Saturday, February 27, 2010

26th Sketchcrawl

The year's first International Sketchcrawl (#26) held today all over the world.
Check out the link under "Cool Sites" on the right.
We met at the Atlanta Water Gardens on Cheshire Bridge Road. This is a great venue for sketching: free, friendly, three cats, lots of sculpture, moving water, giant meaty koi with dangerous gleams in their eyes...and it's indoors!

I wish I'd been able to spend more time at the AWG. My sketches are lamentably rushed. "Organic" as one kind person said.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dangerous Book - Episode 31

Episode 31

Wednesday, May 9

Several days later, as I was on my knees in the garden, Professor S. lowered himself to the ground beside me.

“She’s just left,” he whispered.

“What are you talking about?”

“Veronica. She’s gone over to the church with Elizabeth. I just saw them.”

“I didn’t.”

“They went out the back,” said. “Come on. I want to search her place.”

“No way.”

“Don’t be weak. I’ve got the key. I just want you to watch from the back window so we can see when they leave the church.”

“Where did you get her key?”

“She leaves it under the radiator in the hall.”

So he’d found it, too.

If Veronica’s apartment could speak, I think it would croak with irritation. A grass green couch sat too close to a cherry red upholstered chair. A brown braid rug swam like a dusty boat, too small to reach either piece. Her walls were a harsh rental white and nothing—no paintings, posters or shelves—had been added to soften them. Next to a maple rocker stood a low bookshelf upon which sat some cheap ornaments, too small for the bony lamp next to them. I honed in on the books.

Professor S. headed for the kitchen, but stopped at the dining room table, distracted. He picked something up and turned to me.

“Isn’t this yours?”

I glanced up from my examination of a copy of Gone with the Wind, which to my amazement, proved to be a first edition. She and Phoebe might have bought them together. Very little could have distracted me from this find, but what dangled from Professor Sargeant’s hand certainly did. My new charm bracelet.

“How on earth did it get here?”

“I’d say someone brought it. Didn’t you miss it?” He handed it to me.

“Sort of. I was looking for it last night, but got distracted. I hadn’t started searching for it. It must have been Veronica’s,” I said, taking it from him.

“Yeah, if she’s the one who took it from your apartment.”

“But she hasn’t been in my apartment.”

“How do you know?”

“Good question. God, she could have keys to everyone’s apartments.”

“Not mine. I installed new locks when I moved in. I take it you didn’t?”

I shrugged. I was careful about changing locks in the big city, but here? It hadn’t occurred to me. What had Veronica done? In searching for her bracelet, what else did she discover? This diary. My TV Guide? Did she pet the dog? Or simply dislodge the air? I counted the charms; there was nothing missing.

“Do you think Peter might have taken it?”

“That’s possible.”

Peter, as we know, has spent many hours in my apartment. Or has he? I thought about the time he and I have spent together. Most of the concentrated hours, if you will, have been spent in his place. He’s never spent the night or even had a meal. I said this. Professor S. nodded.

“It doesn’t take much time to put a small object in your pocket,” he said.

That was true. There were times when I’d been in the kitchen or bathroom. Last night I got a call from my mother, and she’d kept me talking for almost fifteen minutes. During that time, I’d wandered into my office leaving Peter alone on the couch, but he could have gone into the bathroom, just two steps from my bedroom. I generally left the jewelry I wore regularly on top of a bureau. The rest was in various boxes in the top drawer. I’m almost certain he’d seen me search for earrings.

“He was over last night. We had drinks and hung out.” Actually, he’d come to see Jacob and had swung by my place when Juniper barked her greetings from an open window. Seducing him to stay had been a bit of a challenge, but I’d succeeded and was still feeling very full of myself.

I pictured us on the living room sofa, snuggling low. The lights were on and the blinds open when I’d kissed him. He had pulled away, not quickly, and walked to the windows, closing the blinds with a movement that had been, in retrospect, very quick.

“I joked about his aunt passing by and seeing us,” I said, relating some of this to Prof. S.

“How did he take that?”

