Friday, April 25, 2014

gwendolyn gets religion, part 2

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by eddie el greco and danny delacroix

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

part two of three

for part one, click here

to begin the Gwendolyn stories, click here

gwendolyn pushed through the door of the automat.

though it was the middle of the morning - saturday morning - it was more than half full. most of the tables were occupied by at least one person. a few were unoccupied.

this suited gwendolyn very well.

she was an old hand at automat etiquette, and did not mind asking people - usually people who were alone - and asking politely, of course - if she could share a table with them.

so she might well get the opportunity to ask the girl with the pamphlets if she could sit with her.

the girl was at the change counter, with her back to gwendolyn.

louise, the usual morning to mid-afternoon change person, was on duty. and in her usual grumpy manner, she seemed to be giving the girl a hard time. apparently about providing her with a glass for water.

"are you sure you are going to buy something?," louise was saying. she seemed to be glaring, though you could not really tell because her glasses were so thick.

"yes, ma'am", the girl, pippi or sippi or whatever her name was, replied politely. she held out her hand showing louise the change in it. "i am going to buy a cream puff. i promise."

"hmph." louise reached under the counter and produced a glass which she handed to the girl.

if louise had spoken to gwendolyn in such a manner, gwendolyn would have stood there and carefully inspected the glass to see if it were clean.

but pippi or sippi just took it and turned away toward the tables. as she did so, she noticed gwendolyn and gave a slight start.

gwendolyn smiled at her, not too broadly, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for them to bump into each other. the girl stared at her for a second without speaking and moved away with the glass in one hand and her pamphlets in the other.

"and don't be bothering people trying to hand them stuff," louise called after the girl.

gwendolyn stepped up to the counter.

"i suppose you want some water too," louise grumbled to her. what a stupid thing to say! gwendolyn hardly ever asked for water, and usually bought herself hot cocoa or orange juice. but that was the way adults were - so rude.

american adults, that is. pierre and serge were always polite, being europeans. and so was auntie margaret, who considered herself a european even though she was from st louis missouri.

gwendolyn secretly thought of herself as a european too, although she would never say so out loud.

"no thank you," gwendolyn answered louise evenly. "i just need change." and she handed her a two dollar bill.

gwendolyn very much preferred the automat at night, when, besides that the place looked so much nicer out of the harsh daylight, the change counter was usually staffed by her friend polly.

polly in some ways did not seem that much older than gwendolyn, although she must have been at least twelve years older. she told gwendolyn she was writing a novel, and she and gwendolyn had nice conversations about books, and the theater and movies too. sometimes they disagreed, especially about george eliot.

the last time they had talked, polly had mentioned henry james and george meredith, and then added, "but maybe you are too young for them." naturally, gwendolyn had resolved to read them, but had not yet done so. so maybe it was just as well polly was not on duty now.

now gwendolyn took the change she had received from louise and got a tray and bought an orange juice. sometimes the orange juices in the vending machines were a little too warm, but she sipped it and it was all right.

a fat man wearing a bowler hat was taking up the space in front of the cheese cakes making a careful selection, and gwendolyn waited behind him.

she saw that pippi or sippi had taken a seat by herself at one the small two person tables. excellent! things were going according to plan.

when she finally got her cheese cake she took it and the orange juice and approached the girl, who was staring a little forlornly at her cream puff and glass of water.

"hello. do you might if i sit here?"

the girl looked up. "it's a public place."

"i know it's a public place, but do you mind if i sit here? i would not want to intrude."

"make yourself comfortable. then you can tell me why you are following me."

gwendolyn gave a polite little laugh as she put her tray down on the table. "i just wanted to apologize for the way mister nolan spoke to you. and assure you that all the people who live in the hotel are not so rude." she pulled the chair away from the table and sat down.

"do you own the hotel?" the girl asked.

"ha ha. no, but i live there, with my auntie. and you know, in some ways the hotel is like my family. and one does not want one's family to embarrass one."

"mm. i guess not." the girl stared at gwendolyn. "you went to hoffman."

"of course. i recognized you too. but i apologize for not remembering your name."


gwendolyn knew it was something like that, so she did not wince visibly. "of course. my name is gwendolyn. gwendolyn parker."

"mm. would you like to hear the good news, gwendolyn?"

"excuse me?"

"would you like one of these?" the girl took a pamphlet off the top of the stack she had on the table and offered it to gwendolyn.

"why, thank you. thank you so much." gwendolyn took the pamphlet. she glanced at it. it was printed on pale green paper, with the words on the front in darker green - "salvation is for everyone" , with "everyone" larger and even darker.

"would you like something else to drink - cocoa, or juice?" gwendolyn asked pippi. "that water does not look very nourishing."

pippi hesitated, but gwendolyn knew she would accept the offer. "why would you buy me some cocoa?"

"why, to make up for mister nolan's impoliteness, of course. and you have given me this nice little booklet."

"all right."

gwendolyn slipped a quarter across the table and pippi took it. "the cocoa is off to the left, beside the change counter."

"yes, i've been here before." not even a thank you. what a rude little creature, thought gwendolyn. if i make her my protege, i shall have to teach her some manners.

pippi went to get her cocoa. gwendolyn took a few bites of her cheesecake and realized she was quite hungry. but she did not want to fill herself up with one of the automat's specials. if she could wait, perhaps pierre would make a nice lunch around three or four o'clock.

pippi returned with her cup of cocoa, sat down, and took a big gulp of it. at least she didn't slurp it, thought gwendolyn.

"so," said pippi, "you must be at bigelow now, huh?" she was referring to the nearby junior high school, the albert paine bigelow school.

"no," gwendolyn answered, "auntie got me enrolled at miss churchill's school for girls. it's her old school. it's over on bleecker street. it's one of those places you can walk by a hundred times and not know it's there."

"miss churchill's school for girls." pippi took a sip of her cocoa. she stared at gwendolyn. "you know what people called you at hoffman?"

"besides my name? no, i am afraid i do not know."

"they called you snooty pooty."

despite herself, gwendolyn could not help flushing slightly.

"i never did," pippi continued. "i don't call people names, especially behind their backs. it's not charitable. and the lord enjoins us to be charitable."

"i appreciate it," gwendolyn answered. she did not know what else to say.

suddenly someone was standing beside the table. "hey, kiddo, what's up?" gwendolyn heard a rough voice.

both girls looked up. "not much, betty," pippi answered, as it was she who had been spoken to.

betty was a raggedy woman who was one of the regulars at the automat - she and her cat were probably in there more than any other living creatures. gwendolyn had seen her often, and had even talked to her. though without much enthusiasm, as she did not seem a person from whom one could learn much of any use.

"so how have you been? has the lord been with you?" pippi asked betty.

"doing all right. yourself? how's pickings?"

"pickings?" thought gwendolyn.

part 3

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