Myrtle sat down on the wooden bench, in the middle of the park. Late November wasn’t the best time for being on that bench, in the middle of the park, in upstate New York, but Myrtle loved fall and winter, had a super thick down coat, warm hat and gloves, two pairs of woolen socks in waterproof boots. And that’s not counting her sweater over a long-sleeve shirt, and fleece-lined jeans.
Myrtle knew she was lucky — a lot of people reached the age of 73 and didn’t have a lot of money. She wasn’t just well-off, she was wealthy. A few good investments, and Marty’s military pension and her social security, good insurance, plus a job she liked, a part-time barista at a local coffee shop. Two jobs, if you count her side hustle, and in this gig economy she most certainly did count it.
Myrtle and Marty — there wasn’t a day, or even an hour when she didn’t miss him. He had been gone for four years now. For the first two years, Myrtle barely could get out of bed. Thank goodness for her grandchildren. They not only visited her every other day, there were times they camped out in her apartment. They talked to her, sang to her, coaxed her to eat a little soup, hugged her a lot. And when she asked them to help her stay busier, they talked her into taking a new job. Not only that, they’ve included her best friend, Pearl, who really needed the money.
As if she knew Myrtle was thinking of her, Pearl appeared out of the cold fog. Pearl was a couple of years younger than Myrtle, but since she had her hip replaced last year, she didn’t trust herself to walk without a cane. She, too, was bundled against the cold. She smiled at her friend, and sat down next to her.
“I hope you didn’t wait long,” Pearl said.
“Nope, got here about five minutes ago,” Myrtle answered. “Do you want to come over afterwards, I’ll cue up a movie, and we’ll have a couple of glasses of wine.”
Pearl nodded, “Sounds nice, Myr, count me in. You can turn on your gas fireplace, you know how I always like it on days like this.”
Another form came out of the mist, a solitary jogger, a woman, who looked at them, then nodded at the two elderly ladies as she ran by.
Moments after, a teenage boy rode up to the bench on a skateboard. He wore a black hoody, with what looked like a t-shirt underneath, jeans that had more holes in them than material, a knitted beanie hat that had lanky blond hair poking out from underneath.
Myrtle muttered to Pearl, “Damn it! Hey, let me handle this.”
Pearl rubbed her gloved hands together. “You know I trust you, sugar.” Although she’s lived in New York for the past 50 years, sometimes her southern drawl still came out more pronounced. She said “sugar” like “sugah.”
The skater sat down next to Myrtle, and said, “Hi? I’m, like, supposed to ask you if you have something for me?” Myrtle signed inwardly; he was one of those kids who talked in questions, really annoying.
“Sure, I don’t mind sharing. But it’s a filthy habit,” Myrtle said. She took off her right glove, reached into her purse and brought out an almost full cigarette pack. Taking out two cigarettes, she passed one to the kid, and put the other one in her own mouth, before reaching into her pocket and taking out a silver Zippo lighter.
“What’s this?” the kid asked.
“A cigarette,” Myrtle said, slowly, as if explaining it to a six-year-old.
“Why would you give me a cigarette?” he asked.
“Because you asked,” she replied.
The kid looked at his cigarette, and sniffed it. “That’s, like, an actual cigarette?” he said.
“Yup,” she replied, “It’s, like, an actual actual cigarette. I’m in my seventies, and a widow. What do I care about my health? But you really should kick this smoking habit — you have your whole life ahead of you.”
“No. I mean, you were supposed to give me something else, right?”
Myrtle lit her cigarette and dragged on it, then released a long plume of smoke in front of herself before answering.
“Sorry kid, this is all I have.”
The boy looked thoroughly confused. “I don’t want this,” he said, handing her back the cigarette. “I need the weed. I’ve been told you sell that shit, right?”
Pearl spoke up for the first time since the kid sat down. “I can’t believe you kiss your mother with that mouth. But hey, at least you don’t smoke.”
“Look, I got the money if you’ve got the damn grass.”
Myrtle laughed, a thick throaty sound, “Go bother your neighborhood dealer, sweetie. You were misinformed about me. I know I look young for my age, but I wasn’t born yesterday. Bye bye officer.” She reached over and took the cigarette from the kid.
He shrugged, and sat up straight. Off came the hat, with the blond hair attached to it. He scratched his hair, mussing up short, light brown stubble and sighed. Suddenly, it wasn’t a teenage kid sitting next to the two women, but a grown man. He spoke into a mike on his sleeve, saying, “Wrap it. I’ve been made.”
Then he turned to Myrtle. “Just out of curiosity, what gave me away?”
“You weren’t cold. Your nose, your hands, they’re not chapped nor red. You weren’t riding your skateboard for too long. And the major point — we’re not dealers. We just like to get out to the enjoy the park.”
“Okay — maybe, we were misinformed. But you wouldn’t mind if I looked in your purse, would you?”
Myrtle began to hand over her purse, but Pearl quickly grabbed it. “Hey, you may not be using your civil liberties, Myrtle, but I still need their comfort. Sorry, Mr. Police Officer, get a search warrant, then you can examine all the purses that are listed on it.”
The man shook his head, and smiled ruefully. “That’s OK. Sorry to bother you, ladies.” He stood up, tipped an imaginary hat to them, and disappeared into the thickening mist.
“Let’s go, Pearl, it’s getting too cold for my old bones.” They stood up, and began to make their way towards Myrtle’s place, Myrtle walking slowly to match Pearl’s steps with the walking stick.
“Seriously, how did you figure him out, even before he came over?” Pearl asked quietly, under her breath. Myrtle replied likewise.
“It was the jogger. Police like to check out the turf. Also, that not being cold thing, that was real, too.”
“But you were going to hand over your purse? You don’t have anything in it? But weren’t you expecting a real buy?”
Myrtle laughed that laugh of hers. “Yeah, but I never use my purse. What if it gets snatched? I have a hidden pocket in this coat from my grandson, that’s where I keep the stash.”
Pearl laughed, too. “I’m just looking forward to that fire and wine,” she said. And the two friends kept on walking.