“Okay, you walked into that one,” said Serena. “Why are you moving here?”
“Um,” I said. I took another bite of broccoli, swallowed, and blew on my quiche.
“Um?” said Serena. “You’ve met both our cold spot and our gremlin and you’re giving us ‘um’?”
“I put a pin in a map,” I said.
There was a little silence, and then Serena started to laugh. “Good for you. If I hadn’t been overwhelmed by siblings I might have done the same. Well, go on,” she added, as I started chewing again.
This was the first time I’d had to explain anything to anyone who didn’t know both me and Gelasio. I scowled at my quiche, which was still too hot to eat. “My husband found someone he liked better. He’s the one with the money. He does something with computers. Don’t ask me what because I don’t know. He consults on . . . computer-integrated manufacturing systems. I had to memorize that. No idea what it means. His new girlfriend is something about computers too and between them they could probably buy Canada. I wasn’t going to be able to afford to go on living in Manhattan. I mean I decided I was too old to live in one room with cockroaches, and the five boroughs thing—eh.” I shrugged. “I wanted a change. A real change. I didn’t have any particular idea about what it was going to be except getting out of the city and staying more or less on the righthand side of the country. And it had to be cheap. So I got out my old paper atlas. And a pin. I’m not sure what I would have done if it’d landed on Sagaponack. Tried again I suppose.”
Gus had been distracted from the dreadful sight of someone eating broccoli by my admission of delinquent recklessness. “Awesome,” he said.
“Are you sure you want your son listening to this story?” I said. “If you’d given me a little lead-in time I could have come up with something about a friend of a friend having spent a weekend here in 1983. I know I should at least have performed my ritual of cluelessness on line and thus salvaged some fragment of self-respect but I didn’t know how to google for an atlas randomness selection function.” Gelasio would have known how. Maybe that’s why I chose paper. No, I chose paper because I still think in paper. Story drafts are still printed out on a substance you can turn into paper airplanes, or burn, or stop muddy footprints at the door, or line your parakeet’s cage if you have a parakeet, or, if you drop it in the bath, and after it’s spent a few days variously laid out on a convenient radiator or radiators or other serviceable heat source (try to do this only in the winter, when the central heating is on), it makes a stack not only impressively twice as high as it did before, but wavy and smudged like a recently rediscovered Renaissance manuscript (although try not to do this at all with a printer that still uses real ink). Story drafts were, after all, the most important thing in my life. Especially now that I no longer had a husband.
But I was going to get a dog.
“He hears much worse from his Aunt Anise,” said Serena. “No kids?”
I shook my head. “This wasn’t planned,” I said. “We kept saying, oh, well, there’s still time, and then . . . and I turn forty in the autumn. My mother thinks that was my big mistake.”
“Not having kids?” said Serena. “Angelfire and brimstone, what century is she from? I wouldn’t have missed Gus for the world, but if you’re going to break up, you should go ahead and break up.”
“Whatever,” I said. “I’m here now. And I have a house and a ca—a large grinning thing with wheels and an internal combustion engine.”
“And a couple of friends, one of whom mows lawns and cuts things down, if you let him,” said Serena. “Do you need a job? It’s not great around here. The local temp agency is decent and treats you like a human being and not something they take out of the box and plug in when needed. I worked for them for a while. And since you seem to have an affinity for, hmm, oddness, Andy Pierpont at the old book store is usually looking for help because his is always quitting in tears and going home to mother. It’s either rats or a poltergeist. He might be able to hire someone with a bit more fortitude if he paid better. But if your ex is Bill Gates’ wealthier twin I hope you got a decent settlement and don’t have to rush into anything. Have some more quiche before Gus eats all of it.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I have a job. I work from home.” I took a gigantic (hot) mouthful of my second piece of quiche.
Thanks again to Blogmom, for crucial computer geek consultation. –ed
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