The New Deal
“Make a cup of tea, Mom.”
Marcy heard the phone click. She sighed, pressed the recall button, counted twelve rings, knowing her mother would not answer. Retired too early. That’s the problem. What was she thinking? Retiring, selling the house, moving to a condo, refusing to even have a goldfish or a plant. What was she thinking? She flipped her phone shut and it rang.
“Yes. I made a cup of tea. After all, I don’t have enough sense to know when I need a cup. My daughter has to tell me.”
“We need English teachers for summer school, Mom. I’ve called everyone. Couldn’t you teach one class?”
“Of course I could, dear.”
Marcy noted the sarcastic voice and knew she had set herself up.
“But will I? Hell, no. I am so thankful I will never have to look at a freshman’s face and teach the correct use of lie, lay, and lain, ever again. Jeez, what makes every generation think they invented the term, get laid.”
“They never get over it, you know? The old boy next door tried to get a little feel in the laundry room yesterday. I elbowed him good. They’re all on Viagra, or Levitra, or whatever. Nothing better to do, so they sit around the pool and compare the results. Every one of them is over eighty.”
“That’s exactly what I mean. You’re too young for a retirement community. If you don’t want to teach, maybe you should volunteer, join a travel club, cultivate some new interests.”
“Now, why didn’t I think of that?”
Marcy sighed. “Why are you being so defensive and sarcastic?”
“Because, I called you about the conversation I overheard on the balcony while I was having coffee this morning, and you keep changing the subject. You are responding to me like I’m a senile old lady imagining things. I’ll not have you talking to me that way, young lady. I’ll not have it at all.”
Marcy smiled at being called a young lady at thirty-four. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Honey,” Irene’s voice softened, “I truly did overhear two men plotting a murder.”
“Couldn’t they have been talking about a television show or a movie?”
“Go over it one more time, Mom.”
“No. I’m going to get my nails done.”
“Want to look nice for the old geezers, huh?” Marcy laughed.
“I want to look nice for Roger.” Irene referred to her longtime romantic interest.
“If you look too nice, he’ll propose again.”
“He’s got the message. I’ll not get married again. Hm, I think I will parade him around the grounds though; let the old guys know I’m not available. If only one sees me, the news will travel like wildfire. These old boys are the worst gossips I ever saw. Got to run, dear. I’ll meet you for lunch at Gino’s tomorrow. Okay?”
Roger took a sip of wine and looked over the balcony. “You were sitting here when you heard the men’s voices?”
“Yes. The sun is at my back in the morning. I was having my coffee and working the crossword, with my left arm resting on the rail. I think they saw my elbow sticking out.”
Roger leaned back a bit and rested his bent arm on the rail. “Like this?”
“You heard one man say something about smothering being the best way to keep the murder scene clean?”
“One man, with a French accent, said: ‘We’ll keep it clean. I prefer smothering. So tidy.’ The other man, with a Canadian accent, said: ‘That’s your department. I’m the disposal man.’ I pulled in my arm and accidently hit the cup and saucer. It didn’t fall or break, but it’s so quiet here, the sound must have carried, because Frenchie whispered: ‘Sh, someone’s on the balcony.’ Canadian replied: ‘Ah, they’re all deaf in this place.’ They were silent a moment before Frenchie boomed, ‘Let’s go rehearse our scene inside.’ It was so obvious the way he yelled; he was covering up.”
“That’s it? That’s all you heard?”
“I heard them slide the door open, then closed. Then a car started up, but it was gone before I got to the front window. The apartment is supposed to be empty. Michigan ‘snowbirds’ I was told by the office.”
“You went to the office to inquire?”
“Did you tell the office manager what you heard?”
“No. I lied and said a friend was looking for a place. The story would sound so vague, she would probably think I was imagining things. I did tell her someone was in the apartment. She said she would look into it, but I doubt if she bothers.”
“You didn’t necessarily lie about a friend looking for a place. What would you think if I bought one?”
Irene thought for a moment. To her way of thinking, the relationship was perfect as it was. The only problem was Roger pushing for a closer one. She preferred him living on the other side of Littleton Beach. It was close enough, but not too close. “Don’t bother if you’re thinking of doing it to be near me. I can’t admit it to Marcy yet, but I don’t think this place is really for me.”
“What don’t you like about it?”
“All of the residents are elderly, and strangely, the men outnumber the women considerably. It’s a regular good old boys’ club.”
“That is rather odd. Women widows definitely outnumber the guys, especially in Florida. Well, I don’t know what to tell you, hon. Concerns me a little, but there’s nothing you can do with so little to go on. Keep your eyes open and your doors locked.” Roger finished his wine and lowered his voice seductively, “And of course, you can always call me to come over if you’re worried.”
“Or, if I’m not worried.” Not in a romantic mood, she found Roger’s tone irritating. “Let’s go to dinner; perhaps I am making too much of it.”
The Riverside Café was quiet. They chose a corner booth.
“One of the advantages of the off season, no waiting.” Roger slid in beside Irene and left the other side vacant. “Cozy, huh?”
“Um hum. I think I’ll have crab cakes. I haven’t had them for a while. What are you going to have?”
“I guess I’ll have the crab cakes, too. They’re pretty good here. Not as good as the ones you fixed a couple of months ago, but good.”
Irene studied the menu. “We could have something else and fix crab cakes at your house tomorrow night. I’ll do the crab cakes if you’ll take care of the side dishes.”
“Deal. Want to go for the prime rib? I cut down on red meat like you suggested—haven’t had prime rib in a long time.”
“Okay.” Irene rested her head on his shoulder and thought about what a good man he was. The cozy atmosphere softened her mood, and the idea of a romantic evening seemed more inviting.
She felt content.
Irene was still feeling content with her life when she met Marcy for lunch the next day. She went over the story about the overheard conversation again.
“It is odd, but I agree with Roger, there’s not much you can do. I’ll talk to Todd about it tonight.” Marcy’s statement was followed by a long uncomfortable silence.
Irene stirred sugar into her tea. “What’s wrong, honey?”
Marcy took a deep breath. “Am I that obvious?”
“I’m your mother. Mothers know. Teens can be a handful, but my intuition tells me it’s the marriage that’s not going well.”
“That’s an understatement. It’s falling apart, Mom.” Marcy’s voice broke; she held back tears. “I don’t want to get into it here—certainly don’t want to go back to work with my make-up a mess.”
“Come over in the morning. We’ll have a girl talk.”