The telephone’s ringing bell, barely audible through my locked apartment door, taunted me like a naughty three-year old sticking out its tongue.
Listening to the jangling sound, I stood in the narrow, dimly lit corridor struggling to juggle full grocery bags and my oversized-purse, fervently wishing humans had three arms. A myriad of tantalizing odors wafting through the air reminded me I forgot to eat lunch. My stomach growled at me like a grizzly bear coming out of hibernation.
I got the key into the lock. My determination to enter the sanctuary of my apartment heightened when the infant in the apartment down the hall started to wail. Inhaling deeply through my nose in frustration, I concluded my neighbor across the hallway once again succeeded in scorching his dinner, which reinforced my decision to decline his standing invitation. The key to my new apartment stubbornly refused to cooperate. Exasperation mingled with the fatigue of the long week, making my Friday complete.
“Give up,” I mumbled to my unknown caller, “I don’t want any.”
The ringing ceased as if it heard my plea. Encouraged, I put down the two grocery sacks and shed the roomy shoulder bag my coworkers swore could be used to smuggle a corpse. Unencumbered with my hands freed, I concentrated on getting the door open. My talents never extended to manipulating a brand-new key in an old lock. Finally, the mechanism yielded. I sighed with relief and gathered my bundles.
My peaceful respite lasted while I stored the first bag of groceries. The telephone shrilled again when I began to unpack my second bag of provisions. I glowered at the black instrument with its innocuous dial. My job with the local Long Island newspaper included answering my phone or I risked my boss’ wrath; at home I exercised my freedom of choice. Ignoring the jarring sound, a finely honed talent, rendered a sense of satisfaction.
“I’m not playing,” I blithely informed it, “so you may as well quit.” I finished my task to the accompaniment of the intermittent annoyance. It ceased while I filled my tea kettle. “Thank you,” I murmured politely in the restored silence. “I appreciate your cooperation.”
I eagerly anticipated getting home on Fridays, my one calm evening alone with a pot of tea, whatever I could concoct from my pantry, and – above all – no telephone calls. It provided a precious break from my hectic schedule, giving me the chance to clear out the mental cobwebs life provided. I jealously guarded it. I sipped my tea contemplating what I could make with the least effort from my restocked supplies when Ma Bell’s irritating contrivance once more made its presence known.
I gave up after the ninth ring.
“I am not here,” I stated sharply and distinctly into the receiver. “You can now hang up.”
“If you’re not there, Lauren,” a deep baritone voice reasonably inquired, “where are you?”
“I haven’t decided yet, to be honest,” I said, smiling while I settled into the comfortable chair conveniently positioned close to the telephone stand. “My mind could use a week in Tahiti, however I doubt my boss would agree since my body would have to go along.”
Robert Mallory’s cheery rich laugh came over the wire. I easily pictured his winning smile and twinkling eyes. “If that’s the mood you’re in, I’m surprised you picked up the phone. Or was my third attempt the charm?”
“You didn’t want to talk to me before this, Mr. Mallory. It’s been a hectic and frustrating week.”
“Poor dear. I guess I don’t have to ask how your job is going.”
“Oh, the paper isn’t the problem. Besides being finals week, moving into this apartment was exhausting.”
I surveyed my small abode. The rental agent referred to it as an efficiency apartment. When I first saw it, I apologized for being unaware that efficiency now equaled a synonym for tiny. Unfortunately, she did not appreciate my sense of humor, but truth lay inside the sarcasm. I traded living in a single room with kitchen and bathroom privileges for this place, although it was barely larger.
It took me a full week to make the move. A delivery delay of my convertible sofa, purchased because the place could not house both a bed and a sofa, hampered my efforts.
Two bookshelves along the wall by the door dominated the main room and a fake oriental patterned area rug graced the floor. My eventual plans for the room included a dinette set I could not afford yet, so most of the rug remained bare. I admit my priorities took precedence when I unpacked my books with far more care than my pots, pans, and dishes. The apartment came equipped with venetian blinds which made curtains superfluous. The double window faced south, and my desk stood underneath it. I positioned the stand for the telephone next to the desk; I could reach it from either the desk or the kitchen. My extra chair, where I currently relaxed, could be moved around. An end table next to the sofa supported my radio.
No matter what I called it, I now occupied a one-room studio-type apartment with a small kitchen area and a tiny three-quarter bath (shower, no tub). Spartan quarters, but all mine. I could manage it on my own, a proud accomplishment for a young, working woman in the brand-new decade following the close of the Second World War.
