Door 8  by Anna Marie Laforest

         Donna held her nose and tiptoed as fast as she could past Door Number 8.  It was the only thing she disliked about attending communal dining at her assisted living facility, having to go by # 8, where they said the washing was done.  The door was always closed as she scurried by, but, oh, such an odor seeping through the cracks!  Unlike any detergent or bleach she had ever known, that’s for sure.  Who knew what taints came from those who could not come down to the dining room. 

  

         She did not like to think about it.  She tried to find alternate routes, but evidently there were none, and here she was hurrying past at lunchtime, hoping she had put enough perfume in her handkerchief to repel the odor she imagined each day as more and more lethal.  She was still wiping her nose as she entered the dining room.  Her handkerchief was white cotton and it had the initial of her 3rd husband embroidered on it. 

 

          “Here comes Prima D.,” said a heavy-set woman with an unruly perm, already sitting at the table.  “She’s waving her prissy little snot-rag at us again.”

 

         “Shut up, Gabby,” said Bert, a tall former air colonel who now favored a shirt with vertical stripes and a white dickey which made him look even taller.  His bushy uni-brow shot up as if he wasn’t sure he could say the words “shut up” at a communal dining table.    

 

         “She’s doing the best she can, our Prima Donna.” he said.  Bert was the only one for whom the others had not made up a nickname, as he looked so “Bert” already.  

 

         “Oh, well, we all know who you turn gallant for,” said Gabby, whose name was Addie but talked too much, perhaps to make up for being a little hard of hearing.

 

         “Mphfft,” said a tiny man in a wheelchair who’d recently been imported from a Miami home. 

 

         “See, Pinkie agrees,” said Gabby.

 

         Unable to speak without great difficulty since his stroke, the withering man was subject to the others’ translations.  They couldn’t remember his name, and when, after many months, Bert noticed that “he still has a deep tan,” the group decided he was part of the Castro regime, and they’d dubbed him Pinkie. 

 

        Bert stood as Donna approached the table.  She dove into her chair with a flourish of her skirt intended to show a bit of upper leg to the colonel.  He sat back down unfazed.

 

         “He didn’t see it, dear,” said Gabby.  “You’ll have to try again at supper.”

 

         “See what, dear,” hissed Donna, tucking her bared leg into the folds of the oversized tablecloth.

 

          “Mphfft, mphfft,” said Pinkie, who had seen it.           

       

 

        “Ladies, ladies, welcome to lunch at beautiful Altitude 95,” said Bert, who looked for ways to name-drop the wonderful European restaurants he’d been to.  “Today’s lunch will feature steak tartare and foie gras, and we invite you to enjoy the beautiful views of the Seine from our tower.”

 

          Donna folded her monogrammed handkerchief into a triangle and set it carefully into her purse.  She closed it with a click. 

 

          “Where is that one, Altitude 95?” said Gabby.  She would show the colonel the respect he was due.  She would never flaunt her legs at a man, never mind that hers were mottled marble columns compared to Prima’s double white javelins.

 

          “In the Eiffel Tower.”  

 

          She didn’t look as though she understood him, so he added, “In Paris.”

 

          Gabby knew where the Eiffel Tower was, but she had been distracted by the onslaught of the assisted living lunch that now arrived and seemed to demand she turn up her nose and roll her eyes.

 

          Plastic sectional plates with congealed ham on untoasted bread, the edges of which were soaking up the applesauce that was overflowing its section, were placed before them.  Sandwich cookies that smelled like they’d been kept too close to an open pickle jar, were in the third section.   

 

          Bert didn’t seem to notice the food in front of him; the act of eating, in spite of the fancy restaurants he’d attended in his prime, had become a simple act of courage, to keep one’s strength up.  Besides, he had a stash of caviar, water crackers, prosciutto, and brie back in his room.  His granddaughter sent him a monthly basket.  One of these days, as soon as he got enough strength back in his wrist to twist a corkscrew, he would invite La Prima for a secret picnic.

 

          Meanwhile, as senior officer, he must keep the mood of the squadron up.  “Dig in,” he said.  “Not as bad as the food we got in our unit during a cold snap.”

 

         “Mphfft,” said Pinkie.

