Our apartments are separated by a thin strip of alleyway. I look down, out my open window, and see a stray cat running from a stray dog. They hiss and bark and run into garbage cans. The cat barely graces them, but the dog knocks them over and garbage spills onto the concrete. Oddly, it reminds me of this situation. Total garbage. People sick, people dying, people hoarding. Beatrice and I used to have coffee every day in my tiny kitchen; now, we have to holler at each other across the alley. My throat is so hoarse from our talk yesterday, I drink more coffee to soothe it.
It’s strange, seeing hardly any cars on the streets or people wandering down the alley. Sometimes, I would use my view to pass the day, making up stories about people I don’t know. I imagine they are on a dastardly mission, ready to steal the jewels from the lady in 5b. She wears enough I keep expecting her neck to snap from the weight. She has a ring on each finger too, all sparkling and big and expensive. But I also imagine other things. People lost, searching for their souls or homes. People forced to walk to work because they have no car. My ability to make up silly stories is endless.
I sip on my coffee again, wishing I had added more vanilla creamer. But I don’t want to do it now; I don’t want to miss Beatrice when she opens her window. If she doesn’t see me, she might think I forgot and go back to her solitary pursuits.
After another moment, I hear the unmistakable scrap of metal on metal. Glancing up, I see Beatrice struggling with her window. She really should oil that thing. Or get her landlord to fix it. But she won’t. Beatrice is stubborn; she would rather do it on her own or not at all.
I’m a bit worried about her. She’s looking paler now that she gets hardly any sun. Is she eating? I swear her shirt hangs from her shoulders a little too much. But maybe the shirt is just too big. I haven’t seen it before. It’s white, with two cats napping on the front. The wording blurs, because nearsightedness makes it hard to see far away, even with my reading glasses.
She waves, taking a drink of her steaming coffee. “Good morning, Rosie. How are you this fine, sunny day?”
I snort. “Better if I could go outside into the fine sunshine.”
Beatrice sighs. “Me too. Hey, did you watch The Voice last night on TV?”
Of course, I did. I wouldn’t miss it.
“Oh, yes, did you expect that one girl to get kicked off?”
“The one with curls? No, she sounds amazing. It just goes to show talent really gets you nowhere these days.”
“You got that right. Someone’ll probably win that sucks. How's Edith?” I inquire after her cat, an overweight Tabby with a drooling problem. The cat never fully retracts its tongue, and the more you pet it, the more it drools.
“I don’t know about her. She seems depressed. Laying in the corner, not eating.”
I want to tell her it’s probably because the cat is 12 years old. She’s bound to die soon. But that would be mean, and I hate to bruise Beatrice’s tender heart. “Oh, that’s too bad. Have you tried a different food?”
“I would, but my doctor says not to go out while this pandemic is brewing. He thinks I’ll catch it and… Well, you know.”
Nodding, my expression pinching at the brows so fast it’s almost painful, leaving a lingering headache, I say, “It’s probably a good idea, Beatrice. I would listen to him.”
Beatrice is fighting breast cancer. She had both breasts removed because the cancer is so aggressive, but she still has to have chemotherapy. Only, right now, because of the pandemic, that chemo is considered ‘unnecessary’ by the hospital. Maybe that’s why she looks so pale. Her appetite is terrible on the medicine, but I worry not having the chemo is going to do worse to her.
Her doctor said the cancer is a rare, aggressive type that usually shows up in younger women. The fact that it showed up in a 71-year-old is a kick to the teeth. Beatrice lost her husband last year and has been alone since. With only her cat to keep her company, we struck up a friendship. There is nearly 30 years between us, but I like Beatrice. She’s a young soul, dreaming about things someone her age shouldn’t. But I admire her tenacity and her positivity.
“Did you run out of the good coffee yet?” Beatrice asks me.
“Not yet,” I mutter, knowing I’m down to the last few cups. “But even cheap, crappy coffee is better than no coffee. It’s the toilet paper I’m more worried about.”
Beatrice cups her ear, “What honey? You have to speak up. My hearing aid batteries died and I don’t have another.”
I repeat my words, only louder. I’m going to have to go to the store to get her some. She can’t live without it. Otherwise, her TV will be blaring at night and someone will get upset and report it.
