|Tommy Edison. Radio Trip Pictures.|
Here is Part One of The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue
And here is Part Two.
The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue
“I have to get out of here for a while. I try to get out as often as possible.” It was an essential part of routine.
Single for all these years, Scott never bought more than the twelve items allowed in the express checkout.
One or two small bags of groceries was all that he could reasonably handle, what with the stick and all.
“Are you okay on your own, Scott?”
It was kind of a dumb question, but it gave him an opening.
Scott needed air and Betty thought it best if he went alone. She was planning to scrub the kitchen floor.
“That way we won’t be tripping on each other.”
“Yeah. I’m a little too used to my independence.” He smiled, getting the same feeling he’d had more than once in the last couple of days.
He had laughed, of course—over the years. He had a few friends, a few acquaintances. If someone told a joke, of course Scott would laugh.
But this was different. This was smiling. Almost as if it came naturally.
She kissed him on the cheek and the cane was pressed into his hand.
“It is kind of a small place, even just for the two of us.”
“Is there anything we need? Milk, maybe?”
“Yes. We could use milk. And tea bags.”
He nodded, and Scott smiled again. Fuck, what a thrill. His heart leapt. It had been doing that a bit lately…
“Kissy-kiss?” At one time he would have thought anyone who said that a proper fool.
She took him in her arms and Scott wrapped his free arm around her. Their lips met and Scott enjoyed some tongue and one or two thoughts for later.
Fuck, I never thought I would say that again. Or maybe I never have said it.
The latch snapped open and then Scott was through the door and into the hallway.
Crap, with her there it was like he didn’t want to leave, but routine had its role.
Scott, as often as not, enjoyed his walk to Mel’s on the corner, where the stock was never moved.
He’d stopped going to the big supermarket when the new manager had gotten on some kind of efficiency kick and moved everything in the place. While moving the aisles and rearranging the shelves, the freezer cabinets and everything, might have found another couple hundred square feet of retail shelf space, Scott, he sort of took it as a personal insult.
He’d walked in, making it in through the turnstile no problem, and then walked smack-dab into some kind of a low display. He never did figure out what that was.
Scott caught it with a hip. His pocket or his jacket snagged a corner, he over-balanced, and then he went down, falling on the slender stick and breaking it.
Being the centre of attention of a bunch of strangers that he couldn’t even see was embarrassing.
Their comments, their voices, were just a stream of meaningless noise. They all had something to say. It was a good thing he couldn’t see them, he was sure he would have punched somebody. He hated humanity at that moment, and of course they had to help him up, all worried about him.
The staff had to get someone to lead him around while he did his shopping—minimal as it was.
All them fucking apologies grated on him, when all he wanted was to be left alone. The stock boy who took him home hadn’t been properly briefed. Scott thought the kid had forgotten exactly where he lived until a couple of days later when the store manager showed up at his door with a new white cane for him.
More apologies, and Scott had been barely polite to the man.
Fucking asshole. I’ll never shop there again, Buddy. Give it up. And fuck you, too.
If they were looking for some feel-good publicity, Scott sure as hell wasn’t going to give it to them.
But today was a better day, in fact a wonderful day. It was a rare event in Scott’s experience.
The breeze was warm, and the birds were noisy and cheerful, the air was wet and the smell of fermenting dog-shit everywhere you turned was a portent of spring. The traffic was just as heavy as usual. Somehow the cars, trucks and buses didn’t seen quite so threatening, not so cold and impersonal anymore.
The chess players, and the men with Italian accents playing bocce-ball in the park, ignored him.
They never minded the cold either. Italians were full of life. No one ever heard of a depressed Italian.
Crossing the street held no terrors for Scott anymore.
He had acquired a kind of fatalism over the years. It was a way of dealing with things.
It would happen someday.
Once you accepted it, things got better. Scott felt kind of sorry, even ahead of time, for the poor bastard who was slated to kill him. Just make sure you do it right. Don’t leave me in a fucking wheelchair, okay, Buddy?
Do it right.
Man, that is one dark thought, and yet he couldn’t quite shrug it off, either.
Fuck, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. That is one burden I will never have to bear.
Now he had something to live for. Why does the chicken cross the road, anyways? He’d done it a million times, and this time was no different. The ‘pong’ of the signal changing and the sound of cars accelerating was a reminder of pain, death and injury, but so far, he’d been lucky.
You had to admit that. So far, no one had run him over. Yet a forty-two year old man on a bicycle had been killed by a pickup truck at this very intersection just a couple of weeks ago…
Sticking close to the storefronts, he found the fourth doorway to the left of the intersection of Queen and Main streets.
The laundromat was busy, always on a Saturday, with the smells of laundry, the voices of women and small children coming vaguely through the wall. There was the sound of rotating dryers and squelching washing machines, the latter of which, if you overloaded them, would leave a crust of dry soap on your clothes because the water wouldn’t penetrate all the way through. On a tight budget, Scott had only done that once or twice, as doing the wash cost two dollars and seventy-five cents per load. It was a big city, after all.
Life might be cheaper someplace else.
held the bag and the stick in the same hand. Going up was a lot easier although
he had fallen once, losing his grip on the handrail. Sliding down six or seven
steps, he was banged up on the shins, his left wrist hurt like hell. His
bananas were squashed and there was one tomato that he never did find. His
temper had been well and truly sparked that day.
