Marsha treated her thick, dark hair to a home body permanent once a month with great success—except for tonight. Halfway through the perm process the electricity went off. What went wrong? This had never happened before in her apartment at Dodge City, Kansas.
As she pawed through her kitchen junk drawer for a flashlight, she remembered the batteries were dead. Sifting through the litter for candles, she found none. She stabbed her finger on an unseen pointed weapon as she probed.
Now what? She still had to apply solution to each curl and wait specified minutes before rinsing. It was a complicated job with double mirrors in the bathroom. There was no way she could manage with a wounded finger in a blackout.
Blood dripping from her finger, she reached for the first thing she could find in the dark—the crocheted dishrag her niece had made her. It hung on the side of the refrigerator because it was too pretty to use and also because it was useless, having been made with extremely find thread.
Her first thought involved going to the apartment next to hers to ask the old biddy who lived there for candles or a flashlight or maybe even batteries. She was apprehensive because Mrs. Schultz always stared at her as if she expected to discover sin on Marsha’s twenty-five-year-old face. Marsha had given up saying hello if they met in the hall, because all she ever got from Schultzie was a frown and eyes staring into hers as if she were the antichrist. She didn’t need that tonight.
Annie, a friend who rented the other apartment on the second floor, had gone away for the weekend with her latest male conquest. Lucky dog. Marsha wished she had someone special. Schultz was her only hope.
Still holding the pitiful dishrag around her finger, she jammed her hand into a rubber glove she found while fumbling on the counter near the sink. At least she wouldn’t drip blood as she searched for the door to Mrs. Schultz’ apartment.
Whoops! Her bare foot connected with blood on the kitchen floor and slid out from under her. She grabbed the junk drawer to steady herself, accidentally pulled it out, and heard the debris scatter. She lost her balance and fell, hitting her nose on the edge of the refrigerator. Blood spurted out, ran down her face, and dripped on her tee shirt. She stripped off the shirt, wadded it up and pressed it to her nose to to stanch the bleeding.
When the bleeding stopped, Marsha wiped her face with the clean part of the tee shirt. She carefully slid her fingers along the furniture and walls until she reached her bathroom. She pulled her Sponge Bob shower cap over the perm curlers and wrapped her short, pink bathrobe around her to replace the tee shirt.
In the hall, just as Marsha summoned enough courage to knock on Mrs. Schultz’ door, she heard, “Come on in. It’s about time you got here. Did you tour the whole town first?”
“How did you know I was coming?” Marsha said.
“You’re not Riley.” A suspicious voice. “Who are you and what do you want?”
“I’m Marsha Hood from Apartment 2 B. I’d like to borrow a flashlight. Were you expecting someone else?”
“I sure didn’t expect you. My son is on his way with a flashlight. Ought to be here soon. Find a chair and sit. Can’t do nothing ’til he gets here.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Schultz.” Marsha decided to fill the silence with light conversation. “What were you doing when the electricity went off?”
“I was sitting here embroidering quilt blocks. Scared me half to death. I dropped all my embroidery floss on the floor. There’s Riley at the door now. Cone on in,” she yelled. “We’re just sitting here waiting.”
Her son opened the door and put his flashlight on the table. It was a huge monster that faintly lit up the whole room. Marsha watched his eyes turn to slits as he stared at the floor then at her.
“What have you done to my mother?”
“Hold on, Riley. She didn’t do nothing. I dropped my sewing when the lights went out. Did you bring more than one flashlight?” his mother said.
“I brought three,” he said as he turned a flashlight on Marsha and gasped.
Looking down at herself in the light, she saw one rubber-gloved hand with a frilly dishrag drooping out the top of it. The other hand was bloody, as were her shorts, bare feet, and the bathrobe she had hurriedly put on—inside out. She could only imagine the blood smeared on the silly shower cap and also crusted under her nose.
And there stood Riley Schultz, the first male she’d encountered in months whose knuckles didn’t scrape the floor when he walked. He had brilliant blue eyes and wavy, blond hair—a Greek god—and Marsha realized she must look like the aftermath of a nuclear attack.
“I had an accident and did my best to clean up in the dark before I came over from my apartment to your mother’s.”
“I’d better see that you get back home. I’ll give you one of the flashlights,” Riley said.
