The Resident (part seven)
Not, he’d been about to say, make them remember you for all the wrong reasons…irritated that Wissary could be irritated with him.
But Teconieshe spoke. “The young couple were going to buy it, three hundred above the rent, later John said he could manage five…six thousand a year, that’d been. The girl got sick.”
“Our poor Claudine, yes.”
“And what did she die of?” asked Wissary, crass on a single glass of Chablis.
Slices of chicken breast arrived on plates, piled with rice and peas, piled again with a red…
“Sort of relish…?”
“It’s a chutney, Des,” Deb called. She was near the table’s end, the room reverberating now, with silver and glass and talk. “Bell pepper and cayenne, but not very hot when you blend it with the rice. Just a little punch.”
Desander reached behind to tap Wissary on the shoulder. “I think they’re making up. She said ‘punch’ straight-faced, and look, their heads are together. I see a little smile.”
“I’m so relieved. I’m having another glass of wine! Mr. Teconieshie, aren’t spats depressing?”
“Not mister. Only the one name. You understand that. She died of taint.”
“Hmm?” said Desander.
“Taint. Planet sickness.”
A server was drawing out wraps, in corn husks, gusting an unfamiliar spice with every pop of the warming tray’s lid. Next came small bowls of berries, under dollops of soft cheese.
“The laburnums?” Desander spoke low. “She…mucked around with them…too much?”
“Laburnums? Make sense!”
“Pruned them, picked bouquets…?” The picture conjured, it needed admitting, did not make sense, and Teconieshe wasn’t having it.
“Better eat all that. Your friend’s got a good appetite.”
Desander feared so. He ate; his neighbor nibbled. Teconieshe volunteered, after downing ice water and tapping his napkin to his lips, “I’m saving for dessert. Should be a good pie. Nobody ever told you about planet sickness?”
Planet, Desander thought. A second passed, and he thought, planet!
Someone (Aura) began ringing her knife against her wineglass. She gathered eyes.
She rose and said: “Everyone!”
Everyone’s last sip and forkful, and finished sentence, murmured into a hum of breathing.
“As often as I see you, our dear members… And let me mention our dear guests!” She smiled aside at Wissary. “As often as I see you, I am never less than eager to lunch with you again. Katie tells me our sale has netted us eight hundred dollars, so far.”
A young woman with bangs and a red blazer, half rose to applause. Wissary clapped. Desander followed the lead of Teconieshe, and composed his face to show approval. He wasn’t certain of values, monetary, in the 20-teens. But eight hundred seemed a small taking to run a business on.
A man in wire-rimmed glasses announced from his seat that the Farm was getting more inquiries, and more on the new url, meaning the Facebook ads were maybe not a write-off…
“But…” He swiveled a laptop in Aura’s direction, a pie chart screened. “That thirty percent increase is over eighteen, so, three more people.”
“But the change is generational, Paul,” someone who didn’t care for Paul said. “I mean, my parents have their funeral prepaid. Old people have done that, thought of it…or got sold on it…as a responsibility. A person my daughter’s age would be completely open to green. My daughter is.”
“Your daughter is Sara,” Aura said. “She favors aquatic plants, and wants her Growth to be a bog’s edge.”
Her evocation led a voice to pipe, “We need more bog!”
“The main water feature is going to be a macrocosm of…” came an answer, the talk fading into low-voiced, “tiers…” and “natural movement…”; and another speaker’s: “Please, let’s not have boulder salad!”
“When Gemma comes down. She understands glaciation.”
Desander, keen to somehow insert himself, but stuck with his own party, saw two servers in chef’s coats follow the automatic swing of the kitchen doors, each gripping the handle of a tray. The tray held two jumbo baking pans, filled with pie.
“That’s it! Cookies and cream,” Teconieshe said. He inched upright in his chair and tapped his feet. A doubled sea of cream, to Desander’s eyes, lay crumbled over in dark chocolate, decoratively poufed around the edges with further cream, and bits, and drizzles.
“Ah. It must be delicious.”
“Sometimes I get a little yen for banana cream, but mostly I’ll take my cookies. Now in fall, they come out with pumpkin. I don’t like cloves. My granddaughter can bake a pumpkin cake with French buttercream icing, extra ginger… I like extra ginger. Deb’s cake’s almost as good as pie.”
“Deb!” shouted Wissary. “You, baking your cake, and me, shadowing you in the kitchen…” He turned to Aura. “Amazing, how I never thought of learning to make things!”
After a murmur from Bridge, Deb shouted back, “Absolutely!”
“We get all our helpers from the Acervillas Crew College. If you carry on,” Aura flung a fork tipped in cream, “to the crossroads, turn left…”
“Does everyone want coffee?”
“Pots,” said Desander. He received on one side, as the coffee splashed in on the other, an oval shallow bowl with a great pillow of pie centered. Teconieshe was spoons into his own.
“My wife would make a thing called a pavlova. Rum in it. Cherries. I never hated that, fruit. But outside banana, or… I can remember pawpaw. Claudine Rancilton. It was Claudine, made a pie with pawpaw pudding, ground up peanuts for a crust.”
(2022, Stephanie Foster)