“I hope you’re not too tired to go out to eat,” Mallory’s voice in my ear re-garnered my attention. “I got back into town today and I’d like to take you to dinner.”
“Now?” I gazed longingly at the sofa, my big extravagance. My original intention for the evening involved relaxing with my feet up, listening to the radio.
“Unless you’d rather wait until breakfast to have dinner, ‘now’ seems logical.” His sense of humor matched mine, one of the foundations of our friendship. “Do you have anything on the stove at the moment?”
“No,” I admitted, “I was trying to decide what to make when you rang.”
“Ah! Good timing, then! I wanted to catch you before you started. You’ll have a better meal this way, you know.”
I chuckled. He knew the limitations of my culinary abilities. “I hate to turn down a meal I don’t have to cook—” My voice trailed off and I sighed before continuing, “however—”
“Besides having an interest in seeing to your nutritional needs,” he interrupted my objection, “there’s something I’d like to discuss with you.”
“Nothing tricky, I hope. I doubt I could handle anything complicated right now.” I slumped in my chair.
“You can manage this, I promise.” Sensing my continued reluctance, he reinforced his invitation. “I haven’t been to see Susan in over a week. Please, Lauren, don’t make me go on my own,” he cajoled.
“All right. I’ll take pity on you,” I capitulated. Still in my work clothes, why not? Besides, Susan ran a wonderful restaurant. “What time shall we meet?”
“Why don’t I pick you up? I’d like to see your new abode,” he briskly said. “I’ll be there in about twenty minutes.”
I watched him survey my small apartment. In his early forties, Mallory smiled down at me from his height of over six feet, topping my sixty-seven inches by seven. His casually styled brown hair held a hint of deep auburn with no sign of grey. Always immaculately dressed, the light grey of his jacket enhanced his startlingly blue eyes. A very attractive and charming man, I knew Mallory usually chose to spend his evenings with one of any number of sophisticated ladies, yet he generally made a point of seeing me once a month. I could not tell whether or not he liked my new apartment. I suspected he would eventually let me know.
“I want to swing by a new Levittown-style development,” Mallory told me once we were in his car, a late model Oldsmobile.
“Oh? I wasn’t aware you were shopping for another house. A present for Julie?” I asked.
“Can you picture your best friend in her own home?” He chuckled. “I doubt that will happen until after she graduates. No, I’m scouting for a client of mine. His newly-married son wants to relocate out of the city. Some of these single family homes are quite reasonable.”
“So I’ve heard. Very popular with some of the GIs from what I understand, even if they all seem to be based on the same floor plans. I’m glad the Glen has a few apartment complexes, though. I can’t see me in a house,” I remarked while he turned off the main road into a new subdivision. “Besides, I doubt I could ever afford the house I would like to own.”
“Are you sorry your mother sold your home after your father died?”
“The old farmhouse? No, I’m not. Although it was a great place to grow up, it was too big for the two of us. I couldn’t manage it on my own.” I smiled and shook my head. “No, my dream home would be more along the lines of yours,” I said, thinking of his beautifully decorated mansion. His library, which he called his office, came complete with floor to ceiling bookcases and a desk I would kill to own.
“You can’t blame young married couples for wanting to set up in their own homes with yards, where they can raise kids,” he replied, pulling up in front of a modest ranch-style house with a ‘Model Home – Open House’ sign in the yard. “Our school system is one of the best in the state, and new schools are going up to accommodate the growing population. Howard Johnson’s is putting in a restaurant on the highway, and a friend of mine bought the land next to the new movie theater with plans to build a roller rink. The whole area is growing.”
He got out of the car and came around to open my door.
“Well, you can certainly tell the new homes from the ones built by the old-money families. Those estates were established in our wilderness to escape the crowded cities. I recently heard one of the scions of a Hampton family complaining they were starting to feel cramped by the new suburban trends. He would have preferred to stop time and stay in the 1940s.” I snickered. “Of course, he inherited his money and home.”
He chuckled. “We are in a new era of progress. Northwoods Glen was always going to open up once the war ended. With Levittown as a prototype, suburban development here was inevitable, especially since we’re centrally located on Long Island.”
Following a tour of the slab ranch, Mallory drove to a small shopping center sitting off the main highway, home to one of the best kept secrets in Northwoods Glen.