Ann opened the door about three inches, and pushed the apron toward me through the crack. It was a relief, after holding that mop in place. I still felt she wasn't quite at ease with the situation, though, so I decided to soothe her.
"I'm afraid I didn't get your name."
I thought maybe she hadn't heard me, and was about to ask again, when she answered.
I stuck my hand through the crack in the door. After a while, she shook it.
"Glad to meet you." I said.
She didn't answer.
I tried to open the door, but it wouldn't budge.
"I'm ready now."
"Oh! Julie, go out in front-until I call you."
"Mom, I'm not a…"
"Just do it!"
I heard the front door open and close, and then found I could move the closet door. Ann gave a little jump as it swung open, and backed away a step or two. We stared at each other for a while. She was a little heavy for her age, but I could see where Julie got her looks.
"Uh," she said at last, "Well, I—I guess you could use one of Alfred's uniforms."
She waved for me to follow her.
"He's our cook. Or was. He quit this morning. But he only took two uniforms, so there'll be one in the back."
She lead me back, through the swinging metal door, to the kitchen.
I was truly grateful. I told her so.
"I can't tell you how much I appreciate this, Ann. You're an exceptional human being."
She shrugged and opened the door to a dingy restroom off the kitchen. She pulled the chain and the single, dirty bulb gave off a feeble light. An old cook's uniform hung on a hook, and a chef's cap sat on the counter, in front of the dusty mirror.
"You'll have to forgive the mess. I'm afraid Alfred just left everything lying around—toothpaste, shaving cream, deodorant, his razor…"
I stepped inside.
"If there's anything I can do for you'" I said, "anything at all-all you have to do is ask.. I mean that."
It was Julie, just outside the door. Ann closed the door on me, but I could still hear them.
"I told you to go out front."
"Jim Barnes is out there."
"Good. He can help sort this out."
Julie called, helplessly, after her.
"Mom. Wait. That man—I know him."