“Take what?”

“Joking about his aunt seeing you.”

A flip remark rose to my lips as I considered how to answer him.

“I think he was more interested in Billie or Allan not seeing us,” I said, restoring Veronica’s copy of Gone With the Wind to its place next to a cookbook. She did not appear to have any other first editions.

“Don’t you wonder why?” he demanded.

“No, I don’t,” I said. “Why shouldn’t he want some privacy? I would like some.” This wasn’t true. I wanted everyone to see us together.

“Privacy is one thing. Secrecy is something else. Keeping your relationship —”

We were just turning toward the small kitchen when Juniper started barking. We froze, looking at each other. Was it Veronica and Mrs. Moth back from Calvary already? Juniper continued her noise.

“Back door?” I hissed.

Prof. S. tried the doorknob but of course the dead bolt was thrown and the door would not open. It was the kind that required a key on both sides. Most people would have left a spare either in the deadbolt or close by. There was no key in sight. How were we to get out? I pivoted and crept as fast as I could to the front windows, trying to see if she and Mrs. Moth were standing out front. They were studying the professor’s garden, pointing to and examining its growth, or so it appeared. We might have some time if the light held or the plants fascinated. Juniper’s bark subsided. I opened the front door.

“Come on,” I whispered.


He’d been trying to open the deadbolt with keys from the set we’d found downstairs and had finally managed it.

“Meet you later,” I hissed, making a bold, if potentially stupid, run for the front door. My aim was to get out and at least be on the descent in case Veronica walked in. That way I could distract her and give Professor S. a chance to escape the back way.

It worked. Veronica was still engaged with Mrs. M. when I reached my own apartment. Juniper’s barking stopped abruptly as I scooped her into my arms. Whispering “Good dog” I realized I was still clutching the charm bracelet. I managed to hide it by sliding the hand that held it under Juniper, switching her to my right hand and cradling her under that arm. But I am not sure. Surely she could see how dilated my eyes were and hear how breathlessly I lied.

“I was just looking for you,” I said. “But now I can’t remember why.”

“Oh, you girls always want to borrow something.”

She insisted I follow her, which I readily did, and with every intention of returning the bracelet to its place. But where had Prof. S. found it?

Veronica led the way through the living room and into her kitchen.

“I’ll make us some tea,” she said. “Or coffee? I have instant.”

“Tea is great,” I said from the dining room. I bent down to release Juniper and, standing straight, dropped the bracelet on the dining room table. Chances are if it wasn’t where Professor S. had found it, Veronica would not remember moving it. Then I made a rash decision.

“How did this get up here?” I asked, rather ostentatiously walking into the kitchen with the bracelet dangling from two fingers. On my face, I’d slapped a quizzical look, half innocent, half conspiratorial. “This is the bracelet I dug up.”

Veronica, turning from the open refrigerator, one hand on the door, the other grasping a glass pitcher, blushed to the roots of her iron gray hair. For a second we stood as combatants, then, as she began to lose her grip on the tea, I reached forward and caught it. Together we placed it safely on the counter and my attempt at confrontation aborted. Or so I thought.

“Where did you get that?” She was stuttering with anger and confusion.

“On the dining room table,” I said.

“How dare you go through my things?”

“It was right there,” I snapped. “And I believe it’s mine.”

“No, it isn’t,” she said. “Give it to me right now.”

But I held it fast. “Veronica, I found it.”

“Finders keepers? That doesn’t matter. Do you think everything you find belongs to you?”

Actually I do, but clearly that wasn’t an appropriate or even a fair response. In the second it took me to think twice before answering her, I drew a breath. Taking a breath, counting to ten before speaking is wise advice. In those seconds much can be revealed. But only if you use the time to look around.

Veronica’s red face paled, her blue eyes watered. She too, breathed, and I could see the effort it took for her not to reach out and grab the trinket from my hand. Suddenly I felt very ashamed of myself and my actions. What kind of adventure did I think I was on? At my feet, Juniper snuffled. She had dragged a dingy white sock from somewhere and was toying with it. Wasn’t I doing the same with Veronica’s emotions? But looking at Juniper reminded me of Astible. If Veronica had poisoned the little dog, she deserved no consideration from me. (But what if she hadn’t?)

