Mrs. Malbon jabbed an arthritic finger into her appointment book. “Come back next Thursday. No… wait….” She slipped her reading glasses onto her nose. “That’s no good either. I can’t possibly go with you now. Why don’t you just stop by again, Monday next, to see if there’s an opening. And you know, your look… simply divine. I wish more young men like you wore hats. Mister Malbon did, when we met.”
‘Young men like me’! Unable to contain the chuckle, I tipped my hat and bid her ‘good day’ as I departed. Whether denial or sheer stubbornness, she was far from the first to give me grief over my task. Over the centuries, I discovered that allowing the matter to rest for several days, then trying again worked best. Kicking and screaming only added frustration. Messier in both execution—pardon the pun—and the, well… other thing. You know. Paperwork. It never ends, especially as I never get holidays.
I set about my rounds, completing those on my ever-replenishing list and returned on Monday as requested, but no one answered. On one of those rare occasions, I found my list fairly well narrowed down to her—an increasing phenomenon thanks to medical advances and better nutrition—so I spent a little time wandering around the city looking for her. I finally spied the widow Malbon through a department store window.
“For an old friend’s engagement,” she informed me as she examined an elegant sleeveless dress in shimmering emerald. “Oh, young man, my schedule simply overflows. Why don’t you leave your calling card with me, Mister…” Mrs. Malbon paused. “Beg pardon, I never caught your name.”
I told her.
She tittered like a bird hopping over a newfound worm.
Most often I hear confessions of how I look nothing like so-and-so in the plays or cinema. Personally, I hold The Seventh Seal as my favorite depiction, though Everyman’s interpretation summoned an accurate verisimilitude. Some believe themselves quite clever, remarking that I look nothing like Robert Redford. (Though if I possessed a face like the handsome youth from The Twilight Zone, I suspect many more would come along with less persuasion.)
“Well, since you’ve asked… No. I fear I’ve just got to give the speech at the Ladies’ Temperance Reunion meeting this Friday evening, and after that—”
Oblivious to the curious glances from the woman at the perfume counter, Mrs. Malbon slipped away to examine a rack of A-line skirts. This time she chose a pale gray and held it up to her trim frame. Timeless. Unlike these wonderful, sad creatures, classical style never dies. It merely hibernates for a while, dormant beneath waves of awful taste and horrendous fads, waiting to bloom again.
“I fear it is not a request. Another chooses the time, but nevertheless one must be punctual with these things. I am certain you appreciate that.”
She stopped fumbling through the racks, turning to face me with the touch of a smirk tugging at her lips. “Quite. I am nothing but. This is why I do everything by appointment.” She reached into her clutch and revealed the familiar little book. “I’ll have time for you on… let’s see…,” she tapped her fingertip to her tongue and turned the page. “The first Wednesday in September. Now, if you’ll return then after I’ve conducted all of my business—“
“Mrs. Malbon,” I rubbed my temples. “I’ve a schedule to keep as well. While I am permitted some flexibility, I have surpassed the grace period for you. Please come along…”
“Could we discuss this matter later, perhaps? When I’ve returned home for the evening?”
Instead of arguing, or watching the young Grable-esque perfume girl hiding giggles behind her hand, I waited at her walkup. For three hours, I admired cheerful young couples and lively dogs strolling by. The latter gave me a wide berth and curious glances—they do, after all, possess far keener sense than humans. When her cab finally pulled up, I lent her a gentlemanly hand and carried many shopping bags up the stairs. “Mrs. Malbon,” I tried to continue our conversation as I placed her purchases on the table, “I really, truly must get on with my work. As it appears all you do is run around, keeping yourself busy… aren’t you tired? Wouldn’t you love to just lay down and relax?”
For the first time, the old woman stopped moving completely. Her entire demeanor seemed to shrink. The perpetual smile and lines all drifted downwards until her expression melted into a mask of pitiable sadness. “But… I simply despise having nothing to do. For fifty-three years Mr. Malbon rushed home from work or hobbies, eager to tell me all he’d done during his day, but he expected me to be here all of the time, waiting. We had no children and I never had friends, never went to parties, never traveled. And then he, well… I suppose you’ve already met him.” She sat on the arm of her chair, her face suddenly suffused with a dreamy contentment. “My world opened up. I’ve gone to so many places, met so many people, done so many things. I can’t stop that. Not now.”
And, as is wont to happen at least once in an age, a novel idea occurred to me. Grinning as I have not grinned in a very long time, I replied. “Perhaps you don’t have to.”
I can’t say I regret the demotion. Mrs. Malbon’s life hasn’t changed at all, not really. She is far more persuasive than I ever was, with the rather commanding presence she’s cultivated. Not to mention she’s given the role a sophisticated new look, trading in the dark suit for a delicate pink blouse and gray skirt. As for me, well, I finally joined the choir to sing praises instead of hustling after truculent souls. I even get a break from time to time, to catch up on the latest renditions of my—or should I say, “her”—incarnations.
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