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Porch Lights(8)
Dorothea Benton Frank

“I still can’t believe what-all kind of horrors your daughter has been through,” Deb said. “You know she’s seen some sights.”

“No doubt about it. But she’s a daredevil. And James was a daredevil too. This is what can happen when you sign up in a seriously risky profession. I always secretly wished she had married a doctor. I mean, I loved James like a son, but, you know . . .”

Deb sat up straight in her chair. I knew I had annoyed her.

“Annie Britt?”

Here it comes, I thought. And here it came. I tightened my jaw and tilted my head to the side.

“Now, you listen to me, and hear me good! If I hear that you said ‘I told you so’ to Jackie, I will hunt you down and cut off your tongue!”

“Oh, I won’t say it, but you know she’s dying for me to, so she can rant and rave. The whole blessed time I was in New York she kept taunting me.”

“Rubbish. You’re paranoid. She’s not a teenager anymore, Annie, pushing your buttons and all that. She’s a fresh widow with a little boy.”

“Humph!” I said and added, “I’m still her mother, you know. I am well familiar with her situation. Just to reassure you, I want you to know I have given this a great deal of thought. I will be the last person on this planet to give her one iota of anything to complain about. You won’t believe how well behaved I can be. Just watch.”

“Humph!” she said. “You’d better be! I still can’t believe you didn’t get your picture taken with Mayor Bloomberg. He’s a good-looking devil, isn’t he?”

“Yes, but it wasn’t exactly the right time and place. I mean, a funeral at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral? And what a funeral it was! You would’ve thought Elvis died.”

“He did. Remember? Years ago.”

“Oh, shush. I know that. I’m just saying it was a funeral for a movie star. Bagpipes with all that mournful music. Limousines. Television cameras. Streets closed. Unbelievable. All his friends were there in their formal dress uniforms, walking beside the truck. They even put the darn casket on the top of his fire truck. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, that’s all. Those firefighters have a real brotherhood.”

“That’s probably part of the appeal that makes them sign on in the first place.”

“I’m sure you’re right.”

“Well, I’m sure I would’ve cried my eyes out even if I didn’t know the man who died.”

“Absolutely. And the honor guard at the wake? They had a fireman in full dress positioned on either side of the casket, standing as still as those Beefeater guards at the Tower of London. The whole thing was some spectacle.”

“Golly, I imagine it was. And how is Charlie doing?”

“Not so hot. He idolized his father.”

“Poor thing. I’m sure we’ve got a book at the library on children and how they grieve. Would you like me to bring it home for you?”

“No, but thanks, though. I think I just want to be with them a little while, and then I’ll figure out what to do.”

“Keeping them both busy is probably the best thing.”

“Probably. You’re probably right.”

We were quiet for perhaps maybe twenty-three seconds and then Deb leapt right into our other most favorite topic. The gorgeous single doctor next door. Steven Plofker. “I saw Mr. MD’s porch light on until after midnight last night. Then he went out in his car. He was alone.”

“So did I. I saw the whole thing, sitting on my porch in the dark, enjoying the ocean rolling in and out. I could almost smell his cologne wafting through the oleanders. Mother McCree. I went to bed and couldn’t sleep for hours, tossing and turning.”

“Ooo, honey! You’ve got a thing for him, Annie. You got it bad, girl!”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m old enough to have been his babysitter. Besides, I’m a married woman.” It was a game; didn’t Deb know that?

“Only on a technicality. How many years have I known you?”

I could feel blood rising in my face. I had two hormones left. Benedict and Arnold. “Hush. I’m just curious, that’s all. Just like you. What do you think he was up to? A midnight house call? Hmmm? A little late-night delight?”

“Who knows? He’s a man, isn’t he?”

I sucked my teeth. I loved Deb, but I didn’t love that she was implying that Steve Plofker was just like any other man, on the late-night prowl for a skirt. Wait! I had implied the same thing. But somehow it sounded very different coming from me. I mounted my high horse.

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