As the funeral hymns droned on, Stella fretted that the stores would close before she could buy a much-needed alarm clock. With the old curmudgeon now a jar of dust she needed something to wake her on dark mornings. The only good thing about the old guy—who was in no way like the man the minister was waxing eloquently about—was that his banging out of bed and down the hall to the bathroom at 8 a.m. could be relied on to wake her. Had she been quick enough, she’d have claimed his alarm clock as hers when the social service woman was hauling out his junk. As it was, she had just stood silently in the hall watching bags of castoffs being lugged away.
After the reception in the church hall (with only a few souls lurking like predatory sharks at the food table), Stella set off for the hardware store. The clerk tried to sell her a radio alarm but she held fast. The last thing she needed on waking was to be assailed with news of fresh disasters in far off countries or, worst still, muggings down the street.
She had hoped that now the old guy was dead, she could have a morning shower at the shared bathroom down the hall although she had been bathing after five p.m. for so many years it was probably not worth changing her routine.
After her altercation with the hardware clerk, she admonished herself to be friendlier to the younger generation. Her friend Gerta had recently criticized her—not for the first time—for being “set in her ways.” So although her smile was through grit teeth, when they met on the stairs, she managed a nod to the new blue haired tenant who had taken over the old man’s apartment.
With a stretch she could tolerate blue hair—maybe the girl had gone to a masquerade—but the tattoos shouting out from her arms pointed to anti-social tendencies. And she now knew she shouldn’t count on getting hot water in the morning. Who knew when, if ever, a blue haired girl would shower?
Before Stella had time to put away her few groceries, there was a rap on her door? She’d forgotten to lock it and, to her alarm, an uninvited blue head peeked in,
“Hi, I don’t mean to bother you. I’m Amanda from across the hall.”
“I know. Are you settled in?”
“Not much to settle. What’s your name again?”
Why did she say again? Stella thought, she hadn’t told her in the first place.
“Stella, Stella Taylor.”
“Can I ask a favor?”
Oops the nod on the stairs had gotten things off to a bad start. What could the girl be asking for? Money probably or a request to let some service man into her apartment: expecting Stella to wait around all day for him.
“It’s nothing terrible,” the girl chuckled. “Just my mom.”
“Yeah, she’s coming to town to check out my place. You know moms.”
“And?” Not moms of tattooed girls.
“She’s not used to the city. I’ll be at work when the bus arrives. Could you tell her where things are if she gets disoriented?”
“Does she have Alzheimer’s?” Stella blurted. She wasn’t up to trailing some old lady down the street.
“No. Sharp as a pin but she isn’t used to apartments. You can’t hide the key under the flower pot here like we do at home.”
Thank goodness for that Stella thought. She conceded that she would be in the next Thursday—unless an emergency came up—and reluctantly agreed to see Amanda’s mother got in safely.
Thursday afternoon, hearing a noise on the front stoop, Stella peaked through her blinds to see a fuzzy grey-haired woman shoving and pushing at the lock and mumbling under her breath. Assuming it was the errant mother, Stella hurried downstairs. On opening the front door, she caught the woman mumbling, “fuck” under her breath. No wonder the daughter had blue hair.
“Can I help you?” Stella cried almost tripping over the woman’s sagging grocery bags.
“I couldn’t get the bloody key to work.”
“I’ll show you the trick.”
“Not now. I have to pee in a terrible way.”
“You can use my toilet, then we’ll get you sorted.”
Once in the apartment Stella dropped the grocery bags, which she had carried up, and pointed the woman to the bathroom. The old lady darted in and smartly slammed the door.
It had been so long since Stella had had a stranger in her apartment she wondered if she would be expected to offer tea? When five minutes passed, Stella worried that the need for a toilet had been a ploy. What did she know about this woman or her daughter? And was this even the mother? If so, they might be in it together. But then what was there to steal in the bathroom?
Once the old lady finally came out, they went back downstairs to try out the front door key and then to the daughter’s apartment. Stella was offered, but declined, a cup of herbal tea. “I know that’s all Amanda will have on hand,” the mother shrugged and I forgot to bring my Red Rose.
Stella only drank black tea and the kitchen didn’t look too clean. In any event, sharing a cup of tea would set a bad precedent. The last thing she needed was to get entangled with neighbors. She had enough people in her life: three friends at the Community Centre (they played cards or scrabble), and a great aunt and uncle (who quarreled incessantly) living in a nearby long term care home.
Two days later, Stella jumped to a sharp rap on her door. She opened to find the blue haired girl, card in hand.
“Hi. Thanks so much for helping mom. She appreciated your suggestion about where to buy movie magazines.”
“I didn’t know for sure, I don’t read them.”
“I would have baked you a cake but I’m no cook,” this followed by a loud hoot. “And I’m gluten free and folks sometimes don’t like that. My mom prefers old fashioned cakes.”
“You don’t need to do anything,” Stella said attempting to shut the door.
“But I want to start off right. I bought you a gift certificate for nails—older women love that—and I’ve set us up a time side by side.”
“Side by side?”
“Yes, so we could chat. You might not want to go on your own. Fingers and Toes it’s called. A friend works there so I got a deal.”
Fingers were one thing but toes were one of her body parts Sheila kept concealed. She had never thought feet worth attention. (Except for once in her teen years, she had never even had open toed shoes.) But wiggle as she would, she couldn’t manage to get out of the nail session. A date was set and she reluctantly agreed to go.
The salon was near the apartment so they walked to it arriving just as a couple of women in flip-flops with bright red toenails came out of the door and proudly shuffled off.
Stella was set down on a large black chair, and before she could say no, her feet were thrust into a churning footbath. Her sponsor had insisted she have some color on her toenails, “It’s fun and it can be your secret indulgence.”
Caught in the moment, Stella ended up with bright blue nails, which looked hard as steel. When it came time to go home, she leaned over for her sneakers.
“No, no,” said the salon worker. “You’ll smudge. We have some flip-flops.”
Flip-flops hobbling down the street? How would that work? But shoes in a bag, purse swinging from her arm, she left the building with Amanda. Fine for this young girl—young people would wear anything—but she had to live in this neighborhood and there was always a chance someone she knew—Jenny from the corner store or Matt from the drop-in center—would walk by. And if they did, what would they think? You couldn’t miss her feet flapping along like a duck’s.
Struggling to shuffle along in the fragile shoes, Stella glanced down at her blue toes. Bizarre as they were, she had to admit, they looked jaunty peaking out from under the plastic strap.
She looked up to discover that only a short block away, Dr. Mitchel, her dentist—of all people—was heading in her direction. She pulled down her sun hat. Amanda smiled, “We’re twins, me with blue hair, you with blue nails,” she said and gave Stella’s arm a swing.
Well, of course they were nothing like twins but the girl was good hearted. She slipped her a thin smile, careful to keep her head down. This adventure was not as bad as she had feared but she might as well not push it.
~ Melodie Corrigall
Published in Subtle Fiction, Dec. 2017