THE SUN streamed through the south-facing balcony windows of Louella's new North Charles Street condo. In the far distance Louella could hear the rumblings of an MTA bus. Closer was the ticking of the new grandfather clock standing sentinel in the marble-floored foyer. Otherwise everything was silent as a tomb.
Louella surveyed her peach, beige, and soft blue surroundings-everything brand new, bought with her Lottery winnings. The rooms had been pulled together really fast by a very aggressive chain store "decorator."
"You don't want anything to look out of place, now, do you?" the woman had demanded.
Louella winced as she remembered how she'd allowed herself to be talked into installing palomino beige carpet. She'd had it before and had spent half her domestic time down on her knees scrubbing out spots. But it did look nice as long as nobody walked on it.
She looked at the clock. Three hours until her shift as a cashier at the Giant. Amazing how scanning groceries can get to be something to look forward to, she thought. At least there are people around you and you can hear some gossip, maybe even sneak a peak at The Enquirer or Globe..."
She'd been in the condo for two months already and was on a stiff nodding acquaintance with only two neighbors so far. One, a middle-aged woman who wore her darkened hair in a tight topknot, looked like she might be a retired ballet dancer. They had acknowledged each other's existence as they picked up their mail downstairs. The other was a very old man who used a walker. Louella had held the elevator door open for him.
At this rate I'll be 80 years old before anybody knows my name besides the receptionist, Louella thought. Everybody knew me and my business over in Highlandtown. There's got to be some middle ground somehow. Maybe I should try to work more hours. Twenty-five just isn't enough to fill my week.
The phone rang. It's a mercy, Louella thought as she grabbed it. She used to let the answering machine screen her calls, but lately she'd found she was glad to chat with investment counselors and cellular phone shills.
"Lou? It's me, Candy! Guess what?"
Her sister. Oh great, thought Louella. She's got another boyfriend. "What's up? I've got to leave for work soon, so I can't take a lot of time-"
"You're a great-aunt! And I'm a grandmother!" shrieked Candy. "Can you believe it?! It happened just an hour ago at Hopkins!"
I didn't do anything to deserve this, I really didn't. I'm only 35 years old. God, why are you punishing me? thought Louella. "Girl or boy?" she asked.
"A girl! Seven pounds, five ounces! And Lou, she has your curly red hair!"
"Mom says she's your spittin' image! You gotta see her!"
Louella felt flushed. "When can I come?" she blurted.
I wonder who's paying their hospital bill? she thought, suddenly anxious.