 

         “Respectfully, colonel, it’s only October, and we are not at war,” said Gabby.  “But I am thinking of asking my daughter to help me battle the Board next time she comes.  Look, even Pinkie hates the food.”

 

         “Mphfft,” said Pinkie again, who thought the food looked great, and was just trying to get someone to cut his up into smaller pieces so he could pick it up.  “Mphfft, mphfft!”

 

         “Look, everyone,” said Donna, patting her hair and looking straight at the colonel.   “I was hoping we could discuss ‘the real problem’ today at lunch.”

 

         “What’s ‘the real problem,’ Prima dear?” said Gabby.  “I suppose you still want to organize a dance night?  Look at the people at the other tables in here, do you imagine many of them can stand up, much less dance, a whole night?”

         “No,” said Donna.  (So, they still call me Prima Donna.)   “I’m sure many of them could dance better than you, Addie-Gabby.  But I am talking about the “real” problem – that awful smell coming out of Door 8 down there by the elevator, where the halls diverge.  Why, I nearly choked to death the other day going past it.”

 

         “That door near the bulletin board at the crossroads?” asked the colonel.  He wasn’t sure he had ever smelled anything that bad, but he was all for helping a damsel in distress, especially as she hadn’t dropped her eyes from his in at least 30 seconds.  By George, she had wonderful eyes.  Movie-star eyes.   A little bloodshot, and too much blue paint above them, but the movie would be black-and-white anyway so it didn’t matter. 

 

         “  …just hold your nose as you walk by, dear,” Gabby was advising, and she started to get up.  But then she remembered something, sat back down and said, conspiratorially, “Is that the door to the washing room?  I’ve heard that bad things have happened there, and they can’t get the smell out no matter how hard they try.”

 

         “What?” said Bert.   “What things?”

 

         “Mphfft,” said Pinkie. 

 

         “Well,” said Gabby, “I’ve heard lots of things.  I’ve heard snakes got in there.  Then I heard there was whole pig or boar meat got sliced open.  Blood all over.   And someone said they heard a horse doing its business near the birch tree outside the window of #8.  I don’t wonder it stinks to high heaven by now.”

 

         “Mostly I smell the heavy bleach, but there’s something awful underneath it,” said Prima, and she took her handkerchief back out and put it to her nose.  Even thinking about it made her dizzy.

 

         Bert wondered if she was about to faint, and hoped so.  He could hold her shoulders until she came to.  “Well, there must be a rational explanation,” he said.  “We will have to investigate.” 

 

         “Diana comes today!” shouted Gabby, inexplicably. 

 

          Diana was a holistic health volunteer who brought her gentle dogs around weekly, for the inhabitants to hold.   The facility had asked for her after an article appeared in the local paper about how pets lower the blood pressure of the elderly.  

 

          “I think she referred the laundry lady to us,” Gabby, Gabby explained.  “Maybe she can tell us what she does behind Door 8.”

 

         “Good idea.  Meanwhile, squad, let’s gather all the intelligence we can about the situation.”

 

         “I wish he wouldn’t call us ‘squad,’” Gabby leaned over to Pinkie. 

 

         “Mphffffffffffffftt,” said the starving Pinkie, who had never been to Cuba, but who had certainly been in Room 8.  

 

 

         In her shower with its clean cool fake marble walls, Donna held onto the rail guard with one hand while rinsing the shampoo out of her hair with the other.  She did not consider herself old enough to have to hold on yet, but if she should feel a dizziness with her head tipped back under hot water she would be prepared.  She patted a liberal amount of conditioner-for-color-treated hair onto her head and left it there while she soaped and rinsed the rest of her body.   

 

        She thought about this body while cleansing it.  Arms – still shapely, no swinging flesh.  Stomach, no stretch marks, just an appendectomy scar that was somehow whiter than her white skin.  Breasts, small and light enough that there wasn’t much to droop.   It didn’t matter anyway; all of her men had been leg men.   She checked whether she needed to shave her legs, no.  Any body hair she still had, had turned from blond to translucent, and no one at the home would have eyes good enough to detect it. 

