First published in Long Story Short (2011)
Evie sat on a metal chair in a cramped office sequestered in a section of the mall she never knew existed and waited for the young man who escorted her there to return. She squinted at the corkboard fastened to the opposite wall. On it hung discolored instructions explaining what to do in case of a fire, a top ten list, its edges rolled inward, of ways to improve customer relations, and an employee of the month citation for someone named Gordon. Evie hooked the cuff of her sweater with arthritic fingers, pulled it back and glanced at her watch.
She turned at the sound of voices and scrutinized the young man as he entered the room, followed by an older woman. He wore black pants, a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a red, white and blue striped tie, the knot loose around his neck. The woman, wearing a navy pantsuit and white blouse, leaned against a file cabinet, her arms crossed over her chest like a mobster in an Edward G. Robinson movie. The man sat next to Evie and placed a plastic shopping bag on the desk.
“Hello, Mrs. McIntyre. My name is Gordon Fisher, and this is Mary Clark.”
“Oh, please, call me Evie,” Holding her pocketbook secure, Evie turned and faced her new friend, Gordon.
“Okay, Evie --”
“That’s a beautiful wedding ring, Gordon. Do you have any children?” She reached out to touch the ring. He moved his hand away.
“Three, two boys and a girl,” he said. “Now about this bag --”
“Do they live at home with you?” Evie asked.
“For now. My oldest boy goes to college next fall. He’s been accepted to Dartmouth. The wife and I want him to go someplace closer.”
“That would be nice. It’s good to keep a family together.” She lowered her head and spoke to her purse. “My son’s company closed the local office and transferred him to Cleveland last month.” She looked at the woman and continued. “He hasn’t called me once. Isn’t that terrible, Mary?”
Mary remained silent, unmoving, unfriendly. Evie decided Mary would make a terrible daughter.
“He made me sell my home, moved me into an apartment because it was safer, and then went off to Ohio.” She looked from Gordon to Mary and back. “I don’t get to see my grandchildren any more, and my friends are either dead or too far away for me to visit.” She opened her pocketbook, took out a rumpled handkerchief and wiped her eyes. “Sorry,” she said.
“I’m sorry, too, Mrs… Evie.” Gordon removed an item from the bag and put it on the desk. “Now, about this wig--”
“It’s pretty, isn’t it,” Evie said. “I used to have auburn hair.” She patted a strand of grey curls. “I thought about dying mine. Do you think I should, Gordon?”
“I…” He looked at Mary, who rolled her eyes. “Evie, we have pictures of you taking this wig off a mannequin and putting it in this shopping bag. You know you shouldn’t do that, don’t you?”
“Oh, you must have me confused with someone else, Gordon.” She smiled in an effort to hide her nervousness.
He opened a folder, removed a photograph and placed it on the desk in front of Evie.
“Well...um…” Evie looked up at Gordon. “I really need to get going. The bus that takes me back to my apartment will be here soon. If I miss it, I don’t have any way to get home.”
“Evie.” Gordon put his hand on hers. “This isn’t the first time, is it.”
Evie clutched her purse and remembered the lipstick inside.
“If I catch you stealing again, I’ll have to ban you from the store. You don’t want that, do you?”
Evie shook her head.
“Good. I’d hate to have that happen, too.” He squeezed Evie’s hands and smiled. She reminded Gordon of his grandmother. He made a mental note to visit her soon. “Mary will walk you out to the bus stop.”
Evie rocked out of the chair and headed toward the door.
“Oh, and Evie” Gordon said.
“Anytime you need someone to talk to, come and find me. Maybe we could eat lunch together.”
Evie smiled and stood a little taller. “I’d like that, Gordon.” She looked at Mary. “You could join us too, if you like, dear. You look like you could use a friend.”