Bad Counsel (part two)
Andrée begins to see.
Andrée already, to her mother’s chagrin, lives rent free. But she gets it, how Sam might need six months or a year, maybe more, to build his house. Leo has talked to her about inspectors. You do so much work, you wait for the inspector. Say Melody pays nine hundred rent. That’s what…fifty-four hundred, up? Save that, you could buy a car, for one. Andrée tries to catch her mother’s eye. Could Karen have missed this?
Well, too bad about the pond for the kiddies. Hope he bulldozes it tomorrow. She doesn’t really hope this. Andrée has always liked carrying her coffee out the sliding door, seeing deer and rabbits, now and then a hawk, or a coyote. She remembers how Leo scoffed. Coyotes! She is still indignant. They have pictures of them all the time, on the community bulletin board thing. Online.
“Sam,” Karen says, picking up from Melody this effect of echolocation. Her words bounce off Sam and Melody hears them. “Show her the bedrooms.”
This is good for Andrée as well, this shot, because Andrée hasn’t picked up since Buel came over Sunday afternoon. She has not made her bed… Not that she would. So, sure, have a look. She goes into the living room and switches on the TV.
She scans the channels for a comedy show, or a scary movie. These are the only things Andrée watches. And they’re kind of the same. She has never not laughed at a scary movie. This one, that she settles on, is called Snowfall. Title in frosty letters; O a skull. She’s seen it. The serial killer jeers at the ghost. Too bad. He plods the snow with his back to the camera, wearing the same buffalo plaid the creepy caretaker wears. Or vice versa. They both plod.
Andrée takes her thumb off the button and watches as the smart girl and the dumb girl, the panicky guy, the hero, the token black guy, get spooked by a nasty bang, bang, bang at the door. The hero volunteers to go check. He laughs, nervous.
“But it’s only the wind.”
She says this aloud, smiling. He latches the screen. The lamp blows out… Just as the hero’s eye falls on a trail of footprints across the porch. Andrée laughs now, in anticipation…because pretty soon the gang’ll hear the knocking again. This time, it’ll be the panicky guy. The heels of his shoes, swinging.
But that’s how it goes, Andrée thinks. Aren’t these clichés really punchlines? Aren’t you supposed to laugh?
Her mother comes in and sits beside her. She closes her mouth. She hates her mother doing this. She feels Karen looking at the glass on the table. The iced lemonade is sweating on a flyer of pizza coupons. Buel says businesses price things the way they want. “Dollar up, dollar down. Coupon is just to make you buy something you weren’t going to.”
But Andrée’s mother has plans to take advantage of every bargain; they have stacks of flyers in the magazine rack, expiring.
“Is that man dead?” Karen asks. And that’s the thing.
Andrée couldn’t even relate this story to Buel. So your mother asked, “Is that man dead?”
But…because I was laughing. Because she comes in and talks about things I’m doing as if I was part of some alien culture. She doesn’t understand. She’s interested, but baffled.
“I just turned on the TV,” Andrée says.
They are both distracted by voices outside the picture window.
“Get out of here.” This is Melody. What’s she talking about? The expression is Leo’s.
“What?” he says. “You can walk faster than two miles an hour.”
Andrée thinks maybe it is Leo. This is Leo’s argument… You don’t need a car to live out here, you’ve got the bus coming to the supermarket, over at the shopping center. And the shopping center’s only another mile from the foot of the road, where the highway crosses. If Andrée had a real job, she would take that walk twice a day.
By Leo’s calculation, it would cost her thirty minutes at the most.
Leo was her Grandpa. Only because he was an old man to Andrée, and because she had no other grandpa. And because, sometimes, he bought her ice cream. But as far as that went, it could have been Sam. Andrée and her mother have moved three times, from one manager’s unit to the next, in different buildings Leo owned. He likes her mother doing that job.
Karen understands Leo’s philosophy.
One day, catching Andrée home from school, Leo had taught her this, too…maybe by accident. The Palisades had a bike rack near the dumpsters. She was trying to walk the center rib like a balance beam.
“Kid! Get down from there!”
She jumped. He came round the side of his black car and opened the passenger door. A woman’s feet wearing sneakers swung to the asphalt. Leo left her to fend for herself.
“Cracking open their skulls this time of day… Is that Karen’s kid?”
“In the office.”
“Go see your mother. No…wait. Come on with us.”
He was selling the property. He rattled each unit’s knob, the woman following him (her tennis skirt and visor, Andrée thought, were like from one of those catalogs, with the electric scooters and inflatable pillows, that old lady tenants got) along the hallway from one concrete stairwell to the next.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)