Alison's Adventures - Back to Abnormal

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Alison’s Adventures - Back to Abnormal
by Alison Barnet Contributor
Wednesday Feb 9, 2011

Yes, my dear, the apartment is available and will be delighted if you return to it. Noah will help me put clean sheets on the bed. Mary Grant

Her cigarette had burned a hole clear through the paper.

What Mary, my 85-year-old landlady, didn’t tell me in the letter I received in Amsterdam was that she was raising the rent from $50 to $60 a month. My world seemed to cave in-such a big increase, totally unexpected, so unfair! She suggested I share the apartment with a friend of Noah’s. Like Madeline and Howard, who couldn’t marry for religious reasons, we could lock the sliding doors in the middle and enter the hall toilet separately.

I stayed, of course, and, pretty soon, I was downstairs listening to Mary read a letter.

Dearest Mary,
Your checque was much appreciated...We are thinking of making a trip to the States, probably in the spring, and will of course make Boston a "must." Love, Bill and Louis

She savored every word. Bill, a British tour guide she’d met on her last trip around the world, at age 80, was "the most marvelous person." Widowed and childless, she had left most of her estate to him. Louis (pronounced Louie) was Bill’s French lover. Why Bill was so important to Mary I didn’t know, but it had something to do with his being "such a help" when she fell out of bed in Majorca.

"Now, where can I put them?"

"They’ll probably want to stay in a hotel, don’t you think?" I said.

"Oh, I wouldn’t hear of it! They must stay here. Let’s see, I have the couch and there’s that cot in your apartment."

I offered my place. "Well, you do have the two rooms and you could close the double doors. After all, my dear friends Madeline and Howard lived there for years in two separate rooms-and what fights they had! Of course, they’ll take their meals with me."

Bill and Louis slept in the sleigh bed in my front room and I on the cot in the back. I left the front door unlocked so they could use the hall toilet. The next night they insisted on going to a hotel.


I often spent weekends in New York, taking the last bus home. One late night a cabdriver told me, "Push down your button; we’re in a rough neighborhood now."

Local newspaper: Crime Near BCH Scares South End. Ninety percent of the persons interviewed in a South End study are fearful of going into the Boston City Hospital area ...[Doctor] said stabbings and shooting in the hospital area have become so common that even doctors and nurses are fearful for their safety.

My key didn’t fit the lock. All of a sudden, Noah, the top floor tenant, opened the door, frightening me. There’d been some trouble. Mary let in a man to fix some pipes who drew a knife on her, knocked her unconscious, hit Dixie, the daffy third floor tenant, snatching her purse with the keys in it.

When I saw Mary the next day, her white hair was standing up from her head, she was leaning a sore arm on an electric pillow, and there was a huge bruise on her cheek.

Everyone was shaken up by what happened. Then, a couple of weeks later, four pairs of Noah’s socks, a radio, one pair of my socks, and the little radio I bought in Italy went missing in a mysterious theft. There was no heat because the electrician who was supposed to wire the new boiler never showed up. When Mary called, he said he’d been there that morning only to have his tools stolen while his truck was parked in front of the house.

The police arrived just as Madge came down from the second floor to use Mary’s phone-she couldn’t get a dial tone upstairs and she needed to call the hospital because her husband had an abscess. The police heard all about that. Everyone milled around giving their reports at the same time. Noah was yelling: "Question everyone in the neighborhood!" and Madge insisted they send a squad car down the alley to check the second floor windows for fire, Dixie told the policemen that when she saw the patrol car she felt safe to check her mail. Throughout, Mary, who was losing her hearing, muttered, "What? What?"

The following Saturday, Noah took me to a pawnshop in Roxbury where, on his good advice, I bought an AM-FM radio. "I may not know a lot of things compared to some people," he said, "but I do have one thing and that’s common sense."

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