“I’m going to the store later. I can get you some. Hopefully, there will be toilet paper and better coffee. Do you need anything else?”
She shakes her head, patting her fluffy curls. “Oh, no. It’s just me here, so I don’t go through things very fast.”
“Are you feeling okay?”
She smiles, though even from here I can see her lips tremble. “Oh, I’m okay, sweetie, thanks for asking. I’m just a little weak from last week’s round of chemo. Still… My doctor said I had three more treatments to go, and I’m worried the cancer will come back without it.”
She’s a fighter, our Beatrice. Someone having gone through so many weeks of chemo should be laid up in bed, moaning and living on Gatorade and old movies. But not Beatrice. She still got up every morning, came over to have coffee with me. Sometimes, I’d see her outside on her balcony, watering her geraniums.
“I know, B. Me too. I’ve been sending up a lot of prayers to The Man Above. I keep hoping this will end.”
I’m one of the lucky few that didn’t get laid off. I can work from home just as well as from the office. Speaking of which, my laptop sits open, the screen glaring at me with unfinished work. I wanted to watch The Voice last night, so I ditched my work in favor of it. Most nights, Mark would come over and watch with me.
Mark is my on-again, off-again boyfriend. We’re not really very serious; I’m not sure if that’s because our relationship is boring or if it’s just his inability to commit. Still, it’s better than being alone, even if he can’t carry on a decent conversation without me wanting to fall asleep.
“Oh,” Beatrice says suddenly, her smile blooming. “Mr. Albright from 112b sent me flowers the other day. He misses me. I keep thinking if I could order some of those masks, I could see him.”
Arnie Albright and Beatrice were so cute together. It was nice she found love after losing her husband. But Artie was one of those ‘essential employees’, because he worked for the USPS. I’d talked Beatrice into not seeing him, because who knew the people he came into contact with. With her lowered immune system, she couldn’t handle getting the virus.
“I was reading on the CDC, B. They say masks are better for keepin’ the virus from spreading, but not really great at protecting against it. I mean, it’s better than nothing, but you’d be pretty lucky if you found any. They’re all bought out on-line.”
She sighs again, a heavy, forlorn sigh. Edith joins her in the window, yawning as she hefts her bulk up and butts her head against Beatrice’s arm.
Absently, Beatrice pets Edith. “It figures. Everything we need is bought out.”
I sip the coffee again, realizing it’s cooling faster than I’d like. I need to drink more. “I’ve been thinking, B. You think this is the end? I mean, of society?”
She shakes her head. “No. We’re too strong to let this get us down. And besides,” she adds, “I’ve been reading my Bible and I don’t think it’s the apocalypse either. Too many signs haven’t happened yet.”
Sometimes I wished it was the time of the Book of Revelations, if only to relieve boredom.
“Yeah, you’re probably right.” I down half my coffee cup.
“I think I’ll have a nap this afternoon,” Beatrice admits, yawning. “I’m pretty tired today.”
I don’t let her know how that terrifies me. I only hope it’s because she’s as bored as me, not because something medical is going on.
“You do that, B. I’ve got work to finish. I’m a little behind. So funny, considering I’m at home, really doing nothing.”
“It’s easier to procrastinate when you have nothing to do.”
“You’re a wise soul, B. Anyway, nice talking to you. You get that rest and I’ll see you tonight if you want. We can have some wine and discuss NCIS.”
Beatrice stares off dreamily for a moment. “That Gibbs. I could watch him all day.”
I don’t tell her USA has re-runs. She might never get off the TV and I’d miss our morning coffee.
“Okay, B. See you later tonight.”
“Good luck on your work, Rosie.”
I would need it. “Thanks, B.”
We wave, closing our respective windows. I wander over to my laptop, finishing my coffee. Everyday, I worry Beatrice is looking a little worse. One of these days, she isn’t going to make it to the window for coffee. I don’t know what I’ll do when that happens, so I send a little prayer up.
Work sucks me in, as it usually does. I flip on the radio for a little music and look around. Maybe I need to get a cat. Being in this apartment alone is definitely telling me how much of a recluse I am. But I figure all the pet stores are closed and I don’t know about the Humane Society. Maybe I’ll look later, see if there was some way…
Until then, morning coffee with Beatrice will have to do.