Fumbling with my keys, I ask the front desk attendant about my mail while out of the corners of my eyes I see Mrs. Nobles, true to word, waiting on the sofa.
Who knows, I almost sigh, remembering Prudence’s bat senses.
“Ms. Duprey, we’ve sent most of your mail to your room already. You just have a few catalogs that came in today. If you can wait a second I’ll get them for you.”
“Sure. And thank-you,” I say, watching him bend to gather my things from a folder in the drawer beside him. Still I refuse to turn around and face Prudence, peeved; what right does she have to interfere in my life? I restrain myself from beating a pattern on the granite desktop. I can imagine her perched in pristine regality on the edge of the sofa, the same sofa I laid, sprawled across, obviously a complete spectacle late one evening, months ago now.
Remembering I think, she’s probably disappointed in me. Especially with the way I’m dressed. I bet she thought I already passed this stage; I smirk inwardly. That’s what she gets; she doesn’t know or own me, ruining my evening, I gripe, collecting my packages from the hands of the attendant.
“Ms. Nobles, are you alright?”
The concern in both voice and face of the attendant spins me to Prudence tilting sideways on the sofa.
I drop my packages back onto the counter before rushing, along with the door attendant, to her side.
“I’m okay,” she says, sitting upright, then readjusting her jacket after her deep nod. “It’s just been a long tiring trip.”
“I believe you,” the deskman says, leaning over her, after he secured the desk. “I’m really sorry to hear about your grandsons,” he continues his voice low.
“What happened?” asks the young door attendant, to the facial dismay of William.
“It’s alright,” Prudence says with a faint smile. “I can talk about it. But first, what’s your name. I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you,” she says in her southern drawl.
“Paul. Paul Long.”
“Well, nice to meet you Paul. And this young lady standing before me is my neighbor, Diamond Duprey.”
After our greetings, she tells about the accidental drowning of one of her grandsons—the well-behaved one, and the drug related death of the other, both funerals held together. And she’s sitting here concerned about me? I wonder amazed, watching her take hold of the walkers’ handles, struggling to rise with her severe rheumatoid-arthritic hands.
Gripping her arm, I try to pull, but she gently shakes off my hand, saying, “Thank you, honey; I’d love your help. But you know, this week everyone’s handled me with kid gloves. Now I’m home. I need to do this myself,” she says still struggling. “Just give me a second. The hardest part is standing up, but after that I’m homeward bound,” she ends with a big grin. “But stay close; I just may need you. Just not this time. Okay?”
I smiled, staying close, remembering that I practically lifted her with ease despite her solid looks. She’s lost weight.
Usually prepared for cold, the wool suit under a black wool cape with a colorful silk scarf tossed jauntily around her shoulders gave her deceptive bulk. But her hair—stylishly short and gray—is uncovered, I note, then realizing; oh, the scarf around her shoulders is actually for her hair. That’s more like her, I acknowledge, smiling into watery gray eyes.
I touch her hand—its skin covered with brown age spots and her thin shriveled fingers wearing beautiful pearl and diamond rings, surprised at the softness, her warm smile disappearing as she moves her walker towards the glass doors. Paul follows with my packages.
Our slow pace allowed me to think back to Ms. Nobles rendition of that night not long ago. Her version, since I couldn’t remember mines went this way: She said she came in late—again from out-of-town, finding me on the sofa, because the young night desk attendant didn’t know what to do with me. The young man had been waiting for security or management to deal with me. But Prudence volunteered to escort me upstairs, with the help of two sturdy fellows, I being dead weight.
So there she was, a woman with rheumatoid arthritis, and a walker, taking responsibility for a mature businesswoman, myself; delirious. They got me into the elevator and into my apartment. She actually stayed with me until I slept—this stranger. I remember waking on the sofa to her in my wing-backed chair.
Later, she filled me in with more details. Actually, someone found me on the front step, outside the hotel, recognized me; then walked me into the lobby. There was where she found me. She vouched for my character and told the building overseer that she would talk with me, because she believed that this was an isolated event.
I relive that embarrassment, wondering; how can I stay upset with her?
Her “Diamond, honey, I’ve missed seeing you. If you’ve got a minute, how about telling me what you’ve been doing over a cup of tea. You got time for the old lady?” brings me back, standing outside the elevator.
“Sure,” I say, sneaking a glance at my watch. It’s only eight o’clock. Still early. If the plants haven’t died by now, they won’t. “Sure, I’ve got more than a minute.”
Holding open the door for her and Paul, I look around the inner and outer lobby realizing; I really missed this place. The Italian design is a far cry from the decay and dampness of Mom’s place. And here there’s a continuous flow of residents and guests—always an air of excited activity. Everyone here on the go.
Mrs. Nobles makes it though the glass door, while I push the elevator button as she begins to tell me about Virginia where her son and daughter-in-law live. When we reach the tenth floor she fumbles for the keys to her apartment, but grins at me.
“Have you been doing any reading?”
Reading? Oh. Her magazines.
“No, Ms. Nobles. I’ve been working two jobs, and I have missed them, but. . .”
“You will. I know. I’ll give you the latest ones before you go. Anyway, did I ever tell you about the time my son wanted to buy his first car?”
“No. I don’t think you have.”
