Across the city, in a slightly decaying, huge brick house the Alva and Ida show was already in full swing. Ida sat in front of the television set, still dressed only in her bathrobe. She was on her usual roll with the Sunday morning religious television shows.
The ritual started faithfully with the Seven Hundred Club. She thought they were too political and cried too much, so as soon as the other stations had better programs, she proceeded directly into a parade of Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, Herbert W. Armstrong and Robert Schuller. Their favorite personality had been Katherine Kuhlman, until she, like all the two elderly sister’s family and friends, had died. Now, the Hour Of Power with its dynamic Dr. Schuller was the single most important event in their week.
Their second favorite past time was visiting.
The house, now long neglected, had six bedrooms, six bathrooms and a library on the second floor. The third floor had been servant’s quarters, but that was long ago. There were no servants anymore. Economics and mobility had dictated that the two women relocate themselves to the first floor. Their beds now occupied the dining room and the grand old living room with its two huge solariums was sealed off with masking tape around the doors. Throw rugs were jammed against the cracks at the bottoms to keep out the cold winter drafts. The only rooms in use now were the kitchen, the small first floor bath and the dining room. The giant oil furnace in the basement sat cold and unused. Now the house was heated by a kerosene space heater, but the women were always careful to leave a window cracked to prevent asphyxiation.
Ida reached over to the ancient black and white television and turned it up a little louder. Still straining to hear what was going on, she looked down at her large, transistor radio sized antique hearing aid and adjusted its volume too. “For God’s sake, Ida, turn it down!” Alva screamed from the kitchen.
“I’m deaf, you know!” Ida yelled back as Alva made her way into the room with a plate of hot scones, butter and jam. She positioned it half way between the two of them on the TV table then reached over to turn the set down.
“You’re going to wake the dead!” She said loudly.
“I’m going to bake the bread?” Ida looked puzzled. “I thought YOU were making SCONES,” she shouted the way deaf people often do.
“I said you’re going to wake up the whole neighborhood with this racket!” Alva spoke directly into the hearing aid’s front. Finally understanding, Ida reached in and increased the volume on the device until it began to squeal and hiss.
“I’m deaf, you know!” She parroted again. “You don’t have any trouble hearing him so why don’t you tell me what he’s saying?” She gestured at the television.
Alva buttered a scone and extended her knife toward the jam. The two knife points met and dueled briefly before Ida; whose eyes never left her sister’s, withdrew her knife, made a quick lunge from a different angle, and made off with the lone plump strawberry from the jam dish. “Ahh!” She exclaimed, as she returned Alva’s cold stare with a devilish grin.
The sisters had lived together all their lives. Now, Ida at eighty-eight and Alva at eighty-six, were nearly alone. Once successful milliners to the city’s rich, they had owned a fashionable shop in the older section of downtown. True to the spinster tradition, they saved everything they could for their old age but the trouble now was that they had both outlived their old age nest egg. Nobody planned to live this long. Their combined Social Security checks were barely enough to pay taxes on the old family home and buy basics. They ate as well as any eighty years old, but had nothing left with which to buy luxuries. Alva made a simple muslin pouch with a wide fabric strap for Ida’s old hearing aid. They hesitated to replace anything or even worry about it for that matter, thinking all the time that tomorrow just might not come.
Their family now consisted of only a great-nephew and two great-nieces that would stop by from time to time to see if there were still alive. The relatives didn’t seem very concerned, knowing the two old women had already spent every dime of their savings and that the house wasn’t worth much in the declining neighborhood and its poor condition. For all outward purposes, the two were twins. They dressed alike, had the same habits, likes and dislikes. Everyone who was exposed to their antics referred to them as “The Girls”.
“Oh look Ida, that handsome Bob Schuller has a new, “Jesus Lights Up My Life”, Challenger Space Shuttle Lamp!” They both leaned closer to the screen for details. Ida reached for the volume control. “I think we should send for it!” Alva exclaimed, picking up a paper and pencil.
The living quarters were already full of TV spiritual artifacts. Their latest acquisition, a pair of simulated stained glass window ornaments proclaiming, “I’m God’s Chosen One” were firmly attached to the window with their plastic suction cups. Since the good Doctor Schuller didn’t offer “We’re God’s Chosen Two”, the girls argued briefly over who was the “one”, then decided to send for two of the ornaments. Besides, they were free for the asking. Being truly caring viewers, however, they always enclosed a check to help carry on the television ministry they enjoyed so much. Next to the window ornaments, the Airwick Solid imitation, church stained glass window stick-on completed the grouping. Even though they couldn’t afford it, the purchases were fundamental for them. Last year, when Ida had a bout with pneumonia and seemed to be losing ground, it was a small, free booklet from Robert Schuller that reminded her she could do it and she fought a little harder for her health. “Let’s get dressed,” Alva shouted as she reached over and turned off the television.
“I don’t need a rest! I just got up, for heaven sakes!” Ida retorted. “What do you want me to do, sleep my life away?”
“Get dressed!” Alva shouted again and Ida did as she was told. Alva reached for the Sunday paper’s folded open pages and tore out a small section, creased it and placed it carefully in her purse.
They each had two visiting dresses in their closet. Sometimes they would dress alike, other times they wore different outfits to change the pace. Alva laced Ida’s Red Cross platform heels too tight and the sister let out a screech in pain. About forty-five minutes later they were ready to go, with only the hat selection remaining. All the straw hats had been covered in plastic to await another uncertain spring. Now it was time for felt and feathers. They made their selections and carefully but shakily adjusted each other’s veils to the right level. They checked themselves in the wavy old yellowing mirror on the front of the antique wardrobe. The light wasn’t as good there, but they felt they looked younger in this particular mirror. “We’re going to be late!” Ida hollered looking down and shaking her Benrus to be sure it was still working.
“Horse pucky!” Alva replied.
“We’ll take the street car,” she shouted.
“There haven’t been street cars for years. We’ll take the bus.” Alva loudly solved the problem. She was exhausted! A few moments later they were on their way down the slick early morning sidewalks, making slow but cautious progress toward the corner bus stop.