My toes braced on the ledge of the Jacuzzi, I was idly shaving invisible fuzz from my calf. I was half-watching Real Housewives from somewhere or other on the flat screen and half-singing, half-humming Try to Make Me Go to Rehab.
It was a hot, sunny Thursday in the middle of September, but before sinking into the tub I had opened the large window above the Jacuzzi in order to enjoy the intoxicating scent the midday sun was coaxing from the eucalyptus along the wall. I had no plans except to dawdle over a very late breakfast and maybe have a long, delicious afternoon swim. And by swim, I mean a nice long drift on my floatie.
There was a soft k at the d.
“That you, Fillmore?” I called, which was a pretty lame question because who else would it be? Fillmore and I were the only two souls in my sprawling Paradise Valley house, and that’s just the way I like it. In fact, that was another reason I was singing happily in the t.I’m all balloons and streamers when the place is not infested with relatives, the staffs of relatives, and other miscellaneous visitors.
One drawback (and sometimes it’s a big drawback, I don’t mind saying) of living in the Valley of the Sun is that relatives and friends (thinking I won’t notice they’re vacationing on my dime) frequently blow in from the cold, rainy, or snowy northeast or the humid, buggy, or stormy south. You can’t blame me for being happy about our current guest-free status.
I called, “Come in, come in.”
Fillmore followed a stack of freshly-laundered towels to the linen cabinet and tucked them carefully inside.
“Good morning, Miss. Would you like your coffee in here?”
I let the razor plop into the water. “No, I’m finished. I’ll come downstairs.”
“Very good, Miss.”
By the time I’d toweled off, thrown on my robe, and run a c through my h, he had my day clothes neatly laid out on the bed. I dressed quickly in a white cotton tee and bleached denim skirt while he busied himself tidying up in the bathroom.
As he came back in I was eyeing the navy flip-flops he’d left on the floor beside the bed.
“Not the flip-flops, I think, Fillmore. The Converse tennies.”
He stared at me. “Miss?”
I groaned inwardly, knowing that the pleasant mood of late morning was about to hit a little speed bump.
The previous day at Saguaro Commons (which I call the Sag) I walked right past the adorable, old-fashioned, white canvas high-top Converse tennis shoes. Walked past them a second time. Then I went back and bought them.
Fillmore had frowned at me as he unpacked them. When I say he frowned, what I mean is that the nose end of his left eyebrow drew slightly downward. That’s as close as
Fillmore comes to frowning. But I noticed.
Fillmore knows everything there is to know about hair, skin, fashion, and, well, everything else. Easier to say, Fillmore knows everything there is to know about everything, and be done with it. The only aspect of fashion he doesn’t fully grasp is, um, what’s the word? Whimsy?
“The new Converse sneakers, Fillmore. I want to wear those funny Converse tennies I bought yesterday.”
I watched him from the corner of my eye. His lower lip jutted a fraction of a millimeter.
I saw I had to be firm about these new shoes, so I said somewhat pugnaciously, if pugnaciously is the word I want, “What.”
“Is there a problem?”
With great deliberation, he replaced the flip-flops in the closet and, from a high shelf, produced the Converse sneakers. He set them on the floor as if he were handling three-day-old fish and vanished from the room.
I dug a pair of white socks from a drawer, pulled them on, and undertook what turned out to be a pretty tedious process of loosening the laces enough to struggle into the shoes and then re-tightening the laces and tying them.
The flip-flops Fillmore had brought out would have been infinitely less trouble. I knew that. But I had liked the way those Converse tennis shoes looked on that shelf in the shop window, and I had bought them, and I was determined to get some mileage out of them.
My breakfast dish, covered with a silver lid to keep it hot, waited on the breakfast bar. The newspaper, neatly folded, was tucked under it. I settled onto my cushy bar chair and lifted the lid as Fillmore poured my coffee and added exactly the right amount of c and s.
“Ooo, is that a spinach crepe?”
“And bacon.” I sliced off a bite of crepe with the edge of my fork and gnawed hungrily. “Well, Fillmore.What’s new this morning?”
“The usual trouble in the usual spots, Miss.”
Fillmore is an early riser. Every morning, hours before I’m up, he ingests the newspaper over his morning coffee. Then he puts the thing back together so meticulously no one would ever know it had been opened, and tucks it under my plate.
As I chewed the next bite I discarded the front sections of newspaper and idly began to sort the advertising inserts. Fillmore knows I have no interest in world events, or in federal, state, or local events, for that matter, but we always go through this ritual of him giving me the meat portion of the newspaper along with my advertising inserts, and me casting it aside. I don’t know why.
