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The Lady in Residence
By J. M. Kessler

She’s washing the dishes again. That’s fine.

I did say that I was going to do them, but I guess it doesn’t matter. 

Only, yes, it does. I like washing the dishes. It’s calming, filling the sink with water and soap, washing each dish in turn. Just being present, in the moment. It’s restful.

What kind of person comes into your home and takes away your restful moments?

But I suppose Sarah needs her restful moments, too, what with everything that’s happened. I don’t even know what’s happened, exactly. All she said was that she and Ben had a disagreement and that she needed a place to stay for a few days, until Ben figured it out. Whatever it is. She wouldn’t be in the way and she didn’t expect me to rearrange my life on her account. Actually, I was flattered that she asked to stay with me. Sarah’s particular about her surroundings. Of course, I said yes. That’s what friends do.

I just wish she would tell me what happened. Not that it’s any of my business, really, but I have been letting her stay here. Let’s see, a few is more than a couple, and not so many as some, which is four or five, or several, generally five or more, so that makes a few not more than three or four.

It’s been two weeks and no sign of anything being figured out except quantity nomenclature. 

But why am I even complaining? She’s been the perfect house guest. She picks up after herself, she does things around the apartment. She rearranged my spice cabinet, alphabetically. An orderly mind keeps an orderly home, she said. True, there was no order to my system, but I did know where everything was. Still, if I made my eggs with dried mint instead of oregano, that’s on me. I should have read the label first.

But it was nice to wake up to the smell of handmade cinnamon rolls this morning. I don’t like sweet things for breakfast, but Sarah did get up early to make them. And she’s right, they are best eaten warm from the oven. And she’s making French toast tomorrow morning. She’s really amazing in the kitchen. Anyone’s kitchen. Of course, she has her domestic blog, The Lady in Residence, about how to bring your signature style to life in your home. I think I’m still subscribed to it. Anyway, she knows how to do things and it’s nice of her to do them for me. 

And I can relax today, do whatever I like for a change. 

It’s funny, how restless you become when you suddenly have time to fill. What am I going to do today? I won’t be cleaning, that’s for sure. You’d think having an extra person in your home there’d be more cleaning to do, but the woman is as neat as a pin. And now so is my apartment. 

I wonder if Ben’s doing the cleaning since Sarah’s been here. Maybe he doesn’t care much about it. Maybe their apartment doesn’t even need cleaning after a year of Sarah polishing and vacuuming, and dusting all those knickknacks—no, knickknacks and Sarah do not go together—objets d’art, that’s what they are, each delicate thing in its perfect place. I remember that Ben wanted to get a dog, but Sarah was against it and she was right; it would have been a disaster for her. Spills and breakages, pet hair on the furniture and toys scattered about, no, not in their home. There’s never a cushion out of line in their home, never a stray piece of lint to be found. It always looks like it’s just been cleaned any time I’m there, any day of the week. It’s so clean it almost hurts to sit down. I can practically feel the vacuum-brushed furniture bristling at the dust and microbes I bring in from the outside world. I feel positively criminal. It looks lovely, of course, picture-perfect, but I can never relax. I’m always nervous about spilling. Or sneezing.

Ah, well. Some people like perfection. Me, I like comfort. I like to kick off my shoes and put my feet up. Not that I’m a slob, no, but I don’t want to live in a museum, either. I clean once a week. It’s a routine that has served me well. My apartment is maintained, and I know where I am. It’s Saturday; it’s cleaning day. 

Only, it isn’t. The apartment is all spit-spot and however the rest of that goes. She even rearranged the art on my walls. Ben got me started on collecting art. I can’t draw at all, but I know what I like and I know where to place it. That is, I thought I did. Sarah explained that—well, she didn’t explain it, come to think of it. She just said that there was a way to do this and that she knew how. And she has a website, so, I guess, yes, I guess this looks, this looks, good. Of course, before Sarah came over, I removed the painting that I’d bought from Ben. I didn’t want to make it awkward for her to be here. 

This disagreement baffles me. Ben’s the least disagreeable person I know. He’s one of those rare individuals who gets along with everyone. It’s got to be something big. I’d ask, but I don’t want to pry into their personal life. And I don’t want to upset Sarah. I did ask her once if she wanted to talk about it, but she just smiled and shook her head and turned back to unpacking. Then she brought a hand to her cheek, to brush away a tear, I suppose. I’m sure she feels miserable, but I won’t force her if she doesn’t want to talk about it. That’s one thing about me, I won’t force an issue. There’s no sense in it. You have to allow people to handle their problems in their own way. For instance, when I came home the other night to find the furniture had been rearranged, it was obvious that she was keeping herself occupied to take her mind off their disagreement, or whatever it is. There was no harm done. Not really. It’s only furniture, after all.  

