Franny awoke the next morning with shreds of a nightmare still clinging to her mind. In the nightmare, she’d been visiting the house of a dear old friend, one she hadn’t seen in real life for too many months. The nightmare contrived a storm that required Franny to spend the night in her old friend’s house, so she stretched out on the couch in her friend’s dream basement. The friend disappeared, to be replaced by a series of strangers who claimed the same space offered to Franny. Although the strangers seemed harmless, they would not let Franny settle anywhere and rest – each place she tried, in an ever-expanding, ever-darkening nightmare basement, she would be usurped by a stranger with a prior claim. Panic clawed its way up Franny’s throat and finally shook her awake.
Franny turned on her bedside radio and propped herself up on her pillows, blinking to chase away the nightmare residue. The hour was still early, but Franny knew sleep had fled for good. Her thoughts drifted back to Marilyn, asleep on her couch, groceries neglected in the kitchen. She determined to work for an hour or two, and then call Marilyn.
When Marilyn’s phone rang unanswered, Franny grabbed a coat to protect her from the early spring wind and walked to Marilyn’s house.
Already, she mumbled to herself as she leaned into that cold wind, I’ve already lost my big-city indifference and I am checking up on friends, unannounced. Perhaps the panic of not being able to find a place to rest in her dream, or the worries about Marilyn’s state of health, or just a general sense of being unsettled drove her on and she prepared herself for the worst: Marilyn passed out, fallen and unable to rise, something broken, or Marilyn away and lost, the subject of a community-wide search.
But Franny’s knock was answered right away, and her worries proved to be as temporary as her nightmare. A tall man, with close-cropped gray hair, fashionable glasses, and a warm smile held the door open for Franny as Marilyn called from her living room.
“Franny! Come in! Meet my good friend Douglas. Please join us – although I warn you, we are talking politics, and we do not tolerate anyone demurring when we talk politics. We shall demand that you share your reasoned opinions and your unwarranted biases, just as we do!”
Douglas shook Franny’s hand as Precious danced at her feet. “Ah, you’re the new girl in town? Marilyn speaks very highly of you.”
“Oh. She does? Well.” Franny was flustered by such a welcome when she’d expected great tragedy or at least minor discomfort. Or was it being called “the new girl” at her age? “Um. I’m sorry to come by without warning, Marilyn – I called but got no answer, and I was out for a walk anyway, and…”
“Darling, if I’d left a friend in my condition yesterday, I’d contrive a reason to drop by the next day too. See, Douglas – this young woman is a delight.” Marilyn’s face was still a bit pale, and it looked as though she had not put on fresh clothes, but her high spirits warmed Franny’s heart. “Take off that coat, and sit down. Douglas, bring Franny a cup of tea and a scone. Douglas made the tea, and he does so remarkably well, but he also baked the scones, and they show his true talent.”
Douglas set a cup of steaming tea and a huge, golden scone on a china plate on the table next to the comfy chair Franny settled in. “I spent some time in England, and of all the things I learned, tea and scones have turned out to be the most useful,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. He pulled up a wooden rocking chair to make their circle complete, as Precious settled herself nearby. “Now, Franny. Before you declare your own political heritage, first you must know that I am an unrepentant liberal, and Marilyn is a determined atheist.”
“Douglas!” Marilyn cried with a laugh. “I am not an atheist.”
“Politically, you are, of course. Don’t deny it. You don’t believe in anything political other than arguing, Marilyn. Franny, if you tell us you are a dyed-in-the-wool Republican we shall have no other choice than to prevent you leaving until we convert you. But we will love you anyway. Friendship always transcends religion and politics. So. Tell us where you stand.”