FIRST CHAPTERS - Novels in Progress
"You wouldn't expect an old lady to walk all the way to the shops,
Vicky Banning, at seventy-two, was sprightly, independent and, at the
moment, bored to a tizzy. After a frenetic year of flitting about the
jazz clubs of New Orleans, topped by the near-sleepless week of Mardi
Gras (when shed nearly been arrested for impersonating a policeman
in "undercover drag"), shed decided to "cool it"
for a while. Shed moved into Seniors Sanctuary, a posh retirement
home in eastern Pennsylvania housing scores of others, whom she referred
to as the "Methuselah Mob," or the "geriatric gang,"
as it suited her. The problem was that her housemates didnt suit
her at all. It seemed that whenever they spoke, it was only to whine
about their aches and pains, complain about the Sanctuary (which was
excellent), or moan about the distance of their families.
Vicky kept her aches and pains to herself, and most of her family lived
in California, which suited her quite well. They took care of each other
and she took care of herself, which was the way she wanted it. The birthday
and Christmas cards they sent were company enough; contact without responsibility.
Vicky had been born in 1900. Though she thought about death occasionally,
and was not looking forward to it certainly, she wasnt afraid
of it either. It would be an adventure, she felt, not the long, restful
sleep the mortuary ads insisted it was. Hell, shed had so much
rest during one period of her life that shed been ready to climb
Heaven, if there really was such a place, was where she was headed;
she was sure about that. Her God wasnt petty and certainly wouldnt
condemn her for the few peccadillos shed committed as a young
woman. So, her future set, she felt free to pass her latter years however
Seated on a straight-backed chair in the shade of the veranda, Vicky
glanced to the right, at her new "roomies." Rocking gently
on their scoop-bottomed chairs, they reminded her of antique toys: faded,
worn, springs running down, preparing to stop. As some tilted forward,
others tilted back, each in a dull cadence; in constant motion, going
nowhere, marking time.
God! thought Vicky. If I dont find something to do soon, Ill
become as dotty as they are! Leaning forward, she arose gracefully from
her chair, flounced her flowery dress and crossed to the railing. Shunning
the banister, she skipped down the steps and, with a smile to her housemates,
sauntered along the path to the street.
Maybe Ill go get drunk, she thought. Or pick up a man on the street.
She giggled to herself, knowing she was being silly. Shed never
liked the taste of liquor and strangers didnt interest herof
course it depended on how "strange" they were, and in what
Spring breezes swept her along the path until she reached the sidewalk,
then turning right, she scurried off behind the tall hedges, out of
view of the "rockers." She waited patiently until a car came
by, and then flagged it down.
"Can I help you, maam?" the driver, a young man with
the hazy stubble of a new beard, called across the passenger seat to
her. He was driving a ramshackle heap of indeterminate origin and looked
more at home in it than he would in any room.
"You can give me a lift to Main Street," she answered with
her most grandmotherly smile.
"Youre hitching?" the man asked with a surprised chuckle.
"Im hitching," replied Vicky and, opening the door,
slid inside. "You wouldnt expect an old lady to walk all
the way to the shops, would you?
"Oh, er, of course not, maam," the young man answered,
driving off. "At your service. What shops are you headed for?"
Vicky thought for a moment, then grinned. "Well, Im not really
going to a shop," she said. "Actually, Im looking for
"What kind of dealer?"
"You mean like grass seed?"
"No, like in pot, marijuana. You know."
The car screeched to a halt.
"Lady, are you kidding? Youre a doper?"
Vicky sat primly facing forward, her hands resting lightly on her large
purse. "Oh, I enjoy toking on a joint now and then," she said.
"But now I just want to ship up a batch of cookies for the folks
I live with. Do you know where I can score?" She turned to face
him and nearly erupted with laughter at his gaping mouth. "Well?"
His head jerked spastically. "No!" he blurted. "Im
not into that sort of thing. And you shouldnt be either. Lady,
dont you know that stuff can be dangerous?"
"Sonny," said Vicky, "at seventy-two years of age, I
should start worrying now?"
"But you could get arrested."
"Dont be silly. Whod believe a little old lady like
me was a pot-head? You sure you dont know of a dealer?"
"No, lady! I swear!"
Vicky looked disappointed. "Oh, well, lets get going then.
Ill just have to cruise around on foot until I connect."
They drove in silence to Main Street, the young fellow glancing sideways
at Vicky from time to time. When they arrived, Vicky stepped out, closed
the door and leaned into the open window. "Its a good thing
you answered me the way you did, Sonny," she said with all seriousness.
"Sonny" looked confused, asked "Why?"
Vicky grinned slyly. "Because Im with the vice squad, narcotics
division, thats why. This old-lady getup is just a disguise. Now,
take off and keep your nose clean."
Tires squealed as the car streaked across Main Street, nearly ramming
the rear of red a Volkswagen that had the right of way.