“Are you saying this is your bracelet?” I asked. My anger, rooted in fear, had dissipated. Hers had not.

“It…yes, it is mine. It was mine. It will be mine again, if you have any manners.”

Of course I had manners. But I also had a brain.

“If this is yours, why didn’t you say so when I dug it up? It was sitting right there.”

“I didn’t notice it until you wore it. By then you’d added your own charms, but when you told the other girls where you’d found it, I realized it was the one I lost.”

“When? When did you lose it?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know. When Beau… it must have been when he planted the azaleas. I just know it’s mine.”

When she reached out again I released it. The spell, such as it was, had been broken. As if to emphasize our return to normalcy, I heard Professor S.’s steps on the stairs.

“Nora? Are you up there? Someone here to see you.”

I almost laughed. Our Nancy Drew adventure had ended for the day. We still don’t know if Veronica poisoned Astible, either by accident (this seems improbable) or for reason of her own (also improbable) but at least I’d learned who owned the bracelet I’d uncovered.

How long had it lain there? Did the bead?

I stood looking at Veronica rubbing the baby head charm with her thumb, her lips moving slightly, as if in prayer, and then I turned and left. If she knew who owned the blue bead, I’d find out soon enough.

As I walked downstairs, not looking forward to reporting this scene to Professor S., she called to me.

“Here,” she said, handing me an envelope. Inside was the bracelet with my own charms still attached but not the baby head. Sadly, I cupped my new jewelry. I wanted the baby charm.

“Why did you take it from me?” I asked. “How did you even get it?”

“The locks haven’t been changed on that apartment in thirty years,” she said with a certain grimness. “I used to come and go every day. Here.”

When I held out my hand again, she placed in it the key to my apartment.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dangerous Book - Episode 30

Sat. May 6 continued

I was on the verandah brushing Juniper when Veronica returned. She took Ed Dowling’s message with a sly smile.

“Are you buying a house?” I asked.

“Can you keep a secret?”

“If you ask me to,” I said, then thought better of it. “I guess it depends on the secret. Is something happening?”

“The church is buying this complex,” she said.

“I thought it already owned it.”

“No, we just manage the property.” She is on one of the boards, I understood that. “We want to own the land.”

“Don’t tell me you’re going to build a parking lot on this apartment complex!” The thought made me sick. There’s plenty of Sunday parking all over the streets. Why churchgoers can’t walk a few blocks to sit for an hour is beyond me, but they all seem to have to crowd each other for spots.

“No. Well, maybe a little. We need to build a family center.”

“But what about us?”

She shrugged, tempering it with an encompassing sigh. “Oh, you’ll be moving on. Most people only live here for a few years. It’s just the old ladies who stay forever. And even we are sometimes capable of change.”

“But what will happen to Phoebe and Mrs. Moth. And you? Where will you go?”

“We’ll find places. We’ll be fine.”

“Does Phoebe know?”

“Oh, yes.” But her eyes flickered when she said this, and I knew she was lying.

If Phoebe knows about this, she doesn’t like it.

“Is that why you didn’t want us putting in a new garden?”

“Actually, it was one reason it didn’t matter that you did.”

I guess she’s right about most of us only living here a few years. That’s the way of it in a college town, but I’d been loving my time here and making tentative plans for a long stay. I’m attracted by the courtyard’s past and its emerging artifacts. And the garden! A garden is a bid for the future. When you plant one you can’t help but think of the years ahead. That’s just the way they are. Half of what you do and think is rooted, literally, in what will happen in the weeks and months ahead. I’ve heard gardeners say it takes twenty years to grow a good garden and that no one can call himself a gardener until he’s moved the same plant three times.

