The Very Charitable Mrs. Wertheimer – 36 through 41

Rx: To be read after 1 through 5, 6 through 10, 11 through 15, 16 through 20, 21 through 25, 26 through 30, and 31 through 35.
36
The subway, an express, is now racing toward 14th Street, and Mrs. Wertheimer has to fight to keep from doing an inadvertent dance in her kitten heels. If only she didn’t have an aversion to rubber-soled shoes, she wouldn’t be at such risk!
Mrs. Wertheimer notes that the other woman’s hand has slipped down the pole and is not touching hers anymore. Her own hand still retains a tight grip on the pole, which now feels slick from the sweat of her palm. She inches her hand down the pole toward the woman’s hand, letting its dampness assist the glide.
37
Just as Mrs. Wertheimer’s hand is within six inches of its destination, the woman removes hers from the pole to cover her mouth during a phlegm-heavy cough. Mrs. Wertheimer, without any concern for her own precarious balance, removes her gliding hand from the pole and quickly reaches into the outside pocket of her handbag for the little bottle of hand sanitizer and a tissue.
She extends her bounty toward the woman.
“Please be my guest,” she says, smiling.
“What?” the woman says.
“Your cough,” she says.
“You afraid I’m gonna put my hand back on the pole?” the woman says.
38
I’m afraid you’re NOT, Mrs. Wertheimer thinks. On the contrary, I’m afraid you’re going to keep your hand away and I won’t get to touch it again. I’m afraid that if that’s the case, I won’t have any real human contact with anyone for who knows how long. Charles III is away at school and when he visits home doesn’t let me hug him. Alejandro Esteban is just a memory. Dr. Wertheimer … I mean Charles … well, I can’t just start touching him after years of absolutely nothing. And Bettina and Davis? One doesn’t go around pawing one’s housekeeper and driver.
39
Mrs. Wertheimer holds the woman’s unwavering gaze for a full three seconds. Enough time to fast-forward to this afternoon’s destination. CEO Roger Michelin in his three thousand dollar suit, custom-made shirt, cashmere socks, and hand-sewn shoes. Roger Michelin and his pristine, leather-sofa’d, Persian rugged, many-windowed office high above the bustle and filth of the city streets, ignorant of the rumble of the subways beneath them. To her on her knees before him, her mouth filled so completely that she couldn’t utter the words, “I can’t go on doing this anymore,” even if she wanted to.
Today, she finally wants to.
40
“Not at all,” Mrs. Wertheimer says. “I just thought you might want to freshen up.”
Mrs. Wertheimer nods her head toward the items. “Here. Please.” She smiles.
“‘K,” the woman says. “But if I touch this stuff, I’ll get germs all over it.” Mrs. Wertheimer sees a smile on the woman’s red lips, a glint in her black-rimmed eyes.
“I’ll tell you what,” Mrs. Wertheimer says, smiling back the woman as she flips the bottle open and removes a tissue from the pack. “Hold out your hand.”
She squeezes the bottle over the woman’s hand and hands her a tissue.
41
“Thanks,” the woman says with a broad smile, revealing a glimmer of gold on one side of her mouth.
“You’re welcome,” Mrs. Wertheimer says. “And here,” she says, pressing the pack of tissues into the woman’s palm. “You might need them later.”
“You sure?”
“Absolutely,” Mrs. Wertheimer says. “I don’t need them anymore.”
“Thanks!” the woman says, grinning gold.
She replaces her hand on the pole, level with her hip. The woman does the same, but her hip is lower, so their hands do not touch.
When the subway stops, Mrs. Wertheimer gets off and takes another train back home.
– THE END –