The apartment above the beauty salon was often empty.
Kenzie, the salon owner’s daughter, had lived there during college rent-free, but once she graduated, she moved in with her fiancé and his three dogs. The salon owner, Penny, wouldn’t allow pets in the apartment: “Just think of what those women would think if they saw a dog running through the salon, Kenzie. They’d never trust the cleanliness of the business again.” It was hard to find tenants who didn’t have pets. One applicant even had a pet squirrel, to which Penny responded by promptly shredding the application.
Penny asked around about all the applicants. Sarah Johnston wouldn’t be a good fit because she smoked too much, and Penny couldn’t have that smell affecting business. Jeremiah von Camp had strung along too many clients. Jessie Sinclair was a huge environmentalist and wouldn’t approve of the chemicals salons use. Penny wasn’t even sure why she’d applied. Perhaps she wanted to do an exposé on the dangers of salon “toxins.” Kenzie said she’d taken a few journalism courses with Jessie. While a free media boost was tempting, Penny didn’t want to risk any negative associations from treehuggers.
Yet the woman was always puzzled that she didn’t get more interest in the apartment. It wasn’t large by any means, but it was fairly priced and in a good neighborhood. She wasn’t too demanding: she just wanted a nice, normal person to rent it so she could stop running ads in the paper. She was beginning to feel a little desperate.
Penny was in the middle of doing paperwork when she got a call from an unknown number.
“Penny’s Paradise, Beauty Salon,” she answered in a chipper voice.
“Um, hello, I was wondering about an apartment…I’m sorry, do I have the right number?”
“Yes, of course.” Penny quickly shifted her focus to the phone. “Have you filled out an application?”
“I think so. I mailed it in last week. Patrisha Jerguson.”
Penny looked at the empty folder she kept applications in. “Sorry, Ms. Jerguson, perhaps it got lost in the mail. If you come in, I’d be happy to help you fill out another one.”
“Yes, dear, that would be lovely. I can come in at any time. I’m retired and don’t have much to do these days.”
Poor thing sounded like she was eighty. “Come on in, ma’am, and we’ll see what we can do.”
When Patrisha walked in the door, Penny thought she’d found the perfect tenant. She was a small woman with gray curls and a cane. After filling out the application with her, Penny offered her the apartment immediately and volunteered Kenzie to help her move her stuff in.
Two weeks later, after Kenzie had helped Patrisha settle in, she walked downstairs into the salon. “Mom, did you notice anything…off about Ms. Jerguson?”
“What do you mean, dear?” Penny asked in a hushed tone, looking around to make sure nobody had heard her daughter. “She seems perfectly lovely to me.”
“She just doesn’t seem to have all her marbles.”
“Hush, now, child. Have some respect for an old woman. I’m sure none of us will seem put-together all the time at 80.”
Penny was delighted to have Patrisha around. They had tea twice a week, and Patrisha started teaching her how to knit. Personally, Penny had little interest in knitting, but it seemed to make the old woman so happy that she couldn’t say no. She was a little eccentric but good company, and, most importantly, a good tenant.
Mondays were Penny’s days off, and she left the salon in the hands of her best employees, April and Madeline. She enjoyed her Mondays by sleeping in and eating brunch on her patio. That Monday, however, was different.
She noticed her phone ringing but ignored it at first. The salon rarely called on her days off. The third time she got a call, she finally checked the number and answered it. April. April never called unless something was catastrophically wrong.
“April, is something wrong?”
“Your friend, Patrisha? She wandered down here and started doing Mrs. Beasley’s hair.”
Penny gasped. “Not Mrs. Beasley! Oh my. Why on earth would Patrisha do something like that?”
“I don’t know, but I think you better come down here. When we asked her to stop, she swatted our hands and told us to stop telling what to do. She said only ‘Ms. Jane’ could boss her around.”
Penny quickly drove to the salon and double parked in her lot. When she got in, everyone was eerily silent, watching Patrisha sweep the floor.
“Hey, Ms. Jerguson,” Penny said.
“Ms. Jane, good to see you back at work,” Patrisha said, smiling and setting the broom aside. She lowered her voice. “Between you and me, I’m not sure about those new gals you hired. That Mitzi seems a bit snobbish, if you ask me.”
“Patrisha, let’s grab some tea, okay? You’ve put in a good day’s work.”
Patrisha seemed surprised. “Already? Wow. The days sure fly by sometimes.”
“That they do.” Penny took Patrisha back to her apartment.
“This is a lovely little place,” Patrisha said.
“Yes, it is. Let’s watch some TV, shall we?” Penny was at a complete loss. She sat with Patrisha until she dozed off. She ran back downstairs and grabbed her application. She needed the emergency contact number for someone in the woman’s family.
She started calling as she stood outside the apartment door. “Leigh? My name is Penny, and I’m your mother’s landlord. I think there’s something you should know.” As she explained the situation, she was overcome with hopelessness. What can you do for someone who is losing their grip on reality?
Leigh came the next day and quickly arranged for her mother to come back to Chicago with her. Penny helped repack Patrisha’s belongings, and she seemed so confused.
“Why do I have to go back to Chicago? I rather like it here. I have friends,” she said, glancing at Penny.
“I’ll sure miss you, but wouldn’t it be nice to be with your family? You’re always telling me how you miss them,” Penny replied, forcing a smile. “We can still talk on the phone.”
“Oh, honey, I just don’t understand what’s going through that girl’s head.” Penny didn’t have the heart to tell her what happened. It seemed like Patrisha had no memory of coming into the salon.
After the old woman left, Penny sat against the apartment door and cried. She had lost the only tenant she ever liked, her daughter excluded, of course. She told her so many stories over tea about the Cold War, the movies she liked, and her disdain for Richard Nixon as soon as she’d heard of him. She wasn’t sure what she would do for conversation now. Salon gossip seemed trivial compared to her talks with Patrisha.
The apartment above the salon was again empty, but now, Penny felt a little empty, too.