Professor Sergeant’s expensive investment in shrubs spoke to his future plans. He had no intention of going anywhere when he put in the kind of planting that would take years just to get settled. He hadn’t been told of this. That I knew. I wondered how he would take the news. And I wondered if I’ll be the one to tell him.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dangerous Book - Episode 29

One thing I loved about owning a dog, and Juniper in particular, was the way she always knew just when to perch herself on the back of the big chair by the window. So that after I’d parked my car and walked past the building and up the verandah steps what I saw first was her goofy little head with its curly ears that look more like accessories. She was waiting for me. And I loved it. I loved the feeling of being welcomed home. That’s a dog for you. That’s why people have dogs. They are the welcome to your own home.

But this afternoon, Juniper was watching the dark-haired man who stood in front of my garden, as if pondering its growth. He was Eddie Dowling, the church member who wanted Professor S. to dig his garden elsewhere. Snatches of the resume Veronica and Phoebe had released adjusted themselves in my mind: 40-something, lawyer, state representative, father (deceased) a former Monnish Court resident.

When I was close enough I saw he was rolling a bit of rosemary between his thumb and forefinger.

“Pot roast, right?” I said, indicating the rosemary.

“Pot roast and Sunday afternoons,” he smiled. Behind him Juniper set off what sounded like another round of barking. There was impatience and interrogation in her voice.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I have to let her out.”

Eddie Dowling was a dog lover. I could tell and so could Juniper. She was fairly cat-like in her ways, tending to pursue people who’d rather have nothing to do with her, rolling on her back on the sidewalk at the touch of a practiced hand, but with Eddie she sat to doggy attention, alert and ready to carry a newspaper or fetch a toy. When he tucked her under one arm, she rested her chin on his wrist as if she knew him well. That was her special charm.

When he tickled her chin, I saw that in his left hand he held the blue bead I had dug up that first day. I’d taken the bracelet for my own and wore it most days. I was wearing it then, camouflaged by my own charms. The bead was another matter. After placing it in various spots around my apartment, I concluded that it would only get lost in the effluvia of my own stuff. And the fact was, charms and fetishes have jobs to do.

Turkish donkey beads are supposed to be worn for good luck, but this bead had its own luck. Or fate. The hole that should have been drilled all the way through it had not been. Instead it carried a kind of belly button, a tiny concave. It wanted to be carried in a pocket, or even a purse. Just not mine. For some reason I knew this, and for some other reason I decided to put it back in the garden and let it find its own way. Or let the forces of nature, God and man, decide its fate.

“I’d forgotten all about this,” he said. “My father brought it back from Turkey with a lot of other stuff. The beads are strung and looped around animals to keep them safe.”

“It was one of the things I excavated when I dug the patch,” I said.

He rolled it around in the palm of his large hand. The last time he’d held it, that palm had been much smaller. I wondered if he was thinking that. Had the bead kept him safe? Had losing the bead coincided with the death of his father?

“It was easy to lose,” he said. “I used to keep it in a pocket of my chinos. Sometimes it would disappear for a few days, get lost in the wash or I’d find it in my underwear drawer or my dad would toss it to me or mail it to me.” He laughed.

“I didn’t live with him.” He pointed across the street to the houses on University Circle. “I lived with my grandparents over there,” he said. “But I was over here all the time. I just loved it when he’d mail me stuff.”

“He had a sense of humor,” I said. I was starting to build up a picture of this mysterious man, who might not have been, but whose picture and activities were gaining a hold in my imagination.

Robert Dowling. Gardener. Friend. Traveler. Bringer of lucky charms. Restorer of lost objects. Bachelor father. An attractive man surrounded by single women. I had an image of the people in Phoebe’s photograph superimposed over a similar photo, not taken, of me and Peter; Billie and Allen; Kate and Jacob, and I wondered if that old crowed had played croquet. And which of the women had loved which of the men. Surely there had been other men?

“I haven’t seen this since he passed. I guess I must have lost it the day he died.”

“How? How old were you?”

“I was twelve. He had a heart attack.”

“I’ve seen his grave,” I said, nodding towards Evergreen.

