Mazie peered into the dark cavity of the mailbox for her Social Security check. The empty hollow stared back at her like the empty eye socket of Polyphemus. “Nobody’s hurt me!” He cried after Odysseus, “Nobody,” had driven a tree sized stake into the giant’s eye. “Nobody’s hurt me!” Polyphemus screamed from the barricaded cave to the confused Cyclopes who had come to help. Mazie turned from the blank stare to look out the windows above the columns of battered mailboxes. Clouds floated low and thick, scudding across the prairie flatness; a pastel wash of movement. “Mazie,” Norman Mickler’s voice made her jump. She caught her nerves, slowly shut the mailbox door, and turned to her neighbor.
“You startled me,” she said as she looked at the handsome old man. His face wore the usual smile as he stood framed in the open doorway to his studio apartment. “How are you this morning, Norman?” Mazie said, shifting her gaze over his shoulder to the acute sharpness of the colors in the room behind him.
“I’m fine Mazie. And you?”
“I still drag the ‘weary chain of life,’ Norman.” Norman looked puzzled. “Blake,” Mazie said. Norman shook his head.
“Mazie, I have some fresh brewed coffee–and cream. Would you like to join me?” Norman’s thin face waffled from hope to disappointment and back. Mazie hesitated, but fresh coffee, with cream to go in it–and the coffee aroma–now noticed–drifting from the apartment pulled at her. She nodded consent. Norman let out his breath and grandiloquently bowed and waved her in.
The studio apartment was clean, but tightly cluttered with seventy years of life. Norman guided Mazie to the kitchenette table and pulled out a chair for her. “Thank you, Norman,” Mazie said as she sat. Norman’s slow pace quickened at her words. He took the white-glass cups and saucers from the cupboard and clanked them onto the table.
He smiled. “It would be impossible not to be a gentleman to such a fine lady,” he said as he poured the black, steaming liquid into the white cups. Mazie felt her mind drift with Norman’s soft voice. As he pulled a small carton of Half ‘n’ Half creamer from the refrigerator, Mazie saw that its shelves were as bare as her own. Norman sat down and handed the creamer to her. She poured a small bit of it into her coffee and placed the carton on the table between them.
“Thank you, Mazie,” Norman said, and picked up the carton. He poured, stirred the cream into the coffee, and tapped the spoon onto the saucer.
Mazie said in a soft, low voice, “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.” From the few times he had managed to pull Mazie into talking, Norman knew her poetry voice and he instantly recognized the quote.
“Eliot’s, `The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,'” he said, and rewarded himself with a smile and the first sip of coffee. “Mmmm, good. I know it. A wonderful poem.”
Mazie watched steam whisper out from the silver snout of the 50’s style coffee pot on the counter behind Norman. She shook her head, as if to clear it: “It’s probably–well, I think, it’s one of the best poems ever written,” she said. “But . . . of course, art–life–is personal. Everything’s subjective. But, I still think it is one of the best poems in the English canon; if not the best.” Mazie’s voice trailed off. Norman smiled.
“Go on Professor. I can’t remember–what’s the next line?” Mazie lowered her head and sipped her coffee. Norman understood he had said the wrong thing. Although what it was, he didn’t know. He shifted the subject, “Did you see the Perry Mason movie on television last Friday? I knocked on your door, but you must have been out. You didn’t answer.” Norman said; both knowing she had been home.
“Yes, Norman, I saw it. The story itself wasn’t that good, but it was great to see Perry and Della. You can always count on them.” Mazie glanced at her watch. “It’s almost ten o’clock; time for Perry and Della–and Paul. I like the old shows better, because Paul is in them. Paul Drake is a most handsome man. He reminds me of . . . . Well, of course, Perry is handsome too, but Paul . . . . And Della truly has Perry’s heart.” Mazie caught a wisp of her gray hair with a little finger, pulled it away from her face, and curled it around her ear as she sipped the coffee.
“I certainly would like it if you would watch Perry Mason with me on my television set,” Norman said as he watched her head begin the expected swivel.
“No. I like to be alone when Perry’s on.” Mazie looked at her watch again. “I should be going, Norman. Thank you for the delicious coffee.” Mazie finished her coffee, stood, and moved quickly to the door and out, leaving Norman alone. He shook his head at his eccentric neighbor, wondering if she was really crazy. The other neighbors thought she was; no friends, no visitors, all of her family dead, and her crazy obsession with the Perry Mason television show. But, she was an elegant, intriguing, smart lady–so coldly polite.
Mazie retreated into her room and sank into the soft chair positioned in front of the television. Through the apartment’s thin walls she heard Perry’s theme song from Norman’s scratchy television join with Norman’s morning smoker’s cough. As she leaned forward to switch the television on, the next lines of Eliot’s poem ran a familiar path through her mind: “I know the voice dying with a dying fall / Beneath the music from a farther room. / And how should I presume?” Ghost rectangles appeared on the wall above the television, flickering in the blue television light; and Perry was there in black and white at the Judge’s bench with a muted concerned look on his face. Della and Paul sat behind him at the Defense table in the courtroom. Mazie pulled a crocheted blanket from the back of the chair. She watched Perry’s familiar face show a glimmer of hope. She hugged the blanket to her chest.