“She looks like she was in trouble over there. See if she needs help, Riley.” Kind words from Mrs. Schultz. Marsha felt low for being unkind behind her back, so low, in fact, a backhoe couldn’t get down to her level.
When she and Riley reached her apartment, he flashed the light around exposing bloody hand smears on the walls and the floor littered with treasures from her junk drawer, some of which soaked in a puddle of blood. He studied the trashed kitchen a moment before he frowned and said, “Care to explain?”
Before she could think of a reasonable answer, a heavy knock sounded on the open door.
“Police. Put your hands up, both of you.” A male and female officer, savage frowns on their faces, came into the kitchen. They each carried a flashlight and a 9mm Glock pointed at Marsha and Riley.
“I’m Officer Plains and this is Officer Stucky,” the policeman said, indicating the female next to him.
“What do you want?” Marsha said in a tiny voice, hands raised high, one trailing the lacy dishrag from a rubber glove.
“We had a call about this apartment. Who are you?” the policeman barked at Riley.
“I’m Riley Schultz. My mother lives next door. I came over to help this young lady and bring her a flashlight.”
“And who is she?” the uniformed male hulk asked, pointing to Marsha.
“I don’t know her name.”
“Don’t talk about me like I’m not here.” Marsha’s hands came down, the dishrag fluttering. “I’m Marsha Hood, and this is my apartment. I tried to borrow a light from Mrs. Schultz.”
“What’s that awful smell?” Officer Stucky’s nose puckered, as she interrupted the conversation.
“I was giving myself a perm when the electricity failed.”
“Can you explain where all this blood came from?” Officer Plains asked.
Marsha said, “I’ll do my best.”
Step by step she told about probing in the junk drawer in the dark, her wounded finger, her nosebleed, blood-smeared walls and her costume. Before she finished, the officers’ savage frowns had turned into amused stares. Riley just looked dazed.
Officer Plains said to him, “You’d better report back to your mother and let her know there’s no problem here—at least there’s no police problem here. Your mother’s the one who called us. We’ll be over to talk to her as soon as we get some more information from this unfortunate young woman.”
Officer Stucky pointed her light toward the bathroom and pushed Marsha before her. “I’ll help you get cleaned up and put something on your hand.”
She soon had Marsha’s face clean and a bandage wrapped around her finger. She even applied the perm lotion to the curlers while Marsha held the flashlight.
Shortly after the police left, the electricity flipped back on. By the time Marsha removed the curlers, washed and blow-dried her hair, and donned a clean pair of jeans and a pink tee shirt, she felt in charge of her life again. She scooped the refuse from the junk drawer into a box and mopped the kitchen floor.
After a deep breath, she grabbed the borrowed flashlight and knocked on Mrs. Schultz’ door. Riley opened the door and smiled at her. “Hey, there. You clean up nice,” he said. His appreciative gaze slid from her hair to her tee shirt to her shoes and back to her face. “Come on in.”
“Thank you. I came to return the flashlight. I’ve written myself a note to get batteries for mine. And I want to that you, Mrs. Schultz, for being concerned enough to call the police. I had no idea how much blood I had spread around until I saw myself in the light.”
“You were a mess. I figgered someone tried to kill you and you fought back,” Mrs. Schultz said.
“I can see how you might have thought that,” Marsha said, nodding thoughtfully.
Riley spoke up, “I didn’t know what to think when I saw how you were dressed and all covered with blood. I couldn’t wait to get to your apartment to see what happened.”
Marsha drew another deep breath. “I know it’s ten o’clock, but I made a fresh pot of coffee, and I have homemade brownies, if you’d both like to come over.”
“You go ahead, Riley. It’s my bedtime and I’m tired. Thanks anyway, but I’ll take a rain check,” Mrs. Schultz said.
Riley said, “Coffee sounds good to me, and I never turn down brownies, especially homemade. I’ll call you tomorrow, Mother.” He stood up, prepared to follow Marsha.
“Good night, Mrs. Schultz. You definitely have a rain check coming,” Marsha said with a radiant smile.
As she opened her own apartment door to the aroma of coffee and the brownies she would soon be sharing with Riley, Marsha thought, “There is a God! I must make time to get better acquainted with that dear little old lady who lives right next door to me.”
Contributed by aspiring romance writer Luanne French.