The Resident (part six)
“Go in and get you something to drink,” Stu called out.
“Lunch any time now, Dad.”
Deb’s over-the-shoulder glance caught her fiancé’s frozen sneer. She turned in full, with a warning deliberation, and shot Bridge the dagger of a look.
One visitor was dressed in black athletic gear, the other a blue silk…disco shirt, Stu decided…and banana-colored slacks. They were touching the blooms in their hands to a stand of peachish roses. After a minute of letting the scene play, he thought he’d got the trend.
These boys were clients. Bridge was an idiot.
Ceremony entered, in the person of Stu’s wife. She stepped from the farm’s reception hall, bearing a gong, and rang it. “Lunch, dears! Debra, Teconieshe is with us today.”
Divesting herself of the gong, patting her husband on the shoulder and ignoring Bridge, she descended.
“What I want for you, is not the formal rose bed…but grasses, waving grasses. Muhly, I think, a white-flowered variety. Stacked stones, and a copper bowl.” All these Aura’s hands sketched, as her pantsuited figure homed in. “We will have chicory, some Queen Anne’s lace, and a tiered presentation of coneflowers, phloxes, wild irises, forget-me-nots peeking from the stones, a trio of dark-leaved penstemon suddenly there, and at last, your Lady Emma, her petals dancing over your little incline”—her hand gripped Wissary’s arm—“to kiss those of whichever red your partner chooses. And you…”
The grip found Desander’s arm. “There are so many dark-leaved plants. We may begin with the shade of a Japanese maple. A very old, but very small conifer, blue-needled, pruned to appear windswept. Meaningful granites and brooding slates, placed so, etched glass for your bowl, in cobalt. Bloodroot and trillium. Ferns, but only hart’s-tongue. Then, climbing to the sun, the burgundy merging into chartreuse, some hardy agaves, and your rose…”
Her eyes pierced Desmond Tutu. Desander’s hand went slack, the bloom falling onto his shoe.
“Oh my God,” he and Wissary said in unison.
“Mom, these are our neighbors.”
“How nice! Then of course you belong at our table. The invitation stands.” Aura’s hands tapped them to face the patio, retook their arms and escorted them forward. “Stu, get up.”
“I know what you’re thinking.” He pushed to his feet, in the grunting way of jest, and said to Desander, “Stu Mizener. The lady is Aura, goes by Cheale. You two bought the house. I think I have some idea what your names are.”
“How does she go by Cheale?” Wissary whispered.
“Shut up and I’ll tell you tonight. Desander, Mr. Mizener.”
“No, no. Stu.”
“My partner, Wissary.”
“That’s terrific. So, what pays the bills for you?”
“Bridge, I want you to sit with us,” Debra said, flat.
Wissary consulted Desander, with an uptick. “I think John does? He wants to be helpful, and the little pencilly things are just his passion.”
Stu laughed. Decoding this mention of the resident, he laughed again. “That guy. I won’t call him a kook, since it looks like you all’ve made an arrangement. But I swear, we went out to the house ten, twenty times. Had the strongest idea Rancilton was hanging around, never quite put a finger on him.”
“We don’t,” said Desander, patient, “go out to jobs. We used to do archival work. I would create text and Wiss do visuals.”
The brief talk’s passage coincided with theirs into the hall. Wissary stalled, seized a near shoulder, Debra’s, and pointed to the vaulted ceiling, swallowing a second “Oh my God!” into a gasp.
“I’m sorry I didn’t prep you. I’m so glad you are having lunch! It’s a Chihuly.”
And all this designation gave suggestion to, of led prayers and special foods, possible dancing, silenced even Desander.
From a spot on the wall, unnoticed in the broader glory of the room, came three deep tongs, that echoed, imposing silence. Chatting groups broke apart, individuals circled tables—finding signs, and taking seats.
“I want one,” Wissary told Debra. “What do you call it?”
“The chandelier, the gong, your mother for my new best friend. I want one of everything.”
“Guys,” Debra said, and sighed. “I need to get with my fiancé. But come along, we’re all at the dais table.”
A minor continent of Flokati covered this dais, and spilled down its single-step platform. Stu sat already, next to a figure with white hair…a puff over each ear, diminishing to a back-fringe of stragglers. The figure wore a suitcoat, button collar and striped tie, and had the look of an elderly man who had been dressed.
Aura directed place-settings. “You’d better take that arrangement,” she said, and to Desander’s disappointment, its curious components—a sculptural something with holes, and a plume of grass—whisked from sight with a server.
“Stu, given them one of your cards to write their names on.”
“Hey, I’ll give em a pen, too.”
Stu’s companion formed a wistful smile, choosing Desander for eye contact. He said, “They talked me into it.”
“Sit!” Aura patted Desander on the back. A server rolled in a cart, the kind with metal lids, steaming smells of onions and peppers. Another cart, with coffee and tea urns, queued.
“Des, you’re next to Teconieshe. I saw you two were having a chat…”
And she was gone. Wissary scribbled on his card. Desander tried, at last, “I doubt you’ll regret it, sir. It all looks wonderful.”
The elder of Oathbreach Farm balked, he thought, at so large a meal. He spun to the pleasant whoosh of ice water from a pitcher. “Coffee, please. And leave the wine glass.”
“Oh, well, I’d better not either.”
“Suit yourself, Wiss. Since I can’t trust you to drive sober, why…”
(2022, Stephanie Foster)