by Sean Naberhuis
The apartment of Miss Bertha Dregsmyre is surprisingly quiet this morning. The only noise to be heard is the duel drone of Bertha and her cat, Woogums, snoring contentedly. Other than the noiseless serenity of this small apartment, it is a mess. The king sized bed that dominates the bedroom sags noticeably under the weight of its owner. The lime green sheets on the bed clash terribly with the bright orange blankets and the purple pillow-cases. Dirty clothing covers almost the entire floor. Newspapers dating back several weeks are also scattered haphazardly around the room. Two of the four shelves in her dresser are hanging out with other clothing, apparently clean, crammed and overflowing in an almost artistic way. The dresser top has a cracked make-up mirror surrounded by twenty or thirty small vials of make-up. Many of these vials are leaking, and because the lady of the house makes such a mess every morning, the dresser is a virtual mosaic of flesh colored blobs of goop. The closet is closed, but the hinges are strained and there is an obvious bulge in the middle of the door. This is the bedroom.
If the bedroom is a mess, than the living room is a total disaster. There is a large sofa here that dominates the middle of the room. It is an ugly floral sofa, with an almost electric green background and flowers of nearly every imaginable color. There is a rust colored towel that covers about half the seat on the couch, and on that towel, laying on her back, is Woogums. Directly across from the sofa is the only modern looking part of the apartment, the entertainment center. This consists of a large, 45 inch television, a rather expensive Sony stereo and three VCRs. The floor of this room is covered by more newspapers, lots of junk mail, and even more junk food wrappers. Included in this collection of detritus are Twinkie wrappers, Ho-Ho boxes, empty bags of Doritos, and Starburst wrappers. There is a family of mice living in one of the empty Ho-Ho boxes, but neither Bertha or her cat have done anything about it for the four months they have known about them.
The piercing siren of an alarm clock tears through the silence at precisely nine o'clock. Bertha, with a backhand swipe, knocks the screeching alarm off her bedstead, and the alarm is cut short with a dull thud. Woogums appears not to have been effected by the alarm at all, as she has not moved an inch. Bertha, on the other hand, is muttering to herself, mostly in select four-letter words, but has not moved.
After about five minutes, Bertha sits up in bed and roughly rubs her eyes to ease them open. She is a large woman, who appears to be in her early fifties. Her shoulder length brown hair is matted and messy, and very dirty. Her nose is slightly upturned, making her already fat face look even more pig-like. Her fatty cheeks make her mouth look very small in proportion to the rest of her face. When she finally opens her tired brown eyes, she surveys the room and chuckles to herself. With a heave, she stands off the bed and the mattress creaks a sigh of relief.
She proceeds to wander lopsidedly into the bathroom and turns on the light. The harsh, bright white fluorescent light pounds on her still sensitive eyes, but she is able to keep them open. As her eyes slowly meet their twins in her bathroom mirror, she swears again. She waddles over to her scale, holds her breath and steps on. Three hundred and twenty-two pounds. Two pounds heavier than yesterday. Oh, well.
"Oh no! I'm missing O.J.!" She almost flies out into the living room, causing the paper to ripple aside like the water in front of a boat. The family of mice is disturbed slightly, but is unable to voice much of an argument. Bertha plops unceremoniously on the couch, disturbing Woogums. The cat glares venomously at her owner, and resumes her original position. Not that Bertha noticed, her hands are clutching her T.V. remote and nervously trying to turn on to the O.J. Simpson trial. "Damn these stupid batteries." The T.V. turns on, and the phone begins to ring.
For a second, Bertha considers not answering the phone. When the answering machine takes the call, her friend's familiar, screechy voice fills the room. "Bertha, you lazy slug! This is Ethyl! Answer the damn phone!" With a sigh, Bertha picks up the receiver and talks with Ethyl for about five minutes.
"Yea, what do you want Ethyl... Yea, of course I'm going to watch the trial, what else is there to do?... Yea... Uh huh... well sure, I guess... No, it's fine... Sure, come on down... I'll see you in five minutes." With than, she replaces the phone on its cradle.