 

         If the colonel ever got around to noticing her, and if he was man enough to touch her, he might feel the hairs on her legs, so she kept a disposable shaver and her glasses in her purse in case the occasion arose.  She would just excuse herself, use the bathroom and come back out smooth as silk.   But the colonel seemed more interested in Gabby.  Or at least, he was not rejecting Gabby’s ridiculous advances –oh, how she trotted after him like a collie. 

 

         Donna supposed some men liked that sort of attention.   Poor Gabby, someone should explain to her that the woman stands still and lets the man pursue.  The woman should be the center of attention, not go after a man like a pointer to a duck.   Of course, Gabby had a right to go after whoever she was attracted to.   And Gabby had probably never wasted time with the “wrong men,” as Donna had.   As her first two husbands were:  one being a getaway from her father, and the other being a getaway from the first husband. 

 

         Donna now rinsed the conditioner out of her hair, forgetting to hold onto the rail with the other hand.  Being beautiful was such a disadvantage.  Men projected all their Aphrodite-complexes onto her.  Within a year of her mother dying, her father had started kissing her on the mouth when he tucked her in.  She had resisted, even slapping him and shouting out.  He stopped before crossing any major lines, and remarried soon after, but for the rest of her childhood he held a grudge as though she had been unreasonable with him and not the other way around. 

 

         Then husband #1 appeared, full of money and boyish charm, and did not press her much sexually.  She married him on the spot.  By the time his boyishness with other boys became clear to her, she was in her thirties.   But she was still beautiful and she decided, after the divorce settlement, to go to college with #1’s money and earn a degree – but in what?  She soon fell for a professor of art who took her on a trip to Europe where they collected many objets, including a very pretty French marriage license which Donna put in a very pretty frame.   This husband #2 assumed she had never been married, and she never told him she had, but invested the rest of #1’s money in her own name.  That was the money that now paid for her berth in the assisted living home. 

 

         The art professor, of course, tired of Donna as he did of all his beautiful acquisitions, and -- she thought of it now as she stepped out of the tub and dried herself with a big fluffy towel -- he blamed her lack of sexual sophistication for his disinterest.  She tucked the towel around herself and unwrapped eight cotton wedges to pop between her toes as she painted her nails.   Well, it took the third husband before she really knew much about physical married life.   

 

         Husband #3 was an outdoors photographer who never tired of posing his beautiful wife in front of mountains and streams; “move just a little more toward the tree – yeah, that’s it.”  They lasted for twenty-five years, during which time Donna went to night school and finished her degree in art history, and finally understood why people like to pursue beauty in the ways that they do.   #3 died of skin cancer, unfortunately, and Donna was very glad she had always worn glamorous hats and long sleeves during their midday photo shoots.  

 

         She spent some years as curator of a small art museum before becoming shaky enough in her health to qualify for the assisted living slot.  Her apartment was clean and tastefully hung with gorgeous prints and small tapestries she acquired from the museum gift shop with her supervisory discount.  None of the other residents had visited her, and she volunteered no personal information at meals, so as yet they knew nothing about her knowledge or accumulations in art. 

 

         “I’d like, in these years of physical decline, to be pursued for myself and not for my beauty,” she said to her toes.  “Yeah, right,” her toes seemed to say, wiggling with new polish and reflecting back to her a trim and beautiful elder-body.    

 

         Donna dressed carefully, brushed her teeth, filled in her brows, and blow-dried her hair.   “Now what was it I was supposed to do before dinner,” she said to herself.  “Oh, yes, we are collecting intelligence on Door 8.   Well, let the colonel “man up,” and knock on Door 8.  Gabby has probably already found out all about it.   I’m staying as far away from that stink as possible.” 

 

 

         Meanwhile, Gabby had taken a short nap after the soggy lunch and was headed down to look for the colonel.  She figured they could team up on their reconnaissance mission.  He was not in the commons, so she went back to the elevator wondering if it would be polite to knock on the door of his apartment.  She passed Door 8 on the way, and sniffed at it, but detected no odor.  At the elevator she decided to turn back to the dreaded door. 

         She gave a loud knock.  Nothing.  She gave a louder knockety-knockety-knock.  Nothing.  She turned toward the elevator again but a few feet away she thought she heard a noise.  She walked back again; this was tiresome.  She knocked loudly at the door one more time.

