[<< Previous] [Contents] [Next >>]
Station 10. Mimi is stripped of her garments
Wood carving by Susan Hagen, story by Mike Walsh
The older Mimi got, the worse she felt. Her arms ached. Her legs ached. She was always tired. She couldn't straighten her back, and she walked slow and bent over as if she were carrying a heavy weight. Despite her ailments, she had managed to hold onto her job at a printing plant even though she was past retirement age.
She could remember back thirty-five years when she and the printing plant were young. They had produced national magazines by the tens of thousands. Now the plant's equipment was outdated, and the company printed only a few weekly newspaper supplements. Almost everyone from the old days except Mimi had moved on, and she knew her days at the printing plant were numbered.
Mimi didn't know how she would get by once she lost her job. She had no savings and no pension, and she knew social security wouldn't give her enough to keep her apartment. It scared her. She didn't want to go on welfare or be placed in an institution.
It was hard for an old woman to get by on her own, Mimi realized, unless she had lots of money. Mimi didn't have lots of money, nor did she have many possessions. She saw no reason to fill her apartment with things for distant relatives to divide among themselves once she was gone. She owned only what she needed-some clothes, some dishes and pans, a washer and dryer, a couch, a television, and some pictures. She would leave the world in poverty, she decided, just as she had entered it.
Mimi didn't have much family to speak of, just a younger sister and her husband as well as some nieces and nephews who didn't keep in touch. She didn't have many friends either, so for the most part she kept to herself in her second floor apartment. She cleaned, did her laundry, shopped for groceries, watched television, slept, and went to work a few days a week. She was afraid to do much else.
She had been in the apartment for many years, even after the building had changed owners six or seven years earlier. The new owner, a young man, lived in the first floor apartment.
Each month Mimi came downstairs to the landlord's apartment to pay her rent, which she always paid in cash. She waited patiently while the landlord counted out three hundred and seventy dollars. He put five twenties in three separate piles and always had three twenties and a ten left over. He then marked "paid" in her book, which she also brought with her, under the correct month. Once she put an extra twenty dollars in the envelope to see if he would catch it. He did, and he gave it back to her.
"Oh, my God," she gasped, "thank you so much."
Mimi tried not to be a bother. She didn't want to give the landlord any reason to get rid of her. She paid her rent two or three months in advance. When the landlord asked her not to run her washer and dryer at 4 a.m. because it woke him, Mimi started doing her laundry in the afternoon. When the landlord had loud parties, she didn't complain. When he offered to paint and carpet her apartment, she begged him not to. She didn't want him going to any expense on her account. "The carpets and paint are fine," she told him. "Why waste your money?" So he neither painted nor installed new carpet.
One afternoon Mimi was walking back from the Acme, where she had purchased a loaf of white bread, grape jelly, two apples, a roasting chicken, a head of cabbage, some laundry detergent, and a quart of milk. She heard a sound behind her, and before she knew what was happening, a young man in a ski mask grabbed her purse, which was strapped on her right shoulder. The hoodlum pulled so hard that she fell, dropped her bag of groceries, and screamed. The pain was so intense she thought her arm would rip off her body, but she held onto the purse.
Several people came out of their homes when they heard Mimi scream, and the kid let go and ran off. A woman helped Mimi to her feet. Mimi was weeping, but she said she was all right. She didn't want anyone to call the police. What was the use? They'd never find him. She didn't know what he looked like anyway. She limped home the remaining block with her groceries.
The next day her arm was so swollen she couldn't go to work. Her sister Estelle took her to a doctor. He gave her a pain killer and told her to rest. Estelle plugged in a heating pad and put it on Mimi's sore shoulder.
Mimi dreamed about the incident almost every night afterwards. In her dreams the thief looked like a demon. He had a skull for a face, but instead of trying to steal her purse, he always tried to steal a box of her mother's jewelry.
