Penny was drinking gin fizzes out of crystal lead glasses while sunning herself naked on the back porch of her expensive West Knoxville home when the police arrived. She saw them climbing up the stairs to her porch in their dark uniforms, guns perched on their hips, and greeted them as happily as though they had arrived for a fabulous birthday party. Behind the policeman she could see the figure of a nosy old neighbor dressed in a pale pink suit staring at her with binoculars.
It was a ravishingly beautiful Sunday morning and the world seemed to have been created just for her, Penny, with the rose bushes laden with red blooms wet with the dew, and fat robins darting about everywhere.
Penny stood up and shook out her hair so that it fell in gold, silken strands to her waist. The officers tried hard not to look at Penny’s nakedness but it wasn’t easy, for Penny was beautiful. While sunning herself naked, she had managed to leave on red, patent-leather high heels, for they made her feel ever so much more feminine.
She took off her black sunglasses and looked wide-eyed at the policemen. Then she took a drink out of her gin fizz.
The young officer sneaked one look at Penny, in all her fabulous glory, and said, “Ma’am, you need to put your clothes on if you’re going to sit here on your porch. The neighbors are complaining.”
Penny’s eyes widened even further. “Whatever for? Is it illegal to be naked on my very own porch?” she asked.
“Why, yes,” the older officer said. “If other people can see you it is illegal. It’s called indecent exposure. We’ve already had seven calls this morning. It’s Sunday, the Lord’s day, and people don’t want to see you sitting naked on your porch while they’re trying to go to church.”
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” said Penny, emptying her gin fizz and starting into the kitchen for another. “I haven’t lived 45 years without knowing how ridiculous that is. Why don’t you boys let me fix you a drink? A Bloody Mary, perhaps? Now that’s a good Sunday brunch drink. I’ll make some poached eggs and we can sit out here and just enjoy the day. How about it?”
Penny spoke with a charming Southern drawl, and the young officer half-looked like he was going to accept her offer when the older officer said in a stern voice, “Ma’am, you need to put your clothes on and you need to put them on now!”
Putting her hands on her hips, Penny stared back at the officer. “No!” she said haughtily.
“What did you say?” the older officer said incredulously.
“I said no,” Penny repeated. “I will not put my clothes back on. This is the way our Lord created me and this is the way I will stay.”
Before she could go in the door to the kitchen, the officer had grabbed an uncomfortable woolen blanket off the railing, wrapped a screaming Penny, put her in handcuffs, and hauled her into the back seat off his police car, where she screamed all the way to the downtown police station.
She was allowed only one phone call, but her parents, who could probably have gotten her out on bail, were traveling in Peru. So the fabulous, beautiful, kind, and generous Penny spent two weeks at the Knox County Detention Center. It was not a total loss, for when I picked her up, Penny was exchanging telephone numbers with her fellow inmates as though they had been in some exotic women’s summer camp instead of housed in a gloomy jail. Penny was penitent, saying goodbye to the jail staff as though she would truly miss them. She even shed a tear. So did they. To know Penny is to love her. “I promise I’ll never do it again!” she exclaimed as she got into my car.
Penny was true to her word for a while, and even went to a few AA meetings. She remained sober for months. Then one bright April day, I drove up to see, you guessed it, Penny sunning herself naked again on her porch, this time with a large floppy hat covering her blonde hair. But Penny, never stupid, now had a large umbrella in stripes of magenta, red, orange, and yellow that just barely hid her from sight from all the jealous, nosy neighbors who would mar her joy.
As I climbed up the stairs to her porch I could hear strains of the Beach Boys “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” with Penny’s voice humming along, like the beautiful, innocent creature that she is. Seeing me coming in my purple sundress carrying a gift of daisies for her, she got up, made gin tonics for the two of us, and we sat there sipping our drinks and eating tangerines until the sun made a slow descent behind the lavender mountains in the distance.