 

         This time she got a knockety-knockety-knock back from inside the door.  

 

         “Well, who is it?”  Gabby said.  “Open the door.”

 

         No answer.  She knocked again.

 

         Knockety-knockety-knock back.

 

         “Stop fooling around.  Is that you, Mrs. Hecht?”

 

         Nothing.   

 

         Well, she wasn’t going to fool around with this all day.  She sniffed again.  Nothing.

 

         At Bert’s door she did not have to knock, as it was propped open with a rubber stop.  The door itself was decorated in grade-school pumpkins and ghosts with great grandchildren’s names scrawled along the artwork.  He was inside, stretched out crosswise on his bed on his back, his arms folded under his head and his legs dangling off the side.  His shoes were off and he was swinging one leg as if keeping time to a song running in his head.

 

         “Yoo-hoo,” she sang.  “May I come in?”

 

         “Shore, you may,” he sang back.

 

         “Oh, hello, it’s you, Abbie, welcome to my abode.”  He shifted his weight to sit up.

 

         Gabby came in, using her best walking posture to make her chest looked pert and to de-emphasize the stoutness of her legs. 

 

         For all the debris of little visitors – school photos, popsicle stick planters, leather-laced coin purse on his dresser – it still felt like a confirmed bachelor’s pad.  He hadn’t personalized the curtains, the bedspread, or the furniture in any way.  The gliding chair had the facility’s trademark cushions on it, and she bet if she went into his bathroom the shower curtain would be embossed with its name.   It needs a woman’s touch to swap these things out for a man.    But he didn’t look uncomfortable, or as though the facility trappings were squelching his identity in any way.  In fact, as Bert began rambling on about some air raids he’d conducted in the war, it occurred to her that his room felt like the standard issue barracks he’d have returned to time and again, and bonded with, glad to be still alive.

 

         “Blah, blah, blah, blah,” Bert continued on about the air command, not sure what else to talk about with this woman whom he’d seen take everyone to task if they didn’t seem professional enough.

 

         Finally he said, “And what did you do during the war, m’dear lady?”

 

         Was “m’dear lady” an endearment?  Or a phrase to hold her at bay?  Would he have called Prima that, if she’d walked in to his room?   “I was a Latin teacher.  Then and after.   Forty years.”

 

          “Really?  Oh, my.  But you must have read all the strategies of the Punic Wars.”

 

          “Well, there wasn’t exactly a Proust or a Dickens in Latin.”

 

          “Ha.  Or a D. H. Lawrence.”

 

           Oh.  Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover had been banned at her school.  Was Bert making a veiled pass at her?   Maybe she shouldn’t have been so bold as to come to his room.  Or maybe that was the only writer he knew, and he was just making conversation.  She thought she might be blushing, and put a hand to her cheek. 

 

         Bert had, after a little struggling, pulled on his shoes and stood up.  As he came near her she caught a whiff of his socks.  Why did men never wash their socks?  She had been married over fifty years, and the only complaint she ever had against her husband was that he waited until his socks were caked and crusted with old sweat to throw them in the hamper.  She’d had to wash them separately, and sometimes even throw them away and buy new ones rather than risk contaminating the rest of their clothes.  Yes, she knew the smell. 

 

         Bert walked past her to his dresser and opened the top drawer.   Gaily colored paper wrappers of various delicacies virtually sprang from the drawer.  Bert chose some Havarti and some wafer cookies and brought them back to his bed.  He sat at one end.   Now the smell of unrefrigerated cheese overtook the smell of unwashed socks.

 

         “Sit,” he commanded, pointing to the other end of the bed.  “Eat.”

 

         He had a perfectly good table and chairs at the other end of the room, was she really to sit on his bed?

 

         “How are your wrists?” he asked.

 

         “What?”

 

         “Well, I have some good wine from my granddaughter, she brought me a basket, but I can’t get the corkscrew to work.  Not with my hands like this.”

 

         She looked at his hands.  She saw nothing wrong.  But she knew, from her own growing old, that joint pain did not show on the outside.  “Let me see it.  Oh, it’s a screw-top, we don’t need the corkscrew.”