After only a couple of minutes, there are three loud bangs on the door. Bertha, as always far too lazy to open the door, simply yells "It's open." Ethyl enters the room quickly and walks right through the garbage on the floor to the couch. Ethyl looks to be about the same age as Bertha, but is somewhat shorter, and not as fat. Her hair is naturally black, but she has dyed it blond, leaving dark roots. Her face is caked with way too much make-up, and she is wearing too much of that cheap perfume that old people like to use. Her dress is wrinkled and dirty, with a floral pattern that closely resembles the upholstery of the couch. With a grunt, she shoves Woogums to the edge of the couch. The cat complains a little, but when she sees it is useless, just goes back to sleep.
They both then turn their attention to the television, where Judge Lance Ito is sitting in the middle of the screen, with the court microphone turned off. There is some commentary by reporters covering the case, but little else. The mice scurry through the papers in the middle of the floor. As if it would do any good, Bertha screams, "Stop that you dumb mice, we're watching the T.V."
"That's right," mirrored Ethyl. "This is important stuff." After a minute or two she turns to Bertha and asks, "Why doesn't your stupid cat do something about those dumb mice?"
"Because, like me, Woogums knows that those mice help clean up after us. If it wasn't for those mice, this sty would be littered with ants, cockroaches, or even worse! I mean, who else would help clean up this mess?"
"Certainly not me! I remember what happened last time we tried to clean your closet!" They both turn to the closet door in the bedroom and laugh. "If we open that damn thing, we'll probably knock down the entire building." They laugh some more at that, that is, until the power dies. It takes a couple of minutes for the two to realize what is happening. "Damn it all!" screams Bertha, "I was recording this!" Ethyl seems only slightly less angry at the situation.
"Well, this is just great. The high-point of the entire day is ruined now, Bertha. What can we do now?"
"Well, maybe we can try to clean my closet again..." The icy stare Ethyl gives Bertha answers her suggestion better than words ever could. "It was just an idea."
"I sure hope the power comes back soon, I don't want to miss Geraldo..."
"Oh, shut up Ethyl. All you do is bitch all day... I'll miss Geraldo this, or I'll miss Geraldo that. You never even thought about Oprah, or that Springer guy..."
"Or Rikki! But I sure hope the power comes on soon, the O.J. stuff is all so much more interesting."
The darkness persists for well over an hour, and the two women are still sitting on the couch staring at the television. The cat is still precariously balanced on the edge of the couch. The only things that have changed considerably are the mice, who are actively collecting the candy wrappers to make more bedding for their new born babies. Woogums stretches and slides off the couch with a thud and half-walks, half-drags herself into the kitchen.
Ethyl stands and announces that "I need to use the pot," and wanders into the bathroom. The harsh fluorescent light nearly blind her as she flips the switch. As she sits down to take care of business, she can't help but think that something is wrong, but can not place it. She turns off the light on her way back into the television room.
"Bertha, I think something is wrong with your bathroom," mentioned Ethyl. "I think you should check it out."
"And just why should I? There isn't anything that would cause a fire in there, so whatever's weird in there can't hurt me, right?"
"Oh, all right!" With a heave, Bertha lifts herself and waddles down the hall into the bathroom. She turns on the light and surveys the bathroom. The toilet is not cracked. The Bathtub is not cracked. The pipes do not appear to be leaking. The pile of Kleenex is not any deeper than normal, and the wet towels are piled as neatly as could be expected. The toilet flushes normally. Since everything looks normal, Bertha turns off the light and returns to the couch. "You're just paranoid, Ethyl"
"You could be right, I don't know." They shrug it off and settle back into the couch to stare at the blank television.
At noon, little more has changed. The cat is still in the kitchen eating her lunch, but the ladies have hardly moved or talked to each other in over an hour. The television is so dark and forbidding, but the ladies continue to stare at it, waiting anxiously for power to return. Ethyl broke the silence, "I'm missing Day's of Our Lives now. This is getting serious."
