"Oh dear me, handcuffs?” I ask. “Are they necessary?"
“Yes. Ma’am. Regulation.” The burly man in the gray suit says. He’s so handsome, reminds me of my grandson William, so smart, could read before kindergarten. It’s such a shame; William’s job keeps him so too busy to visit.
“May I sit? Sometimes my legs just don’t want to work real good.” I say.
One gray suit nods and pulls out a chair. “We’d like to ask you a few questions.” He says.
I nod. They look like such nice young men. I can’t tell which man smells of Aqua Velva. Their mothers must be so proud. The taller of the two reminds me of my son. When I still had a license I would visit his grave every Sunday. He loved the night sky and taught me all about the constellations. I had stars etched on his headstone. “It’s so considerate you made the trip all the way out here to see me taking time from your family. Do you have children? How about pets?”
The shorter of the two men looks so official and knowledgeable. I like to think he reads mysteries and smokes cigars.
He nods and pulls a small spiral notebook from his pocket. “I need to ask about a phone call.”
I do so enjoy this part. “Oh, ask away. I’m ready, I made sugar cookies for the occasion and I can make peppermint tea. It’s so good for the stomach. My husband Doyle used to say I made the best peppermint tea. He’s been gone for.” I stop because I can’t remember. Numbers seep into the crevasses of my brain washing through the sieve of time.
“I have both honey and sugar cubes for the tea. I used to get honey from my neighbor. Maybe you knew him; John B. Dennison. He’d always want to show off a magic trick. Let me warn you, he was a good man but he cheated at 500 Rummy. One day John was boiling eggs and forgot to turn the burner off. After the fire, his daughter, a sour excuse of a human being, packed him up and sent him off to Pleasant Manor.”
“Mrs. Caldwell.” The nice man holding paper and a pen says.
I bet he has a lovely wife who loves him very much. She may be expecting their first child. I should get my needles out and knit them some slippers. I bet they like blue. Everyone likes blue.
“Call me Charlotte. Might one of you be a sweetheart and grab my lavender cardigan? Over by my shelf of photo albums. If you would be so kind as to drape it over my shoulders I’m feeling a bit of a chill.”
“Mrs.” He pauses. “I mean Charlotte. We’d like to ask about an order you placed last month.”
“Oh yes. Ask away.” I say. Just then Mr. Fred Browning patters in the kitchen and meows. I can tell by the tone of his meow he’s hungry. A cat will never say much about loving you but those rascals sure will meow and let you know when their bowl is empty. So I ask if one of the men can refill the food dish. He obliges. He’s so neighborly. Just as I imagined. I bet he likes oatmeal cookies. Why didn’t I make oatmeal cookies? I bet they’re not going to want to visit again. If they don’t come back I only have myself to blame. My mother, God rest her soul, always told me if I didn’t stop being so needy I’d never have any friends.
“Charlotte. Might I use your bathroom?”
“Absolutely. First door on the right, hold the handle down to flush.”
One of the men disappears. I hope he notices the special guest towels and soaps. I save them for special occasions.
“Friend? Could you get a piece of china from the hutch?” I lift my wrist a little to remind him of the handcuffs. “I put the fresh sugar cookies in the orange Tupperware container by the toaster. Don’t you just love Tupperware?” I pause. “I write C. Caldwell on the bottom. You can’t be too careful when you take cookies to church picnics. I don’t even want to remember how many times my Tupperware disappeared. Come to think of it, I went to my Tupperware lady’s funeral.” I stop. My brow furrows. I don’t recall what year she died.
Just then one of Mr. Fred Browning’s girlfriends slinks in. Her name is Ms. Sabrina Sassypants. That cat is going to be the death of me. Pet her head and she’ll never stop meowing until you pet her belly then she’ll spin around and try bite you. I’ve tried to tell Ms. Sabrina about having friends over. Heavens to Betsy that cat will never learn!
After my friend returns from the bathroom he asks all the routine questions and I answer as I always do by repeating I have no idea.
After the handcuffs come off that’s when I make the peppermint tea. I use just the right amount of honey but I offer sugar cubes with my special silver plate tongs. Doyle bought me them. Oh, he spoiled me so. I don’t think any wife had a better husband. I can still remember the day I got the tongs, I was pregnant with our son and we were out for a drive. Doyle surprised me by stopping at Montgomery Wards. Mary Joseph, I loved that store. If I close my eyes I can still remember how new and fresh Ward’s smelled. With those tongs, I really was the queen of the county.
After sugar cookies I ask what size slippers my new friends wear. Usually by this time I boil more water for tea. However, I never put the kettle on high. I keep it on medium and let the water come to a boil real slow. I offer to make pudding from scratch and they decline.
My friends check my basement, my garage and my shed for, I don’t know, maybe something explosive. I ask them to fill my bird feeder, and they help me wash and dry the teacups. As the sky darkens, I get out Doyle’s Polaroid camera and take a photograph of my friends. If you can’t have family, I feel friends are the next best thing. I hope my two new friends have a long life and when their hair is as gray as their suits they’ll have special friends too.
As I wave goodbye, Ms. Sabrina Sassypants is licking her paw and cleaning her face. Under my lavender cardigan, I sit absorbing the warmth. I open my phone book and run my finger down the list to the next entry. Perry Industrial Chemical & Supply. Tomorrow I’ll call and ask for their very best price on yellow cake uranium.