 

         “Ah!  Good show, ol’ girl!”

 

         Ol’ girl - she knew that to be what one called one’s sister or long-time tired-out wife.  While it rankled her that he would never call Prima ol’ girl, at least she could relax now, on his bed -- he was not making a pass.  But oh, wasn’t there a twinge of disappointment in her heart?

 

          She let herself laugh freely and heard herself snort at the end of it.  Oh, dear.  And she would have to watch the wine, too much and it would make her gassy.   She told him about knocking at Door 8 and how it had knockety-knocked back at her.  He did not understand, and she had to say it again.

 

         “Oh, you probably just heard the mice in there,” he concluded, ever rational. 

 

         “But do we know for sure there are mice in the laundry room,” she countered, ever more rational.

 

         Just then they saw Pinkie, his wheelchair framed in the doorway.  A nurse was pushing it but had stopped to chat with the resident across the hall. 

 

         Bert held up the wine bottle and waved it.  “Have some plonk, Pinkie!”

 

         Pinkie’s eye’s looked eager but Gabby said, “He can’t have wine, he’s just had a stroke.”

 

         “That was months ago,” Bert got up and commandeered the wheelchair, nodding to the nurse.

 

         They gave Pinkie some wine in a plastic cup but it was all Pinkie could do to hold onto the cup and keep it from spilling over his trousers.   Did they still not realize he could barely lift even tiny things?

 

         “See, he knows better than to drink it,” said Gabby.

 

         “C’mon, man, it’s an anti-oxidant!” declared Bert.

 

         “Mphfft.”  Pinkie, in an extraordinary effort to make his arms work, spilled the wine onto his trousers.

 

         “Now, see,” began Gabby, but the two men closed their ears to her chiding.  She ticked off several American Medical Association facts about strokes as she went to Bert’s kitchenette for paper towels.  She rolled out about ten perforations’ worth and wet them.  When she came back and stroked them against Pinkie’s trousers, his eyes widened in fear.

 

         “I gotcha,” said the colonel, piloting the wheelchair toward the door.  “Time for the reconnaissance mission.”  And they left Gabby alone in the bunker. 

 

         Before leaving, Gabby poked into Bert’s top drawer to see what other imported foods he had, stashed in there.   Nothing in English.  She closed the apartment door behind her.  Men never think to lock up.  Men!  She would show them what real reconnaissance was.  She would get the scoop from that young nurse, a real gossip-girl.  And she would talk to the night watchman who would just be coming on duty. 

 

 

         Diana arrived at 4 o’clock with her hounds.   She was a willowy yet vital outdoorsy woman who believed in the healing power of animals.  Her hounds had been stroked by a hundred hospice patients and as many assisted living folks.  She imagined her beloved dogs had delayed at least a few dozen deaths. 

 

         Several people gathered in the activities room to pet the hounds, who never failed to display their drooping, pitying faces, as if to say, “There, there, we know how sad you feel.”  

 

         But Bert’s squad bypassed the dogs and went straight to Diana herself, who had never seen these four bubble over with so much excitement.  The two ladies, far from sniping at each other, looked like they were in cahoots, and even Pinkie’s eyes, as Bert pushed him in his chair, were blazing. 

 

         “What’s up, guys?”

 

         “Diana, what can you tell us about the laundry room lady?”   

 

          “Katy?  Why?”

 

          “Oh, is her name Katy?”  said Gabby.   “People told us Mrs. Hecht.” 

 

         “Yes, she is Katy Hecht, but not a Missus.”

 

         Gabby blurted out the rest of the group’s intelligence-gathering all at once.  “We heard she boils mutton bones in the laundry tub.   The watchman said she turns herself into a ghost at night, he saw her at midnight just last night, beaming a flashlight down the hall in front of her.

 

         “And Missy at the front desk saw her once from the bus stop near the cemetery.  She said she saw her with a giant dog goofing around near a grave.  It was a dark moon, but she said Mrs. Hecht – er, Katy, had a flashlight.  The dog looked like it had more than one head, but that had to be a shadow.   The next day she told Missy her future.”

 

          “They haven’t served us lamb, for months,” Bert said, his mind having stalled on the word ‘mutton.’

