July 31, 2012
On Friday Alice learned from Celia’s son that his mother was, indeed, dying and it was happening quickly.
Later in the day, however, I called the nursing home and at once found myself in the peculiar zone of contradictory information that Alice had entered last week when she was trying to get news of Celia’s well-being. (See Sightings.)
I explained my concerns to the nurse on duty, who seemed surprised at the mention of imminent death, and I was taken aback when she told me that, although she could not give me details, Celia was fine.
How could she be fine?
What strange material is the veil that covers Celia and her whereabouts and her well-being.
I challenged the nurse with her son’s words, but she didn’t back down and even asked me if I wanted to talk to Celia.
Of course I said yes. She said she’d transfer me, but the phone rang and rang. I wondered briefly if it was ringing in heaven, or if Celia was just in the bathroom. Anything could be true. Frustrated, I hung up.
Meanwhile, Alice has been brooding about her friend. Recently, though, she’s been distracted a little by Western Days, a tradition that started last year at The Place. (See The Mystery of the Ugly Vest.)
“We’re supposed to wear western things,” Alice reminded me, and pointed out she didn’t own anything appropriate. “But when I came down to the dining room earlier tonight,” she said, “I saw a big cowboy hat tilted down over the face of a man in a plaid shirt playing the piano, and I thought, Who is that fellow? He sounds as bad as Mirabel.” (See Tangles.)
Mirabel is known for playing unrecognizable tunes on the piano from 4:30 to 5:00 p.m. each and every day.
Alice sat down at her table, her back to the foyer where the piano sits, and wondered about this new pianist. If someone else tried to play and could only make a mess of it, perhaps the piano itself was somehow the problem. What could be wrong with it?
Later, when she’d finished dinner and started back to her apartment, she spotted Mirabel seated at her table eating dessert. She wore a cowboy hat tilted down over her face and a plaid shirt.
“I almost laughed out loud,” Alice said. “Here I’d been blaming the piano.”
She added that she has an idea for a new game the diners could play every night during Mirabel’s musical interlude. “Anybody who can guess what she’s playing gets to leave the room for a while.”
The cowboy hat reminded us both of the man her sister Mattie dated when she was in her 60s.
Ralph owned a ranch west of Bismarck and came into town to take Mattie out for spaghetti dinners. Always dinner. Always spaghetti.
He wore his cowboy hat to her front door to pick her up. He wore it as he drove her to the restaurant. He wore it even as he ate spaghetti, and as he walked Mattie back to her front door after their dates.
Mattie had been a librarian at the Bismarck Public Library, a pretty little Carnegie building, most of her life,.
She had a fondness for poetry and novels. She loved the moon. She came to detest the cowboy hat. She began to plot against it. Her sisters had always been critical of her sharp tongue, so between dates she practiced tactful suggestions for the removal of detestable hats, rolling them over and over in her mind, trying to find the perfect one.
Late one summer afternoon Ralph came to pick her up and drove her to the restaurant that served North Dakota’s finest spaghetti dinners, circa 1970. When he opened the door to escort her inside, she turned to him and her mouth opened, but nothing related to tact flew out. “Ralph,” she said, “leave your hat in the car!”
And so he did. But when he headed back out West at sunset, he had it on and no doubt he kept it on. Mattie never saw him again.
Here’s busy Bismarck (Dakota Territory) in 1873. It makes a downtown spaghetti dinner a mere hundred years later seem a minor miracle. (Click on this image and watch it move.)
Somewhere in the middle of writing this post, I called Celia’s nursing home to beg them for further information. Once more they transferred me to her room and the phone rang and rang, but she didn’t answer.
I called the front desk back and was transferred again to the nurses’ station. The nurse on duty declined to give me any updates, but he told me he’d see what he could do so that Alice got the correct information.
Alice called a few minutes ago as I wrapped up this piece and said that Celia’s grandson had stopped by her table at lunch and told her that Celia is doing well. He’d made a special trip to do this, a kind man.
So let’s take that and hang on to it. Celia is doing well.