Volume 1 Number 1


Winter 2002

Carpe Diem

Maria Nutick

She gives a final pat to her immaculately styled white hair in its short, freshly permed coils, checks her pale peach lipstick, and tucks the strap of her brown handbag (a perfect match to her shoes) into the crook of her left arm.

It's Thursday, and Bitsy is in beige: the camouflage of old women. Her tidy woolen slacks are beige tweed. Her soft cashmere cardigan, worn over a plain white blouse neatly closed at the collar with an antique cameo, is beige. Her perfectly polished leather loafers are a medium brown, appropriate with her beigeness. She wears tiny gold studs in her ears and a neat gold band watch on her delicate left wrist. Her wedding band of plain gold is fine and thin after 52 years.

Edward has left for the club; he was out the door at 8:00 for a 9:00 tee time. Before he left he carefully counted out Bitsy's morning pills and watched her swallow them with a glass of unsweetened prune juice. Edward is so conscientious about their health. He had a brief bit of trouble with his blood sugar when he was in his fifties and he has scrupulously supervised Bitsy's shopping and cooking ever since. No sugar in their household! Bitsy misses chocolate chip cookies, and lemonade on hot summer days, but she understands that Edward is only taking care of her as he has always done.

Today Bitsy has a library book to return, and she wants to pick out a new volume. Edward needs new handkerchiefs. It looks like a lovely day for a stroll. Perhaps she'll wander about a bit while she's downtown and take a look in some of the new shops. After breakfast, Edward counted out her allowance for the day: $20 for the handkerchiefs, $5 for a bit of lunch, and $1.50 for bus fare (75 cents each way, senior citizen rate). Edward doesn't like Bitsy to carry too much cash, and of course, he would never give her a credit card of her own. His is the only name on the checking account. These modern young girls all have their own bank accounts and credit lines and seem to do pretty well, but Bitsy understands Edward's reasoning, and anyway, there's no use in asking because he would never consider such a thing. Edward is very careful about money.

Bitsy stops on the way out the door to pat McCarthy on the head. He hisses at her like he always does ­ he's definitely Edward's cat but she always tries to be friendly ­ and Bitsy is overcome with an impulse, an urge to kick the darned foul-tempered thing right in his fluffy tiger-striped behind. She's felt this way before on many occasions and suddenly she thinks to herself, well, why not? She thinks of her foot and his tail end, and feels a warm tingle all over. She turns, places a hand on the wall to steady herself, and plants one flawless brown shoe smack dab in the middle of McCarthy's hind end. The cat flies into the air with a yowl, lands a good six feet away, and tears up the stairs still meowing loudly and indignantly.

For a moment, Bitsy stands still, shocked at her own audacity. If Edward knew what she had done...Then she begins to giggle. How deliciously naughty she feels! My goodness, she thinks, I should have done that years ago.

Still giggling, Bitsy opens the front door, steps out, and notices that the morning seems brighter than usual. She can smell the lilacs blooming near the front gate. Birds are warbling and the sun is warm. She locks the door behind herself and sets off to run her errands, feeling as though she's somehow setting out on a new adventure.

Halfway to the bus stop, she passes Lucille Henshaw's house. Lucille is out working in her yard. She gives Bitsy a wave and Bitsy waves back. Lucille has three cats and Bitsy feels a momentary flash of guilt. Whatever would Lucille say if she knew? Bitsy hurries past and doesn't stop to chat.

The bus arrives at the stop just as Bitsy does. Thoughtfully the driver lowers the steps so Bitsy can climb aboard. She has to make her way halfway to the back of the bus before she finds an empty seat. Nowadays no one thinks to give up a seat for an elderly woman. The downtown bus is always crowded and today there are a number of loud obnoxious teenagers aboard. At the next stop, another unruly batch gets on and as there are no seats left Bitsy finds herself confronted with half a pair of freckled buttocks.

The boy standing in the aisle next to her wears a black t-shirt with an obscenity scrawled in red across the back, and a pair of trousers so baggy that they sit just barely perched on his scrawny hips. The waistband of his underwear protrudes above his jeans, but the weight of the denim drags the underwear down his hips too, so Bitsy has an up-close view of the cleft of his bottom. Both hands are in his front pockets, presumably to shore up his pants. He carries on an epithet and obscenity laced conversation over the tops of other passengers heads with a friend seated several rows away.

Bitsy squirms in her seat. She can feel her cheeks flush. If only Edward were here? In their day, young people certainly never behaved this way. If their own children had acted up like these teenagers Edward would have given them what for in a hurry! Bitsy fumes a bit, and tries to distract herself by looking out the window. The boy seems to use the f-word to begin every other sentence, and punctuates the rest with even fouler language. And those pants! How on Earth can his mother allow him to leave the house in those pants? And then, Bitsy feels another urge. She looks at the boys trousers, and feels an electric tingle even stronger than the one she felt before she kicked McCarthy. Without pausing to think, she glances quickly around to see if anyone is looking at her; then she reaches out with her left hand, grabs the low-hanging seat of the redheaded boy's jeans, and gives a swift sharp yank.