 

          “Now, now, let’s stick to pertinent facts,” chided La Prima, uncharacteristically.

 

          “Yes,” said Bert.  “How reliable are these sources?  Several people in this place are half-crazy, you know.”

 

          “Hmmm,” said Diana.  What other actual facts have you got, Abbie?”

 

          “She is pretty old, and has stringy hair.  She burns patchouli and sage while she does the washing.”

 

          “Lot of good that does,” said Prima.

 

          “She cackles.”

 

          “You make her sound like a witch,” said Diana.  “Well, as it is almost Halloween, I shall tell you guys the story of Katy the laundry woman.  Gather ‘round with the hounds.”

 

         The other inhabitants had fallen asleep after petting the pitying dogs.  The squad now coaxed the animals over and they all made a tight circle around Diana. 

 

         “Once upon a time, there was a dark goddess named Katy.”

 

          Once upon a time?  Does she think we are children?  thought Gabby.

 

         “Her name was Katy and she was a few thousand years old, and she did have stringy hair; no longer a beauty, she only cared about telling the truth.”

 

          But truth is beauty, beauty is truth, mulled Bert.  Maybe I will ask Prima to come for a nightcap.

 

         “Now, Katy was not a witch, but she was on a mission.  You see, she really believed in the wisdom of older people but saw that many, as they aged, lost the ability to look into their psyches and into their hearts to recognize the truths about their lives.”

 

          “Nobody listens to us anyway,” stated Gabby.

 

          “Yes, that’s just it,” said Diana, pulling one of the dogs closer to her and petting her.  “If no one appears to care about older people, why should they examine their souls and pass their wisdom on.  So Katy finds older people who have something to offer the rest of us, and she “shines her flashlight,” as it were,  to show them the way to understand their life-stories.”

 

          “But our Katy was shining her flashlight out in the graveyard!”  said Prima.   “Am I supposed to understand myself by dying?”

 

          “No, my dear, not you.  But Katy, in the story, also helps the souls of the dead.   She and her dogs go prowling about in the cemeteries if there is a soul still hanging about, confused.  She likes to go there when it’s a dark moon.”

 

          “Why then,” said Bert, who, until now, did not appear to be listening, but was bouncing his fingertips together in a rhythm, making steeples, and looking out the window.     Gabby thought – well, Bert’s one person who knows who he is, anyway.

 

          “The moon reflects other light, so the dark of the moon is when she can best shine her flashlight directly into people.”

 

          “Mphfft,” said Pinkie.  He was trying to point at the dogs.  His finger trembled, but it looked like he was indicating their heads, one by one. 

 

          “Yes, Katy’s dog is unusual in that she has three heads.”

 

          “What?  Who, Katy or her dog?” said Prima.

 

          “Well, both, actually.   Katy was a triple goddess, which means she could face in three different directions, like being all phases of the moon at once, and her dog resembled her.  You know how dogs and their owners tend to look alike.”

 

          Diana, for example, certainly was as gentle and soft-voiced as her dogs, one of whom stretched and shook himself and went over to Pinkie, settling at his feet. 

 

          “You’ve lost me,” said Bert.  “I don’t know what that phases of the moon stuff is supposed to mean.”

 

          “Oh, never mind, Bert,” said Gabby, “that’s girl stuff.  But, Diana, this Katy laundress of ours still seems witchy to me, what with the laundry smells and the hanging about in graveyards.

 

          “Hmm,” said Diana, “girl stuff, maybe… or soul stuff…   No, Abbie, she is not a witch, though she likes to dress in black and silver, and you’ll never see her with frills or lace.  Snakeskin, maybe.   Anyway, she particularly likes to help mothers and daughters find each other.”  Diana lifted the smallest dog off her lap and handed him to Gabby to hold and pet. 

 

          “I’m confused about which is the “mythology” and which is the “intel" on Door 8,” said Bert.   

 

          Diana did not answer this directly.   “Katy is simply interested in getting people to face the truth about themselves before it is too late.  She sizes them up and decides whether to bless or curse them.”

 

         At the word “curse,” Pinkie let out a little squeal, “Mphffft, mphffft!”

