Hidden behind a rack of beach bags at Marshall’s, a large black purse called my name and whispered: You need me.
It was a nearly exact knockoff of one Martha Stewart had featured as her new favorite handbag, touting it as perfect for staying organized. I bought it, mentally making lists as to what I would stash in the zipped compartments.
Staying organized wasn’t exactly the starting point for me, but this briefcase-sized purse with all those large compartments, the small zippered hidey-holes, and the roomy spaces in-between could move me from Bag Lady to Wonder Woman status. I could feel it; this purse had Martha power!
I moved into my find: zip-lock bags packed with items for any medical, wardrobe, or cosmetic emergency…check! Stash of crosswords and even a paperback novel…yes! Sunglasses, checkbook, pens, pencils, laundry pen, post-it pads…exactamundo, and with room to spare!
Martha Stewart hadn’t specified how to find the stuff in all those compartments and that quickly proved to be a problem. The size and the vast blackness within absorbed any light. A miner’s hardhat with spotlight would seem inadequate for the task. I could probably have found a dime in an overflowing McDonald’s garbage can faster than I could manage to produce my black pen from the recesses of that handbag. I dared not let a grandchild reach in for gum lest an arm be sucked in by the Black Hole’s gravitational pull.
My cell phone had been missing for a week. Somewhere in the house or car… or somewhere in there? The stamps I’d bought at the post office? Left on the P.O. counter, carelessly tossed in a drawer… or in the bowels of the bag? I’d searched by feel and was convinced they were somewhere inside the house along with a few lip balms, photographs, a necklace, and the safety deposit box key. In the meantime I began wearing clothes with pockets to stow anything I needed quickly, just until I had time to have The Purse electrified for lighting purposes. One doesn’t just give up on something Martha recommended.
Carol Reese was coming to town to speak at a benefit for a local foundation and a friend and I had ordered tickets the first day they became available. Carol’s talks on gardening, birds, and life in the country are legendary and I’ve been a Carol Reese fan ever since I heard her speak in Tennessee. I could not wait for another chance to see her slides of gardens gone wrong and or grown lovely, hear about her current menagerie of rescued pets, and watch the reactions of her city audience as she explained the convenience of living just up the road from a gas station which also offered groceries/gardening supplies/bait/ burgers and fries, video rentals, and a tanning bed.
The program was being held in the amphitheater-like facility of the local art museum, an imposing building with marble floors, vast ceilings, and intimidating acoustics. One dresses for events at the museum and I did so, making certain my oozing-confidence outfit included a pocket for my ticket and car keys. Dearly Beloved, knowing how much I’d been looking forward to this, checked me for dog hair and protruding clothing labels.
My friend met me in the lobby and we chose seats in a middle tier to the right of the speaker’s podium in this circular auditorium. I set my Martha Stewart purse on the black floor at my feet, against the seat in front of me. It immediately became invisible, of course.
Usually this benefit brings in floral and garden designers from around the region and their presentations are more informational than entertaining. Carol’s folksy manner took the audience by surprise. It took a couple of minutes for them to realize the treat that lay ahead: this was entertainment. Everyone laughed at her witty remarks and there was none of the usual whispering. No one wanted to miss a joke.
The lights dimmed and Carol began her slide presentation of gardening do’s and don’ts: the closely sheared shrubs she scornfully referred to as “meatballs” were definitely “don’ts” while the “do’s” included butterfly-attracting wildflowers and perennials and included pictures of her own garden. She held the audience in thrall.
Until a cell phone began ringing.
Carol hesitated for a couple of beats before continuing, trying to ignore the jarring intrusion. Members of the audience, however, looked around to find the direction of the sound which seemed to be emanating over toward the speaker’s right. The annoying ring, by no means a soft one, came from somewhere nearby. . . at my feet, to be precise.
The women on the rows at the front of this sunken theatre made a scene of turning around and looking up, not so much in chastisement, but to demonstrate to their own innocence. I dared not turn around to try that myself, for I felt the people behind me pointing at my head, gesturing, “Her! Her! Her!”
With looking innocent no longer an option, I unzipped and stuck my hand in the recesses of The Black Hole Bag, knowing it would be a fruitless exercise. As the phone continued to ring, I literally got down on my knees and tackled the purse, hugging it against my body to muffle the sound.
Finally, mercifully, it stopped. Carol’s talk became a blur after that as I concentrated on prayers to the God of mercy and the cell towers of Verizon: Don’t let it ring again. I am not a cellphone gabber; few people other than my husband and children even have the number. That the battery had not run down days before baffled and irked me. Where is shoddy technology when you need it?!
When the program ended, I whispered to my friend to pretend she didn’t know me and exit ahead of me. Not surprisingly, she didn’t argue. I had some apologizing to do and I’d get to hers later. I began with the women in front of me, then headed down toward the podium. A swarm of women had already encircled Carol. Too far back to hear the conversations, I imagined them apologizing for the crassness of the anonymous audience member who spoiled the mood. No one seemed in any hurry to leave except me, so I left without saying anything.
I hugged my black bag to me–definitely not out of affection– ready to ride out of Dodge.
Out in the parking lot I said goodbye to my friend and once inside my car, I unzipped all the compartments and dumped the purse’s contents onto the seat beside me. Sure enough, the phone–one faint bar left on the battery signal–tumbled out. The message light was blinking, so I listened to the message to see who the hell had called.
In his “lost-in-my-own-world,” absent-minded professor voice, Dearly Beloved was saying:
“I want to mail the American Express bill and I can’t find the stamps. Do you know where they are?
I looked down at the heap beside me. Stamps?
Yeah. I knew where they were.