"Hey, what the Hell?" shouts the boy as his white bottom in all its freckled and pimpled glory is fully exposed to the entire bus. And the passengers in the front must have seen his little peeper, too, she thinks, and shivers. The boy yanks his underwear and trousers up and spins around wildly looking for someone to punch, but Bitsy has snatched her hand back and sits looking straight ahead as prim and proper as you please. Her camouflage prevents the boy from noticing her. The rest of the passengers erupt in loud and mocking laughter as the boy threatens to "kick somebody's ass". Bitsy's jaw works as she tries to hold back her own laughter.

Fortunately, the next stop is hers and she stands and slips past the irate teenager without incident. She exits the bus through the rear door. Just in time, too, because the moment that the bus pulls away from the curb she erupts into a fit of uncontrollable giggling. What a marvelous day! She's never seen one of those baggy-trouser wearing teens without having the urge to pull the pants down around their ankles or up to their ears. She wipes tears from her eyes and hopes that nobody notices the dotty old woman standing on the corner in hysterics; then she remembers her old woman camouflage and giggles even harder.

Bitsy strolls down the street toward Clancy's Menswear. Edward has been purchasing his clothing from Clancy for forty-five years. There are several new shops in the blocks around Clancy's. Strange odors trickle out of a new Thai café and mingle with the equally interesting aroma of incense coming from an odd little place with a sign reading "The Happy Herbalist". Next door to Clancy's is a new shop that seems to sell nothing but dog-related merchandise. Dog dishes, pottery with dogs painted on it, stuffed dogs and shirts with dogs on them. Bitsy wonders why anyone would want Christmas ornaments in the shapes of little dogs and fire hydrants. Still, it would be nice to have a real dog again. Edward prefers cats.

Turning into Clancy's she stops short for just a moment, disappointed to see Clancy Jr. behind the counter. Clancy Jr. has been assisting his father more and more often these last few years. He is always curt and abrupt. His father told Edward that the young man wants to turn the store into a young folks clothing store, carrying baggy pants for boys like the boy on the bus no doubt. And Clancy's has always been such a nice place, too. Such a shame.

Young Clancy ignores her as she enters the shop ­ a far cry from his father, who would greet each of his long-term customers by name and ask after children and grandchildren. Pitiful, Bitsy muses. Why if this weren't the only place left in town that carries Edward's favorite handkerchiefs... And then, Bitsy begins to tingle again...and before she knows it, she has grabbed a package of handkerchiefs, dropped it neatly into her handbag, and snapped the bag closed, all in one quick motion. She glances over at the counter, where young Clancy is busy flipping through a magazine. Serves the rude little brat right. Can't even be bothered to look up and greet me, why should I be bothered to pay him? Clancy Sr. slips her mind. This time she begins to giggle before she makes it out the door, but the boy never even glances in her direction.

The rest of the day is an exciting blur. Bitsy finds that being naughty is exhilarating. She has never had such a thrilling day. She stops at a diner for lunch, and when the waitress is surly Bitsy flicks a spoonful of butterscotch pudding at the girl's departing backside. She misses and hits the wall, but stuffs the $5 bill to pay for her lunch into her half-full pudding dish and leaves chuckling. Down the block from the diner, she drops two quarters into a pay phone dials a number at random, and asks the woman who answers if her refrigerator is running. The punch line to the old joke is unintelligible through Bitsy's hysterical giggles.

With each depraved act Bitsy feels more and more exuberant. She feels...free. Liberated. She can't stop laughing. Passersby begin to look at her strangely; even her camouflage can't hide the sight of an elderly woman wandering down the street, stopping occasionally to take a package of expensive handkerchiefs out of her pocketbook, stroke it, and break into a new fit of giggles.

On the bus ride home she passes gas loudly and vigorously and guffaws until tears run down her cheeks.

She skips home from the bus stop, feeling as though her arthritis has vanished. It's nearly suppertime and Edward will be home from the club and waiting for her. It's Thursday: pork chop night.

As soon as Bitsy opens the front door Edward appears in the hallway.

"Where in blue blazes have you been, Elizabeth Suzanne Carmichael? You should have been home hours ago!"

Bitsy giggles.

"I've just been...walking around. It's such a nice day, Edward, I was just enjoying myself." She begins to tell him about her day, but he turns his back and stomps into the kitchen to wait for his supper. Bitsy sighs, and then realizes that she likes having a secret. She hasn't had a secret in 52 years.

She removes her beige sweater and folds it carefully, placing it on the sideboard in the foyer before she bustles into the kitchen to start dinner. Edward sits in his place at the mahogany table, reading the evening paper. With another heavy sigh, Bitsy understands that her deliciously naughty day has ended. She may never have another. Only one free day in 71 years. It all seems like such a waste. So futile. She unwraps the suddenly unappetizing beige pork chops, and lifts the heavy cast iron skillet from the dish drainer to the stovetop.

Then, Bitsy begins to feel a tingle. She looks at the back of Edward's slightly balding gray head, and at the skillet waiting on the stove. The tingling overwhelms her, and as she picks up the skillet in both hands she begins to feel a giggle coming on...