The Resident (part five)
Batting at clematis that brushed his white polo, Bridge Krebbs passed under the arch to the Rose Room. He remarked (as always) that he couldn’t get over the stupidity of this. His companion, sixtyish, six-footish, blue eyes, in the way of itchy contact lenses, bleary, remarked in turn: “The customers, Bridge. Women especially, and women are most of em. Look at those seats with the cushions. Treated fabric.”
“I’m saying, do you want your sofa outdoors? But the magazines have rooms, so the Farm has rooms.”
The Rose Room shaped a demilune surrounding a raised patio, that featured its pergola and its wisteria, and its plushly stuffed seating in floral chintz.
“I go outdoors to play golf.”
Bridge, making theatre of his dislike, hauled himself three steps to the patio. He clinked a tall lager onto a pebbled-glass table, and heaved to the chintz. “Where’d she go? Give her a ring.”
“What, me? Call Deb? Dead battery?” Debra’s stepfather asked.
He was answered by gestures, as of shooing flies. “She met some people.”
“So you can’t call yourself? I don’t think I get you.”
“We’re on thin ice. Deb cancelled the caterer. You have to be on this guy’s list two years in advance…what does that tell you? We’ll be engaged when she turns forty. Stu,” Bridge said, widening his eyes. “She gets on me about my tone of voice. Right now, I can’t chance it.”
Debra’s voice came over the speaker. “Hi, Dad! We’re at the pond. Do you need me?” She spoke aside: “Along the margins we’ve designed pools that are shallower, so the koi can’t get at the tadpoles. It’s a story of coexistence…frogs, you know, are a traditional symbol of abundance…”
“But those fish! They are fish…?”
“I swear! Des, have you ever seen an actual living, swimming fish-thing with that fantastic chunkiness, and such incredible orange…”
“Fish thing?” Stu mouthed at Bridge. Bridge looked grim.
Another voice aired: “And Deb, you can keep them, like pets? They’re able to live in a pond you just dig on your own prop… All right, Wiss, we will, yes…”
“Deb, you coming up to the patio? Bridge is here.”
A moment ticked. The clickings and rushings of speaker noise might have concealed a sigh. “Look, I’ll bring the guys, in just a few minutes. You can meet them. Dad, if you don’t need anything…”
“Checking, that’s all. Ringing off.”
“The sale went through, in like, a day,” Bridge said.
“So they’re rich.”
“Not that much. I mean, I don’t know, but the car they drive is pretty ordinary.”
“Inheritance, maybe. Little legacy from Aunt Fanny.”
“Doesn’t in hell matter.” Bridge downed a long gulp. “I couldn’t get Kenny inside with that nutjob.” He paused over this, the name Rancilton in his head, his pride refusing to concede it.
“Your construction guy, Kenny? I guarantee you, you couldn’t renovate a place like that. And whataya need the plot for, really?”
“Plot? You mean the site?”
“Where the house is you’d have to knock down so you could build the other one. The model.” Stu’s tone was patient, as to an idiot. “Why not get your investors a cottage over at Maple Hills? I hear they got all the in-room saunas, ceiling mounted TVs, and what-the-hecks a rich third-worlder could clap his hands over. Take em up the road on a limo drive, they can look at all the fields.”
It was a jab, and it hit home. For moments, Bridge did nothing but nurse his lager.
The owner of Oathbreach Farm owned a full six hundred acres, about twenty of which were developed. In Oathbreach parlance, developed meant dead people stuck underground, decomposing among the roots of their chosen Growth—
Called so, because meant to thrive onwards, little trees becoming forest, fruiting shrubs feeding generations of songbirds, flowers gladdening butterflies, and the hearts of relatives come to picnic and stroll, to commune with nature on benches made of boulders, knit burial shrouds…
Or pluck lutes, or sniff glue, Bridge thought. Teconieshe, the old man, wanted all of it, corpse by corpse, to sprawl into a City of the Dead. Except not a city…a Wooded Parkland of the Dead. Teconieshe’s daughter Aura, married to Stu, was an only, and so was Deb. Bridge, if he could survive the engagement, would by proxy get control of half.
He longed to be married, or wedded, then sweep Deb off on a cruise, talk to her with none of those people around, make her see sense. Or nonsense, looked at the other way. Five hundred eighty acres that could pay in the millions…
Kept fallow, earning a few thousand here and there. Why wouldn’t the dead enjoy a nice community feeling, a clubhouse and greens, a gated neighborhood or two? The Oathbreach people (he shook his head, Stu be damned), selling dug-up plants from the garden! Let them even have the eighty. More than a foreseeable future’s worth of stiffs, right there.
Maybe the part around the creek that flooded…
“Ingrid Bergman,” a voice called out.
“Oh, good, Wiss!” Bridge’s fiancée answered. “What else?”
The person Deb had named Wiss, bustling through the second arch with a red rose in each hand, stopped and brandished these, saying, “There!” to a third party.
“Obsession,” this one said calmly. “Dancing in the Dark. And I have Desmond Tutu.”
(2022, Stephanie Foster)