Day began moodily. Three of us in the truck. Yawning and untalkative. Yet to adjust to the darkerness of autumn. Its presentiment to wetness and slippery things. The rain an obstacle to thought. Slick hours to muddle through.
By lunch the rain had let up. Some blue sky. A little sunshine. Our spirits more amiable. Arrive at our afternoon appointment. On Point Drive, blocky concrete mansion overlooking ocean. A new client. Scheduled for basic clean-up and consultation for further maintenance.
Daz doesn’t like the look of it. Is less impressed that we have to buzz in at the gate.
Our contact is Barbara. Her voice perky and cheerful through the speaker. We’re told to go around back. Which takes longer than it should. A juking path of stairs and gates, up and down and around the behemoth house.
Barbara meets us by the gate. She’s surprisingly young—mid 30’s, say (expected 40’s or 50’s)—and disarmingly attractive in modest attire of snug capris and forest green hoodie, loose but suggestive. Her red hair’s in a ponytail. She’s wearing platform sandals. Her toenails are glossed but not colored. An energetic aura envelops her. She’s all smiles and can’t wait to get started.
We quickly tour the ‘yard’, a large space of mostly hard stuff: massive deck (with bar and kitchen), jellybean pool, sunken hot tub, sitting areas, an arbor, two or three immaculate cedar ‘sheds’, a lavish set of fountains and planters, and paths galore. The lot of it set in slate and capped and trimmed with sand-colored concrete. Artificial grass snaking throughout. An assortment of fine trees—especially the paperbark maple by the pool.
A pretty penny went into this place. It looks like a magazine. But the beds are a mess.
Amber and Daz get started while I take a more detailed walk with Barbara. Friendly and excitable, she touches me as she explains that she and her husband bought the place in spring but had been so busy traveling they hadn’t time to consider the state of their yard. She giddily rattled off the places they’d gone and led me down the stairs at the bottom of the property. A wide concourse with a prize view of the ocean.
To this point I haven’t said much. Just half-listening as I note details relevant to the job.
On the concourse we stand at the rail. Barbara asks what I think of the view. I say it’s amazing. She says this is her favorite spot in the yard. “I love the breeze.”
She lets down her hair and shakes it out.
“What about you?”
Her voice has softened. She’s looking at me. I look back but am speechless.
“Do you like an ocean breeze?”
I look out at the ocean.
She unzips her hoodie.
I can’t bear to look.
“That’s better,” she says.
On the rocky beach below a man, a toddler, and a dog.
Her arm touching mine on the rail, then her hip.…
“It’s like there’s no one else in the world out here.”
Then her other hand laying softly on my wrist.
“Except them,” I say.
She laughs, turns her womanhood toward me.
Right there. On full display. I tell myself this isn’t happening.
Which is about when the yelling starts and the action begins.
The yelling is drunken male and coming from the direction of the house.
“Oh, shit,” Barbara says. “That’s my husband.”
I’ve got enough sense to ensure Barbara has zippered her wares back in before we run up.
Second floor balcony. Man in white robe and blue boxers, brandishing what looks like green bottle of wine. He’s yelling at Daz, who’s weeding around the paperbark maple.
Barbara and I have missed the thrust of the initial outburst, but once the man sees us he’s at it again.
“I want that fucken tree down.”
He’s a balding, barrel-bodied sort with deeply tanned and hairless chest.
Barbara tries to calm him. Has opposite effect.
“This is my house. I pay the bills. What I say goes.”
He turns attention to Daz again.
“And I say the tree comes down.”
Daz looks at me.
Barbara pipes in. Says they should talk about it later.
“Either they take the fucken tree down. Right now. Or I do it myself.”
Barbara says he’s drunk. As if scenes like this are normal.
His anger expands. He unleashes a great growl and launches the wine bottle. It smashes at the edge of the pool. Green shards and red wine bleeding in the water.
Barbara shakes her head.
Her husband disappears inside.
Barbara comes over to where Daz, Amber and me are standing. She’s apologizing and trying to get her hair tied back.
Husband comes out carrying chainsaw. He’s clearly smashed but on a mission. This is looking dangerous. I say that now might not be the best time to use the chainsaw.
“Don’t you fucken tell me what to do.”
He’s an angry ugly man.
The four of us watch as he wobbily stalks toward the tree, his leather flip-flops snapping against his feet. He gets into the bed, pulls the cord. Doesn’t catch. Pulls cord again, looses his balance. The chainsaw flies into the pool. He falls toward tree, hits shoulder against lower bough, falls to ground (a mass of Corsican mint and baby’s tears), and doesn’t get up.
Quite a fucking afternoon.
And all Wendy and Liz wanted to know was if Barbara’s boobs were real.