Fiction: Defending Dolly



Dear Neighbor(s):

Although I have had the pleasure of meeting many of you already, I want to take this opportunity to further introduce myself as the new resident of 3227 Freeborn Court, this warm and inviting little corner of the world where we find ourselves, by definition, neighbors—and I hope that perhaps, some unpleasant business aside, we can enthusiastically embrace this neighborliness because having the occasional wave and smile, I’ve found, will make all the difference in the world. My name is Dolores Meier. My friends call me Dolly.

I suppose that introductions, once begun, ought to become fleshed out, so to speak, with some of the relevant life details and my expectations for the upkeep of the neighborhood, which you’ll note, is in all of our best interests. I enjoy Ingrid Bergman films quite a bit, but generally I do not care for the films of Ingmar Bergman, and as this confusion has been the source of past troubles and more than one insufferable evening, I find it best to stipulate my preference here. I also dislike tropical fruits, men in short pants and any aggressive music. You are mostly likely to find me engaged in reading (or more accurately, rereading!) one of my favorite novels from Austen or one of the Bronte girls. I was born and reared in a small town in Maine, where my father labored as a delivery truck mechanic and my mother taught third grade. I will not divulge the date of my birth, as any of you who see me out and about can ascertain that I am a woman of a certain age, and thus it is inappropriate to pursue this line of questioning any further.

Before addressing the unpleasantness, the one I only briefly mentioned before and intend to address shortly and in satisfactory fashion, I want to extend to each and every one of you an open invitation to visit me in my home or invite me to yours. I am retired now after a long and well-decorated career in bookkeeping, and though I like to have time to myself, as any of us do, I am also open to casual get-togethers, impromptu dinner parties and whatnot. As the majority of my family remains in Maine, and because of the special circumstances barring me from volunteer work in so many of our fine local institutions, I count on relatively few visitors outside of you, my dear neighbors. I only ask that you call ahead with at least ninety minutes to allow me to freshen up for public appearances.

I really can assure you that I have an excellent track record as a resident and an upstanding community member. Although I am not permitted to explicitly offer my services as a babysitter, I will gladly lend assistance to any of your household projects should you find yourself in the need of an especially careful eye or steady hand.

Ah! If you’ve read this far, and even if you haven’t already received the needless and really highly inaccurate notification from the so-called authorities, you must be waiting for me to get on with it—the unpleasantness, the explanation, the coming-to-the-light that these introductions seem to warrant. I am compelled to insist upon, or in some cases repeat, my biased but nonetheless legitimate protests against this state’s draconian laws that perpetually manacle a well-intentioned and (in most senses of the word) innocent woman like myself to a registry otherwise peopled by the perpetrators of disgusting crimes. You see, my neighbors, I was merely in love with a man whose mind left him before his body, and anyone who knows the real story will see that I am the victim; I deserve no suspicion but only pity. Truly! Turn your scorn toward RSMo 589, such a loosey-goosey and ill-conceived statute that it is. Take the time to look up the list of horrors included in this bumbling mess of a law: incest, rape, child pornography; then you might tell me how “sexual contact or sexual intercourse with a resident of a nursing home” deserves the same public shaming as these crimes!

Perhaps I have come on a bit strong. Perhaps I am not telling you anything that some of you haven’t already found out from the “authorities.” Perhaps this letter, and your precious time, dear neighbor, is better spent reading a plain and truthful accounting of the facts. That is why you must pay me the courtesy of your attention while I unveil the entire story.

His name was Hank Lambert. And yes, Hank was a real man’s man, a Clark Gable type by any measure, when I met him in 1964. He was good with his hands and quick with a lighter. I imagine that I was far from the only woman to feel I’d fallen in love with the first sight of him. Upon that meeting he was already a family man with kids, and he was my new boss at Lambert’s Lube and Valve. Yes, a married man, a beautiful wife named—what was it, Laura? Lauren? Linda?

Of course I was there at her funeral; she was a friend! There’s nothing wrong with forgetting someone’s name, the circumstances being what they were, with Hank so hesitant to even bring her up! No matter what her children might insist, I did not smile on that day nearly five years ago, when I stood over her casket and being a good Christian woman prayed for her mortal soul—she was a friend!

But certainly, neighbors, you can sympathize with what it must have been like in the early days, a young and impressionable girl barely out of secretarial school, brought in to run the books and occasionally the register at Lambert’s L&V and finding herself employed by the most magnificent and charming man she’d ever seen. Imagine what it was like, getting dolled up every day in your finest dress, trying to feel beautiful, trying to get noticed each day, to be asked to lunch, or to step out for martini, or to be offered a kind word. Think of seeing the man you love (more than you ever thought you’d love anyone, just as much as you’d expected to love someone when you were a daydreaming schoolgirl!), imagine seeing him every morning, saying goodbye to him every night at 5:30 p.m. sharp, knowing that he was going home to sleep in his bed, and you to yours, and lying awake at night and thinking, oh stars, could such a wish ever come true?

Of course you should know that this was no one-sided affair. There were incidents—subtle at first, perhaps, but nonetheless unmistakable as signs of a deep and abiding passion just below the surface of our day-to-day interactions with fuel pumps and spark plugs. That first year at the Christmas party when he handed out envelopes to the men, most of them containing a little extra cash as a Christmas bonus, mine was different entirely: a gift certificate to a department store. Don’t you see, what he meant? That he liked to look at me, that he thought me lovely, that he wished me to pick out a new blouse or a shade of rouge? There’s nothing else that it could have meant! Or, neighbor, there was the time when we had to do our end-of-the-year budget, both of us poring over the books until late in the night, and he sent me—me, not his wife!—for sandwiches and coffee so that we could keep working together. Yes, just the two of us, together with our numbers, breathing in each other’s smells there in the lamplight, passing back and forth our only calculator, our hands briefly touching so that I giggled and he didn’t look away— […]

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Alexander Luft’s fiction has been published in The Adirondack Review, Midwestern Gothic, The Barely South Review, The Coachella Review and elsewhere. Luft’s journalistic work has appeared in multiple venues, and he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois-Chicago.