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The taxi pulled up to the curb and stopped next to where Eloise was patiently waiting with relaxed but perfect posture, the breeze gently moving the gray curls at her temples. The driver got out of the cab, picked up the large suitcase with scuffed leather trim from its place on the ground next to Eloise, and tucked it into the trunk. He swung open the rear door and gestured her into the cab with a smile that was practiced and yet sincere. Eloise got in, straightened the hem of her tweed skirt around her knees, and settled back into the worn upholstery. She didn’t ride in taxis very often, not even after she quit driving her ancient light-blue VW Squareback. As the driver pulled away and she looked at the rates printed on the meter, she remembered why she didn’t take taxis. They were expensive. Oh well, she thought, at least I’m not likely to need to take a taxi after today. She was alarmed to see how quickly the amount on the meter was increasing. But in any case, she would be sure to add a generous tip.
Eloise thought herself frugal, rather than cheap.
Cheap sounded, well, so cheap. And for Eloise it was, after all, just a matter of common sense: why buy fancy steaks from the butcher when his leftover scraps would make a perfectly fine soup or stew? And picking up the windfall chestnuts, apples and figs from around the neighborhood was good exercise. Being outside in the fresh air was good for her. Why, for pity sake, let all that perfectly good food go to waste?
Her now-grown children were mortified by Eloise’s gleaning activities.
“Good heavens, Mother,” her daughter Priscilla complained one afternoon, sipping iced tea and examining Eloise’s split ends, scissors in hand, “that is just so wrong for you to be doing. Out there in all kinds of weather. It’s embarrassing.” Standing behind her mother, she didn’t see Eloise roll her eyes.
“Priscilla Ann. Seriously. Don’t be ridiculous. Didn’t you get anything I was trying to teach you when you were growing up? And by the way you are just a beautician, not Mrs. Rockefeller. Your husband wouldn’t have to work so much if you were more careful with the cash.” She regretted the snipe the moment she said it, but damn it, it was true.
“It’s not my fault I have a sense of good taste, mother,” Priscilla shot back, the scissors snapping in time with her words as she trimmed. “And I notice you don’t complain about my occupation when you need a haircut or a perm.”
Eloise fell silent, hated the bitter taste these talks left in her mouth. Why did she keep letting herself get corralled into them?