Skip to content
Jan 23 / Vick Mickunas

the woman in 36-B

The Woman in 36-B

They lived in the penthouse. She was lonely. I never saw the husband. Not once.

Their building was on a rise affording a posh view of the art center and the park. I delivered their newspapers.

The first time I detected her presence she must have heard me tossing their newspaper from the elevator as it was opening. They were the only dwellers on the top. She could surely hear the elevator opening and the shoosh of the Des Moines Tribune plopping into the shag carpet.

She propped open their door and smiled at me, coiffed and made up like Cleopatra, as if she had been enroute to some swanky luncheon. I knew better, I was there almost every afternoon and had never seen her before, in the parking lot or even in the lobby. Looking back, all these years later, I wonder, was she all dolled up just for me? Good Lord, I hope not! She would be around 120 years old by now.

If my dad had observed her he would have declared that she once was probably quite the looker, a dish, an eye catcher, circa 1930s. I didn’t have opinions about any of that. I was 12 years old. Women were utter riddles to me. As they remain.

I was a servant of the lowest order, invisible, the kid who brought the newspapers. Except for her. She had noticed me and wanted to give me something that boys my age fantasized about, don’t you know?

I was shy and thus startled when she opened the door. She brandished a green glass bottle. Later, after I had had more of these intimate moments with her I realized she must have been listening for me that day. It would usually take me only three seconds to open the elevator door, toss the newspaper, then press the door closing button. She was lurking there, and had to be quick, waiting, the black widow spider pouncing on innocent me.

She spoke: “Hi, do you want my bottle?” Her question baffled me. I had no notion as to why she would offer me an empty bottle. It wasn’t a wine bottle or a liquor decanter. Why would I want it? Was she feeling guilty because her husband never tipped me? Even at Christmas.

I stammered “sure, OK. I guess so.” She handed it to me then told me that it was a prune juice bottle and that she drank a quart of it daily.

That’s how it began. I accepted the bottle and stuck it in my newspaper bag. That had been my final delivery for the day. Then I went down to the park where there’s a concrete drainage culvert back in the woods, a hideaway hangout for the rambunctious kids.

I smashed that green bottle into the culvert. It felt rebellious and irresponsible and somewhat moronic. In 1968 nobody ever recycled. That was so World War Two. Sure, send us more Japs. Gleaming shards from that shattering bottle continue to ricochet, slicing molecules from my memories.

By the next day I had already forgotten about my weirdo prune juice encounter. As the elevator door opened and I prepared to soft toss my last rolled up newspaper I espied another green bottle standing by her door. I was in disbelief as I retrieved it. Later that evening I asked my dad if he could use a quart bottle? A receptacle for nails? Bolts? Howzabout screws?

Time melted by, as summers will. Every afternoon a green bottle would be there waiting for me. Even on Sundays. One day several weeks later when I opened the elevator door she was standing there proffering yet another bottle. She grinned. I was fulfilling some fantasy for her. Giving me these discarded objects was certainly bringing her pleasure! She asked me if I was enjoying them? The bottles? I replied, yes, of course!

What did she think I was doing with them? It had gotten to the point where I’d be walking home from my route and I would spot random people and whip out that day’s bottle from my pouch exclaiming, “hey, do you want this cool bottle?”

That autumn I quit my paper route. I had gotten a scholarship to a prep school. After I arrived on campus I would sometimes wonder; does she leave bottles out for the poor sap who took over my paper route? Does he take them? Or, was I special? I was haunted by my lonely lady. I suppose she was the first grown woman I ever made happy. Also the last.

Years later I was visiting a nearby cemetery when I realized I was passing by my prune juice lady’s tomb. As I walked by I noticed the green glass bottle waiting by the entrance.

Leave a Comment