Pamela York Klainer
Mr. Lew tapped lightly on Rose’s door at five thirty, just as he’d said he would. The hour was a little late for Rose, who liked to have her evening meal at five. By the time they walked to the diner and then were served it would be nearer to six, and Rose would be starved. But she hadn’t wanted to ask Mr. Lew if they could leave earlier. She was ready and waiting, purse in hand, when he knocked. He was dressed in neatly pressed chinos and a white dress shirt and a riotously colored bow tie, not the clip-on kind but one that you tied yourself. He saw Rose staring at the tie and laughed gently. “My daughters. They gave me my first bow tie the Christmas they were nine years old – they’re twins. I still have that tie. It was purple, which was their favorite color. My wife thought a purple bow tie didn’t suit my professional image, but I put the tie right on and wore it to work on the first day back after vacation. From then on it became the girls’ and my little rebellion against their mother, who liked order and serenity and muted colors. They got me new bow ties for every occasion, and the patterns and colors got more and more wild. Finally my wife gave up trying to make me look like a sober accountant. Wearing a bow tie became my trademark, and clients would have been shocked to see me in anything else. They all knew my ties were gifts from the girls, and every time I met with someone he or she would ask how my lovely daughters were doing.” Mr. Lew’s smile changed, and became a little sad. “I thought I might wear a regular dark tie to my wife’s funeral, but the girls and their families showed up that morning with a new bow tie for me to wear and it just seemed right to put it on. My wife would have expected nothing else, and I can even imagine she might have smiled.”
Rose’s first instinct was to freeze at the mention of daughters, thinking of her own, but Mr. Lew didn’t notice. His face brightened again, and he actually offered Rose his arm. “Shall we go?”
Mr. Lew liked the Greek diner too, and that’s where they were headed. As they entered Rose was startled to see a stark white sign with black print where the statue she’d stolen weeks ago would have been. WOULD THE PERSON WHO TOOK THIS STATUE KINDLY RETURN IT. THANK YOU. NO QUESTIONS ASKED. NO CHARGES WILL BE FILED. THE MANAGEMENT. Mr. Lew saw the sign too, and was puzzled. He asked the waitress about it on their way to a booth.
“Those old statues are actually pretty valuable, as part of the set. They have real gold paint, not fake, and they were hand made by some old dead Greek artist. They belonged to Mr. Galyanos’s grandmother, and he’s had them up there for years without one getting broken or swiped. Then one day a few weeks ago a statue was just gone, and no one saw anything. He feels terrible. He figures one of the high school kids took it and sold it to a pawn shop for a few bucks, not knowing it was worth something. We have a pawn shop a few blocks away and Mr. Galyanos went there to ask, but they said they didn’t take in anything good like the statue Mr. Galyanos was describing, just the fake ones covered with dust in the window.”
Rose accepted a menu from the waitress and forced herself to concentrate on the specials. Rose’s cheeks, usually rather pale, burned with embarrassment. She’d been cheated by the pawn shop owner, who’d recognized a valuable piece and told her it was worth nothing, that he’d give her five bucks and no more. And she’d taken something from Mr. Galyanos that really mattered. Rose had assumed the statues would just be moved around by whoever dusted the shelves, and no one would even notice one was gone. But Mr. Galyanos had noticed. Rose realized, with a sharp intake of breath, that she’d be mortified if she ever got caught. She would quite simply die of the shame. She’d be a thief, a common thief, and it would be on the front page of the paper, and everyone in town would know. Rose wanted to crawl under the table and hide.
Mr. Lew was looking at the specials too. “How odd that a statue would be taken like that, after being up on that shelf for so many years. The culprit must have been someone traveling through. No one who comes here regularly would have done that to Mr. Galyanos. My accounting practice was a small business too, and I’d never have survived if people I knew had stolen from me.”
Rose needed to say something, and quickly, before Mr. Lew noticed her red cheeks and too-rapid breathing. She was about to blame the theft on the new element that had moved into town, the ones that hardly spoke passable English, when she caught herself. Mr. Lew was Oriental, and maybe among his forebears were people who hadn’t spoken good English either. Instead she dredged up a platitude from the depths of her worried mind. “Maybe someone took the statue who really needed the money. You never know. We have to feel sorry for people like that who weren’t brought up well and don’t know the right thing to do.”
Mr. Lew nodded, turning toward the waitress who had come to take their order. Rose, looking back down at the menu, forced her panic to subside. The waitress had said clearly that no one saw anything when the statue was stolen. The pawn shop guy couldn’t identify her without getting nailed himself for having accepted a stolen statue. Rose wasn’t going to get caught. If she’d looked guilty on seeing the sign no one had noticed. Rose was nervous and frightened to be at the scene of her crime, but she was good at covering her feelings and Mr. Lew surely wasn’t aware.
But he was. After they’d given their order, he turned toward her. “I hope you’re not feeling ill at ease about being out for dinner with me. I really meant just what I said when I invited you. I’ve been very, very lonely since my wife died. I have the girls and they are always good to me, but it isn’t the same, is it, as having your spouse? I’m very honored that you accepted, and if I may say so you’re looking very pretty tonight. I always liked it when my wife had her hair done before we went out. Our landlady is a bit of a matchmaker, did you know? Before I even moved in she told me there was a lovely lady in 5C, and that I should look you up when I had a chance. And then you came out into the hall when I was carrying all those boxes, and I decided right then and there to see if we might have an evening out.”
Inside Rose felt herself begin to crumble. Nothing, absolutely nothing, was going the way she’d expected. First of all Mr. Lew had said the date was no big deal and then he’d showed up all nicely dressed, as if going out with Rose justified taking trouble. She’d come for the free dinner, expecting the evening to go the way it would have when she’d been married to Roger. Roger never even combed his hair when they went out. He always said gruffly that if she wanted to drag him out of his chair for overpriced food in a restaurant she’d have to take him as he was. If Mr. Lew had dressed up for their date, maybe he wanted something that Rose was unprepared to give. Then came the hand-lettered sign, and the missing statue, and the abject fear of being caught. Things felt as if they were spinning completely out of control, and when something started to go wrong in Rose’s life it generally got really wrong really fast.
Rose began thinking she should find a way to cut the evening short. She was too upset to eat, and too worried to think of pleasant things to say to Mr. Lew. Then the basket of rolls and butter came to the table, along with their beverages.
With the tempting smell of warm bread came something new, a feeling Rose couldn’t quite identify. Mr. Lew, noticing her anxiety, hadn’t gone for the jugular as everyone else in her life did. He’d tried to make her feel better. She was nonplussed. Looking at the basket of bread and butter Rose realized she was quite hungry. Pretty soon their dinners would come. She’d ordered meatloaf with mashed, a side of extra gravy, and creamed cauliflower with cheese. Her mouth was watering. Nobody could ever possibly find out about the statue, and maybe the evening would be fine. Rose reached for a roll, the largest one, and two pats of butter.
Then Mr. Lew asked a simple question, one that utterly threw Rose for a loop.
He was smiling, his arms folded casually in front of him. He was actually waiting, quite calmly and patiently, for her to respond.
“You know, I’ve told you a bit about myself, with the bow tie and all. But I don’t really know anything about you. Would you tell me more? Who is my lovely neighbor Rose?”