The neighbors sure do come out of the woodwork this time of year, don't they? At least, they do where I'm from. And you'd better have some cookies or a cake or some fudge or something to give them because if you don't, they'll talk about you behind your back.
Now, don't get me wrong, I don't mind neighbors--at least, I don't mind most of my neighbors--coming to visit. For instance, Melvia is always welcome. Her sister, Tansie, on the other hand, is something else entirely.
Let me give you an example. This happened just the other day:
“It’s about time,” Tansie said, when I opened the door. She brushed past me. “I thought you were going to let us stand out there in the cold all day.”
“Well, no,” I said. “I hadn’t planned on it, Miss Impatient. Hi, Melvia.”
“Hello, Myrtle,” Melvia said.
“Here. Give me your coats, and I’ll hang ‘em up,” I said.
Tansie wriggled out of her long wool coat and handed it to me. Melvia said she believed she’d leave her jacket on.
“I took a chill when we were at the mall, and I’ve not got over it yet,” she said.
“Is it that cold out?” I asked. It hadn’t snowed or anything, but I knew it was in the low thirties or the high twenties…about right for early December in southwest Virginia.
“It’s not so much the cold as what happened at the mall,” Tansie said.
“Can I get ya’ll some coffee?” I asked.
“I’d like a cup,” Melvia said.
We all went into the kitchen, Matlock included. He was as eager as I was to find out what happened at the mall that had given poor little old Melvia a chill.
I poured Melvia a cup of coffee and handed her the sugar bowl, the creamer, and a spoon as she sat down at the table.
“How long has that coffee been settin’ there?” Tansie asked.
“Not long. I made a fresh pot at lunchtime. But if you don’t want any, it won’t hurt my feelings.” I poured myself a cup as Tansie said she believed she’d pass. Hateful thing. Like her coffee don’t taste as thick and strong as motor oil no matter when it’s made.
I took my coffee and sat down at the table with Melvia.
Tansie sat down across from Melvia. “You gonna tell her, or do you want me to?”
Melvia shook her head. “I don’t want to. You tell her.”
“Well, I wish somebody would,” I said. This was getting worse than one of them soap opera cliff hangers. I put sugar and creamer into my coffee and stirred it up. I didn’t have all day.
“Melvia and I went to the mall to do a little Christmas shopping. I needed to finish up.” She looked down her nose at her sister. “Had you even started before this morning?”
Melvia shook her head. “I told you. I had to wait on my Social Security check to get here.”
I told you Tansie was hateful. She didn’t have to bring that up in front of me or anybody else. She just wanted me to know—and Melvia to be reminded—that she didn’t have to wait for money to come in. She could go shopping whenever she wanted.
“I do mine a little bit along,” I said to Melvia. In fact, I had mine pert near done, but I didn’t say so. No sense in making Melvia feel even worse.
“Will ya’ll please stop interrupting?” Tansie huffed. “Melvia and I were going through the mall. Belk had their pantsuits on sale, and we were headed down there to look at them when we saw a commotion at Santa Land.”
She was waiting for me to ask what happened, but I didn’t say a word. She’d just told us to stop interrupting, so I’d be dogged if I was going to now.
Since neither me nor Melvia said a word, Tansie just blurted the rest of it out.
“Jackson Barnard, who was playing Santa Claus, killed himself.”
“And he was on the throne when he did it,” Melvia said softly. “Oh, I don’t mean in the bathroom. He was on his Santa Land throne.”
“He killed himself?” I asked. “With what? A gun?”
“No. It was poison. He’d put it in his coffee,” Tansie said.
Melvia looked down at hers like it might have poison in it, so I took a sip of mine to reassure her.
“Are you sure?” I frowned. “Maybe he just had a heart attack or something. No self-respecting mall Santa would kill himself right there in Santa Land in front of all those little kids.”
“It wasn’t too bad crowded today,” Melvia said. “I reckon most of the young ‘uns were in school.”
“Still, what makes y’all so sure it was a suicide?” I asked.
“Because we heard the police talking about it with the woman who works at the Bagel Barn,” Tansie said. “She saw the whole thing. She said he was fine as frog hair, said ‘good morning’ to her as he passed by, went over to Santa Land and sat down on his throne, took a drink of his coffee, and five minutes later he was dead.”
“But why do you think it was suicide?” I wasn’t letting this go without some hard evidence.
“We know because one of the police officers said there were signs of poison,” Melvia said.
“Then how do you know it was suicide and not murder?” I asked.
Tansie rolled her eyes like I was stupid. “Because people get depressed this time of year. Besides, who’s gonna kill Santa?
* * *
See what I mean? So how about you? Do you like having neighbors drop in, or would you rather have them wait until they're invited?
In case they start to drop in, and you need a good cookie recipe, here's one for Potato Chip Cookies. They're so good! (I don't put walnuts in mine though.)