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I feel restless, like I have to do something.

The grocery shopping’s all done. I went to the store last night after work. I didn’t feel like coming straight home. And that food court they have isn’t bad at all. Although, it was nice of Sarah to save me some chicken liver tacos that she’d made for dinner, in case I might want them today. 

Maybe I’ll catch up on my knitting. Where is my knitting? Not on the sofa where I left it. I must have put it in the basket. It’s just as well, it was a mess of yarn, learning that new stitch. I do want to finish it, though. Maybe I’ll work on it tonight. Now where did I put the knitting basket? 

That’s my phone going off. Let’s see, it’s from Ben. He hasn’t posted anything in days. “A new watercolor. I’m starting a noir phase.” Oh, wow. Oh, I love it. I wonder what he wants for it. I should call him. I’ll have to make the call outside, though. I wouldn’t want Sarah to hear me talking to him. I could text him. I don’t know why but that feels dishonest. It’s so difficult when your friends have a disagreement, or whatever this is. Maybe I’ll just ask Sarah—no, better not. I don’t want to bring up his name before she does. It’s going on two and a half weeks and she hasn’t mentioned him once. I think she’s one of those people who gets on by never looking back, never a bad word against anyone. That’s admirable. To a point. I mean, one has to deal with situations, one can’t just leave them to sort themselves out. But I suppose she needs time. That’s really the best thing. 

That’s certainly what I’ve got today. Time. Maybe I’ll go out for a walk. It looks like it might rain later. I should go out now if I’m going. Better grab an umbrella from the closet.

Oh, Sarah must have oiled that squeaky hinge. And there’s my knitting basket. I guess it is more out of the way in here. I’ll leave the knitting on the arm of the sofa, so I’ll remember to pick it up later. That’ll be cozy, knitting by the window and listening to the rain. If only I could have a cat, that would make it perfect. But, no, I had to go and sign a no-pets lease. No, I can’t leave the knitting like that, with the afghan and throw pillows the way Sarah does them. I’ll just keep the knitting in the basket. In the closet. 

I could get out my Pilates ball. It’s been ages since I used it. Where did I—oh, it’s in the guest room closet, with the air pump. And Sarah moved the bureau in front of the closet to make room for her work station. I mean, there’s no reason why I can’t just—I’ll just ask Sarah if…no, the bureau’s filled with her clothes, it’s too heavy to move. 

I didn’t expect her to bring so much with her. She had the look of wounded bird when she arrived and it just about broke my heart, but she did say it was only for a few days. I know what these disagreements are like, if that’s what this is, and I’m here for her, absolutely. But I would like to know what her plans are. I mean, it’s been, what, almost three weeks already and she hasn’t told me anything about what’s going on. I have a right to know, don’t I? As a friend? Letting her stay in my home? Am I really asking too much?! 

Why am I getting worked up about this? It’ll be fine.

Maybe Ben will call her today. I’m sure he will. 

Otherwise, I’ll bring it up tonight, casually, over dinner. She’s making teriyaki stir-fry. She started making stir-fry on Saturdays when Ben and the guys started bowling. Ben was always rushing out to get a lane before it got crowded, she said, so she decided that stir-fry was perfect for Saturdays. I was planning on making chili in the crock pot today. I bought lemon drop peppers, which I’ve never had. I hadn’t even heard of them until last night, and I wanted to try something new. But it’s Saturday, so stir-fry it is. That’s fine. And I can make chili tomorrow, I guess. 

It’s good for Sarah to stick to her routines. Changes are unsettling. Routines give you that sense of security, that feeling of familiarity, of everything being just so because that’s the way it is because that’s the way it’s always been. You expect a certain thing to be a certain way and then it is that way, and you know you can count on it, and you like that you can count on it, and that feels good. 

Until it all falls apart. 

It would have to have been something big. I mean, you don’t move out because you lost an argument over a couple of throw pillows. And Ben wouldn’t argue things like that anyway, he’s always so casual. Not that he doesn’t care about Sarah’s aesthetics. He did move his anime collection to his office, after Sarah mentioned that it didn’t look right with the baroque decor. And he always works on his watercolors on the back porch, never inside. And that week she cooked fish every night for her blog, he posted nightly menu updates. In fact, he invited me over for the barbecued smelt and I remember Ben saying how he’d never tasted anything like it before. And, quite honestly, neither had I. Yes, because I remember that he had been painting those Japanese fish, and I said how funny it was, meaning wonderful, that they were both working in fish! 