Thatll teach him to pick up hitchhikers, she thought, suppressing
a giggle. She turned to amble along the street, glancing into the shop
windows and stopping now and again to admire a dress, or a piece of
jewelry, when an idea came to her. Unsnapping her bag, she removed the
bills from her change purse and transferred them to her bra.
The gift shop had few customers, so Vicky browsed freely, rejecting
the offer of assistance by the salesgirl.. She perused the greeting
cards, priced the glassware, then asked to see the Hummel figurines
in the glass showcase behind the counter.
She decided on the figure of a little girl holding an umbrella, but
waited until the salesgirl left to assist two women who had entered
before slipping it into her purse. She started toward the door.
"Just a minute, Madam," she heard the salesgirl call. "I
saw what you did!" she shouted loudly. A man, probably her husband,
rushed from the back of the store.
"Whats up?" he asked.
"This lady just stole a Hummel," the girl said, her voice
The man glared down at Vicky and extended his hand. "Lets
have it," he ordered.
Vicky fumbled with her bag, letting her lips quiver, tears fill her
eyes. On cue, her thin shoulders trembled pathetically. "Im
sorry," she said, with a tremulous a voice as she could muster,
and handed him the figurine.
"We should call the police," the man said gruffly. "Youre
The "should" assured Vicky that she was safe, but since her
act was going so well she decided to carry it through. She gasped, as
if shocked to the core by his unkind words, her free hand fluttering
to her heart. "Oh, please," she cried. "Dont call
the police. My family would have me put away. I only took it for my
granddaughter. Shes in the hospital
a rare blood disease.
And I dont have enough money to send her a gift. This months
welfare check is gone already. Look"she reached into her
bag and removed her change purse, shaking the coins inside"here.
Take all the money I have. Just please dont call the police."
Her speech over, she let the tears cascade down her frail cheeks, before
hiding her face in her trembling hands. That ought to clinch it, she
"Oh, the poor dear," she heard a woman say. It was one of
the customers. Vicky had been concentrating so hard on the front row
audience, shed forgotten about the standees. "Mr. Barnett,"
the voice continued, "may I see you for a moment?"
"You wait here," Mr. Barnett ordered, and walked away with
After a few minutes, Vicky was wishing hed hurry back. Sobbing
was tiring. But she managed to keep it up until he returned.
"Youre very lucky," he said. "These kind ladies
have offered to pay for the figurine you
Vicky was startled; she hadnt expected that. She looked up at
the middle-aged women standing at a distance, saw their charitable smiles,
the sympathetic tilt of their blue-coiffed heads. Probably think this
will get them into heaven, she thought. They should be thanking me!
"God bless you all," she gushed tearfully. "My granddaughter
will be so happy."
Mr. Barnett boxed the Hummel, slipped it into a bag and handed it to
her. She clasped it to her heart, projecting overwhelming emotion. "Thank
you. Thank you all. I know I can get this to her in time. Ill
as soon as I can save the money for postage."
Vicky scanned the movie posters outside the theater, the package pressed
tightly to her chest. Holding it with one hand, she reached inside the
front of her dress to remove the half-dozen marking pens shed
dropped inside. Theyd started shaking loose during her sobbing
jab and shed had to hold onto them the whole rest of the time.
She dropped them into her bag, removed the change purse and "postage
money," added the Hummel and snapped it shut.
Now, what next, she wondered. Standing in the shade of the marquee,
she scanned the row of shops across Main Street, as the early-show crowd
began streaming from the theater. Shed thought of stopping in
for an hour or so, but shed noticed that the film was rated R
and therefore didnt interest her. Bare behinds were cute, but
vulgar language did not a movie make. Television might be inane, but
usually it was much more prudent.
As the swarm thinned out, Vicky spied a torn ticket stub on the ground
and stopped to pick it up, a smile creeping along her lips. She crossed
the street, entered Ye Olde Tea Shoppe and settled herself at a gingham-covered
table near the window.
When the gray-haired waitress with a frilly apron took her order with
such a delighted smile, Vicky began to have doubts about the place.
Anyone who could get that turned on by a cup of tea and a club sandwich
was not at all well. The sandwich was good, though, loaded with the
mayonnaise and bacon that would give the Sanctuary dieticians a stroke
by just hearing about them. After a second cup of tea, rested, she braced
herself and motioned for the check.
"Smiley" delivered it and stood, waiting.
"Oh, my goodness!" Vicky cried, digging into her purse. "My
money. Its gone!" She looked up in time to see the lips close
over suspiciously white teeth and an eyebrow arch upwards.
"Beg pardon?" the waitress asked with a decidedly icy tone.
"My change purse," Vicky explained in a quivering voice. "Its
gone. I must have lost it."
Smiley slapped her book of checks on the table. "Hey, Ginny,"
she called, turning. "We got another stiff here."
A cold, hard lump expanded within Vickys chest. Her hands began
to tremble. Apparently Ye Olde Tea Shoppe was not going to be Ye Olde
Ginny, a large woman older than the waitress, thundered toward the table.