"Ya know, Ethyl? This is pathetic. Can't we come up with something better to do?"
"Maybe the power is on at my place. I mean, I know my T.V. is only 32 inches, but it would be better than this," suggests Ethyl.
"You would actually expect me to walk all the way down the hall to your apartment? We live in the same stupid building! Of course the power is out in your apartment too. I think I'll just go to the kitchen to get some lunch."
Bertha plodded into the kitchen, only to be greeted by Woogums. The cat has knocked over a box of Frosted Flakes and is eating the cereal off the floor. "Stop that you dumb cat. That's why you're so fat, you always eat like a pig." Bertha kicks Woogums away from the cereal, and continues on her way to the cupboard. She takes down two unopened boxes of Ding-Dongs. By the light in the refrigerator, she selects the strawberry flavored yogurt. She waddles back into the T.V. room and plops heavily down on the couch.
As Bertha begins to eat her yogurt, Ethyl begins to giggle. "Why even bother, Bertha? It isn't going to help."
"Yogurt is a healthy way to start off a meal of junk-food. The doctor told me to do it."
"Yea, maybe, but I'd bet he didn't use those words." Bertha just stares and eats another spoonful of yogurt. "Well, I don't care. Toss me some of those Ding-Dongs."
Bertha tosses one box to Ethyl, who quickly opens the box to get to the cakes. "You know," mumbles Ethyl between bites, "If you care so much about your yogurt, why don't you feed your cat right?"
"I tried to feed her this goop, but she wouldn't have anything to do with it." With this, she tosses the empty yogurt cup onto the pile of trash on the floor and rips open her Ding-Dong box.
"I don't blame her. I don't see how you can eat that stuff."
"It's not that bad after you get used to it, especially if you promise yourself one of these for a reward," she says as she stuffs a full Ding-Dong in her mouth.
"I know that's not true. I tried some of that stuff once, and I nearly lost my lunch!"
"Oh Ethyl, do shut up. If I want to try to lose a little weight, let me try."
"O.K., how much weight have you lost since you started eating that slop?"
"Actually, I've gained about 4 pounds, but I know this will help."
"Maybe it will help for now, but when you go back to work next week, you'd gain it all back for sure."
"Oh, don't remind me of work! It only gets in the way of life's little pleasures, like O.J. Simpson!" she says as she gestures to the T.V. "Anyway, I think I am going to look for another job, all those kids really annoy me."
"No, it's more like, 'I'm surrounded by food I can't eat'."
"Yea, but all that school food is nasty! You know what that stuff looks like before we cook it!"
"That doesn't turn my stomach as bad as what it looks like after it's been cooked!"
"I don't want to talk about work." says Bertha curtly. "When is the power going to come back?" she asks no one in particular. Ethyl looks bewildered, and can only stare at her friend.
They stare at each other for a while longer, and then turn to glare at the T.V. again. It does not turn on. Woogums returns to the couch and promptly begins to whine. "Shut up you dumb cat. This is an emergency, and whatever you want is not important right now," scolds Bertha.
"Yea, if you want something, you can turn on the power first."
Emergency or not, neither of them move. After about five minutes, the cat gets discouraged and wanders back into the kitchen. The mice are still preparing their nest and collecting food. Bertha and Ethyl are poised on the couch like vultures waiting for the television to die, but the television is apparently already dead.
Ethyl stands up and declares that "This is a waste of time. I'm going back to my apartment to sleep or something."
"You only think this is a waste of time because the power is off. This is the same thing we do every day, so why should a little blackout change anything?"
"Well, it IS pointless to stare at a blank television."
"FINE! Just leave me then, but I'm sure that the power will come back on in no time at all."
Ethyl walks across the room and leaves without another word.
It was O.K., though. Ethyl would be back tomorrow, and they would
watch O.J. together again.