Mimsy’s Eighty-First Birthday

by William R. Stoddard

On her eighty-first birthday, Mimsy got gussied up with rose water and pancake makeup, red wine lipstick, white gloves, and a bright red cloche hat. It was late fall in the city. She wrapped a mink stole around her crepy neck and fumbled around her apartment looking for car keys. The car wasn’t where she remembered parking it and she walked the hedge maple-lined sidewalk, stopping at each parked car. A young lady was walking her Yorkshire Terrier. Her little dog sniffed Mimsy’s stockinged ankle.

“I seemed to have misplaced my car. It’s been a while since I’ve driven. It’s a silver Oldsmobile. I wanted to drive to my favorite restaurant. They have the most delicious veal cutlet. It was Dr. Buckminster’s favorite. Did you know of my husband? He was quite famous in Northampton you know. It’s got to be close to my apartment. It didn’t just drive away on its own,” Mimsy said. 

Mimsy moved to the big city with Dr. Buckminster, her husband. He died shortly after their move leaving her and their two daughters with sufficient money which is what one would expect living where they did. She had a driver’s license. Studied hard for it. Took lessons from Johnson’s Motor Academy. One-on-one training with a professional driver, licensed in the state of New York. Good to have a driver’s license, she would say. Never know when you’ll need it. 

Mimsy, the young lady and her dog walked slowly to the end of the street, crossed over to the other side, and continued their search. “It’s my birthday and I wanted to celebrate, but it’s all been ruined. I certainly hope my car hasn’t been stolen. I’ll have to contact the police and report this,” Mimsy said. 

“I’m so sorry,” the young lady said. “This is no way to spend your special day. My apartment is just down the block. Would you like to join me for some tea?”

“That would be lovely. And I’m sure your little dog would love to go home to get warm. It’s getting quite chilly and looks like rain,” Mimsy said, reaching for the young lady’s arm.

Boxes were scattered about in the young lady’s garden-floor brownstone apartment, some opened, others sealed with gray duct tape. 

“Sorry about the mess. I just moved in a month ago. My name’s Elizabeth. My friends call me Betsy,” she said, looking over her shoulder as she placed the kettle on the stovetop. “Herbal, oolong, or black?”

“Chamomile would be lovely.”

“I have peppermint?”

“Reflux. It burns for hours. I have pills for it.”

“I have some teabags. Would that be okay?”

“In a pinch, good old teabags. Such a pleasure to meet nice people. My name’s Mimsy.”

“Such a cute name.”

“My friends from Westtown gave me the name.”

“Is that where you grew up?”

“In a manner of speaking. It’s a Quaker school in Pennsylvania. I met Dr. Buckminster there. Perhaps you’ve heard of him? He was quite well known in Northampton.”

There wasn’t much natural light in Betsy’s apartment. The windows were just above ground level and she was slowly getting accustomed to the street noise. Betsy had moved back to the city from the West Coast and now it was just she and her dog, Dee O’Gee. 

“What do you do here in the city?” Mimsy asked.

“I’m a research librarian for a law firm,” Betsy said, forcing a smile. She pulled a drape of auburn hair behind her ear and stared into her tea.

“How exciting. Do you defend criminals? Can you discuss any juicy cases?”

“No, no, I’m not an attorney. Don’t have the horsepower for that,” Betsy smiled and pointed to her head. “My older sister is the one with the kidneys,” again pointing to her head. “Michigan Med grad.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, my dear. Dr. Buckminster gave so many of his students the self-confidence to excel in life. I do wish you could have had my husband as a teacher. He was such a mentor to young people. It’s not so bad living alone. You have your brave little dog to protect you,” Mimsy smiled and nodded her head toward the terrier.

“You know I believe my neighbor might know where my car is parked. He’s a bit of a snoop, always looking out of his window. He’s all alone, just like us. I’ll ask him tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ve taken up too much of your time, my dear. You are so kind. It’s nice to meet friendly people. I must be getting home.”

“I’d love to walk with you,” Betsy said.

A light rain fell, and the air was candied with the scent of sodden leaves. The sun appeared briefly and fired through the floating, twirling leaves like stained glass. 

“Days like these remind me of Northampton. I raised two daughters there. One is about your age. They both moved away after college. They sent me the most beautiful flowers for my birthday,” Mimsy said. “I insist that you and your little dog come in, just for a few minutes.”

“I don’t want you to make a fuss,” Betsy said.

“I insist.”

Dee O’Gee walked the perimeter of the apartment, sniffing along the floorboards. “I’ll put the kettle on for tea. Would you like some birthday cake?” Mimsy asked.

“Please don’t go to any trouble, really,” Betsy said politely and looked around for her dog. She heard scratching coming from an adjacent room.

“Come here, girl. Come.” Betsy pulled the dog out from under the bed. There was a photograph and a vase with fresh flowers on the nightstand. Betsy moved closer to the picture. An older man dressed in a suit was standing next to a car, his hand on the door handle, his other hand holding a set of keys. He was smiling broadly.

The car was dark silver, more of a pewter color, and seemed to glow in the sharp sunlight. 

It was raining and Mimsy looked out of her apartment. She wiped the window with the back of her trembly hand like a worn windshield blade and squinted through the smeared pane. Betsy walked down the leaf-covered sidewalk with her head bowed against the wind as a stream of silver broke through racing clouds, and the city suddenly looked happy.

Betsy busied herself unloading boxes scattered about her apartment. After she emptied each box, she replaced its contents, intertwining the flaps of the box closed. 

“Yes, I saw the flowers. They’re lovely,” Betsy said. Her sister looked sympathetic on the screen of the cell phone. Dee O’Gee’s ears perked up when she heard the familiar voice and looked around anxiously.

“I see Dee O’Gee is keeping you warm. How’s the homesickness?” The sister asked.

“It comes and goes.”

“You know I’d be there with you. I miss the seasons.”

“I know. Your family needs you there.”

“Feeling guilty. I’ll make it up to you. I’ll be there for Christmas. Give you a break. How’s she doing?”

“She wants to drive.”

“Looking for the car again?”

“She wanted veal cutlet.”

“So, get her veal cutlet.”

“That restaurant closed years ago.”

“Tell her you ordered take-out.”

“I guess I could do that,” Betsy said.

“How are her meds? Does she need any refills?”

“Don’t know. I’ll check.”

“We’ll talk about arrangements when I’m there over the holidays. Did you get the Venmo?”

“I did. Thanks.”

“Call me after you check her meds. Tomorrow.”

“Give my love to everyone,” Betsy spoke to a blank screen. She pulled the quilt around her shoulders. It’s not so bad living alone, she thought. The street noise ebbed like the interval between waves on a calm night. She drifted in and out of sleep — brave Dee O’Gee warm on her lap. 

* * *

William R. Stoddart is a Pushcart-nominated poet and fiction writer who lives in Pennsylvania. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in North Dakota Quarterly, Litro Magazine, The Orchards Poetry Journal, Third Wednesday, Adirondack Review, and Ruminate Magazine.

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