When Lois came to stay

From Monday evening to Thursday afternoon, Lois came to stay with us. She keeps her things–fresh linens, washed towels, extra toiletries–stored in two boxes in the back of the unused closet in David’s old study. She brings three bags, as well as a large purse, with her. Joan tells me she went through a box of tissues in the past three days and that she normally takes two hours to get ready in the morning and another two hours to get ready for bed.

Lois is twice widowed. Both men were wealthy, and both left her with almost nothing. She now lives in a small apartment in the East Hamptons. In town, she takes taxis and medicine; she comes to stay with Joan in order to see her doctors and Bergman Dorfman. She lives with one of her daughters who does something with computers. The daughter goes through phases, is up and down, takes medicine like her mother. All of her children–all two, possibly three–were raised to make money.

Joan can’t easily abide Lois, except that Lois is an old friend whose second husband was a dear. That man was charming, a good dancer when they used to have dances (“balls,” I think) in the house on the day before New Year’s Eve. When Lois calls her up, Joan asks herself whether she can be generous this time, and, as usual, she can. Joan is generous, making supper for Andy most nights and, on Wednesdays, for Christopher and for all three the past couple nights, the guest diner being petite, careworn, and especially particular. By the time Lois gets onto the express bus, Joan is exhausted.

Lois has no money but takes taxis around town. She has a son who became rich through investing, retired at age 40, married a young woman who spends his money, spends his time playing golf and traveling abroad, and can’t stand his mother. Lois was once, or so I imagine, a fixture in Society, but now she needs to have some kind of ankle surgery. Her left eye tears up all day (“because she’s sad,” I asked. Apparently not.), and her back hurts, Joan thinks, because of her large purse.

I tell Joan that Lois appears self-conflicted and sad. Lois hasn’t sold a house in over a year and, about a year ago, she was laid off from her real estate job. She  has thin blond hair, bought lactose-free milk that now sits by itself in the bottom of the refrigerator, and drank a quarter cup before she left yesterday afternoon. She is 77 years old and friendless save for Joan.

Yesterday around noon, Lois and Joan and I all loitered about in the kitchen, reading different sections of the paper by the meager overhead lights. I stood by the sink, leaning back against the counter, while the two women sat and read by the window. Outside, it was raining hard enough to darken the trees but not hard enough to stop the birds from singing. I was skimming an Op-Ed about the ailing Philadelphia newspapers while Joan read to us aloud about layoffs, sculptures, still lives, those sorts of things. Somehow, we got to talking about Joan’s daughter-in-law Susan, who’s very tall and looks her best when her hair is up, and then about Chris and his lifelong heavyset partner Jean. “A pair of pears,” I said. Lois and I smiled. Still life.

Further Reading

Andrew Taggart, “At Home with Joan”