January 19, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

The Last Stand of Ms. Betty J. Washington

By Jenna Leigh Evans
Published: 2015-12-31

•

At first it seemed as mellow a scene as Betty had hoped for. Vida, in a red negligee the size of a sofa slipcover, would make the morning coffee and fry a mess of eggs, feeding half of them to Gracie. Then she would produce a bag of weed and they would all start the day with a nice little lift.

But although she only ever left the apartment on Sundays for church, Vida had an unsettling abundance of energy from which chatter flowed in an endless stream. If she was not weighing aloud whether or not to make an online purchase, she was narrating the action of a television show. She was always either arguing on the telephone, or rehearsing an argument she would later have on the telephone. To delivery boys, she spoke in giggly Spanish.

Spanish was good, Betty observed from the sofa. She was snugged into an afghan while Vida's voice burbled from the kitchen, talking on the phone to one of her people in Puerto Rico. It was like, what did you call it? A babbling brook.

Unbidden, Vida set a plate before her: half an English muffin with a lump of butter mashed into its center. Betty's mouth watered. Generally speaking there wasn't much left to her appetite, but that toast looked just fine. Vida made kissing noises into the phone before hanging up, and set to brushing the mats out of Gracie's fur.

"When I think about the girl who lived with me before, Betty...you wouldn't believe. That bitch made all kinds of crazy accusations! Good thing we have Betty with us now, right, Gracie? Isn't that right, girl? We like good people."

With contentment Betty chewed her English muffin. It was nearly uncooked, a buttery dough dumpling.

Released from Vida's clasp, the dog chuffed the carpet for crumbs. You'd think from the way Vida carried on, Gracie was the moon and stars, but because going up or down the staircase made Vida gasp and whimper and yell out prayers, she never took Gracie outside. The leash hung by the door unused, even though anyone with a speck of sense knew dogs shouldn't be doing their business in the house.

•

"Betty, are you deaf? Why don't you get the door," Vida cried.

Betty was watching furls of snow blowing against the windowpane. From her mug of tea, whiskey-scented steam rose in shimmering coils.

Her roommate bustled past to open the door, proving, as she frequently did, Betty's great wisdom in having failed to move a muscle. She went out onto the landing and came back panting, with her hair coming out of its bun. "That lazy no-good landlord just accused me of throwing garbage out of the window. Can you believe it?"

Betty took a noncommittal sip of tea. Vida's loud talk was smashing her peace all up.

"Listen to me, listen, I was so mad, I was about to shove my cane up that motherfucker's ass. Even if somebody was going to drop a bag down there, it's going to fall right next to the cans anyway. Hey, mami, it's Friday, you owe me a hundred-twenty."

Betty sucked her teeth. "Profanity," she remarked, and shuffled off to find her cash.

From the kitchen Vida yelled, "You left the burner on again, Betty. Yes, you did! I told you, I'm watching out for you, but you have to listen to me."

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