The Resident (part eleven)
An Anniversary Party
“So a hangar, a fueling station, mechanic’s shop. And some kind of lounge, case of thunderstorms, guests have to wait for a car. But no tower. Still, with the idea of mapping out space for one…”
Debra squatted. She had been on tippytoe already.
“Teconieshe, I’m twelve!”
“Twelve! You don’t know how young that is. Wanting to be grown up, like every kid. Even me, and I was a kid two thousand years ago. Youngster, I have a little errand for you. Can you take a walk in the woods by yourself?”
“Down to the road, and across.”
“You mean where I catch the bus? Um, yeah…been there, done that. Only Harley can come along, since it’s not school.”
Debra’s grandfather flicked a finger under her nose. “Better not, saucepot.”
He went off, up the barn stairs to his loft. The barn was converted, and Teconieshe’s. The house was under renovation. Aura and Debra lived in chaos, an apartment of one room; but a room the size of a commercial kitchen, which it would be. They had a whole wall made of sheetrock propped against a beam, dustcovered in hanging plastic. Life was adventuresome.
“World’s getting smarter,” her grandfather would wink at her.
(But when she’d asked her mother, “Are people getting smarter?”, Aura had said, “God, no!”)
Teconieshe came down with an oblong bowl in his hands.
“Wow, pretty. What’s that?”
“A celery, they call it. Cut glass. Got a few souvenirs, and I mean to see em put to use, whenever Oathbreach comes into its own. But not this…this goes to Mrs. Rancilton. You don’t know who she is.”
Mrs. Rancilton (Debra learned) was a poor sickly woman who lived in the house. The house belonged to her grandfather, and she saw it looking both ways, crossing for the bus. It seemed dead…no voice ever floating on a breeze, no TV dialogue, no music from a radio. No door hinge creaking, no figure moving shadowed under trees, no car backing from the drive. But flowers bloomed; they must, under someone’s care. A brilliant yellow glimmered in springtime from the backyard. And Debra knew she was not to trespass, not let her dog romp in that yard.
“Help me wrap this up for a present. I don’t have any fancy papers, but check that cupboard. I think there’s a good cachebox in there…and might be a neckerchief.”
He had a vocabulary, her grandfather.
But for growing up on Jennifer’s Prairie Girl Tillie books, Debra was confident of a neckerchief when she saw one. She scanned the portal to ancient times that was Teconieshe’s closet. Umbrella stands with their musty arsenals of aged bumbershoots; flaking spines of volumes stuffed between shelves of flaking shellac…
Woolen blankets above her head, moth-holes prominent; and dismantled (musty) canvas tents…
She spotted a wooden jewel box.
“Glove box,” Teconieshe said. “That’ll do.”
“Isn’t a glove box in the car?”
“Ask me how it got to be called a car.”
Dashboards, fenders, headlamps, taillamps. Landaus, cabriolets. Debra walked with two hands tight on the box, wrapped as prettily as she’d managed, in a silk muffler (musty). She added muffler to her list for extra credit. She stopped at the edge of Teconieshe’s garden, worked a fingernail through a rose stem, and tucked a flower into the knot.
The woods were sun-patched, sweet smelling.
She crossed the road, got closer to a gable greened from algae, with its timbering looking like a brittle charcoal stick. Was this considered a nice sort of house, back when they’d decided to make it look this way, she wondered.
Debra was stalled over these minutiae, from fear. “Mrs. Rancilton is a very nice person.” She had just heard this. She avoided the gravel and padded along the drive’s dirt edge.
I could ring the bell, put the box down…
And Mrs. Rancilton would think, what on earth? Or maybe, that funny old man…
Something protective of her grandfather stirred in Debra, and she told herself—Stu’s phrase—toughen up, kid. Sounds came, little clinks of metal.
A voice: “Look at that!”
Louder, while Debra’s heart pounded: “John! Jo-ohn!”
Then: “Oh, well. I almost thought we had an owl.”
Mrs. Rancilton was on hands and knees. Packs of marigolds sat arced near a bucket. Her backside wore grey sweats, her torso a baggy blue tee. Her hair flopped reddish-brown. Bedroom slippers lay discarded near bare feet.
“I wish I could see one. It’s so awesome to me, the animals they had!” She patted the head of a Siamese cat. “And you are so awesome!”
One of the feet was bandaged. Mrs. Rancilton heaved a sigh, moved at a jump from knees to seat. She drew the foot onto her lap. She reached into the bucket and pulled out a knife…an art knife, not a gardener’s. She switched the knife to her left hand, and pulled out a bottle of rubbing alcohol. She unwound the bandage.
Mrs. Rancilton sterilized the knife; she began, with precise, tiny…cuts, to remove bits from the injured place. It looked so to Debra—frozen well in sight, not yet seen. Clip, clip, clip, clip, clip. More rubbing alcohol, poured this time over the foot. Clip, clip, clip again.
And the bandage snugged back in place.
Debra, rescued by an idea, had been stepping backwards, to a place her voice might sound distant enough, calling.
She called: “Hi! Hello!”
Mrs. Rancilton slued round at the waist like the Andrew Wyeth girl. Her face was pretty, shiny with sunscreen. “Hey! That’s not Debra, is it? Aura’s? Sorry I can’t get up. Well, I can…but it’s a process.”
(2022, Stephanie Foster)