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Funny Romance

The Meeting Place

I grabbed onto the banister as I wheezed and planted both feet on the third floor landing. My gym-starved body rebelled as I dragged my tired legs to the apartment door. Mopping my brow with a damp handkerchief, I caught my breath. Images of my air-conditioned apartment, the Lazy Boy lounger, refrigerated delights, and Columbo CDs erased the reality of my day at a dead end job and another ten years until retirement. My job—-answering consumer complaints had sucked dry my appetite for anything that resembled conflict. My aversion has made me into an overly agreeable man-child.

But all that didn’t matter because I was home and would rule over my kingdom,-- at least for this evening. I turned the key and opened the door.

“What the hell?”

To my horror, the inner sanctum was filled with interlopers.  Twelve women, well past their prime, lounged on my furniture or stood together in clumps, like satisfied cats, while they ate my bite-sized chicken nachos, tiny pizzas, cheesecake, and drank my liquor. I could almost hear them purr. Unforgivable! It was an invasion and I knew who led the attack—my wife, General Jane.  

I try and support my wife in her pursuits, but really? I felt like a guest in my own home. I didn’t care about an occasional gathering, but why, oh why did she have to make our home the official meeting place? Why couldn’t she go to someone else’s home or Hometown Buffet or the local bowling alley? Anywhere, but here.  But that would be too normal, too ordinary. No, Jane had to have it here and show off all of her great taste in decorating (I have to admit House and Garden did do a feature on our last place). My theory is that Jane has too much time on her hands. She doesn’t work. She just spends.

I gritted my teeth as I went on a search and destroy mission for my wife. I gingerly slipped between islands of perfumed bodies, listening to their giggle-talk about the latest episode of “Our Sorry Lives,” a silly soap that Jane loves. They all had on dresses that you’d wear to church, but this particular congregation had gathered for an unsanctioned fellowship. I only had to see the finger foods with wine which meant this come together hosted a girls’ night out theme.(Jane loves themed parties). But where was their leader? This hardly seemed like her to leave her home and guests alone. I wanted to tell them to get out, but…you know. Jane.

Really! Hadn’t I taken the time this morning, to write a note reminding Jane about today and taped it on the inbox she made for any messages for her? We had agreed that two nights out of the week were mine to have the apartment to myself and this was supposed to be one of them. That’s a paltry two nights!

A large woman dressed in a garish garden-themed dress with pieces of fruit printed all over it held two women hostage in the kitchen with her pointed finger. Every time she moved, the fruit bobbed up and down, inviting someone to bit her.

“Excuse me, where’s Jane Humphreys?”

“Who?” Her finger froze in mid-air.

“Forget it. I’ll wait until she comes back from wherever she went.”  Where the hell did she go?

I stomped back to the living room. One of the felines had sat down on my lounger with a glass of white wine in her hand, listening to music on my stereo. I got her attention, by squinting my eyes and growling. Her eyes widened as she jumped up and fled empty-handed. (Did I hear a hiss?) I dusted off my spot and plopped onto the lounger.  I felt the heat moving from my cheeks toward the top of my head. It was a good thing the air-conditioning was on.

“Excuse me, but do you know if they have anymore of this?” It was the walking fruit stand holding up a bottle of white wine.

I didn’t answer. I couldn’t answer. I could only sit there fuming, imagining disturbing visuals in my head as I looked at her.

“Are you alright, sweetie? You look like you’re about to explode.” She leaned down to get a closer look.

“I’m fine!”

She squeaked and jumped back, her concern forgotten as she ran to the kitchen. Other women pointed and whispered in my direction.

The frightened stares made me pause and take deep breaths. I needed to calm down. There was no reason for my confrontational attitude. Jane caused all of this…plus, she would have my head if she found out I insulted her guests. I prayed that she’d be home soon. Until then, I’d just sit here like a good boy and stay out of trouble.

I watched the women mingle as I sipped my liberated glass of wine. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of someone familiar. 

Isn’t that Mrs. Mugglebee?

Mrs. Mugglebee was our landlady. Her thin, animated body moved as if she had wings, talking for a short time before flittering on to another group. It was like watching the hummingbirds visit the hanging pots of petunias on our balcony. At the moment she hovered between two women. I had only moments before she took off, so I once more navigated between bodies (strode across half the room) and tapped Mrs. Mugglebee’s shoulder.  

The smile on her wrinkled elfish face with a tight bun atop her head, froze as she turned and recognized me.

“Mrs. Mugglebee. Where is my wife? What kind of meeting is this?”

“Oh, Mr. Humphrey. What time is it?”

“What time is it? It’s seven o’clock. Now Mrs. Mugglebee will you tell me—“

“George, what the hell is going on?

In the door stood my wife with her hands on her hips, her hat askew and coat still on. I almost saluted.

“Is this why you wanted time to yourself? You’re having wild parties behind my back?” Jane shouted, but there was also a catch in her voice.

I began to sputter and glance side to side, like a child whose hand is caught in the cookie jar. “Wild parties? Me? Why no.”  I paused. My voice settled and grew a pair. “Of course not, Jane.” How could she even imply such a thing?

