Marianne could see Mrs. McGettigan getting out of the truck that brought her home from the fish plant. Mrs. McGettigan wore her blue uniform over a couple of sweaters. It was a cold summer. Mrs. McGettigan had on her fish plant headpiece; a white plastic scalloped tiara and hairnet, and she carried two plastic bags. Fish and her leftover lunch. She watched through her window as Mrs. McGettigan went up her drive-way. She watched her rattle her screen door and peer in the dark window and realized she was locked out. She watched her try to rattle the window open then look up at Marianne’s house. Marianne went to the door and called out, “Come up.”
“I’m off early. He’s not home,” the tiara bobbed up the hill. The wind lost her voice in the grass. Mrs. McGettigan was meek and a bit lonely. Nobody seemed to like her husband Leonard and their family had a faint outcast quality. They burned electric heat instead of wood, and Leonard built houses in subdivisions instead of being a fisherman. They were sixty.
Mrs. McGettigan laid her bags by the daybed and sat down. She kept her headpiece on and did not loosen her uniform buttons. She sat with her hands clasped and knees together. Marianne could see the print of long johns under her navy stretch pants. The fish plant was cold and the floor was always wet. Marianne made two slices of buttered toast and peeled a banana and put it all on a plate and gave it to Mrs. McGettigan with hot tea.
“Leonard wouldn’t like it if he knew I tried to go in through the window.” Mrs. McGettigan did not move her lips much when she spoke. Her bottom lip was going numb and lately so was her right hand. She was going to the doctor about it tomorrow. Her voice was high with a sad tone in it.
“Does he expect you to sit and wait for him in the driveway?” Marianne shouted because Mrs. McGettigan was deaf in the left ear. Her husband told everyone it came from always rooting around in it with a hairpin even in the night in bed. Marianne’s cat rubbed Mrs. McGettigan’s ankles. Mrs. McGettigan had six cats. She bent and stroked Marianne’s with big strong strokes. She picked it up and hugged it, rocked it and kissed its head, puckering her lips generously as if they had not a bit of numbness in them.
“No but he wouldn’t like it. I’d rather he didn’t know.” They talked about cats, the cold summer, the coming garden parties. “Nothing like they once were. There’s nothing there for children now. When we were young there were pony rides and games. Now you’re up to your knees in scratch-and-win. I’ll make lemon squares for the tea.” Her house was always full of iced cakes and puddings. Marianne worried about the toast and banana but Mrs. McGettigan said, “The bread’s nice, it’s the brown bread isn’t it?”
“It didn’t rise very much.”
“They had maggots in the machine and they had to clean it out. That’s why I’m off early. I wasn’t supposed to get off till six and it’s only three. I don’t know when Stuart will get home.” Stuart was her daughter’s husband. “He went for a blood test. He had his heart operated on last year. I don’t know what time they went.”
“I saw them go a couple of hours ago. Laura was all dressed up.” Marianne remembered Laura getting in the car with an unlit cigarette in her mouth and a blouse covered in flowers. Their little girl had on black patent leather shoes and a red baseball cap. “How’s your cup?” Marianne filled it. Past the McGettigans’ house the fences and islands were unlit. “It’s hard to get a second fine day.” Thomas Silver had said that to Marianne the other day from his turnip garden.
“It is so.” Mrs. McGettigan smiled. Timidly she said, “I’ve been thinking of going south again.”
“Down to Florida. I was there seven times.”
“Yes. The first time, I went by myself.”
“You went to Florida alone?”
“The first time yes, and then I went again with some other girls from the shore. But I haven’t been these four years now. I’d love to go down again.”
“I can’t believe you went to Florida alone.” It was obvious Mrs. McGettigan didn’t mind her surprise. Her eyes were wearing little proud hoods.
“Oh yes, I loved every minute of it. It was easy. I asked them at the travel agent’s here before I went what to do and they said go around the corner when you leave the airport and told me what bus to take to Pasadena where the hotel was.”
