Celebrated (part eleven)
“Your name is in the book.”
He laughed, with apology. The book was in the bedside drawer of his motel room…
And so, anyway, he’d taken a look.
“Well, I don’t…” She started this…she might have said, nobody calls me, but if they did…no, I don’t mind…
She said some of it, but her caller spoke on.
He would hate to just show up, besides which, she lived out on a state route. Get your head blown off, knocking on the wrong door. Capping this sequence, a small ha.
“No, it’s actually right at a crossroads. You’ll know anyway. I have art in the yard.”
It never sounded sensible, but what else could you say? Petra had a theory about the art she made, and the theory was material to anyone’s understanding of it.
“And then I have guinea fowl. They keep critters out of the garden.”
“Oh…so. It’s… Uh…box 523? Is there a good time?”
“I’m home all day. I don’t care if you come around lunch.”
She hung up, and felt a self-disappointment, or a falling back. What Petra the daughter had ever been to Dr. Motley’s followers…
Or, why start a thought this way…? She didn’t know.
Gently lamented, a thing like that. Probably said, with a sort of courage, to be trying. Finding her way? Settling in? Just different.
Not present, anyway. At times a presence, spotted in a corner, reading…
A young grownup. She wasn’t, they might have thought, pretty…was pretty though… One of the girls, too kind to end up a famous writer, had said to her, “Oh, now. Yes you are too.”
Wasn’t. Wasn’t friendly, tried to be friendly, to all the friendly, noisy, worshipful, enviably older, then contemporary, then younger adults, who came and went, at her mother’s house.
Was teased by the boys, college boys she guessed had found her off-limits because of whatever age they’d assumed her to be.
But I don’t care, wasn’t that the lumpish, diffident way of speaking, the carried signature of…the creation, that phony person. It wouldn’t matter, being what she was to the locals, but…who was Tom Wilmot? One of those boys, quite possibly.
He called again. It looked like he would get there around noon, after all. He had driven out, checking…he might as well stop by, then, as go back, but…there was that little shopping center across the road. So, whatever, if she would like, he would pick up a pizza. Or sandwiches…
Shut up. She thought it at him, laughed because he did, these laughs only awkward fillers in a conversation that needed ending. She decided, let him do it.
“Sandwiches, sure. Subs. Turkey’s fine.”
Tom Wilmot was her own age.
They didn’t exchange this information. He would be younger had been her expectation; his speech seemed youngish.
It had occurred to her, hanging up, that she had a guest on the way. The kitchen worktable made to look decent…
Tablecloths a thing she didn’t own. She ran to the back bedroom.
She came out, flustered from rifling drawers, counting… Plates, water glasses, silverware…
The glance she saw him give was as though he’d taken a clue, a little proud of himself for the recognition. All the paisley shawls, draping every flat surface. Her mother’s, not Petra’s, taste.
She found herself bothered and brusque, nudging around his needless unwillingness to sit, eat if he liked, not gesture into her space, while she turned from the counter with mugs, unplugged the coffee maker. For the cats, because they got on the counter…
Nixing this observation, she sat across from him. The guineas had been racketing away since Tom’s car first nosed their drive. “That’s not too annoying, is it? I can’t judge anymore, I don’t really hear them.”
“Oh!” He said this after swallowing a bite. “Those guys out there. No. I’m a good tuner-outer. What are they closest to, chickens or peacocks?”
“Actually.” This word sat a moment, like a doubtful play at Scrabble. “People ask me…what are guinea fowl? And I say, they’re related to chickens. But so are peacocks. It’s one family. Do you want to know their names?”
He laughed, over Guinefer, and G-Man, and Guinior, the baby.
He said, “I like that big studio space you have.”
The story came to her mind, of how she leased out part of her land for the pasturing of horses, how this addition had been bartered built, merged with the original living room. Her house…
Its insides sprawling outside…outdoor things in, potted plants, big white barrels crammed with ditch-harvest, chunks of wood, glass, metal fallen from vehicles, her art’s raw materials…
Her cats, and the collie with cataracts, strays allowed if they liked to come indoors, eat and be warm…
Her house was junky.
The age Petra was getting to, made her worry now and then that new idiots elected to county offices would eyeball this habit, and habitat, of agglomeration…
Which was her mother’s. (Nurture, then, as other idiots debated it, in so many poignant child-rearing books found on Madeline’s shelves, not nature.) It would look to them like disease. Some earnest person would be sent to ask questions.
(2019, Stephanie Foster)