I went across the street to the old Johnston place.
After nosing around a bit, I found Sally in the back yard, up on a ladder. The boy was at the bottom, holding it steady.
“Oh, hi, Mr. Bingham,” she called down.
The boy eyed me with a fearful look, but held his ground.
“Don’t worry, boy,” I said, friendly like, “Your ma’s a friend o’ mine.”
I spit in the grass, and wiped the rest off my chin.
I sat down in the grass a while and watched her work. The day was nearing noon and the sun was piercingly bright. Her shirt was starting to show sweat. Even from where I was, I could see a trickle make its way from her temple to her jaw.
An hour went by. I wondered why she chose this hot day to paint, and I asked her.
Sally gave a short laugh, though she sounded a little out of breath.
“It’s hard to predict a cool summer day,” she smiled, and winked at her son.
“Especially in the city,” she murmured under her breath.
By now she had the top half painted, and no longer needed the ladder. The boy took up another brush, and they worked together to finish the back of the house.
I began to feel restless. She looked so tired and hot.
“Never liked the color yellow,” I commented.
“Mr. Bingham,” she replied, “would you go inside and grab two pops for us, please?”
“Grab one for yourself, too,” she added.
Never one to waste time, I walked through her back door. It was warmer inside the house than it was outside. I nearly suffocated looking around. I’d been in there just once before, two owners back. Something was different now, though. The whole of the rooms I investigated had been newly painted, the floors had been polished, and the woodwork stained. The rooms were furnished simply, certainly, but still felt very complete. I almost wished I could sit down, but there was still the upstairs to see.
I hurried up and looked in three bedrooms. They showed the same attention to cleanliness and neatness that the downstairs did. One room held a small desk, a wooden chair, a stuffed chair with a braided rug in front of it, and two large bookcases full of books. The other two obviously belonged to the boy and his mother. On a small table by the bed in each room were two pictures of two different men. One was quite handsome and looked as though the outdoors was his friend. I couldn’t tell much about the other one.
I went down to the kitchen again and poked my head into the refrigerator. It felt so good that I stood there for awhile to cool down. I pulled out three of those generic brand sodas and took them outside.
The boy came over to me and took two of them. He handed the first to his mother, and then opened one for himself.
I love the sound a soda can makes when it’s opened. The snap is so definite, so deliberate, so . . . so . . . confident. That’s it. It makes me feel confident when I open a soda can. I took a long swig. The biting coolness made its way straight to my gut.
I lay down in the grass, looked at the sky with barely a cloud crossing its expanse, closed my eyes and fell asleep. I snoozed off and on through the day, monitoring their progress as well as I could.
to be continued . . .