“And what did you do then?”
“I got settled away and I was downstairs asking directions and out on the street in no time.”
“What did you do?”
“I went shopping. Shopping at the malls. Window shopping. They told me where to get the bus. I just had to go across the street and wait, and the bus would come and take me to the Tyrone Square Mall, and I’d ask the driver at the other end how to get back, and I’d do that every single day.” She looked as happy as Marianne had ever seen her. “I’d even go to the bingo, two nights a week, down there.” She went to bingo two nights a week up here. If she couldn’t get her husband to take her she scandalized the cove by hitch-hiking.
“The Tyrone Square Mall has a hundred and forty-four stores. I’d go to K-Mart because I’m used to K-Mart here. They had a JC Penney. There was a good bargain basement there. They had beautiful blouses. That was the first time I went now. The other times five of us went shopping together. One of the girls who works at the Arcade here says the same blouse that was five dollars in Florida would be seventeen fifty or twenty-five dollars at the Arcade.” Her body lost its stiffness. She sat back among the cushions and dreamed. She picked the banana up, tore a piece off and ate it. “We went to Indian Shores first. We didn’t like it. All you could see was a bridge and a few hotels, and I saw a few pelicans out on the water. So we moved to Clearwater where they have the Jolly Trolley that takes you to the Sunshine Mall where all the clothes is cheap.” She finished her banana. “I love bananas.”
Marianne felt surprised she said this so fervently in the middle of Florida. “Did you enjoy Florida more by yourself or with the others?”
“With the others. They would go down on the beach and I’d not be one for the beach. I’d cook supper, set the table and everything. One time we bought a big round roast for seven dollars and they said how will you ever cook that, we’ve got no oven. In Clearwater they only had four burners and the fridge underneath. It was cute. Anyway I made a pot roast out of the roast. It fit right in the pot and I fried out a bit of pork, no, shortening, and then kept adding a bit of water and onions until it was cooked, and made mashed potatoes with it and with a small bag of flour–you could get different sizes of everything–I thickened the gravy. So we had a good meal out of it. They couldn’t believe it. And the roast was so big we had meals out of it for days after. We’d make roast beef sandwiches.”
She stroked the cat. “At the Sunshine Mall they had balloons with a number inside each one. You’d prick the balloon and I got a banana split every single day for seven days for one cent except the eighth day I had to pay forty-nine cents. That was my last day there.”
“Were the banana splits good?”
“Good, yes they were good.”
“Were they big?”
“Big, yes they were really big. The other four would be jealous of me because they’d have to pay full price, sixty-nine cents.”
The door opened and Mrs. McGettigan’s granddaughter came in eating Glossettes. She scrambled on the day bed and looked at her nanny. “We thought you weren’t home.” She tried feeding a Glossette to the cat. Mrs. McGettigan did not seem to be in any hurry to go home.
“Is the fare expensive?”
“It’s four hundred dollars return, plus eighteen dollars a night if you share four to a room.” She said the woman who works at the Arcade phoned yesterday thinking maybe they’d go back down in September.
“And are you going?”
Mrs. McGettigan got up then. She should be home making supper instead of sitting down eating banana and toast and talking about Florida with Marianne. “I must go now.” She picked her bags up and said come on to her little granddaughter. She didn’t answer Marianne.
“Do you think you’ll be going?” Marianne shouted.
As she was going out the door Mrs. McGettigan spoke in an automatic voice. “If I win the seven digit number tonight maybe I’ll go down.” Marianne asked her how much the prize was. It was five hundred. But Mrs. McGettigan had to get supper. She should never have tried to get in the house through the kitchen window. She should never have forgotten her keys. She had not known there would be maggots in the machine. All the same Leonard would be mad if he found out. Marianne watched them bob down the bank, the white plastic tiara and little red hat. Murres and puffins screamed around the island. From the wind over Thomas Silver’s turnip garden she caught scents of peas pudding and wild roses.