“Well, come on in and I’ll tell you.”
Before entering her place I give Paul the keys to place my things in my room across the hall, asking him to, “Just leave the door unlocked and the keys on the hallway table, would you, Paul?”
“No, problem.” He answers, lobbing off.
Tall Paul; I grin.
After helping Prudence remove her coat, I place it in her hallway closet, but before removing mine I remember my outfit—Mrs. Nobles won’t approve.
She observed my hesitation and laughs her tinselly laugh. “It’s okay, honey. I’ve already seen it. Relax, while I put on the tea.”
Embarrassed, I obey, then glance around her small studio apartment, impressed with how neat everything is. Her style resembled those of my classmate’s grandmothers, the classic grandmother style—chintz-covered sofas and loveseats, with crocheted throws and dollies everywhere. I smile. Knick-knack heaven.
But upon closer examination, I notice that’s she’s collected items from all over the world—Russian dolls, exquisitely carved wooden boxes—from Africa? Unique colorful glass—from Italy?—enclosed behind a large glass breakfront.
I think; I’ve got to ask her about where she’s been.
There’s also a strong smell of peppermint, probably because of her tea. Over the rattle of pots and the sound of running water, Mrs. Nobles goes on to tell her story.
“My son was a very good boy, never got into any trouble. So my husband Nathaniel and I decided to allow him to purchase an automobile when he reached the age of seventeen—his very own car. He was so excited because he had been saving his money from back-breaking odd-jobs for some time.”
I settled back against the small round pillows, smiling as she worked. This might be awhile.
She continued, “Bobby—Robert was his real name, but we called him Bobby. Bobby worried us every day about that car; but we told him to take his time. His money was going nowhere, so there was no need to rush. But you know young people—always in a hurry.
So Nathaniel and I told him to go and take a look around. When he found something he liked we would go and look at it together. But mind you, we didn’t just send him on his way without some things to consider. No, that wouldn’t be right since young people can be so impressionable.”
Again she smiled.
“We knew Bobby was familiar with cars, because Nathaniel, his father and my husband, owned a couple of them over a period of time and Bobby would work on them with him. But sometimes, you know. . .”
The teakettle starts to whistle.
“Honey, would you pour the tea for us. That’s a dear,” she said as I went over to the stove. “Everything’s right there. Just bring the whole tray over.”
I did and went on to pour while she talked.
“Thank-you, honey. . . Now where was I? Oh. . . Like I said before he saved his money, so we told him to be very careful because he may never have a lump sum like that again. Nathaniel told him, ‘Don’t waste it on a lemon.’
So Bobby went out on his own and fell in love with a yellow convertible. A Buick, I think. I don’t know. But, a yellow convertible. They saw him coming.
He was so excited, so pleased and confident in his judgment that he forgot what we told him. Did he wait for us to inspect the car?
He bought it right then and there. He brought it home without so much as a thorough check of the insides; he was so taken with the outside. That car made one ride onto our property and sat beautiful in our driveway for many years after that. Useless. Savings wasted.
Now he did buy another car, a good one. But the feeling is never the same. If he would’ve just thought it through, his first experience purchasing a car—after much time spent saving—could’ve been a pleasure. The car could’ve been both beautiful and trustworthy. Not a lemon.”
Mrs. Nobles’ eyes twinkle, “get the point” over her cup and saucer. She pauses and after a moment says, “Drink up, honey, before it gets cold.”
After allowing me the opportunity for her story to sink in Mrs. Nobles’ asks, “So, where did you go?”
After updating her on my time away, I notice that her head starts to droop occasionally, so I get up to leave. The movement jars her.
“I’m sorry, honey. It’s been a long day, but I’ve really enjoyed your visit. You must come again. Soon. Let me know how things are working out with your mom.”
“Thank-you. I will.”
As I turn to leave she says in a voice wide awake, “I don’t like his eyes.”
What? . . . Whose? Oh. She must mean Sky’s.
Turning around, I respond, “But I love his eyes.”
“Come here,” she commands. So I walk over to her shriveling frame in the wingchair.
She touches my cheek, her smile serious, sad, and says, “Diamond, let me tell you what you remind me of lately. A puppy chasing her tail. Occasionally, you’ll yelp, but round-n-round you go in this vicious circle. I worry about you, Diamond. I want you to recognize that circles are stagnant; they go nowhere; they’re counterproductive. So open your eyes Honey. Focus.”
I drop my eyes. She gently grabs hold of my chin, forcing, then locking my gaze, continuing. “Your eyes are beautiful, Diamond, but blind. Don’t be blind. You’ve got so much to offer. Promise me you won’t throw it all away.”
“I won’t,” I promise standing and walking past a mirror on my way to the door. After a brief glimpse I find myself wondering if Sky thinks my eyes are beautiful too.
“And by-the-way,” her tired voice causes me to stop. “You’ve put on a little weight haven’t you?”
“Ms. Nobles,” I say, staring, surprised.
Who wants to hear that?
“It looks good on you,” she continues. “The next clothe size will look wonderful on you,” she finishes with a gleam in her eyes.
Before closing the door, as I turn for one last glance, I see her head already resting peacefully on her chest, deciding; nodding off in her chair is probably her routine.