“The Telling of Tales” # 10
Place by the Window
By Andre Norton
The date for this story is unknown ~ the original is in Andre’s hand and very hard to read, every attempt to type exactly what was on the page has been made.
It was such a nice day. The sun was bright but there was just a touch of chill so one could wear the mink. She raised her hand to caress the sleekness of the fur. Drawn up like this it did not show any of the patchy places.
She made a small face – hardly aware of the deepening of wrinkles she had been so careful not to see for years that they indeed did not exist for her. Holding the memory of one’s mirrored image at forty into the sixties had been her own defense against the years which spun by so swiftly now.
It was not her face she looked at now but her tinted hair, her suit, the luxury of the mink. Lydia was always so perfectly turned out. She shook her head in that shadow of despair. After all these years of wistful trying she could never equal Lydia’s perfection. Yet she always hoped!
So nice a day. She would walk. After all Damins was only three blocks away. She picked up the needle worked bag – pleased with its coloring. All her own work. Now her nod was one of satisfaction. Lydia had its twin, of course, but both were of her making.
Outside the door of the lobby she shivered and pulled the mink tighter about her throat. The bright sun was deceiving. She had felt so chilly all morning. Maybe she was taking cold. But if she was she was determined Lydia would not know. Lydia detests colds, in fact all aliments, with the same no nonsense that made her so secure in the world. She smiled a little trying to picture Lydia prey to a sniffing, cough ridden cold. Lydia simply was never sick.
But still it was chilly today. And she had better not walk too fast. The queer stray pain – No, she would be like Lydia and just tell herself there was no pain.
Odd – there was a hazy look to things today. Maybe she needed her glasses changed. Remember to ask for an appointment with Dr. Haynes. Maybe she would call this afternoon.
No, Lydia would have something to do. She hurried a little faster. Lydia always had something planned. That was what made Thursdays so special. Lunch with Lydia and then …
Her hand went to her breast. That pain – no – there was no pain. She was right here now. Even if Lydia had not come yet Miss Dorothy would see she got the right table – the one by the window. Why, they had had that same table for – for how long?
She frowned, unable to really remember. Not that that was important. What was, was that the table was theirs on Thursdays – always.
The warm air of the restaurant felt good – but she did not loosen the mink stole. Where was Miss Dorothy? There was a man standing in her place. A young man who looked important, cross. He stared at her – no smile, no pleasant greeting. He looked – she halted for a moment in her advance across the red carpet – he looked as if she had no business being here.
But this was Thursday – it was, was it not? For a moment she felt a small stir of fear. She had not forgotten the day, she could not! Lydia would be vexed – No – it must be Thursday.
The young man had moved, said something she could not quite hear. He did not speak up distinctly like Miss Dorothy – Never mind she knew just where to sit anyway. Once inside the dining room her confidence returned. Maybe this was the day Lydia would come early.
But he was standing in the way! She spoke firmly – hoping she summoned some of Lydia’s emphatic tone.
“We always have the place by the window.”
Only – there were others there! At their Thursday table! How could they? Miss Dorothy, where was Miss Dorothy? She knew!
A man – a young man with that longish hair which made one look so unkempt – Lydia could be most outspoken about hair like that. And the girls with him – with that odd make up which made her eyes look so queer.
They should move. Only - she knew she did not have Lydia’s strength of character. She could not make a scene, protest. Only it was not right – Lydia would be very cross with her, tell her again she had absolutely no will of her own. Maybe it was true. But she had always hated being conspicuous in any way.
Weakly she took the seat the man pulled out for her. It was dark here and she knew she could not see the menu properly. That was one reason why she was always glad they had the place by the window.
Maybe – Grace was their waitress. She took an interest. Such a nice, pleasant girl! Maybe Grace could fix it before Lydia came. Then Lydia would never know.
She looked at her watch. They always ate early, to give themselves a long afternoon. But – it could not be nearly one! She was confused. The clock in her room, had she checked her watch by that? She could not remember now.
Teresa always set the room clock for her so she could be sure of the time. It got away from her some days now. No, she could not remember checking this morning.
But even if she had been late Lydia would have waited. Where was Lydia? Maybe she had left a message. Maybe she was ill –
Lydia was never ill, never! There was that time – just a little while ago – she tried to remember when. Lydia had just been tired. They had taken the taxi back to the Shelton and let her off there. She had not seemed so much herself. But everyone did get tired.
It would have been perfect if Lydia had moved to the Arms. But she always said it was better that they did not – as she expressed it “live in each others’ pockets” so they always meet here.
If she could only see Miss Dorothy – or Grace! They might know.
Only Grace did not come either. It was another man, a stranger. He had no business taking Grace’s place. She told him she was waiting for a friend. He had an impatient look, too.
She felt queer, as if she were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But this was Damins, and it was Thursday. It was chilly in here. Maybe she should not have sipped that ice water. A cup of tea – Grace knew just how she liked it. Only Grace was not here.
That couple by the window. As soon as they left she would move over. She tried to see what they were eating. If it were dessert – Oh, let them eat and go before Lydia came!
She did not know what she would have done all these years since she retired if it had not been for Lydia. Odd, now she could hardly remember a time when Lydia had not taken a firm charge of her. Not bossy really, but Lydia did seem so capable and when her own thinking as Lydia pointed out was muzzy now and then Lydia was always there.
There had been some gossips at the Hotel. She sniffed recalling just what she had said that time to Mr. Rosen when he had said Lydia was running her and he did not know Lydia at all, of course. She had never come to the Arms. He never spoke up like that again, mind you. She had been pleased in a mild way when he had left though – every time she had seen him she had been reminded of what he had said, even though he had been so wrong.
Of course she had helped Lydia out once or twice when there were those big bills. Goodness, what were friends for? She had certainly never begrudged any of it – not even when she had sold he bonds. Lydia would have done the same for her.
Where was Lydia?
That young couple – they had only coffee cups in front of them now. Surely they were nearly ready to leave. She had better hold her purse, be ready to move so Lydia would find her just where she ought to be – at the place by the window on Thursday.
She was proud of her plan. There they were getting up. Now –
And there was Lydia marching right past the man who had so oddly taken Miss Dorothy’s place. She had better wave so Lydia could see her. Yes – everything, nearly everything was alright. She – that pain again, but it did not matter. The place by the window, reach it and Lydia –
“Who is she?”
“Never saw her before! For Christ’s sake get her out! Call an ambulance. She’s probably from the hotel down the street. They ought to know better than to let those so-called guests of theirs get out and wander around like this.”
“Wait a minute; I think I’ve seen her before. When Arrington’s were running this place last year she used to come in – a regular she was. Always had that table over there. They used to humor her – she always said she was waiting for a friend.”
“Well, we’re not Arrington’s. And we’re not running a home away from home for senior citizens.”
“She won’t be coming again – ”
“You said it!”
“She won’t be going anywhere again – ”
“Christ! That’s all we need – a heart attack or something right in the dining room! Where’s that damned ambulance?”
“Lydia! We got the place by the window.”
“Of course, it’s Thursday, isn’t it? Don’t be silly Marjory.”
“Marjory. You’re the only one to call me that now – ”
“It’s your name isn’t it? Buck up – I’ll tell you what we are going to do this afternoon. Just listen – ”
Digitized and edited by Jay Watts ~ aka: Lotsawatts ~ May, 2015
Never before seen short story by Andre Norton
Released here for the first time
Copyright ~ Estate of Andre Norton
Online Rights - Andre-Norton-Books.com
Donated by – Estate of Andre Norton
Duplication of this story for profit of any kind NOT permitted.