Yoharie: Neighborhood Watch (part one)
Out along the edge of the landscaping—the spirea bushes and the Japanese lilac, the forsythia, the azalea, the “Aurica” juniper—Hibbler saw his daughter bent, crouch-walking the rubber strip, picking something and putting it in a bowl.
The first owners had planted these shrubs long ago, that Kate had been sold on—“Flowers, no maintenance…pretty good deal!” (per Kelly Stomitz)—or maybe it was the builders, veering from mid-century yew, who’d been sold on this highlighter-pen-color-combo, yellow and pink. And Hibbler, wanting daffodils, had planted King Alfreds under the mulch.
Raelyn, wanting tulips, had asked for pink ones…Angelique. A name she’d rechristened her Barbie. Now and again he talked about tomatoes, melons, corn…and Kate decided they wouldn’t. The girls’ volleyball net was always up, always bisecting the yard, one pole with a poison ivy vine you couldn’t weed-whack, he hadn’t yet got to tackling.
“What’s she doing?” he asked Raelyn.
Hibbler looked down at his untroubling daughter shifting away, moving her iPad into brighter light, punching its keyboard with a pinkie finger…in a way that struck him resigned.
Angelique the Barbie was stuffed away now, in a drawer someplace.
“Are you doing homework?”
Savannah, to this gambit, would answer, “I never do homework.” That was a year or two ago, the topic still live, but Hibbler had spotted the trap. He wasn’t ready to have a whole conversation about homework. He wasn’t now.
Raelyn told him, firmly…even less believably: “Yes.”
Hibbler backed from the inglenook, glancing again out the sink window as he passed, and paused at the door to the deck, hand on the handle. He was going to call Todwillow, was what he decided. Next he decided he was going to visit Todwillow.
Because he’d have to.
He would take a little stroll. There was no harm in it. He would get the weirdness worked out, and he would tell Todwillow he needed to see the cameras.
It was from Todwillow moving to the neighborhood, getting in with Mat Busby…
All the stuff. Hibbler put it that way. They were kind of alike, those two. They talked alike. Their faces both sort of weaseled in…narrowed, that was, towards the nose when they side-grinned at each other. So, pals. And Kate was, with Tristanne. He froze for a second, putting on his vest…not, for today’s purpose, would Hibbler fully accouter.
Yeah, though, Kate was friends with Tristanne; Tristanne was married to Mat. That was what it was.
The Busbys were throwing a tailgate party. This was where you barbequed in your driveway, and watched a game on the garage TV, and made like you were at a college stadium. Hibbler, of the six of them, had never been to a college stadium. Hibbler and Kate, of the six of them, were the only ones with kids.
“The girls can come over for a burger, anyway. Course, they can stay and watch the game. Do they ever?”
“Rae might,” Kate told Tristanne. “Savannah thinks beef is destroying the planet.”
“Well, I mean chips, salad, whatever.”
Savannah did take a burger, a corn-on-the-cob, a kebob of grilled watermelon, and Dr. Wethers teased her about having a beer. She stopped talking, finished eating, left them…but Rae stuck around, playing with Tristanne’s cat.
“See, Dad, Beatty’s okay.”
He pretended he didn’t hear.
Rae wanted a cat. She wanted to show him the dog was safe with a cat. Hibbler wanted no more pets. Rae’s eyes drilled him for two sharp seconds…she got up, and started the walk home. Tristanne, then, edging amidst Adirondack chair and strap-lounger, blocking the TV from guest to guest with a tray of salad things—ranch dip, broccoli, dried up little carrots—had done…he didn’t really know what…or why it irritated him to this day…
She’d paused to catch his eye, and jerked her head, with a sort of sappy frown, in Rae’s direction. Like…what? Hibbler, asking himself this, had spread his hands, frowned back harder, batted with loathing her damn vegetables, knocking the tray against her belly.
Nothing spilled. He’d said sorry. She’d said never mind. He thought Tristanne had taken against him, though, for that. Maybe it was Tristanne who said things.
(2018, Stephanie Foster)