll cut
a pie when I get around to it. It'd burn your mouth you try it now. But
you can go ahead if you like. You're in such of an all fired hurry."
Alice pulled a pie closer, looked down in its face.
"Not that one," Loretta snatched it back. "
The crust browned more evenly. Take this one. But let me wet the knife
first. You get a cleaner cut that way."
"Clean. Schmean," said Alice. "I can eat
with my eyes closed if a ragged edge on the meringue bothers you so much."
Loretta wet her knife, sunk it in the center of a pie
and almost let out a cry. "I suppose you'll want coffee to go with
"Would be nice," Alice held her desert plate
under Loretta's knife as she centered the slice and eased it into place.
"So how is it?" Loretta asked after Alice took
her first bite. She'd let her own slice cool a little before she tasted.
A little delayed gratification never hurt anyone, at least as far as she
knew. She wished somebody had pounded that into Wallace Post when he was
a child. Their lives would have been different all the way around. Not
that things had been bad with Leonard. Just not sweet. Not as sweet as
Wallace Post's kiss.
"Not bad," Alice fixed her gaze on a distant
corner of the ceiling. "Not too bad."