|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Deals With Life, Part 2|
Rowena frowned at Mr. Schmed's latest memo: “Official memos are a vital means of communication within the organization. All employees shall read official memos. W. Schmed.” If she frowned hard enough, maybe she could manage not to laugh or even groan.
“Rowena,” said a voice, “you've got to save me.”
Rowena looked up. “Save you? Save you from what?”
“My relatives.” She was breathless. “They've come from the Old Country to visit.”
“Old Country?” asked Rowena. “What Old Country?” There was nothing especially foreign about Berna, and she had never mentioned any Old Country.
“The Old Country. You've got to hide me somewhere.”
“Hide you? Berna, don't you—” But Berna gave a little scream and ran for the Ladies' Room. Rowena turned, expecting to see Eloise bearing down on her—very little else could cause that kind of flight at Rorschach & Schmed—but instead of Eloise a disordered group of four or five women charged past, chattering excitedly in a strange tongue and pointing in the direction Berna had taken.
“What do I do?” Berna asked. Eloise had shooed the women out as “too disruptive,” but Berna was not getting much work done. “They're waiting for me outside.”
“Come on,” said Rowena. “They can't be that bad.”
“Easy for you to say. I bet you have a normal family.” Rowena made a small choking noise, which Berna ignored. “What am I going to do?”
“Well . . . what do they want?”
“They want to take me out to dinner. And probably to spend the week with me. In my one-bedroom apartment.”
“Tell them you're living with a Hell's Angel.”
“Okay, okay. I'm sorry. Uh . . . would they stay at a motel if you paid for it?”
“That would be shirking my obligations. Anyway, they'd think I didn't like them.”
“Rowena, please. Kidnap me or something. At least come to dinner with us.”
“Dinner? Tonight? I don't know . . .”
“What kind of food?”
“Ethnic, I guess you'd say. From the Old Country.”
“Which is . . . ?”
“You'll love it. It's a great restaurant; I've been there before. Look, we can put a couple of them in your car and you can follow me there.”
“Mine's too small for everybody. They probably came in a taxi. I think. If they've got a rental car—”
“Okay, okay. Just calm down and stop trying to arrange everything. I'll come.”
“Oh, thank you! It'll be all right now—with someone else along.”
Rowena braced herself, going out the door. She made Berna go first. The foreign ladies dashed at them, clucking. Rowena was introduced to them; they kept patting her and shaking her hand. Rowena hoped they were fast eaters. Once the situation had been explained (by Berna, in whatever language the ladies spoke), the two ladies who made the most fuss over Rowena followed her to her car. She was glad to see them dutifully fasten their seat belts; at least, she thought, they would be partially restrained. “I'm sorry I don't know your language,” she said, realizing the gesture was hopeless. The lady next to her—Rowena was not entirely sure who she was—smiled broadly, nodding and patting Rowena's shoulder. “Don't do that while we're moving, okay?” Rowena asked, but the request only brought on more patting. She started the car and followed Berna out of the parking lot.
Within a few minutes Rowena seriously began to wonder whether Berna really knew where she was going, or wanted Rowena to follow her at all. She took such a twisting, convoluted path that Rowena was utterly lost. But just as she was beginning to panic Berna pulled into a parking lot. Gratefully Rowena pulled up alongside—the lot was all but empty—and got out. Then she climbed back in to dislodge one of Berna's relatives from her shoulder harness, and finally they were ready to go.
Rowena realized she was hungry. They rounded the corner to the front of the restaurant and Rowena looked up at the sign; a smear of neon red. She couldn't make out the letters at all; they were either of a different alphabet or in a script too elaborate—or weird—to puzzle out. She tried squinting.
“Rowena, come on.” Berna was holding the door open. Rowena went inside.
The restaurant was dark. Dark paneling, dim light . . . Rowena blinked. Somebody with an accent led them to a table and Rowena sat down, Berna on one side and on the other the lady who'd patted her all the way over and by now seemed to have adopted her; she still kept smiling and patting, patting and smiling.
Rowena opened her menu. “Berna?” she said. “What is this?”
“A menu.” Berna managed to say amidst a volley of foreign remarks.
“But what kind of food is it?” Rowena hadn't a clue. She still didn't know what nationality she was dealing with. “What do I order?”
Berna jabbed a finger at one of the entries. “You'll love it.”
“But—” Rowena gave up. Her foreign lady smiled approvingly, and patted her arm.
When the food arrived—after absolutely no further conversation in English—Rowena started hesitantly in.
“Well?” Berna mumbled.
“Not bad,” said Rowena. She meant it, too.
“What did I tell you?” asked Berna, before she was dragged off again into whatever language her relatives spoke. Rowena took another forkful—and caught fire.
She dived for her water glass. “I guess I should have warned you about those peppers,” Berna said. Rowena wanted to say that she hadn't seen anything that looked to her like a pepper, but she couldn't talk. She couldn't even see to give Berna a dirty look. “Sorry about that,” Berna added.
They got her more water; they got her a glass of milk. Rowena recovered, more or less. She nibbled gingerly at her remaining food. She wondered what Sammy would have done, wished he were there. Preferably instead of Berna and her relatives. Sammy would—
She felt Berna clutch at her arm. “I have to go to the Ladies',” Berna said. “Come with me.”
“Bring your purse.”
“Berna—” Not that Rowena really wanted to be left alone with Berna's relatives. Berna hauled her off towards the restroom and stuffed her through the door.
“I gotta get out of here,” she said. “They're trying to arrange a marriage for me.”
“They're trying to what?”
“There's this bozo back in the Old Country who's got, I don't know, a lot of pigs or something. They are arranging this, do you understand? Actually making arrangements.”
“Berna, this is America. They can't—”
“I've got to get out of here.” Berna went to the window and began attacking the screen. “Help me with this, will you?”
“Berna, I still think—”
“Oof!” Berna said, as the screen gave way. “Now give me a boost.”
“What about the check?”
“I told you, they were going to pay it anyway. Why else would I spend an evening with them?”
“I didn't have the impression the money—”
“Give me a boost.” Rowena bent down and grabbed Berna just above the knees, hoping no one would walk in until . . . until she was standing there alone under the semi-broken window? She tried to straighten up. They wobbled. Rowena hastily put Berna back down.
“Wait, wait; I've got it. Here.” She made a stepladder with her hands. Berna gave Rowena her foot and they hoisted her up . . .
And out she went.
“Now,” said Berna's voice, “we have to get you out.” Rowena could only see the top of her head.
“Berna, I am wearing a skirt.”
“And my relatives are out there waiting for you.”
“Oh, God.” Rowena looked around and located a largish waste receptacle. She dragged it over to the window, and, as it had no cover, turned it messily onto its side, scuffled her way onto it, and managed to drag herself through the window and plop down by Berna, intact but for her nylons. Smoothing down her skirt she looked around; nobody else was in sight. They went straight to Rowena's car. “What about yours?” Rowena asked.
“Leave it!” Berna said. “They'll look for me—for my car. All over town.” Rowena hesitated. “Get me out of here!” Berna said.
“So where do you live?” Berna was huddled up below window level, but Rowena tried to ignore this.
“Don't take me home! That's the first place they'll look!”
“Well, where to, then?”
“My boyfriend's place. Just keep going.”
“You sure he's home?”
“I have a key. Don't be so innocent.”
“Sorry; I—forget it. Just turn left when you get to Lawrence, okay?”
“And, uh—Rowena? Could you tell Eloise I won't be in the rest of the week?”
So Rowena would have to face Eloise, but Berna's boyfriend would have to deal with her until her relatives left. “Will do,” said Rowena.
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