“Oh, really?” Mrs. Dorothy Ridgewood snorted into her slice of tiramisu, looking with incredulity at the perturbed man sitting opposite her. He was a middle-aged accountant and far from what one would call the sharpest tool in the shed. A few gray hairs peeked out from underneath his weathered, brown derby hat, and the scratches on the lenses of the wire-rimmed spectacles he wore, combined with a pocket watch that appeared to have stopped at the very least many hours ago strung through a button hole on his soil-colored vest, betrayed the fact that despite this man’s chosen profession, he was no better at keeping his own financial situation under control than he was at dealing with people such as Dorothy Ridgewood.
They were in the process of reducing Mrs. Ridgewood’s considerable costs, and he had just informed her that perhaps it was her custom of ordering pudding after every luncheon that was the central problem.
“Pardon me, madam, but if you refuse to dismiss any of your staff I really must—” he broke off as the sound of Dorothy’s laughter reached his ears.
“I must declare myself quite disappointed, Mr. Morse,” she said. Her eyes twinkled, though whether it was from the reflection of the street lamps outside or the mischievous nature of her words, George Morse hadn’t a clue. She continued, “I would have thought that, as someone who is incapable of keeping a client for more than two weeks, you might understand the effect losing one’s job could have on a person.”
A few heads turned around curiously from nearby tables. Who was this woman, and why was she so determined to bring down this man? Mr. Morse was used to her taunts. Harsh though the words may seem, he knew Dorothy threw them around constantly for her own amusement. Not yet twenty-three and with a considerable fortune left to her by her late husband, she had not learned all the ways of life, and (according to Mr. Morse) certainly none of the tricks to saving money. Dorothy seemed to know what he was thinking.
“Old friends, aren’t we, Mr. Morse?” she said, chuckling. “Am I correct in assuming that you were in fact most recently dismissed by a client—” she took a moment to survey him, taking in the faded pen smudges on the fourth and fifth fingers of his right hand, the light stubble on his chin and his tired face that had clearly not been revived that morning with caffeine, “—shall we say, three days ago? I noticed you did not order your usual chocolate tart,” she added, looking inquiringly into his more-than-mildly frustrated face.
"Four,” Mr. Morse muttered, shifting his necktie uncomfortably as a light pink tint rose from his neck up. The corners of Dorothy’s mouth twitched. Mr. Morse watched as she twirled a spoon in her cup of tea, a gold bracelet sliding down her wrist and clinking against the metal utensil.
A waiter sidled up to their table and gestured at Dorothy’s clean plate. “May I?” He looked nearly as red as Mr. Morse himself; the scene at their table had turned all eyes in the small restaurant towards them.
“Please do, thank you,” Dorothy replied with her all-too-charming air, flashing a smile at the waiter. “And the check, please.” Dorothy turned back to her accountant. “Well, Mr. Morse, shall we say that concludes our luncheon? Pleasure though it always is to speak with you, I’m afraid I have other matters to attend to.”
“Actually—” Mr. Morse began to protest, but it was no good. Dorothy, after paying the check, had promptly removed herself from her chair and was now swinging her black satin purse over her shoulder. Taking his cue, Mr. Morse threw his worn trench coat over his shoulders, crossing his arms in order to cover up an old soup stain that no amount of washing had succeeded in removing. He felt much more self-conscious about his clothing after Dorothy’s teasing.
“I do hope you’ll reconsider your spendings, Madam,” Mr. Morse said as they left the tea shop. He lengthened his stride to keep up with her, seeing she was clearly in much better shape than he. His right foot made a nauseating sticky sound every time he brought it up from the pavement.
“Oh, Mr. Morse, how you do make me laugh,” said Dorothy with gaiety. “I declare that without you, I would feel quite lost for humor. The world can be such a dull place sometimes, would you not agree?”
Mr. Morse, who in no way thought of himself as a comedian and would certainly not say that he agreed, kept silent. In his mind, Dorothy was nothing but a nuisance; a young woman who spent money like it grew on trees and didn’t know what was good for her. The truth was, Dorothy Ridgewood was quite different. Pressured into marrying a young gentleman by her parents, Dorothy was not afraid to admit to herself that she had felt something like relief when he’d passed away. Her newfound independence was all she needed to keep herself happy, and if that meant purchasing whatever her heart desired, then she would gladly buy out all the shops in England.
The two came to a corner and paused. Mr. Morse’s practice lay to the right of the crossing, Dorothy’s house to the left. “I’m in no hurry to get back,” Mr. Morse hinted. It was a mark of how desperate he was for work that he would have consented to walk another block with Dorothy Ridgewood.
“Well, I’m afraid I really must be heading back,” Dorothy responded, “I truly am sorry. My mother is in town, you see, and I’ve promised to take her shopping at all the most fashionable places.” She smiled into her fur coat, hidden from Mr. Morse, and strode off, the heels of her boots clicking on the street. No sooner had she reached the corner than she heard, once again, that sticky sound following her down the block. The noises came in shorter intervals now, and Dorothy knew her final comment had served its purpose.
“You’ve got something caught in your shoe, Mr. Morse,” she said, without turning around. By the time Mr. Morse had processed her words enough to stop dead, spluttering incoherently, she was halfway to the red door of her three-story home.
Mr. Morse turned resignedly away and carried himself heavily back the way he came, inwardly cursing Dorothy Ridgewood and her clever mind.
Hilary Malamud lives with her family in New York. She is extremely fond of reading, as well as cats. Her favorite novels include, but are not limited to, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love. Her work can be found in The Ellipsis and The Parenthetical, the online literary journals of Writopia Lab, where Hilary participated in multiple writing workshops. Hilary hopes very much to one day publish her own novels, though it is entirely likely that she will end up taking care of cats for a living.