A perky, petite blonde lunged at the window in the front door as soon as Kath got near it, and began waving like a hurricane warning flag that takes its job very seriously. Later, Kath would wonder why that particular image had sprung to mind. She added this coincidence to the “pro” side of the ledger that she’d begun to keep in her head for the arguments for and against the existence of a divine being. The woman herself she would later add to the column tallying the ‘con’s.
But all that was in the future.
For now, all that Kath Rodriguez knew was that there was a very excitable stranger on her front door step and she was carrying a sheaf of leaflets and what looked like an honest-to-God picnic basket. And she could swear there were brownies in it.
Oh what the hell, Kath through. She doesn’t look much like a serial killer. Plus: brownies. She opened the door.
“Hi-hi!” the woman squeaked again, even higher than before. “I’m Lisa Weaver. I saw the moving truck this morning so I guess that means we’re neighbors! That’s us over there,” she pointed to somewhere behind the house, on the diagonal. “Not the awful red house, but the Orchid White one — you’ll be able to see us from your deck. The people before you never used the deck much, but we are always out on ours. Can’t get enough of the fresh air. It’s so good for the kids to be outside, don’t you think?”
Bustling forward while she spoke, the woman had managed to end up inside the front door and was charging towards the uncleared kitchen table that cowered in a corner of the dining room, surrounded by packing crates.
“Oh, look at me! I feel quite at home. We have the same model, only ours is flipped from this, our door is over there and our family room is here. And of course we upgraded our kitchen last year, you must let me give you the name of our contractor. They were just the best. I can’t believe the Patels never did anything with this kitchen in all the years they lived here, but you know how those people are. Never want to pay for anything and always moving in more relatives until the house is overflowing. I mean, I’m don’t mean to sound racist, but, sometimes these stereotypes get made for a reason, you know what I mean?”
Kath, who had been trailed after Lisa Weaver, sweeping up cheesesteak wrappers as she went, started to laugh. Then she stopped, realizing Lisa Weaver wasn’t joining her. Had she just imagined that? Or had Lisa Weaver introduced herself with a casual crack about 20% of the world’s population?
I should tell her that’s unacceptable, Kath thought. I should ask her to leave and come back when she’s got a civil tongue in her head. I should tell her I’ll get my friend Monisha down here to set her straight on a few choice issues and then we’d see where we stand. But none of these things came out of her mouth. In truth, she didn’t have the words to deal with this. In Kath’s circle you hid your prejudices, pretended they didn’t exist and felt guilty about them until you trained your brain to (over)compensate for its bad behavior.
“That’s better,” Lisa Weaver said, placing the basket down on the table. “Now, I didn’t catch your name.”
Kath stared. What was her name, again?
“Kath,” she managed at last. “Kath Rodriguez.”
“Well, hi Kath!” Lisa Weaver chimed in the tones of a support group leader. “And I saw a handsome man and some gorgeous kids running around this morning?”
Lisa Weaver blinked expectantly at Kath.
Suddenly Kath didn’t want to tell this woman anything about her family. She didn’t want the names “Don” and “Stella” and “Robbie” (or was it “Robert” now?) coming out of that mouth. Somehow she knew that Lisa Weaver would be spending the rest of the day wearing her badge of First Contact With The New Neighbors and polishing it up in front of everyone she met, telling them all the little details she’d manage to winkle out of Kath, speculating and judging and packaging and popping them on a shelf. No matter where you lived, no matter where you worked, there was always one.
She briefly flirted with the idea of telling Lisa Weaver that she had hired some actors to play her family in order to seem more acceptable to the Home Owners’ Association. Or maybe she could tell them that Don and she weren’t married and those kids she’d seen had been bought from gypsies and kept only for household chores. She pictured the pert little face forming a horrified ‘o’ and then reassembling itself into fake friendship. Then she heard herself saying,
“That was my husband, Don Morris, and the kids are Stella and Robbie. Eleven and nine.”
She even smiled.
“Oh!” Lisa Weaver said, eyebrows arched, blue eyes widening. “You’re a Rodriguez, but he’s a Morris. Do you hyphenate? Isn’t it mostly an African-American thing? Oh, and it sounds like your son will be in fourth grade, right? How wonderful! He’ll be in my Loren’s grade. It’ll be so great for them to have each other right here in the neighborhood. It’s a good school, of course, but Loren hasn’t really hit it off with too many of the boys — he’s so bright, you see, it’s hard for them to communicate on the same level — but he has plenty of friends of course. Will Robbie be signing up for football in the Fall? I can have a word with Coach Tony and see if we can squeeze him on to my Loren’s team. Of course that’ll mean you can’t go away for Labor Day — were you planning to? — Because they have mandatory practice for their first game that weekend, but it’s so worth it — such a great team, division champions every year — and it’s never too soon to start thinking about that college scholarship, is it? I think Loren will be QB this year, he’s such a fast little thing. Oh! We can carpool, that’ll be just great, because Kaelyn’s soccer schedule conflicts sometimes — she’s the youngest in the club but the coaches keep asking if they can move her up to the competitive teams because she has such a gift for the game. It’s hard because you know you want them just to have fun, but on the other hand you don’t want to hold them back.” At last, Lisa Weaver paused and took a breath. “You know?”
Kath’s grip tightened on the greasy foil she had scooped up from the table. She was holding on tight because otherwise she a feeling that her world would spin away from her somehow. All she managed in response was a noncommittal nod of the head.
Lisa Weaver brightened again and pointed at the leaflets she had strewn across the table.
“Oh, and I picked these up for you at the visitor’s center in Valley Forge Park. There’s SO much to do in this area, and then of course, there’s sports for the kids and all the festivals that they run in town these days. I keep my kids so busy that there’s no time for them to get into trouble! Good practice for when they’re teenagers, don’t you think? I’m so happy we’ve met and I’ll be glad to be your Welcome Wagon. I’ll make sure you know about all the neighborhood happenings,” (she said ‘neighborhood happenings’, Kath would later tell Don. She really did.) “and we must-Must-MUST get the boys together soon!”
Getting no further response from Kath, who looked as dazed as she felt, Lisa Weaver nodded briskly and said,
“Well, I can see you have a ton to do here.” She cast an appraising eye around at the packing crates and mover-strewn furniture. “I’ll let you get on. But if you need anything — ANYTHING — just come on over. Or you can always stand on your deck and yell. We’re always out there! See you soon, neighbor!”
And with that, she was gone.
If Kath had felt marooned before, now she felt utterly shipwrecked. And possibly beset by pirates.