April 23, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

The Last Stand of Ms. Betty J. Washington

By Jenna Leigh Evans
Published: 2015-12-31

This checked her path to the coffee pot as sharply as a truncheon and she felt her blood pressure spike. What kind of person said a thing like that first thing in the morning? "'Don't worry, Betty, I'm taking care of you, Betty,'" scoffed Betty.

"I do take care of you. But if you don't pay your share, how am I supposed to pay the landlord? Make sense already."

Every kind of sick feeling overwhelmed Betty and she knew that if she didn't find something to settle her nerves right away she would be passing through the Pearly Gates in a minute. "Going out," she announced, scrabbling for her wallet and keys.

"In your slippers? Aiy, yi yi. Listen, as soon as you're back, you're paying up. Otherwise I'm going to have to kick you out and get a new roommate, I'm not kidding."

Luckily for Betty, the Twilite Lounge opened early on Saturdays, and it was there that she stayed until five o'clock that evening.

•

When she returned, much fortified, there was a man stooped over a broom in the foyer, sweeping at muddy shoeprints. His black hair showed neat pomaded comb marks. He turned slowly as though he were on a hinge, and pointed the dustpan at her. "Who are you?"

Betty lifted her chin. "My name is Ms. Betty Washington. I live upstairs in Number Three."

Abandoning his task, the man gripped her arm. When she recoiled, he tightened her grasp and she instinctively went very still.

"That lady! She don't pay rent since August, not one cent! I been in housing court five months try'na get rid of her! She got no lease, she ain't supposed to be in there at all! A 400-pound cockroach, that's what she is! I run a nice building, no trouble — and she wants to bring me this shit. You tell her: March thirtieth, state marshals gonna be dragging her ass out and changing the locks - that's right!"

Releasing her at last, he stormed out; the flimsy door shook in its frame. Betty, rubbing her arm, heard his footfalls clumping down the block.

No rent? No rent?

"Nothing but a witchity, old, fat-ass LIAR," she said. There was a rattle as somebody in Apartment One cast the chain lock across their door.

With determination she climbed up the stairs, even though the risers were going up and down like the keys of a player piano. Rodrigo passed her on his way out, winking and touching the brim of his cowboy hat.

"I heard a big commotion," Vida said, ushering her inside. The apartment stank of skunkweed. "Betty, why do you want to make trouble? I keep telling you, you have to be quiet!"

Betty walked right past Vida the liar. "Pretend to be a person's friend," she said. This cold wave of clarity washed her across the undulating carpet to her bedroom, where she began to pack up her personal effects. Clarice was a cold fish, God knew, and did not always treat her with respect, but at least she was didn't run around shooting her mouth off.

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