The Very Charitable Mrs. Wertheimer – 6 through 10

Rx: To be read after 1 through 5.
The ladies in Mrs. Wertheimer’s social circle would be shocked enough to learn that she knew where to find a subway entrance at all. But to learn that the wife of one of the city’s most prominent physicians would actually descend the slimy stairs into the gurgling, churning bowels of Manhattan, and to place herself in such proximity to relentless filth — voluntarily! — would have stunned them to their beige and ivory linen core.
Mrs. Wertheimer imagines Bitty French’s jaw dropping, the shock so overpowering that it reverses every Botox injection. She smiles to herself, and steels herself for her excursion.
Although Mrs. Wertheimer takes care not to touch the handrail as she lowers herself down the stairs, her prudence is thwarted when a young man — dressed in obvious hand-me-downs (the crotch of his pants is down to his knees! his hooded sweatshirt is gigantic!) and a fair amount of what Mrs. Wertheimer has heard referred to as “bling” — clambers past her with such haste that she’s forced to steady herself by grabbing the rail. She quickly reminds herself she has a travel-size bottle of Purex in her handbag. Mrs. Wertheimer is equipped to handle a crisis!
So far, so good.
“Excuse me, Miss,” Mrs. Wertheimer says to the lumpy girl in the tollbooth, “but how much does a token go for these days?”
Mrs. Wertheimer is proud of herself for knowing of this thing called a “token”.
The girl’s ornately decorated, many-ringed fingers continue to disappear into a small bag of barbecue potato chips, the thumb and forefinger acting as pincers, the remaining three fingers spread like a delicate fan. This is the only grace the girl possesses. She smacks her lips. Her heavy-lidded black eyes stare into Mrs. Wertheimer’s carefully-lined grey ones.
“No tokens no more,” the girl mumbles.
“I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand,” Mrs. Wertheimer says. “Are you trying to tell me you ran out of tokens?”
“We don’t use tokens no more,” the girl says through a mouthful of chips. She swallows, runs a claw-like index finger between her upper gum and lip, and sucks a load of potato chip residue off of it. With the same finger, she points to a machine near the turnstiles, and says, “Gotta getta Metrocard.”
Someone standing behind Mrs. Wertheimer mutters, “Fucking tourist!” She feels her face growing warm. Tourist? She’s lived in Manhattan for most of her 56 years!
Mrs. Wertheimer is rooted in front of the Metrocard machine. For a fleeting moment, something akin to panic takes residence in her heart. Here she is, with her advanced degree from Columbia, her name in the Social Register, her face and figure legend in every top salon and spa in the city, and she can’t even figure out how to buy a Metrocard.
“If Bettina were here she’d know what to do,” she thinks. Bettina takes the subway from her casa in the Bronx to Mrs. Wertheimer’s Upper East Side townhouse every morning. “And she doesn’t even speak English!”
Stay tuned …