August proved to be a bad month for Maddy. Elliot had been dispatched to D. C. to complete a project for the government and Maddy was left alone, which was definitely not one of her talents. She had scraped by dragging Elliot to her apartment or tagging along to his. In other words, they were basically living together in two separate apartments. The single week she spent alone before Elliot did not prepare her for a month of solitary confinement.
It took an almost week for anyone to notice. Friday at the club, Sheila noticed that Maddy was doing more sitting and staring than exercising.
“What’s the matter?” said Sheila, “you look like somebody just shot your puppy dog.”
“Didn’t shoot him, just sent him to D. C. is all. That and the fact that I am totally helpless living alone; six days I overcooked, and I’ve got six zipper bags full of leftovers, three of which I’m afraid to eat. My apartment’s a mess and when it gets dark, I get scared.”
“Never lived alone, huh, I sort of grew up alone, maybe I can help,” said Sheila.
“First, no leftovers, ever. You’re not living in a third world country and there is no way to get the leftovers to little Juan who’s starving somewhere or another. I learned that when I was young. We’d get sick on the leftovers, so I started throwing them out. My bitch of a mother caught me and beat me a couple of times, but I stopped getting sick. Be thankful you’re alone and don’t have the roommate from Hell.
“Next, clean when you get home and keep it clean. Easiest to do when you make the mess in the first place. If you live in a mess you’ll get depressed and that feeds into doing nothing, and it gets messier and you get more depressed.
“I find cleaning sort of restful actually. Not a lot of thinking going on, and yet it drives everything out of your mind.
“Have a wash day and keep your clothes cleaned and pressed. Then every morning, dress very carefully to look your best. And finally, when you get up in the morning, make your bed, first thing, sets your whole day up to go right.
“I was born scared. Until Tommy I was a head under the covers sleeper. Now Tommy holds me and that’s better, but the week he had to go with Ed to Seattle I reverted pretty quickly.”
“You live like that?”
“Well, Tommy had to cut down the maid to two days a week. Once you get into it it sorts of boosts your spirits a bit. It’s really not the bother it seems to be when you talk about it. The only problem I have is the maid, have to clean a little harder when she comes so she won’t think I keep a dirty house.”
Having nothing much else to do, Saturday morning Maddy got up, made her bed, carried her clothes down to the laundry room, came back and started cleaning. She cleaned, went down and put her clothes in the dryer, came back up and cleaned. Then went down, got her clothes, folded, hung and ironed, and bing, bang, boom it was almost six.
She decided she’d earned a reward. So, she took a bath hot enough that she had to inch her way down into it, washed her hair, dried it, brushed it out. Then she belted up her garters, opened a new package of black nylons and smoothed them on. She chose a black skirt that came about an inch above her knees, freshly ironed, like the yellow silk blouse she decided on, made up and headed out.
She walked into the Two Sisters, a Cajun restaurant she liked in Sunnyvale, figuring if she couldn’t get a table she could eat at the bar. At the bar, she ran into big sister/Aunt Vicky and Ed.
“While the cat’s away, the mice will play,” said Vicky.
“Not really, just treating myself. Deep cleaned the apartment, so I figured I’d earned it.”
“Join us?” said Ed.
“I wouldn’t be a third wheel?”
“We’re old married people, haven’t you heard? I haven’t copped a feel in a restaurant for almost ten months,” said Ed, leaving them blushing as he walked over to the Maitre de.
Maddy liked Saturday so well she reprised it on Sunday with Elliot’s apartment and laundry; then called around and horned in on Arlette and Roger’s dinner at Sakura Gardens. But she still had trouble at night, surprisingly sleeping with her head under the covers helped.
She picked up Elliot at the airport, he had to fly into San Francisco or take the milk plane through half the country over eight hours to get to San Jose. Flyover country wasn’t exactly fly over when you were headed to a small airport, it was more bounce over country.
She embarrassed a lot of travelers the way she simply attacked Elliot. Not to be outdone he put his hand inside her bra to return the gesture, right there at the entrance to the gate.
Elliot couldn’t help but see the change in her. Having to get out of the bed as soon as she got up rather enforced it. And two cleaning ladies became rather resentful.
“You’ve learned to live alone?” He asked one November evening.
“Learned to live with it. Not fall into a funk about it. Hopefully it will become a little utilized skill, reserved for emergencies.”
December twenty-first is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and it happened to fall on a Friday. Everyone worked out, and after showers found their way to the juice bar to cool down.
Elliot waited for everyone, then he started:” Does anyone know what holiday is celebrated today?” he asked.
“Winter solstice,” said Arlette, “tons and tons of holidays. None American or Christian, however.”
“Not so,” said Elliot. “It’s the shortest day of the year. And it has been dubbed ‘Short Girl Appreciation Day,’ which pretty much requires us to appreciate a short girl.”
Then he acted as if he was trying to gauge the height of all the women. Finally settling on Maddy. He opened a jewelry box and handed it to her. She just took out the ring and put it on her finger.
As they embraced Arlette caught Sherilyn’s eye and pantomimed gagging herself with her finger.
IX. The Last Hurrah