"Girls! Girls! Help me."
She bristled with commanding presence. Her blue eyes looked hard into both of our faces. She reached out and laid one hand on each of us. So great was her fervor that the clerk and I were transfixed. I thought she'd just had her purse snatched. I had a momentary vision of my running out the door and down the village sidewalk in pursuit of the evildoer.
"Do you know of a small . . . decent, you know what I mean . . . apartment for rent? Or even a house! A small house, because . . . you know what I mean.
"Here's why: I'm a recent widow... I'm not going to cry!"
She closed her eyes and tightened her lips for a moment.
"Do you believe in God? I do. Do you believe in God? I'm a Christian.
"What's your name, Darling?"
I told her and she repeated it. "It sounds so . . . show biz! And I was in the business!"
A soupçon of Brooklynese, or perhaps just the kind of larger-than-life confidence that I associate with downstaters, in her delivery . . . I did not doubt for a moment that she had been in Show Biz. She had mastered the art of the Dramatic Pause.
She said my name again, looking at me with her head tipped back slightly and smiling.
"Do you know what my name is? I'll tell you! Millie Teri! Get it? Military!"
She saluted, a little toy soldier.
"I'm a recent widow... I'm not going to cry... But I am, if you know what I mean."
Her head thrust forward toward the clerk, a Brave Smile armoring her face.
"Do you have any advice for me? Do you?"
Her hands were still on our arms, keeping our attention, clutching more tightly at emotional moments.
"I'm staying with . . . a friend. A very compassionate friend, who offered me a home. But I feel . . . limited. If you know what I mean. Not by anything she does or says. You know what I mean. I want my own space. And I love animals."
Each of us had offered possibilities (mine had been rejected for being on Main Street), and the clerk said, wincing, fearful of disappointing: "I don't know if animals are allowed in the apartment..."
"I said I loved them! I didn't say I had any! Tell me! Tell me! Where is it, Darling!
"What's your name? Oh, that's a nice name. Did I tell you my name? Millie Teri!"
She did the little toy soldier salute.
I stood in thrall long enough that my prescription arrived, the clerk swiped my prescription card for me and packed my small bundle while I stood riveted by Millie Teri (salute!). Millie insisted on giving me her name and telephone number. Her signature was flourished and large: an autograph.
"Don't forget me! Please!"
"I couldn't if I tried," I said, rolling my eyes with a laugh. "I have your phone number right here in my wallet where I'll see it all the time."
The transaction gave my rabbity instincts the opportunity to kick in and I was out the door. I could hear, behind me, Millie still imploring and demanding.
When I got home I contacted a Realtor friend, described Millie and her wish, gave her Millie's phone number. I hope Millie finds her apartment or small house. If I hear of something I certainly will call her. I hope, though, that she misses my call and I have to leave the information on an answering machine.