That was a good bottle of wine, too.

He started bowling shortly after that. He likes getting out and doing things. Which is great for Sarah, since she works from home. Honestly, I don’t know what could have caused this disagreement. They’re perfect together. Ben designs websites and Sarah has her blog. I was surprised how much money she makes from that. But now she’s sleeping in my guest room and oiling my favorite squeaky hinge and making stupid teriyaki stir-fry because it’s Saturday, dammit. What the hell?!

Whoa, where did that come from? This isn’t like you, Dottie. Just, calm down. Okay. Jeez. 

Crap. She’s making a roast chicken tomorrow for dinner. 

All right. It’s just a chicken. Relax. 

Ben’s posted another picture. “Treated the guys to beer and my famous nachos after they helped me move stuff to storage. Got the place ready for my Lady. All set for tonight.” 

But that means—for Sarah—tonight? Oh, this is wonderful. Oh, I’m so happy! Oh, thank you, Ben. Thank you. Why does their lounge look different? Probably because the guys are eating in it. Ben and Sarah never ate in the lounge. But never. Oh—the baroque decor is gone. And he’s got his anime collection back up. I don’t know what he was thinking with that stuffy baroque design. Of course, that was really Sarah’s doing. Ben just went along with it. I really like what he did with the room. It looks much better now, much more casual. Even Ben looks more relaxed.  

But Sarah’s got dinner planned for us tonight. Which means he hasn’t called her yet. And she hasn’t been getting his posts. It’s possible she disconnected from Ben temporarily. I’ll call and find out what time he’ll want her to come over. No, best to leave everything to Ben. But what about all that stir-fry? It’ll be fine. He’ll call, and I’ll just insist that she go. I’ll insist. 

Oh, what a relief.   

And I can put Ben’s painting back up. After she leaves. And I can move the bureau back by myself once it’s empty. And all the rest of the furniture. 

I’m so happy! I feel like I can breathe again. It’s amazing how much space one person can take up in your home. A few more days like this and I might have lost it. I might have said things I regretted, and then lost my friends. And over what? Nothing, really. Little things.

But no matter. Everything’s fine, everything’s back to normal. It’s wonderful. 

There’s my phone again. He got a dog! “Lady is a sweetheart and has total run of the place and my heart.” Aww. What a cutie! And her name’s Lady, like in Sarah’s blog. Another lady in residence. Leave it to Ben to think of that. So sweet. 

He should be calling any time now.

They’re a great couple. They are. They’re really good together.

They both work in fish, that was funny. 

I wonder if I could knit a fish? 

I better find something to do with myself. 

I know—my Kindle and a pot of coffee. My TBR list needs tackling. When did clicking the want-to-read button reach the same level of satisfaction as reading an entire book? I’ll just get the coffee started and see what’s on the list.

Oh. You’re making brownies. For dessert, sure. Only, would you mind if I just made some coffee first? Er, thanks, but I just want plain, black coffee. You know what, I’ll make it when I get back. I want to get out for a walk before it rains. Okay, as long as you’re having coffee too, then sure, go ahead. Um, are those the lemon drop peppers? In the stir-fry, right. I was going to use them for something else, but I guess—Yes, I have a storage area in the basement, and I should really go through it—Of course, that’s what friends are for. No, honestly, you’ve been, it’s been fine. No, it’s been no problem at all, it’s been wonderful, really, I’ve never felt so pampered. Of course we can talk, I’d love that. Over dinner, sure, unless you and Ben...Oh. No, I thought maybe you’d heard from him, that’s all. Dinner on the table at five-thirty-five. Got it. I’ll be back. Yes, in time for dinner.  

Maybe she’ll finally tell me what caused their disagreement. Or whatever it was. It was probably just a little thing that got blown out of proportion. That’s usually how these things start.

I admit, I was getting worried. Not that I’m complaining. After all, when a friend needs help, and I know if I needed a place to stay that they’d be only too happy, but it’s been nearly a month, and it does put you out. 

It’s the little things, the little changes you have to make that really make a difference, that really put a strain on relationships. The little things you give up just to make life easier. 

The little everyday things.

That was odd, Sarah asking about the basement storage. 

I wonder why Ben hasn’t called yet. 

He’s probably getting Lady settled in first. The other lady. The new lady in residence.

I’m sure Ben will call. 

He has to call. 

Oh dammit, Dottie.



 © 2019 J. M. Kessler                

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