THE WARDROBE’S BEST DRESSED: SUSANNA SOLOMON’S “POINT REYES SHERRIFF’S CALLS”

Susanna Solomon

From the Sheriff’s Calls Section in the Point Reyes Light, March 15, 2012

MOUNT TAM: At 6:22 p.m. a passerby reported that a passenger was performing a sex act on the driver of a Nissan pickup.

Gossip Girls

“Did you see that, Doris?” Mildred poked at the paper.

“Yes, I did, Mrs. Rhinehart.” Doris floated a smock over her customer and pumped up the chair. Oh yes, she’d seen that entry.

Hortense, Beatrice, and the other ladies in the salon shifted their eyes from deep within beauty magazines, adjusted their glasses, and stared at Mildred.

“What did you see?” Beatrice loved gossip – the more the better. “Is it about a movie star?” Oh, how she loved movie stars, that hunk Marcello Mastroianni, Paul Newman, dreamy Cary Grant.

“Well, Mildred,” Hortense hissed. “Now that you’ve got my attention go ahead, spill the beans.”

“I can’t read it aloud.” Mildred flushed a hot pink. The women stood up, set up their walkers or grabbed their canes, and crowded around her.

“If you could all please sit back down,” Doris ordered. They could break something, but worse than that, they could fall. They were all well into their eighties. “Then I’ll pass around the paper.”

“What is it? What is it?” Half-dead Beatrice was the first to put out her hand. Doris passed over the paper, pressed her finger to her lips, and led her back to her chair.

Hortense looked over Beatrice’s shoulder.

“Quit snooping.” Beatrice yanked the paper away.

After Beatrice read the entry, her face flushed. “That’s disgusting.” The paper fluttered from her hands. Mildred couldn’t figure out what had affected Beatrice so. No one would be so foolish as to do it in a car. Either the kids or the cops were lying. Stupid old fools would believe anything.

Hortense scooped the paper off the floor and turned to the Sheriff’s Calls section. “Oh my.” She touched her heart. “Oh my.” Her eyes rolled to the ceiling and she fainted.

Ten minutes later, after the paramedics had come and gone, Hortense sat up in one of the beauty chairs nursing a cup of chamomile tea, her hands still shaking.

“I told you it was a lie, Hortense. Why didn’t you believe me?” Mildred barked. No one in the salon had any sense.

Doris put her down scissors and comb and stared out the picture window at Route One, out onto the pouring rain. Once, a long time ago, when she’d been a teen, she’d had fun in the car – and Barry, bless his heart, he’d enjoyed it too, and one time he stopped the car ten feet before they would have gone off the road. For them back then, their car had been their only private place, and they’d kiss for hours, the tiny Datsun parked deep in the woods, well away from the prying eye of parents or cops. Doris looked at her girls, grandmothers and great-grandmothers all, they had children, they’d been loved, they’d had sex. And they’d all forgotten that driving desire that used to make them wild.

It was getting late in the day and the light was fading. Hortense, Beatrice, and the other ladies got a ride from their driver Frank from Hill House and headed home. Mildred went to see her cousin Bert, who worked at Cheda’s next door. The ladies had spilled their tea, dropped tissues everywhere, and left the beauty magazines upside down on the floor. Doris wondered whether she would ever become like them, have that slightly sour odor, and be afraid of nearly everything. She was counting the money in the till and looking forward to getting home to take care of Joshua when she heard a knock on the door.

“Are you still open?” a man asked, making the door bells chime.

“I’m about to close,” she said, and hesitated. The voice was familiar. “Barry,” she whispered. She hadn’t seen him in five years.

“I could use a bit of a trim.” He let the door close behind him.

She couldn’t believe it. Same sandy hair, cleft chin, dimple in his cheek, sweet blue eyes. Still holding the scissors, she wasn’t sure she could control her hands. “Where the hell have you been?” She tossed her scissors into a drawer and slammed it shut behind her.

“I’ve been living in Texas.” He smiled and stepped just a bit closer. Doris leaned back against the counter. “They don’t have phones in Texas?” Doris asked. She remembered the day he’d left, out for a cup of coffee and he’d been gone ever since. She’d stayed up all that night, wondering what she’d done to make him leave. Josh had been a baby.