“The man who died on his birthday.” He grimaced. “That was the headline. But I don’t think it’s so odd. They’d had a big party, everyone was drinking and dancing. Someone had brought a bottle of moonshine and they’d been into it. That night he died.”

He held the bead lightly, rolling it around on his open palm, as if undecided whether to let it drop again into the garden. Juniper’s nose, which seemed to have a life of its own, hovered over it. She licked it. The movement seemed to please him; he brought his cheek down and cuddled her.

“When I was little, I had a little necklace I used to let drop from a hole in my coat in the back yard and then look for,” I said.

“Why did you do that?”

“I was playing detective.”

“Do you still have it?”

“No. One afternoon I played the game, I don’t know, about ten times. Then I couldn’t find it. I dropped it too good, I guess. After that, I’d go out in the yard periodically and poke around, but I never found it. That summer my parents put up a swimming pool right where I’d been playing.”

“It’s long gone now.”

“Maybe. Who knows? Here’s your bead after all these years.”

“It’s yours now,” he said, offering it to me on the palm of his well-tended hand. I wouldn’t take it; in fact, I backed away.

“You keep it,” I said. I’d put out a hand as if warning him and his blue bead away. I shook my wrist. “Do you recognize this bracelet?”

He shook his head. I pointed to the baby’s head charm. “Does this look familiar to you?”

“I’ve seen charms like that, I think.” He looked at me, puzzled. “Why?”

“I found the bracelet when I dug the garden. When I found the bead. This charm was the only one on it. The rest are mine.”

He shook his head.

“If you see Veronica, would you tell I stopped by? Tell her I’ll call her with the closing date.”


“That’s right. Will you do that?”

“Yes, if I see her. Is she buying a house?”

He inhaled the rosemary, tapping his lip with the sharp sprig. I couldn’t tell if he was avoiding my question or just meditating. All of his movements seemed slow and detached as if the scent of the herb, which can be strong and very lulling, had distracted him fully.

“It was nice talking to you,” he said. “Thank you for returning my bead.” He looked at me in a way I want to say was kind, but which had a kind of force behind it that I found myself willingly responding to, as a good lieutenant might to a captain, “I like what you’ve done to the garden. But don’t try to dig up everything.”

People who know what they want from a situation are always at an advantage. He did not answer my question but by the time I realized it, he was long gone.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Dangerous Book - Episode 28

Next day May 3

Peter never joined me last night. After Billie disappeared, I took Juniper for a last walk around the block. In an attempted to work off some of my confusion about Peter and Lura’s relationship, Jacob’s anger with him and my own place in his world, I must have walked too fast. About halfway around the 12th Avenue block, Juniper sat herself down on the sidewalk, cocked her head at me and wouldn’t budge. I wound up carrying her home.

“That’s not good discipline,” said Professor Sergeant when I reached the verandah. He was smoking a very academic-looking pipe and leaning back against the top step. Juniper found a spot for herself on his chest.

“I guess not,” I agreed, finding a seat for myself against a column. I faced his profile and, not far behind, Phoebe’s darkened windows. Upstairs, I could see Veronica’s lights were off, her windows shut. Professor Sergeant’s blinds were half closed; the lights behind them dim. Only my own three living room windows glared, the lights behind them bright as noise. Anyone passing by could see the mess on my desk, the titles of the books on my shelves.

“Did you see Peter leave?” I asked, removing the leash and choke chain from Juniper’s neck. She still wore her little red collar. Prof. S. took the leash from me and removed the choke chain.

“Just try without it for a while,” he said, attaching the leash to Juniper’s collar.

“Did they say when they’d be back?”

“He’ll be back.”

We sat for a few minutes inhaling the night. We couldn’t see the plants grow, but night is when they reach out and change.

“Somebody killed my dog,” he said.

“Your dog died,” I said. “It was an accident.”

“My dog was killed,” he said. “And I want you to help me figure it out.”

“But, why? I mean, why would anyone want to kill a dog?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe whoever did it wanted to get at me.”

“But who are you? I mean, to get at? Have you?” I faltered. “An enemy?”