 

         “Did anyone cut up Mr. Pinkie’s lunch?”  Diana asked, to no answer.  “We mustn’t forget to help him with that, guys.”  She reached in her satchel and pulled out a plastic baggie full of apple slices, banana chips, and candy corn.  She handed pieces to Pinkie as Gabby followed the candy corn with her eyes.

 

         “Karma,” said Prima.  “I get it, the Katy-witch doles out karma.”

 

         “Caramel?   Is there caramel corn too?” said Gabby.

 

         “How does she curse them?” asked Bert.

 

         “She bleaches their bones.”

 

         “Ho! Now we have it!” said Bert. 

 

         Is that what smells so bad behind Door 8?  The image sent shivers up Prima’s spine.

 

         “Great story, Diana!” said Bert.  “You got us!  A Happy Halloween to you, too!”

 

         La Prima had been clicking her purse open and shut for a few minutes while she thought hard.  Bert saw her tremble, and he moved over to put his hand on her shoulder.  She took out her handkerchief and put it to her nose before she spoke.

 

         “But, Diana, there were no Greek goddesses named Katy, not even witchy ones.  I’m pretty sure of that.”  The bone-bleaching smell of door 8 had spread throughout her cotton handkerchief, and she crushed it back into her purse.    

 

         “Well, that’s right in a way, and not right in a way.”

 

         Pinkie offered a long “Mphfffffffft.” 

 

 

         At dinner-time, Prima loaded a new handkerchief with a double dose of perfume and took the elevator down.   As she passed  Door 8 she caught sight of the aged Katy who was making her way down the crossroads toward the laundry door.  The old laundress smiled a toothless, crescent-shaped smile at Donna, touched her nose and nodded.  By the time Prima got to the door, Katy had shuffled herself inside. 

 

         She doesn’t seem so bad.  How did my imagination go so wild? 

 

         And, remarkably, there was no smell tonight either. 

 

         Down in the lobby, Gabby’s daughter was calling her on the inside phone – “want to go out to dinner?”

 

         Thank the stars, Gabby thought.  Veni, vidi, vici, Bert.

 

          On their way out of the building, they stopped at the office for Gabby to complain about the lunch.  Her daughter stood at her side, supporting her, but zoning out during her mother’s usual long-winded plea.  She looked at the employee roster hanging on the wall and idly mouthed the names.  They were listed with commas, last name first.   She stopped at the H’s and chuckled.

 

          Hecht, Katy.  Hech-katy.  Hecate.  Ha, ha.  I wonder if this woman knows she’s a death witch.  Hecate, ha.  I’ll have to tell mom.

 

          At midnight Bert heard a hound howl outside his window.  He put another caviar-laden cracker in his mouth.  He wished he’d had the nerve to ask Prima to his room.

 

          By midnight Prima had answered a soft knock at her door and she found herself floating behind Diana, who had returned with one of her dogs and was pushing Pinkie in his chair down the hall.  They took the elevator down to the main floor. 

 

         Inside Room 8, Prima watched old Katy light a stick of patchouli near a large clean open kettle.  A big spice jar of sage was on the counter nearby.   The laundry woman’s white hair was especially stringy and her eyes a little cloudy, like you see in smoky quartz, thought Prima, thinking of a ring from husband # 2.  She didn’t know if she should be frightened or not.

 

         “You!” shouted Katy suddenly to Pinkie.  “I don’t need to see you again.  There’s no soil left on your bones for me.  And you have volumes to write!”  She bent to him and touched his dormant shoulders reverently with her palms, like a laying-on of hands.  “Now you can start typing.”

 

         He lifted his arms easily above his head and waved ecstatically as Diana wheeled him out. 

 

         Hecate indicated a 3-legged stool and stood over Prima, looking straight through the beauteous woman, from top to bottom.  “Now, what have we here…” she cackled.

 

                                                                  (The End)

 

(Note:   The goddess Diana, or Artemis as she is called in Greece, has a close association with Hecate, in that both are considered part of a Triple Goddess trinity of the crossroads.  Both have moon-hounds as pets, and adjudicate souls.   Both send barking dogs to warn mortals of night-time attacks, but Hecate is the one who holds the keys to the Underworld.)