“I’ve been hard to reach. Sorry about that. How’s Joshua?”

His voice still had that honey tone to it. And he smelled good. God, he smelled good. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been held, much less kissed. Damn it all, if it hadn’t been so long. She willed her body to behave.

“So, what brings you to Point Reyes?” She kept an eye on him and picked up newspapers and magazines awkwardly, so as not to turn her back to him. The only way she could get out, aside from the front, was the back, which opened into the Western. She hoped that Marlena had unlocked the door.

“Great to see you, sweetheart.” Barry took a seat in one of the salon chairs and pivoted it around.

“Barry, what do you want?” Doris asked, feeling a mixture of heat and anger. Wearing a leather vest too, her favorite. She was ashamed she felt so attracted to him.

“How’s our boy?” Barry cooed.

Standing up and coming closer with that slow lope of his, his blue eyes grasping for hers, Doris could feel his pull on her. “You deserted us.” She leaned back against the counter and felt for the drawer, that drawer, the one that held all those recently sharpened scissors. Behind her, she could hear the clink of glasses from the bar next door. Would Marlena hear her if she yelled?

Barry swaggered, leaned toward her. “Sweetheart, come here. Come here and kiss me. Kiss your love hello, Doris.”

“You’ll do nothing of the sort,” snorted a voice behind Barry.

“Mrs. Rhinehart!”

Barry, momentarily confused, stepped toward the front door, toward Mildred.

Doris opened the drawer, pulled out her sharpest scissors, held them behind her back.

“All under control, Mrs. Rhinehart,” Doris called out, hoping that Barry wouldn’t hurt Mildred. She was half his size and three times his age.

“You look like my Grandma, Mrs. Rhinehart. Now, go back home. Doris and I, we go way back. We’re family.”

“This Joshua’s father?” Mildred snapped, sizing him up and down. “Not much to look at.” She shoved her hand into her housedress pocket, tried to remember which button was preset to call 911. Holding her trembling hand as still as she could, she pressed all of them.

“Ma’am, we’re all set here. Just go on home now. You don’t want to be part of this.”

“Deserting your wife and child is a terrible thing to do.” Mildred slapped him across the face. “You should be ashamed.”

“Hey, lady, what the hell?” Barry reached for her.

Doris opened up the scissors and stabbed him in the neck.

He turned, hurt and bleeding, and shoved Doris into one of the chairs. He was slipping his belt from his jeans when the door opened with a ring.

“What’s going on here?” Linda drew her sidearm. “Jesus Christ, they’re trying to kill me!” Barry wailed and held his fingers to his bleeding neck.

“Mrs. Rhinehart, Doris! You okay?”

Mildred felt faint but excited. This was better than the soaps any old day.

Doris, trembling hard, didn’t want to go to jail. “He tried to accost Mrs. Rhinehart, Officer Kettleman,” she cried as the paramedics rushed in.

Linda watched them leave with Barry, then sat for a moment with Doris and Mildred. She gave Mrs. Rhinehart a glass of water.

“Thank you, Mrs. Rhinehart.” Doris planted a kiss on Mrs. R.’s soft cheek.

“It was the newspaper. Fred wanted a copy,” Mildred said, flushing a little. “He said, he said he always thought we were the only ones who had tried … not just tried … to have fun in the car. So I had to show him proof.” She picked up the paper. “He’s next door at the Western,” she said and stepped back out into the rain.


This selection comes from Susanna Solomon’s collection of short stories Point Reyes Sherriff’s Calls, available from HD Media Press. Purchase your copy here!

Author of fifteen short stories in the Point Reyes Light, a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper, Susanna Solomon is an electrical engineer and has run her own electrical engineering business for fifteen years. She lives in Northern California. She loves her grandchildren, gardening and dogs.

Rhiannon Thorne‘s work has appeared in Grasslimb, Midwest Quarterly, The Sierra Nevada Review, Bop Dead City, and Existere among others. She is the managing editor ofcahoodaloodaling and a book reviewer at Up the Staircase Quarterly. When not busy wrangling a pet, a good book, or a bottle of craft beer, she may be reached at rhiannonthorne.com.

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