“I’m not being paranoid,” he said. “Veronica never liked me. Never.”

“But Astible?”

“She’s a vindictive, silly woman.”

“You think she’s responsible?”

“I do. But I don’t know for sure. I’m going to find out.”

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Guest Blog Post: How to Lose 100 Pounds

A guest blog post by Cynthia Yancey Smith

When I was five, my parents bought new dining room furniture: table, six chairs and a china cabinet complete with dust-catching spindles, crevices, nooks, shelves and intricate moldings. Crafted from solid pecan in a pricey brand the neighbors could envy, every stick was built to outlive us all.

I can’t remember how my parents came to buy this set, but I know it was above their means, because I can recall at least one loud argument amid much regular bickering regarding the financial decisions involved in purchasing it long after we owned it.

Dusting the china cabinet became my job. I was told how important it was to take care of, and respect, fine expensive things, usually while being handed a rag and a can of Pledge.

I grew to hate this thing.

Fast forward to my first year of marriage. My parents came to visit, pulling along a trailer full of things they were certain every young married couple would want, including the damned china cabinet. I swallowed hard when they lugged it in, apologizing to my husband. But he thought it was great that we had scored a large piece of furniture for the mere price of two-day visit from his in-laws.

Over the years, while we moved from X to Y to Z, the cabinet dictated virtually every interior-design decision by its sheer bulk and style. It began to own me. Accommodating its bulk was like living with a constant smell.

Because I was never able to find dining room furniture that I liked, but that would still “go” with the monster, I turned it into a display case in the living room. At least the piece was large enough to fill the gaps in a large room and hold the trophies and souvenirs I was sure would fit nowhere else. And the fact was, we couldn’t afford to replace it.

But I hated it. I hated dusting it, I hated its old-fashioned bulbous style, I hated the restrictions it placed on my decorating ideas, I hated remembering the place it held in my childhood: the symbol of success. For all the ‘things’ our parents bought to prove they were no longer children of the depression, they were still angry and anxious about money. Still, every time I thought about removing the monster from my life, I hit the wall of familial guilt. I had no siblings to give it to, no basement to hide it in, my parents didn’t want it back, and I couldn’t just sell it in a yard sale or give it to the local thrift store! The monster was a fine, expensive thing that I had grown up with. An heirloom representing the very life my parents had aimed for beyond their own hardscrabble upbringing. How dare I not want it?

Finally, 21 years later and well into my 50s, the day came when I could dare not to want the monster in my living room. It was easy: a casual friend was over helping us move the cable connection , which involved moving the monster to another wall.

“I wish I could toss the thing in the trash,” I said.

“Put it on Craig’s List,” he said, in that off-handed way that people use when they don’t know they’ve just opened a vein in your psyche. “Be done with it.”

It wasn’t that I hadn’t ever thought of doing just that (I’m a champion e-Bay user), it was just that no one else had ever spoken the words to me: “Be done with it.” A practical stranger had me permission to get rid of something I really hated, something that had taken up and determined huge amount of space and power in my life.

A few weeks later, the day came when someone actually paid me money (I can’t breathe how much because it would be sacrilege) and took the thing away – joyful in their acquisition. They were buying a nice, pecan china cabinet. I was losing 25 years of guilty weight.

When my living room was finally clear, and the sky did not fall, nor the gods strike me down, that, most important, my mother did not appear at my door to accuse me of being bad daughter, I saw that I was free. I felt 100 pounds lighter.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My most treasured possession

Many many years ago, my favorite and most influential English professor gave me a bootleg copy of J.D. Salinger's Uncollected Short Stories with the injunction to keep it safe. Somehow, through the last 36 years, 26 moves and half-dozen thieving roommates, light-fingered boyfriends and assorted "guests," I've managed to do just that. But then, books are the bricks in my safest walls, and Salinger's slender few are at the cornerstones.

