Lucille stepped from her apartment for the first time in over a year. Groceries and necessities were always delivered. What led to her self-imposed isolation had little to do with COVID. That came along as a convenience.
Indeed nervousness and anxiety made her quiver inside, however, she was determined to reacquaint herself with old friends. She wanted to see the old neighborhood. The friends she acquired over the years and the young folks who kept her thinking young and challenged her wit danced in her mind like a grand ball.
In fact, on this first day she planned to do something she had not done in quite some time; have a guest for supper.
Her first stop was no more than two doors away from her apartment building, Benson’s Grocery.
She grabbed a small cart and started down one of the aisles of the small store. She placed a number of items in the cart. The feeling of actually shopping excited her; seeing, examining, and choosing.
Closer to the far end of the store the white refrigerated meat counter stretchered the entire width of the store. She pushed towards it excited to see Mr. Benson. “I shall invite him and his wife,” she thought and smiled.
“Next please!” Benson said.
“Hello, Mr. Benson,” Lucille said. “If you had to pick something to eat tonight what would it be?”
“Look, lady,” Benson said, “I don’t have time for twenty questions. I got work to do. What is it you want? I got chicken on sale.”
Lucille forced a smile. “Yes, I can see you are busy; I’ll take a rump roast.”
He wrapped it, weighed it, marked it, and handed it to her over the counter.
“He’s a busy man,” she thought and smiled to herself making her way to the cashier.
“Margie, the cashier,” Lucille thought and smiled. “I’ll invite her.”
Lucille placed the items on the counter. Without looking up, Margie scanned and placed them in bags.
“Can you have these delivered, Margie?” Lucille said.
“Sure, Lucy,” Margie said. “where?”
“Lucille, Lucille Martin, two doors east, two ten.”
“Sure, will have them there in thirty minutes,” Margie said.
“That will be forty-five twenty, Lucy,” Margie said looking out the front window.”
Lucille removed the billfold from her purse and said to herself, “She’s not even sure of my first name. She wouldn’t make a good supper guest. She’d be embarrassed to know my name is Lucille.”
Lucille paid and left. She strolled and stopped to window shop. “Wanda! At the dry cleaners,” she thought. “She’s such a delight. I should have brought some dry cleaning. Never the mind, I’ll stop and invite her.”
Lucille walked into the dry cleaners. Behind the counter stood Wanda, the cheerful bundle of smiles and joy that brightened up the gloomiest of days.
“Hi, Wanda,” Lucille said.
“Hi, Lucille,” Wanda said not cracking a smile. “Where have you been, Petersen’s around the corner? He raised his prices; now ya comin’ back ta us. Ya know when he opened up they cut my hours.”
“I had no idea,” Lucille said. “I’ve been staying inside a lot lately.”
“You could have sent out, ya know,” Wanda said.
“I just saw no use in sending out when I wasn’t using anything that needed to be dry cleaned.”
“For two years?” Wanda said.
Lucille forced a smile. “It’s been just a little over a year.”
“Seems like two,” Wanda scowled.
“Well,” Lucille said, “I just came by to say hi and cheer you up.”
“Thanks,” Wanda said and smiled with her mouth only. Her eyes could have melted steel. “Goodbye.”
“Goodbye, I’ll bring some dry cleaning soon,” Lucille said and left the store.”
“My,” Lucille said meandering along the sidewalk, “I don’t think Wanda is in the mood for supper, at least with me.”
“Oh my goodness,” Lucille thought. Her chest felt free and relaxed. “My sweet sweet Melinda. We’ve been friends since grade school. I was her bride’s maid. She named her daughter after me. She and Robert for a meal; oh my, just like old times. She can catch me up on the ole gang. Those wonderful bridge nights. And the book club. Oh yes, the book club; hours of talk. We never wanted to leave. And Melinda was such a gifted reader. I think she could have been an actress. Robert’s, Robert’s Florist Shop. I loved going there; curious little gifts. My apartment is full of their little knickknacks and gifts; even when there was no need. I always found a place for them or they made such wonderful gifts. I can’t wait to hug her. And Robert, his warm smile and a full mustache, so manly and warm. They are such great fun.”
Lucille opened the door the Robert’s Florist Shop. The tiny little bell above the door tinkled. Familiar odors greeted like a warm fire on a chilly damp evening.
Melinda sat behind the counter. She smiled and sprung to her feet. “Can I help you?”
“Melinda, it’s me, Lucille.”
Melinda reached for her glasses hanging from her neck. She squinted until they firmly rested on her nose.
“Can I help you?” Melinda said.
“It’s Lucille,” Lucille said. “I’ve come to visit.”
“Visit!” Melinda said. “You could have visited when Robert died.”
“Robert died!” Lucille said. “I didn’t know. I’m so sorry. But you see, I’ve been ill. It’s hard for me to explain but I’ve just been sick.”
“Sick, ha!” Melinda scoffed. “The least would have been a card or phone call. Some friend. Are you in for the friend-to-friend discount we always gave you?”
Lucille’s eyes fell to the counter. To the side, a small hoya plant sat with wilted leaves. In a strange sort of way it immediately reminded Lucille of herself.
“How much for the hoya?” Lucille said. “No friend to friend discount. I think it will make a wonderful house plant.”
“Just take it and leave,” Melinda said.
“Thank you, my dear Melinda,” Lucille said. Her smile was not forced but as sincere as she felt in a long time. She clutched the plant and left through the door with the little tinkling bell.
Walking back to her apartment building she cradled it in her arm next to her chest.
“You look only a little neglected. You will make a wonderful guest for supper this evening; just a little water and some conversation, that’s all you need, and you’ll spring back to life.”