Craven Gets Flashed IV
“The railroad flat above the photo shop was typical of its Third Avenue neighbors. You climbed a flight of stairs; hit the landing; walked a few steps ahead, and entered Apartment B on the right. That door let you in at the kitchen. Nothing fancy here: gas stove; porcelain sink; scrubbing board; laminate table; four chairs; cupboards; bathroom tucked in the corner, and a clothesline full of assorted photos. Mostly of a pensive looking man in a dark brown fedora.
“Hello? Anyone here?” said Betty. “The door was open.”
“I’m in the toilet!” said Jenny. “I’ll be right out. Sorry about the smell.”
“I hadn’t noticed.”
“I mean the chemical smell from my developing fluids. I know it stinks out the apartment, but I’m so used to it I hardly notice. It’s the cat who notices. He’s sensitive to funny smells. That’s why I leave the door open. I can’t even get him to eat fish. He hates the smell. I mean, what sort of cat doesn’t eat fish? And don’t say a catfish. That would the lamest joke ever. Besides, the fella you see in those photos already used it the last time he was here.”
“Oh, I see. Is he your fella?”
“Oh, no, no. I think he’s much too jumpy to be anyone’s fella. We’re associates. He’s a private detective and I’m his photographer. We’ve only been on one case so far. But it was a doozy and I’m excited to do some more. I think the two of us could really go places. And if you’re the lady from the funeral parlor, the body’s in the front room. And thank you for coming. I’d do it myself, but Aunt Mildred creeps me out if I get to close. And, anyway, I’m not any good with make-up. Don’t wear it myself. According to Mr. Danger, that’s the private detective I was talking about, I’m a natural beauty and don’t need make-up.”
“What a nice thing to say to someone I’m guessing he hardly knows. I wish a fella would say nice things like that to me.”
“Sorry, I can’t hear. I’ve got the water running. I’ll be out in a few minutes. I’m at a critical stage. But Aunt Mildred’s up front if you’d like to make her up. She said not to worry about the shoes. She won’t be needing them where she’s going. And the dress is for the viewing. You’ll find her things in the armoire next to the bed. This is kind of exciting. I’ve never had a wake in an apartment before.”
“Then I better get started,” said Betty.
“Great. I’ll be out as soon as I can. Things don’t seem to be coming out the way I want them to in here.”
For you and me both, sister.
“Take your time'" said Betty. "I’ll go pay my respects to Mildred.”
Betty found Mildred laid out on the bed as naked as the day she arrived. Her hair was a shock of milky white strands that no amount of grooming had ever been able to put right. The only thing whiter than her hair was Mildred. And to add to the drama, Mildred was strapped to the bed.
“Oh, my,” said Betty. “My morning is just full of surprises. The only thing missing here is a howling wolf and a mad scientist.”
“Don’t forget the hunchback,” said Mildred.
Had Betty not grown up with her feet planted firmly on the ground, she may have made a cartoon exit—Whoosh! But Betty wasn’t a runner.
“Excuse me?” said Betty.
“In those Frankenstein movies. There was always a hunchback--and an old toothless gypsy woman. Or was that the Dracula movies? No matter.”
“I thought you were dead.”
“I will be, but it’s taking longer than I thought. The doctor said I had six months eleven months ago. I feel cheated. But I figure I still have to plan for the funeral, so once a week I have the funeral parlor send someone over to do me up for the wake. Then a week goes by and I’m still not dead. Not that I won’t be. The doctor assured me. Stay home and in bed, he said. You could drop any second. So, after another week goes by, I clean up, undress and do it all over again. It does help pass the time while I’m waiting. I think this week I’ll wear the blue polka dot number.”
“What’s the strap for?” said Betty.
“Oh, that. I buckle myself in at night, so the devil doesn’t take me by mistake. I figure if death’s at my door it would make such a ruckus that I’d notice it coming in. If I open my eyes and see it’s the devil, I’ll reach for the poker I keep under the pillow and fight it off. If I see it’s an angel? Then the strap gets unbuckled and off I go. But I want to go looking pretty. So do me up good, miss.”
“It’s Betty. I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, Mildred. And I’d be happy to do your make-up. Now, tell me more about you—and those glorious tattoos.”
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