In Providence

In Providence: A Lady Never Tells

If you ask her how she used to spend her Sundays, she would tell you about Cellar Stories.

“This isn’t going to be you writing about how many books I have, is it? Because I have a lot of books, but I have to get rid of some. I don’t want to–The thing is, I don’t want to be one of those older people with books everywhere, and I read your column on the — on the — that apartment on Academy Avenue that has all the books. You don’t want to write another column like that, do you? Don’t do the same thing over again. People get mad at you if you do that. Try to say something new about me.”

Years ago, she bought a book at Cellar Stories and took it to a coffee shop in Providence that doesn’t exist anymore. She sat down with her book and somebody asked her who was going to get her vote.

“The election was that Tuesday and I– You would think you couldn’t forget something like that, but I had forgotten it. It was easier to forget things like that back then, because not everything was in your face all the time, and if you– I was very to myself, meaning, meaning, I would, uh, I would mostly stay home and do work for my clients and when the work was done– The work used to get done early, because I never found that it took me very long — and when it was done I would spend the rest of the day reading. At home, but I would go out too. I was in my own world. I’ll tell you that. Hard to be in your own world like that now.”

This is not a story about voting.

“Nobody wants to hear about politics. People want to hear about people. I don’t know if they want to hear about me, but they don’t want to hear about people or books, and if you want to ask me about my religion, I don’t want to tell you about that either, not that there’s much to tell.”

At the coffee shop, she started talking to the woman who asked her about her vote, and when she told the woman that she had forgotten about the election, the woman laughed, and then she invited her to sit down, and they got to talking.

“We got to talking. I liked her right away.”

They started talking about books.

“But not just books.”

But not just books. They talked about dogs.

“She was a breeder. She bred– She lived outside of Providence, and I don’t know if you can talk about people outside of Providence. It wasn’t far from the city, but on our first date, she had me come over to her place outside the city, and uh, uh, she cooked me a nice meal. I don’t remember what it was, but I know I liked it.”

That was their first date, and a year later, they were living together.

“Outside of Providence. Do you want to stop there?”

Why would I stop there? They would still come into the city and go to Cellar Stories together. She liked non-fiction, but her girlfriend preferred Marilynne Robinson and Alice Munro.

“If you can shop for books together with someone and they don’t get mad when you’re still shopping after three hours, then you got yourself a winner.”

Earlier this year, her girlfriend–

“Not my wife. We never got married. Never wanted to. Happy how we are. Her daughter calls me Ma, though. I’m Ma and she’s Mom. The father doesn’t mind. He calls me Ma too. They had a deal long before I got there. The kid’s great. She’s not a kid anymore, though. She’s a chef. Can cook even better than her mother. We’re both proud of her.”

But this isn’t about food.

“You can talk about food if you want. People love hearing about food.”

Earlier year, her girlfriend got sick.

“This was in March. She got sick in March. You know what it was like getting sick in March? It was bad bad bad. She gave me a thousand heart attacks.”

She went into the hospital.

“People kept asking. Was it COVID? How rude is that? Don’t ask somebody what they’re sick with, okay? Just tell them you hope they get better. She didn’t have COVID.”

But it was serious.

“But she recovered.”

She recovered, but she’s still recuperating. She has to rest most of the day, and that leaves someone else to do the cooking and taking care of the dogs.

“I can take care of dogs, but I’m shit at cooking. My poor girl. I’m surprised she hasn’t gone on a hunger strike.”

They can’t go shopping for books anymore, but then again, this wasn’t going to be about books.

“Nobody wants to hear about books.”

But they read in bed together on Sundays and nowadays, they’re both reading fiction.

“She reads a chapter and I read a chapter and then we swap, and then we read another chapter, and then we talk about what we’re reading. It’s a nice way to pass the time.”

And are they still in their own world?

“My world is her and Sundays in bed together. I do want to get to Cellar Stories again soon, though. We’ve been rereading all our favorites and that’ll take a while, but pretty soon, we’re going to want something new. I got to get her a birthday present too, and she’s been talking about wanting to collect first editions or collecting something to do with books.”

But this isn’t about books.

“This isn’t about books. I don’t know what it’s going to be about, but you shouldn’t have it be about books.”

I tell her it could be about lots of things.

“That’s true. It can be about anything you want.”

And when I ask her what she’s reading now, she replies–

“When people ask me that, I get all cute and say ‘A lady never tells.’ Do you like that? Do you need to ask me again so you can have it nice and clean for the story? I know you probably want to end with that so ask me again.”

I ask her again–What are you reading?

“A lady never tells.”