Sunday, May 30 - hot
This morning I helped Veronica hang curtains. She’d bought a set of lined cotton panels (beige and Wedgwood blue) from Prof. S. and was trying to hang them in the living room where they worked well enough with her brown braided rug but fought against the rest of her color scheme, if scheme was what it was. She owns a Crayola green couch, which she’d spiffed up with cherry red and lemon pillows; behind it hangs a Grandma Moses print. A maple wood side chair under a reading lamp would have held its own but was hampered by maroon plush seat and back. Its arms were wide enough to hold the generations of water circles and cigarette burns that marked it as someone else’s cast-off. Veronica, I suspect, is a dumpster diver.
“Well,” I said, “They’re lovely curtains.”
She was determined to hang them in the living room no matter what the effect. At first I thought I’d been invited up to convince her they would look good, but of course they wouldn’t and no amount of discussion would make them. Yet, she craved discussion.
And that was it, of course. I was going to be here indefinitely, dancing with her through a faux discussion of where to hang these stupid drapes.
Finally, she called a friend and told her to come over; she needed a third opinion. Then she produced a cup of lukewarm instant coffee and a burnt muffin from a Christmas tin suggesting we settle in to read the paper until Betty arrived. Half a long hour later Betty Sheffield appeared holding a shopping bag and they embraced.
According to Betty and Veronica, they haven’t seen each other in four years, ever since Betty moved from Monnish Court. It took Betty slightly less than thirty seconds to agree on the bedroom for the beige curtains and even less to dissuade V. from trying to hang them right now. V. murmured something about Noah Williams across the hall.
“I always think jobs involving hammers are for men,” said Betty.
So all three of us moved to the green couch where they talked about men and I drank more lukewarm coffee. I would have left, but Betty gave me the eye, so I stayed. And stayed.
Betty has just ended a relationship and feels ambivalent. “Too many sleepless nights,” she said. “He was aging me.”
“Too much sex?” I wondered.
“He was a boozer! I was tired of worrying about him.”
“Well, you can’t miss that,” said Veronica, but Betty sighed and smiled.
“He made me laugh,” she said. “He was funny.”
And then I knew this was the thing that kept her up at nights, for to be kept laughing by a man, even one who drinks too much, is not something relinquished easily.
Veronica shared a story about a man named Martin Frobisher she dumped last year. He gave her a lot of presents she still has, pointing vaguely around the room.
“But they were so practical,” she said, slapping her bare knees. And oh, how he had nursed her when she had the diarrhea. But in the end he just wouldn’t leave her alone.
“I like my own space,” she said.
Finally, she introduced him to a widow friend and they’ve been married four months. I liked this part. It’s clever, yet smacks of good intentions and economy.
“Yes,” she said. But why, she wanted to know, did she follow it up with a two-week depression.
“Maybe because he shouldn’t have been so easy to unload,” I suggested.
We warmed the couch for another half-hour. Pleasant enough but still confusing. Veronica clearly wanted some attention from the girls. Wanted to sit between us on the couch and giggle. Wanted her mind made up for her, to share in her re-nesting. But why invite me? I’ve snubbed her regularly for six months. And Betty, who hasn’t been here in four years, yet evidently dropped her Sunday morning ritual to help her.
Before we escaped, Veronica asked if she wanted a linen jacket. Betty works part-time in a boutique and had, also at Veronica’s request, brought one over.
She strutted across the living room in a violent pink, which suited her, thrusting her hands in the jacket’s deep pockets, removing a white bandana handkerchief from one.
“That’s from me,” said Betty. “I don’t think a girl can have too many bandanas.” Agreeing, Veronica walked the handkerchief into the dining room where she left it on the table there. Turning back, she stood with her legs stick straight and looked so much as she must have fifty years earlier, eager and open, that we both smiled.
“You haven’t aged a minute,” said Betty with real fondness in her voice.
“Linen wrinkles just looking at it, I said, suggesting raw silk. Veronica, disappointed, finally handed the jacket back to Betty.
“I’ve got something for you, too,” she said and handed me an old cookbook published by the Tuscaloosa Junior League in 1959. “You can use my recipes if you like. And Elizabeth and Phoebe have several in there as well.”
The cookbook was well worn and liberally stained. Other recipes, cut from newspapers and magazines threatened to spill out. I took it in both hands. I love old books and diaries. Who knows what I’d find inside?