“Excuse me, but can I help you over the snowbank?” I asked the elderly woman wearing a lavender parka.
“Oh thank you, this weather is impossible. How am I supposed to run my errands? Apparently it’s all because of global warming, but who knows. I mean how do you ever really know something for sure?”
“Here, let me hold your hand.”
“You’ve got a grip like a large man, did anyone ever tell you that? It’s a good thing, it’s a compliment.”
“Oh, well, thanks.”
“My name is Vivienne, but you can call me V. What’s your name?”
“Mary Ellen. It’s a pleasure meeting you V.”
“Likewise. It’s not every day that someone asks if I need help. Apparently global warming has erased everyone’s good manners too. The world’s gone to hell in a hand-basket, but what are you going to do? I mean you either kill yourself or you just get on with life, those are really the only two options.”
“That’s one way to put it,” I said, arching an eyebrow.
Well this lady is a character
“Today I need to buy a few groceries. Then I’ll bake cookies – I always bake cookies on Thursdays. I have to call Deloris and Maude, they’re my last remaining friends. We check in on each other every day to make sure no one bit the dust overnight. Thursdays I also clean my bathroom. I have a maid who comes in once a month to give the house a good scrub, but I also like to clean. I never want to be one of those sad old ladies who lives in filth.”
“You have a busy day ahead of you. What kind of cookies are you baking?”
“Jam Thumbprints. Have you ever had them? They are incredibly tasty. Very nice with a cup of tea. I eat 24-36 cookies a week, depending on the recipe. Last week I made pecan sandies and the week before that it was gingersnaps.”
“I don’t see how you’re going to get on the streetcar safely with all this snow, why don’t I stay here with you until it arrives,” I suggested.
“That would be wonderful, I love to chat. It gets lonely living by myself. My kids drop by once a week, but I don’t care for them much. That’s a horrible thing to say, I know. But at my age there’s no point in mincing words. My son Lenny is an absolute failure and he’s chubby too. Three marriages, three divorces. But thank god no kids because he would have been a dreadful father. He’s one of those men who a certain kind of woman always likes to take care of? Do you know that type?”
“Actually I do. My friend Melissa is always dating those kind of men. Maybe she’ll marry Lenny.”
“HA!” chuckled V.
“And my daughter is the corporate head of something at Loyola Bank. I honestly don’t think she has a soul. All she cares about is making money. More more more. I think she’s after my house. This neighborhood is considered trendy now – that’s what I read in the weekend paper. Hipsters are moving here, whatever they are—”
“That guy next to the mailbox is a hipster,” I whispered to V.
“The one with facial hair and jeans that are skinny like tights?”
“His pants are ridiculous, how does he even get them on? Anyways, the point is that I think my daughter wants to tear down my house – HER childhood home – and build a McMansion as soulless as she is. But she’s in for a big surprise: when I die the house is being donated to The Women’s College Hospital. I’ve already got all the legal documents drawn up, my neighbours are both lawyers.”
“Wow. That’s a surprise all right. I think it’s wonderful that you’re donating your house to the hospital, they do excellent work. You haven’t mentioned your husband, did he already pass on?”
“He didn’t pass on, he died. He died fifteen years ago that bastard. He promised me he would always be by my side. Every night I spray his pillowcase with Old Spice, it was his favorite. And I talk to him before going to sleep. I mean obviously he doens’t talk back, but it calms me. I probably sound like a whack-job right now, but it’s the truth. What about you Mary Ellen? Do you have a husband or what is it a…a partner? Or maybe a wife? I shouldn’t leave anything out. I try to keep up with the times you know, I have a subscription to People Magazine.”
“I have a partner, his name is Jared. He’s a hospital administrator.”
“What does that mean exactly?”
“Honestly V I have no idea.”
V laughed loudly.
“What do you do for a job?”
“I decorate people’s homes.”
“Oh you’re one of those creative types.”
“Yes, I am. Look – your streetcar is almost here, I’ll help you on.”
“Stop by sometime for a cup of tea and cookies. I’m just up the street at 15 Greenwood. You’ve probably noticed my house before: in the summer my tiny lawn blooms with hundreds of cosmos, they stretch out over the sidewalk.”
“Oh your flowers are amazing! The cosmos look like tall skinny colorful people who are having a wild party! Give me your hand V, let’s get you on this streetcar.”
“Thank you. Don’t forget to come visit me. I’ll give you cookies to take home to your partner too.”
“I will V. Safe shopping today.”
“Look, the hipster is getting on the streetcar too. I’m going to sit next to him and ask him about his pants.”
I watched as V sat down next to the skinny jeans guy and he turned and smiled at her. She was hard to resist.
Photo: Artist Louise Bourgeois photographed by Herlinde Koelbl. NY Times