Gypsy Rose


Pamela York Klainer

Rose and the landlady had a little disagreement about the room. The landlady said it came with kitchen privileges; well, not really kitchen privileges but she kept a small refrigerator in the main second floor bathroom where roomers could keep milk and cold cuts and beer. The three college boys who shared the big room on the third floor drank a lot of beer. Rose said to her daughter who lived far away that paying rent meant she could do what she wanted with her own room, and there was no way she could afford to be eating a lot of suppers out. She could manage very nicely with the fridge in the bathroom and a can opener, a toaster oven, and a hot plate in her own space and no one would be the wiser about what she chose to cook. Rose’s room was too small for a table, but there were a couple of hard-backed chairs set in the corners as part of the decor. They didn’t look comfortable to sit on anyway, so Rose pulled them together near a wall plug and arranged her small appliances just as if the flat wooden seats were a kitchen counter.

Rose managed very nicely. Sometimes the college boys came home right at five o’clock and wanted showers, so Rose had to remember to get her supper things out of the fridge early or she was stuck until almost six. She preferred to eat her evening meal around five-thirty, then she was all set for the evening news and her favorite programs.

The landlady didn’t expect garlic and hamburger smells to be coming from one of her rented rooms so she came up to see what Rose might be doing and that’s when the disagreement began. Cold cereal for breakfast and maybe a sandwich at lunchtime, the landlady fumed, that’s what she meant by kitchen privileges. She was renting cheap rooms, not fancy apartments where people could cook big meals. Kitchen privileges were kitchen privileges Rose fumed right back, and doctoring up a jar of spaghetti sauce didn’t count as a big meal. She wasn’t bothering anybody, and if she rinsed out her pots in the communal bathtub she was careful to make sure everything went down the drain and that the tub was clean when she left.

The landlady rolled her eyes and went downstairs muttering about her plumbing bills, but no one had complained about the bathroom so there wasn’t much she could do. Besides, she had taken Rose’s money for a month in advance and probably spent it. The landlady could be coldly indifferent to Rose when she came in and out, and that she did with a vengeance. Rose always said Good Day anyway, because she was steeped in the manners she had learned at Catholic school.

The landlady’s coldness didn’t bother her one bit, said Rose when she talked on the phone to her faraway daughter. The rented room was bright and sunny, and when Rose looked out the window she could see stately old single family homes with carefully tended lawns and geraniums. Not all of them had been made into rooming houses. Across the way some children were visiting their grandmother, and Rose had daydreams about having a house where her grandson would come to visit. She went to see him sometimes but his parents never returned the favor, which she minded a lot and didn’t really understand. Some of the places she’d lived in over the last few years had really been very nice, and would have had enough chairs. She sighed, looking around the cramped room. She could make her home anyplace, really, as long as she had her few necessities. She’d gotten rid of a lot over the years. Now when she moved it was hardly more than her clothes and kitchen things and small TV, not even enough to hire a mover. She packed things in black plastic garbage bags so they’d be light enough to carry and fit easily in the trunk of whoever was helping her. And what if she did move a lot? Rose had been badly stung when her nearby daughter had called her a gypsy. Rose was never that, as anyone who talked with her for more than a few minutes could immediately see. Rose got such respect from the men in the post office where she went to pick up her mail, and from the owner of the small market where she shopped. That would never have been the case had she not been a lady, because this was a lovely town and people had expectations.

Rose had planned to take a brisk walk every day, but it hadn’t worked out because her back hurt and her knees too. She spent a lot of time resting on the bed in her room, looking out the windows and imagining a miracle that would allow her a place of her own. She always imagined a big house with a porch and flowers, and a gardener to keep everything up and a housekeeper to dust and a cook to prepare the meals. And money of course; Rose would need money to keep the place looking nice. Rose knew it wasn’t likely but what good are daydreams if you can’t have everything just the way you want?

One of the landlady’s neighbors turned her in for running a rooming house without a license. When the fire marshall and the building inspector came through on a surprise inspection they were sternly condemning of Rose’s quasi-kitchen set up on the wooden chairs. They issued a citation and a summons to the landlady, and told all the roomers they’d have to leave that day, they couldn’t even stay the night. Rose’s back had gotten worse since the last move and she couldn’t carry her black bags down the stairs, so in desperation she had to call on the nearby daughter because she was the closest and the only one who could come quickly and help. The first thing Rose said on the phone was that all the roomers had to leave, not just her, and that it wasn’t her fault but the landlady’s because she didn’t have the license like she was supposed to. Rose went on and on before her daughter even knew what Rose was talking about or what she needed now.

Actually it all worked out for the best because Rose could now make her home anywhere. She found a place a few blocks away that was even better, with a small kitchen and a sitting nook as well as the bedroom and it was only ten dollars more a week. The building inspector made the landlady give all the roomers back their rent, so Rose came out ahead. Rose told her faraway daughter that these things always work out in the end even if we may not see it at the time.

Rose didn’t go out much from the new place either, because her joints still hurt. And her grandson still didn’t come. But she could cook simple meals without the landlady complaining, and no matter where Rose did or didn’t go she carried herself like a lady.



5 thoughts on “Gypsy Rose

  1. I’m a great believer in black garbage bags for packing up the kids back and forth from college (although we’re now using blue Ikea bags, which actually stack and can be reused). But here they seem to be a harbinger of Rose’s potential homelessness. Let’s wait and see!

  2. for Mary: Good pickup, the image of the proverbial bag lady. I think you will like next week’s segment very much.

  3. I’m surprised Rose is in contact with her estranged daughters so often. I liked the comment from the one daughter about what did Rose need NOW?

  4. for Jackie: Maybe strained rather than estranged? Funny, isn’t it, how one word like NOW can convey so much.

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