Her face was one large frown. "Whats going on here?"
she demanded in a baritone voice that Ezio Pinza would have coveted.
"This sweet little old lady has lost all her money," Smiley
said with full sarcasm. "Isnt it funny how often that happens
"Hilarious," Ginny growled. She moved to hover over Vicky
like a drill sergeant on a raw recruit. "Open your bag and empty
it on the table."
Vicky hesitated, began to cower under the mass of fleshonly part
of it an act. The bills were secure in her bra, she knew, but her purse
was private. No one had the right to pry into it. The indignity, the
"I said open it," Ginny repeated with more force. "Now,
or Ill call the cops. You old bats think you can get away with
anything because of your age, dont you? Well, youre not
much older than I am, honey, and I work too damned hard for my living
to support a bunch of freeloaders. Now open that bag, or the cops will!"
Vickys mind was in turmoil. This amazon obviously had no respect
for age, or womanhood. She really would call the police who would search
her and find her money. She needed time to think. "Ive always
paid my own way" she said weakly, but with a hint of pride in her
bearing, as she upended her purse. "I tell you I must have lost
the money. Or, it was stolen when I dozed off at the movies."
She watched as Ginnys thick fingers sifted through the items on
the table, saw her scoop up the change, then examine the ticket stub.
"She probably has it hidden on her," Ginny said to Smiley,
then leaned her halfback shoulders over the table, speaking directly
into Vickys face: "Now get it up, or I call the cops!"
"Yes," Vicky said quickly. "Please, call the police.
Maybe they can get my money back for me."
Ginnys face unfolded with surprise, startling Vicky with its expansion.
"You want me to call them?" she asked.
"Yes, please," said Vicky, her confidence growing. "It
was all the money I had." A tear flickered in each eye. "I
dont know how Ill live until my disability check arrives."
Ginny was obviously taken off guard, judging by her blank, wide-eyed
Vicky turned shyly away. "Tumor," she said softly and watched
the women flinch. "My chest," she added, tapping her change
purse. "Inoperable. The doctors found it about a year ago and made
the mill lay me off. But theyre very good to me, bless them. They
send me almost a hundred dollars a month."
Ginny stared at her for a moment, then straightened up, her face now
a tangle of confusion.
"Arent you going to call the police?" Vicky asked timidly.
Ginnys face went blank again. She shook her head slowly. "Oh,
I dont think
"Please," Vicky implored, humbling herself and lowering her
eyes. "Id call them myself, but youve taken every penny
I had in the world."
"Are you sure
youre not related to the Robert Wood who lived in Cleveland?"
Vicky asked. The young officer stopped the car near the hedges, as shed
asked him to, out of sight of the "rockers." Hed seemed
surprised and suspicious when she told him where she lived, until she
hinted that she was the live-in washerwoman.
"Im sure, maam," the dark-eyes man answered with
"Well, you certainly resemble him," she said. "Handsome
devil he was
but so naughty." She let a titter escape.
The officer laughed embarrassedly, a faint blush coloring his face.
"Maam," he said, "are you sure you cant remember
what your change purse looked like? Or how much was in it?"
Vickys head drooped sadly. "Age dims the memory," she
answered with a deep sigh. "Im sorry to be so much trouble,
but I simply cant recall. Anyway, there cant have been many
lost in the theater today, so any one thats found is bound to
be mine. I hope one is found," she added after a thoughtful moment,
"so I can pay that
charming woman at the tea shop."
"Oh, dont you worry about that," the officer said. "They
cut the bill in half and I took care of it for you."
"Oh, you shouldnt have," Vicky exclaimed. "Now
I feel terrible." (She'd much rather have stiffed Big Bertha for
the whole tab). "But, thank you. You are so kind." She patted
his hand. Men were such pussycats. "I know the dear Lord will repay
you for your goodness."
She slid from the car and turned back to close the door, saying, "Officer,
someone warned me to avoid the place where those awful
dealers hang out. But, since I dont know where that is, how can
I avoid it?"
Later she wrote:
MACKYS CAFÉ23 & Main, she wrote in her little
pad. ASK FOR GENE!
Strolling along the path toward the large, white house, Vicky felt the
exhilaration of the days activities press down on her. It was
a good feeling, one of accomplishment, of having had a full, exciting
day. And now that she was "home," she could relax, rest and
replenish her energy.
Of course, there was that lovely cameo in the jewelry store window...
© Allen McGill July 2003
BIO: Originally from NYC, Allen lives, writes, acts and directs theatre
in Mexico. His published fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, etc.,
have appeared in print as well as on line: NY Times, The Writer, Newsday,
Retrozine, Laughter Loaf, Flashquake, Herons Nest, Cenotaph, TempsLibres,
Autumn Leaves, Poetic Voices, Amaze-Cinquain, Bottle Rocket, Frogpond,
Modern Haiku, World Haiku Review, many others.
First Chapters here
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