It used to be that I read one of his books every year, possibly to maintain ties to my undergraduate years before the onus of living up to early promise became an onus and was still a kind of guarantee. In graduate school, I grabbed the opportunity to teach Franny and Zooey, doing so with a pleasure mixed with nostalgia for the semester I'd read it first and an amused understanding of the frustrations experienced by my old professor. Some students just didn't get it. Or like it. How could that be?

I'm not a Salinger scholar. I studied British Literature, not American. I read Salinger in order to steal his way of describing a person and a moment. For the rush of recognition whenever he honed in on an image of, say, Frannie's fingers trembling, the circle of light on the white tablecloth, the self-important clearing of Lane's throat. For the inclusive love I wished were mine in that Upper-West side apartment occupied by the Glass family.

When I feel the tears come, they're not for the famous writer/recluse, but for myself and the realization that I no longer know or am close to the girl I was when I read those books as if they were my Bible. He is gone and she is gone.

It may be that Salinger never stopped writing and so, like all good resurrection stories, that means we will soon have a posthumous outpouring of work. I hope so. In the meantime, I've begun another reading of Nine Stories. It's been too long.

Oh snail, climb Mt. Fuji. Slowly. Slowly.
I have.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dangerous Book - Episode 27

May 2, Wednesday

The game tonight felt more like tug-of-war than croquet. Peter’s back and it shows. He and Jacob bickered non-stop over rules and conduct. It was stupid too, because Lura had brought a box of restaurant candles and set them up next to each wicket. The effect was pretty and added to the silliness of the game. But the boys would not play a silly game. Have no idea what Jacob was mad about tonight, but he seems to keep a low boil going generally, and most of the time no one pays him any mind.

Lura’s candles were the squat red kind with plastic fishnet cozies. Jacob used them like bumpers with great luck, though that only seemed to make him more aggressive. At Peter’s example, we croqueted him every time he rearranged a candle to suit, but he wouldn’t admit he was cheating.

When someone has an interesting shot up, it is a good idea for the others to offer sincere, well considered, but unsolicited advice, seconds before one’s opponent makes the play. The boys do this so often, it’s become part of our ritual.

At one wicket, Jacob lined himself up, measuring the length between his ball and the wicket (about three feet), brushed some cut grass and a few twigs from the path his ball would need to take and bent slightly, only to stop, adjust his shorts and regain his stance. The second he went to take his shot, Allen coughed. Jake grinned, re-adjusted his shorts with some display and made his stoke. Just as his mallet made contact, Peter, standing next to Veronica, shook the ice in his glass and laughed, as if at something she’d said. Jake’s wrist wobbled and the ball, instead of receiving the confident thwack it required, was merely nudged along a scant foot.

“Cut it out,” said Jake, glaring at Peter.

“Huh?” he said.

“I wanted to make that shot.” He spoke with such loathing, we all looked at each other in surprise. He seemed to hear the anger in his voice after that. Or caught Kate’s look of alarm, because he skulked off the field and stood at the drinks table with his back to us.

I don’t know what would have happened next. Peter, a fresh gin and tonic gripped in his hand, seemed ready for a fight when Lura, instead of lining up her play, suddenly flung herself down on the ground near her ball, flipped her mallet and knocked her ball through the hoop as if she were playing pool. The distraction worked. She bounced to her feet and curtseyed. Even Jacob laughed.

But the evening ended early. Kate, with Jacob stalking next to her, left their casseroles behind. Peter followed Veronica upstairs with some plates we had borrowed, while Billie and I cleared the table. We worked quickly. Allan put away the croquet.

“What was that all about?” I asked Billie shrugged.

“Jacob’s…kind of judgmental.”

“About what? Peter?”



Again she shrugged and looked so uncomfortable it was almost more than I could stand to persist.

“Does it have something to do with me?”

“No!” she said, glancing up at Veronica’s window. I looked too. I’d seen Peter follow his aunt, but I had not noticed Lura join them. I’d had the hazy idea that she’d taken trash out to the dumpster. Now Billie and I saw Lura and Peter at the window, looking down at us. I waved.

“Is he angry about Lura?” I asked. “What about Lura?” But when I turned, Billie had gone and the door to her apartment was shut.