The Resident (part nine)
An Anniversary Party
“I think I…what do they say? Being given a stick somehow. Why?”
Desander sighed, and drove on. He had been trying to ignore this story.
“But Aura’s wonderful friend… She came right up and pinched my silk between her fingers…” He flapped his puffed shirt sleeve. “Playful. Sweet! She said, don’t go until I’ve been introduced!”
So much food, in the middle of the day. It was four-thirty, an afternoon hour for sitting at the kitchen table with paper and pen, scheming their garden. Clouds rolled overhead, soon to rain, nothing cozier… Desander wanted sleep. Badly enough he thought his partner’s chatter might lull him to it, there behind the wheel.
“Her name is Jennifer. She was shy of coming out with something… So it seemed to me! She nudged Aura with an elbow and said, would you think of becoming a member? I was on the verge of, I completely am…and she whispered, we need more people of color.”
“Yes,” said Desander. He freighted the syllable with all it might convey. He heard his partner repeat yes musingly…
He decided Wiss (as usual) needed plainest terms. “You were taught that the cataclysms destroyed mostly the northern hemisphere, that survivors had to give up dividing themselves into what they called nationalities… Oh, figure it out! There’s a reason we don’t look like they do.”
“Partly photosynthesis,” Desander conceded.
“But the poor little frosty things, I adore them! I want to hug them like those naked cats!”
“Ha. I can see you… I absolutely do, buying a Sphinx, and dressing it up in costumes, and pretending to write in its voice on Instagram…”
“Tell on,” said Wissary. “I love it when you put me in scenarios.”
“You will get the kitten only if you never, ever mention it online. That, you know perfectly well. We cannot…no, Wiss, we cannot…join Oathbreach. We shouldn’t have gone there at all.”
Glum silence, and Wissary said: “What about our roses?”
“Debra said they’ll be delivered Monday.”
“Will we get the maple?”
“Yes, yes, the maple, the salvias, the coneflowers, the sedums, the dwarf pines. Am I forgetting anything?”
“You’re forgetting the rocks. Deb said she’d text us a number.”
“I want…” Formal structure, that breaks into islands of controlled chaos, Desander had been about to say. He lashed down his enthusiasm. “Wiss, while you were talking to the woman…”
“Jennifer, Des! She’s our friend now, like Aura, and Deb, and Teconieshe…”
“Umm, right, and I had taken him aside…”
“I allow the possibility of Bridge. Not liking people makes me ill. But I haven’t said the fun part. I thought she meant my clothes, Jennifer.” He made the sweepingest of self-referential gestures a bucket seat could afford. “I told her, I only buy cheerful things. I’m bright on behalf of all the timid, dull people. You wear black. I wear yellow and blue! And she said, if you think I’m timid, you don’t know me, dear! We laughed.”
“And then she said, well, that’s my comeuppance.” He sounded the syllables.
Desander yawned, and pulled into their drive. “For a homework assignment, I can’t improve on it. Ask John. Seriously…” He stopped the car and shut off the engine. “He’s itching for useful work. Ask him everything you don’t understand. I’m taking a nap.”
The door thudded; Desander straightened. Wissary for once had a wary face. John, at the bottom of the laburnum allée, had just walked into view—with a woman.
She was their lister.
Desander had come to feel John shopped at the gas station for the darting in and out. He could not have borne aisles of decision, or the threat of meeting someone who remembered Claudine. Maybe that most of all—
But it led to macaroni and cheese, a box mix, congealed on a low burner, under a lidded pot. Fritos and Doritos comingling in a coconut-shell bowl. The bowl was on the table, the places set with cutlery and napkins; glasses, too, and a sweating pitcher, identifiable from the odor as containing root beer…
John, on some persuasion, had fixed a lunch.
Wissary wiped a tear. “We are so sorry, John, to have come home late. How completely wonderful of you, doing all this!”
“You don’t want it,” John said. “That’s all right. I’ll go now, so you can talk to your friend.”
Wissary wandered, distrait, to the living room sofa.
Desander made eye contact with the lister. “She and I will take a short walk. I know Wiss is dying to dig in, John. You won’t make him sit by himself?”
The two shook mutual heads at the laburnums, and edged round the car, towards the road. “I think I ought to tell you,” the lister said, “that my name is Gemma. Tiths aren’t supposed to know those things, but now you’ve nosed your way into Oathbreach Farm…”
He interrupted. “I wonder, since you’re here, if I have your permission to…to invite some people…”
“Oh, why not? Invite a camera crew. I thought, when we launched this experiment, that I had a Problem subject and a Sensible one. Desander, I never say anything lightly. If you won’t obey the rules, you and Wissary can be separated. You have probably got the makings of a Lone. But your friend?”
“Wiss would die. Don’t be sure I wouldn’t.”
“No, I’d hope you would.” She smiled, the portentous smile of a lister.
“Fine with you.”
“Not my call. You want to invite people? Aura, Debra, Teconieshe?”
Why not, while you’re at it, tell me the day and time, he thought…
And remembered. “Gemma, what is planet sickness?”
(2022, Stephanie Foster)