Standing tall with my chin up, I looked her in the eye and repeated,  “Of course not. I thought you knew these women and this was one of your meetings.“

Jane scanned the room, her brow knitted together. “No…I have no idea who these women are.“

Mrs. Mugglebee cleared her throat. “Ah, excuse me. Maybe I can solve this mystery, but you have to promise to hear me out and not interrupt my story, no matter what.” Her eyes traveled to Jane and waited until she nodded. My opinion was not even considered, but as I said earlier and Mrs. Mugglebee knew, Jane’s the General.

Mrs. Mugglebee gave a nervous laugh before she began. “Well, if I had watched the time, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Everyone would have been gone by now and you would be none the wiser.” She shifted her feet and I thought I might have to get a net.

“Mrs. Mugglebee. Are you saying you’ve done this before?”  I ran my hands through my hair. Jane glared at me.

My eyes widened. “Sorry, Jane. Mrs. Mugglebee was speaking to you, wasn’t she?”

“Oh, yes.” This time her cheeks sprouted two small crimson spots that grew as she answered. “I do so love gatherings, but never felt my apartment’s appearance had the necessary ambience, so I held them at restaurants or halls or hotels.” She sighed once, her hands folded primly in front before beginning again. “Then I saw your apartment each time I came for the rent.” Mrs. Mugglebee brightened. “I’ve always thought you had such excellent taste in decorating, Mrs. Humphrey.” She swept her arms open in a grand gesture.  “Everything says welcome! The perfect meeting place.”

Jane blushed. “Why thank you, Mrs. Mugglebee. I try.”

This was a step too far. The camel’s back had been smashed to dust. “Jane, are you listening? She’s been using our home as her personal meeting room. She’s been invading our privacy.” I strode to a table and picked up the empty wine bottle and held it in the air so my wife could see. Then I shook it in our landlady’s face and in the general direction of her attendees. “They’re eating our food and drinking our wine like voracious locusts.” No reaction. “Am I was the only sane person in the room?”

Mrs. Mugglebee bristled. Her thin body hummed as it shook with indignation. “Why I never ate your food. I bought everything that’s been eaten here. I would never do that. And just to let you know, I’ve given you credit for using your apartment. Why do you think your rent was reduced?” She folded her arms across her chest and sniffed once.

Jane and I noticed the eerie silence and looked around. No one was speaking. Everyone observed us with different degrees of worry…no, it was more like blood in the water. I expected them to start circling us at any minute.

I sighed and shrugged. “And I thought that my skills as a negotiator had improved. It would have been a first.”  I laughed out loud and everyone quickly followed. The women went back to their conversations with a new topic to gossip about.

This needed to come to an end. My evening had been ruined and I had to make sure Mrs. Mugglebee would never consider attempting something like this again. I turned to my wife with my arms crossed against my chest with a face that brooked no arguments. Her eyes widened for a second and her lips parted a bit. Then she smiled, kissed my cheek and slipped her hand into mine.

Mrs. Mugglebee appeared to have a case of indigestion.  Her mouth was somewhere between a smile and a grimace. I put an arm around her shoulder and led her a corner sitting area where we all sat down. A slight tremor ran through her body. 

I cleared my throat and in a firm voice said, “Mrs. Mugglebee, you’ve abused your authority, not to mention how you ruined my plans for the night. It’s unforgivable, but perhaps you can make amends for your bad behavior.” 

I could afford to be generous because I was about to take back everything that I had lost with an added tip. The worm was about to turn.

 Later, when everyone had left, Jane joined me on my Lazy Boy lounger. We were finishing up a bottle of expensive Chardonnay, a ‘gift’ from Mrs. Mugglebee’s private collection.

“You know something, Jane? This started out as one of the worst days of my life, but ended as one of the best.” I poured her some more wine.  “When do you start your new job?”

“All thanks to you, Jane answered. “I told Mabel that I could start decorating her apartment tomorrow.” Her featured pinched together as she began to laugh until tears came.  “You know, George, I almost felt sorry for Mrs. Mugglebee.”

“For heavens sake, why? The old woman literally broke into our apartment. She’s lucky I didn’t call the police on her.”

“She never stood a chance against you,” Jane dabbed the corners of her eyes, “she kept shriveling up and getting smaller the longer you spoke. I thought she’d disappear before our eyes.”

“It was more like splashing water on the Wicked Witch of the West.” I threw up my hands and said, “I’m melting! I’m melting!”

 I still hadn’t completely let it go. I sighed.

“But what’s done is done. Time to move forward.”

“You already have, George, in so many ways.” Jane moved closer and into the softness that is me.

She gazed into my eyes in a way I hadn’t seen in years. I could swear that I saw sparks. My days of saluting were over. The general had formally retired. Long live the King.

As I sat there enjoying the spoils of war, any and everything seemed possible.

There’s a manager’s job opening up at work. Maybe I’ll apply.

“Anyway, I have what seems to be a budding home decoration business. Some of the other ladies asked for consultations, too. I guess I won’t have time to host anymore parties. Oh, well.” Jane threw her hand up as if removing something.

“And to top it all off, Mrs. Mugglebee let us keep the low rent.”

“Let us?” We looked at each other and laughed until we were out of breath. “She promised never to do it again and I have every reason to believe her, given she had no choice.”

“Well, here’s to better tomorrows.” We clinked our glasses and finished the first bottle of an unlimited amount, ‘generously donated’ by Mrs. Mugglebee.

February 12, 2021 17:59

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