Each morning after waking up Mimi looked everywhere trying to find her mother's jewelry. She assumed that she had hidden it, but she wasn't sure exactly where. The jewelry was very valuable, and she decided that she would sell it and use the money for her rent when she lost her job.
After a week her shoulder felt much better. She continued to look for the jewelry until one day she remembered where she had hidden it. She called the landlord.
"Have you seen my jewelry?" she asked him.
"My mother's jewelry. I put it in a room. In a box."
"You put a box of jewelry in a room? What room?"
"A room upstairs."
"In the third floor apartment?"
"Yeah, yeah, that's where I put it."
"But you don't have a key to the third floor apartment, do you?"
"No, I went through a door in my closet."
"A door in your closet?"
The landlord came upstairs to her apartment. Mimi opened her bedroom closet door, pushed some clothes aside, and said, "See?"
After spending several minutes looking through Mimi's closet, the landlord turned to her. He had a strange look on his face. "There's no door in this closet, Mimi," he said.
"You gotta be kidding me," she said. "It's right there. Can't you see it?"
He couldn't see it. They went upstairs to the third floor apartment, which had been empty for several months. They stood in the middle of the apartment looking about.
"Is this where you left the box of jewelry?" he asked.
"No, not here. It was in another room."
"Another room? There aren't any other rooms."
"Oh, sweet Jesus," she cried out, "don't tell me you threw out my mother's jewelry."
"Mimi, I didn't throw out any jewelry."
"That jewelry was all I had left," she said, her eyes welling with tears. "My mother gave it to me. I should have my head examined for putting it in that room."
The landlord assured her that she had simply misplaced the jewelry, but she knew he was mistaken. The jewelry was gone. She would never see it again. She would lose her apartment when she was laid off. She would become a street pauper, begging from door to door. Her only possession of value had been stolen, and the thieves were probably splitting it among themselves that very moment.
When Estelle came over, Mimi told her about the missing jewelry and the door in the closet. Estelle couldn't remember their mother ever owning any valuable jewelry, but she examined the closet. She removed all of the clothing and boxes. When it was empty, she said, "Look, Mimi, no door."
"It was in there. It was in there. They covered it up. The landlord, he did it when I was at work."
"You had a dream, Mimi, a nightmare."
"The jewelry's lost. They stole it from me. Who would steal from an old lady?" Mimi began weeping again. Estelle hugged her.
"Don't worry. I'll buy you some jewelry, sweetheart. Please don't worry."
But Mimi couldn't stop worrying about the jewelry, and one day the truth came to her in a dream. Again she saw the demon stealing her mother's jewelry. Slowly the demon's face changed from a skull into a face she recognized--the landlord!
At the end of the month she went downstairs and gave the landlord her rent money. She waited patiently while he counted it. After he marked her book, she said, "By the way, I know what happened to the jewelry."
"Oh, really? What?"
"You took it," she said calmly, watching his face for any sign of guilt.
"Mimi, what are you talking about?"
"You had it all along. Give it back or I'll have to sue you."
He rolled his eyes and looked away. It was just as she suspected. He couldn't look her in the eye.
"This is ridiculous," he said. "I never saw your jewelry."
"C'mon," she said, "tell the truth."
"Mimi, I wouldn't lie to you. We've known each other for a long time."
"It's your fault," she said, her voice rising. "You told me I could put the jewelry in that room."
"No, I didn't."
"And then you covered up the door in my closet."
"Give it back. I need it to pay my rent, you demon. You got a skull for a face."
The landlord paused, his mouth ajar. "A skull for a face?" he said. "Mimi, this is getting really weird."
Mimi left knowing that he would never admit to stealing her mother's jewelry, but God knew what had happened. And the dear Lord would give her plenty of gold and silver when she went to the place where the possessions of this world meant nothing.
See more of Susan Hagen's artwork or Mike Walsh's writing on missionCREEP.
Send email to Susan Hagen or Mike Walsh