Tuesday, April 23 Evening
Veronica caught me on my knees, my hands rummaging in the basil. Like most herbs, it smells best when bruised. Usually Juniper or I heard her coming, but she’d just been fitness walking in a pair of creeping sneakers and I was in a daze. The basil’s fragrance was as heady as a drug, as heady as the very fresh memory of Peter’s kisses. My lips, more bruised than the basil I brushed, were set in a permanent smile. The kind you can’t turn off. So Veronica got to think I was happy to see her, which I was. After all, we might be related some day.
“Aren’t you the sweetest thing,” she called. I assumed she was referring to the tin of cookies I’d left for her this morning. Happiness brings out the baker in me. She got some. Professor Sargeant and Phoebe got some. Even Mrs. Moth was eating sugar cookies tonight.
Sometimes I can’t bear looking at Veronica after she’s been on a power walk. She swathed her big smile in Vaseline, scrubbing her nose and forehead pink. Her hair, which was steel gray and cut in a nice little bob was squashed under a plastic hood, rain or shine.
“Be a neighbor,” she insisted. “Borrow something. Ask! Whatever you need. The boy before you borrowed the darnedest things. A telephone!” So I rose from my garden, brushing the dirt from my hands and asked to borrow a broom. She escorted me up stairs, first reaching under the radiator in our shared foyer and withdrawing a key. Why bother locking the door at all, I wondered but did not ask.
I want to say Veronica’s rooms appeared sterile because there was nothing stacked up. No projects nearing completion. Unlike Phoebe’s unit, or my own, there were very few books. A few paintings in uninspired frames seemed desolately small against the chalky white walls. Her dining room, too, was remarkably cheerless. She led me into her bedroom where I got the shock she evidently expected. Next to her bed stood a life-sized promotional cutout of Bartles and Jaymes, the screw top vintners, circa 1985. Spookily lifelike.
“Oh!” For a second thinking we were not alone.
“I didn’t have a man in my room, so one of the girls from the office gave me this!” She was vastly pleased. “Now I have two!”