He had said a few things, at least until Mrs. Jarvis came out and stood at the top of the landing, asking stupid question and quavering, which he had always hated in a person. Of course the lady insisted on helping him.
That made two of them on the stairs, and it was all he could do not to tell the old lady to fuck off, get the hell out of my way—and leave me the fuck alone.
He was just coming to the second-floor landing, tapping his way along, holding the handrail, as it was easy enough to put a foot wrong and go tumbling down the stairs.
There was the sound of a door.
It was a hell of a lot easier to be nice today. Just one of the many benefits of having a girlfriend, he supposed.
“Yes, Missus Jarvis?”
“Mister Nettles, I need to speak to you about something.”
Scott didn’t hesitate, although standing around in small talk could very easily disorient him.
He navigated the last few risers, tapping and banging the stick around so she would get back in her apartment and leave him room.
“Hi. So. What’s up?”
“Well. It’s just that I was worried about you.”
“What? About me? Why?”
“Well. I heard some noises, and I wondered if you were okay.”
“Noises?” The sounds of traffic came up from the street below and Mrs. Jarvis had the TV on in her apartment.
Scott almost laughed aloud at the doubtful tone.
“Oh. I’m so sorry. It’s just that the walls are thin.” And his bedroom was directly above hers,
most probably. “We’ll try to keep it down, and I am sorry about that.”
Scott took a step.
“You’re the only one listed on the lease, and you are supposed to inform me if your circumstances change.”
“Oh, well. Yes.”
No pets. No parties, no unnecessary noise after eleven p.m. While she had rattled off the terms of the lease when he rented the place, that was years ago. He didn’t recall anything about circumstances.
“It’s just that I rented to one person…”
“Ah, yes.” Scott was the only one in the building who didn’t have a dog or a cat.
The perfectly rational fear of tripping on the animal, falling and breaking the thing’s back or leg was a compelling one, and he had never been able to bring himself to take the risk.
“Well, okay. We’ll have a talk and then decide what we’re going to do.”
“Thank you, Mister Nettles.”
He could go on, but she had brought up an important issue.
Not unexpectedly, she took the grocery bag from him and then followed behind, breathing noisily and grunting as she took the stairs.
Scott opened the door. He extended his hand and the weight dragged his arm down.
She wasn’t leaving and he repressed a deep sigh.
I suppose I really ought to be grateful.
“Betty? There’s someone here that I would like you to meet."
There was dead silence in the apartment. Fear stabbed at Scott.
He moved in through the door and of course Missus Jarvis had no option but to come in. Scott had endured worse.
“I didn’t hear anyone go out.” She seemed mystified.
“All right, well, maybe she’s doing laundry or something.”
Mrs. Jarvis hovered right there at his elbow.
“Look, if she’s not here then she’s not here. I’ll tell you what, Missus Jarvis. I’ll bring her down
and introduce you a little bit later, okay?”
“Well…” That doubtful tone again.
“I’m a big boy, I can look after myself.” He wasn’t all that eager to show Betty off, as deep down inside he had some doubts of his own.
The odds were she’d be gone soon enough. The thought was enough to make him sag a little in the knees.
“Would you like me to put your groceries away?”
“Ah, no thank you, Missus Jarvis.” The one time he let her do that, she’d cleaned out and rearranged his fridge, which meant that for weeks afterward, he hadn’t been able to find anything.
“All right, then. I’ll leave you to it.”
Scott gently closed the door behind her and the sounds of her stumping off down the hallway were plain enough. He pried off his shoes, the toe of one foot against the heel of the other.
He would untie them only before putting them on again. A knot in a shoe-lace was disaster, and so he left them a bit loose. Sometimes he could squeeze them on without the bother of untying and tying them.
The toilet flushed, the bathroom door opened and then Betty’s aroma was right there.
“Sorry, honey. But she’s not that bad. She’s just curious.”
Scott moved into the kitchen, after carefully leaning his stick in the usual place. He put the grocery bag on the kitchen table.
She took his jacket and he heard her go to the front hall.
“Betty? Are you okay?”
“It’s just that you seem kind of quiet this morning.”
She took his hand and led him to his lumpy old armchair in the living room. He eased himself down into it. She was standing right there.
“Sounds like we’re going to get some weather.”
The TV nattered away softly as the team on the Weather Network cheerfully speculated as to
how bad the coming line of thunderstorms would be. The cold front was just to the west, minutes away by their urgent tones.
“She’s just curious, more than anything. She’s never heard a woman up here, I suppose. And as for the lease—after a year, that means nothing. I mean, it’s only for twelve months. I don’t think she’ll make problems.”
“Hmn. It’s okay, Betty, I wouldn’t worry about it.”
“Scott. We need to talk.”
“Yes?” Still smiling at his thoughts—Missus Jarvis was in her late fifties and it occurred to Scott that she might be a little jealous.
There was just a shit-load of lonely people in the world when you thought about it.
“There’s something I need to tell you.”
His mouth opened and the dull tone, the seriousness of it sunk in.
“What is it, Honey?”
His guts went cold and his heart picked up.
There is something she needs to tell me.
The thought of losing her lanced through him. And yet it really was inevitable...wasn't it?
“Huh. Okay." This had to be it, didn't it? "Why don’t we sit down and you can tell me all about it.”
Hopefully we can get the next segment out by Friday evening next week.