Harriet paced her living room floor, pausing every so often to glare at the glossy department store carrier bag sitting on her dining table. It contained the dullest, frumpiest sweater that she had ever seen, a birthday gift from her son Edgar and his wife, the prissy church-going Madeline. She wondered what had possessed them to pick it. Goodness knows but she wouldn't put it past them to choose it for her burial outfit. She made a mental note to specify her funeral wishes. Harriet wanted to take it back to the store and exchange it for a snazzy royal-blue dress that she had seen there. Her plan was to wear the dress this evening for her date with her friend Dwight who had invited her out for dinner, but she didn’t have a way to get to the mall. Edgar had insisted that she give up driving a couple of months ago.
She had to concede there had been one or two little accidents. She had forgotten which morning the trash was put out and had backed into her neighbor’s cart which was out on the curb. Fortunately, it had already been emptied, so there wasn’t any mess. Then she’d had a mishap in the drive through lane of the bank. It wasn’t her fault that she was short and couldn’t easily reach the thingy which shot the money off to the teller. She always had to get halfway out of the car and forgot to put it in park just this one time. It hadn’t done that much damage when it rolled into the car in front. Harriet had sustained one or two bruises, to her leg and to her ego, but it was a trivial incident overall which she felt had been blown out of proportion. She did concede that she would hate to cause an accident in which someone else got hurt and had reluctantly given her car keys to Edgar. He had promised he or Madeline would take her where she needed to go and had been true to his word, but she couldn’t ask him to take her on this errand or he would know that she was returning the gift. Suddenly Harriet saw her neighbor Bo arrive home and hurried outside.
“Hello, Ms. Harriet,” Bo said. “What’s up?”
Harriet enjoyed the company of Bo and her partner Shelby. They never treated her condescendingly, always had time for a chat, appreciated her home baking and, best of all, shocked Madeline. Bo had asked Harriet to use them and their for pronouns as she was non-binary. Somewhat confused, Harriet gamely tried with the pronoun thing, grateful that Bo never objected when she slipped up.
“Bo, could you do me a huge favor?”
Somewhat breathlessly, Harriet explained her predicament.
“I’m sure Madeline picked it out. Even Edgar could have done better and he’s like his late father, no taste in clothes. Anyway, I can’t tell him why I must get the new dress for tonight because he doesn’t know about Dwight.”
“So, you’re keeping your toy boy secret from Edgar? Ms. Harriet, I am shocked,” said Bo, with a twinkle in her eye.
“Dwight’s no toy boy. He’s my age, but thinks he looks younger because he dyes his hair. He also thinks I don’t know that he dyes it. Really, men are so silly. I just don’t want any more lectures from Edgar and Madeline. They mean well, but they are a pair of worrywarts.”
“No problem. I need to get something there myself. Let’s go.”
Harriet put on her coat and lipstick and eagerly got into Bo’s little low-slung convertible sports car, clutching the gift bag. The thrill of riding in the car, especially when, like today, the top was down, was worth the struggle to get out of it. Bo always laughed at her enjoyment of the ride.
“Ms. Harriet, I swear you are like a dog with his nose out the window.”
“I’m long past mid-life, but I can see why people use a mid-life crisis to get one of these cars,” Harriet said happily.
“I decided not to wait for mid-life,” said Bo, skillfully accelerating onto the highway. “Hang on tight!”
At the mall, she glanced back in surprise as she helped Harriet out of the car,
“Wait, isn’t that Edgar?”
Harriet frowned in annoyance as she saw it was indeed Edgar. He was driving along slowly looking for a parking space. She ducked down behind the large SUV parked next to Bo’s car until he had passed.
“That’s odd. I wonder what he’s doing. He never goes shopping here on his own.”
Bo shooed her towards the mall entrance.
“Hurry up. It could take him a while to find a spot. I’ll run my errand and meet you back at the car.”
Harriet scurried inside the department store, clutching the gift bag. She eagerly searched the dress rack. The blue dress was still there, and she was thrilled to find that it fit perfectly when she tried it on. She completed the exchange and was turning to leave when she bumped into Edgar.
“Mother, how did you get here and what are you doing? I thought I saw your weird neighbor’s car in the parking lot. Did she bring you?”
Harriet decided that attack was the best form of defense.
“Don’t you call them weird,” she said. “They are very helpful to me. What are you doing yourself? You never come here on your own.”
“Them? They? Did someone else come with you? Only two people can fit in that little car,” said Edgar, bewildered.
“I am referring to Bo,” said Harriet. “She, I mean they, is non-denominational or whatever they call it. Does Madeline know you’re buying that?”
Edgar flushed as Harriet looked with interest at the colorful, floral print sports shirts he was holding.
“Are you having an affair, Edgar?”
“Mother!” he said, aghast. “Of course not. I wanted to surprise Madeline. I’ve booked a cruise for our anniversary." He looked at his mother as if unsure of her reaction. "Madeline's been struggling with severe depression over the past few years. She used to be so adventurous. I thought she might enjoy a cruise. Then I realized that I have nothing to wear, but she would have asked questions if we went shopping together for holiday clothes.”
“Ah, that explains a lot," said Harriet. "Very thoughtful. I’m proud of you, Edgar. Well, I’ll tell you my secret since you told me yours. I exchanged the sweater for this dress which I am going to wear when I go out for dinner with my friend Dwight tonight.”
“Who is this Dwight? You can’t be too careful, Mother. He might be trying to take advantage of you. Ladies like you are vulnerable to…”
“He’s handsome, so I don’t mind when he takes advantage…oh, for goodness’s sake, Edgar, don’t look so shocked. I’m joking. I may be old but I’m not senile. He is a respectable retired banker who is widowed like me. We enjoy each other’s company and the rest is none of your business. However, I’ll be happy to introduce him to you and Madeline when you get back from your trip. Not a word more now, or I may just accidentally let something slip to Madeline about cruises. Now, I’d better get back to Bo. They are waiting for me at the car.”
She gave him a hug and hurried off. He completed his purchase and was walking back to the parking deck when a loud beep made him jump. Harriet and Bo shot past him in the the little sports car, waving and laughing. An affectionate grin spread slowly across his face as he waved back.