“Any calls this morning, Fillmore?”
I don’t check my email every day. Sometimes several days go by before I think to check my email. So Fillmore checks my account regularly, along with his own, and keeps both humming.
He said, “One,” and delicately pushed the printout, which I had failed to notice when I came in, nearer my plate.
“Oh? Who from? Read it, would you?”
I sliced another bite of the crepe as he said, “It’s from Mrs. Vanderlay, Miss.”
I raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Aunt Gazel?” I moaned. “Don’t tell me she’s discovered the net.”
“Apparently so, Miss. You will remember that young Arthur, Jr. has been threatening to show her how to use her email . . . ”
“Please don’t mention that little mutant while I’m eating my breakfast. Well, what news has the she-troll decided to share with us this morning?”
Even then, I didn’t sense the impending d. I cringe now, remembering my careless, dismissive attitude.
He scanned the sheet of paper. As if he hadn’t already read it.
“She’s coming to Arizona, Miss. She wishes to be retrieved from the airport this afternoon. Allow me, Miss.” He stooped to retrieve the fork which had tumbled from my suddenly nerveless fingers.
“She wishes . . . ”
“Not to stay with us . . . ”
“Not this afternoon . . . ”
“Yes, Miss. She wishes the periwinkle bedroom to be made ready.”
If I didn’t actually shudder, I certainly felt like shuddering.
“Fillmore, are there any cigarettes in the house?”
“Cigarettes. You know, those little white – um – cigaretty things.”
“Maybe a guest left a pack poolside and you grabbed it while you were cleaning up and absentmindedly stashed it in a drawer or something.”
He shook his head.
“There must be some cigarettes somewhere in the house. Think, Fillmore. I need a cigarette.”
“You don’t smoke, Miss.”
“I don’t? I wish I did. She’s not dragging the brat A, Jr. along, is she?”
“No, Miss. Arthur, Jr. has begun boarding school this year. While there have been several disciplinary conferences to date, so far he has managed to remain enrolled.”
I knew this information had not come from Aunt Gazel. She would hardly indulge in a tête-à-tête, if that’s the phrase I want, with Fillmore, who, if truth be told, comes as near as any soul alive to intimidating her.
No, I knew without asking that Fillmore had gleaned this information, and plenty more like it, through his Facebook friends – namely, a vast network of emailing staff persons across the country and around the world.
I don’t know how he does it, but apparently one minute Fillmore shoots off an email introducing himself to somebody’s gardener or upstairs maid, and the next minute that person is telling him in great detail how the employer’s new smothering, pot-smoking trophy wife is destroying the lives of his children by his previous marriage, or what the next door neighbors are up to. Or about A, Jr.’s misadventures at boarding school.
“But she wishes the lavender bedroom to be made ready for Mrs. Glumly-Shrop.”
I stared at the man in horror. “You’re kidding. Right?”
“Not Aunt Eleanor, too?”
“I’m afraid so, Miss.”
“But why? Why?”
“Mrs. Vanderlay asks that you arrange for the services of a personal trainer and a vegan chef. She states that she has decided it is time for Mrs. Glumly-Shrop to become fit.”
Gazel Vanderlay is big on the subj of fitness. She was a star athlete in her school days. She pretty much covered the full gamut of sports opportunities. The family albums are crammed full of photos of her, now in this uniform, now in that, now in this team shot, now in that.
Neatly printed underneath nearly all the team shots is the terse caption, Gazel Shrop, Captain. One guess who felt the need to inscribe that information for the ages.
She always posed for the individual photos with whatever item of sports equipment went with the uniform. You’ll find softball bats, basketballs, tennis racquets, field hockey sticks, volleyballs, soccer balls . . . Aunt Gazel did it all. Even now, in her mid-fifties, she’s quite the athlete, but these days her activities run more toward golf, tennis, spinning, and weight training.
Aunt G’s currently married to her fourth husband. I don’t think she particularly quarreled with the first three. Well, show me the fool who would dare quarrel with Aunt Gazel, or Gazilla, as I sometimes call her. No, I think she just wore the first three out.
But I digress. Is digress the word I want? Sometimes words just don’t look right.
Fillmore turned as if he were about to leave the room.
“Fillmore,” I said sharply.
“How long would it take to make this place look deserted? Have all the windows boarded up? Weeds and scrub brush transplanted into the front yard? Possibly a lot of litter – beer cans and fast food wrappers, that sort of thing – strewn around the driveway.
The left corner of his mouth twitched slightly. In Fillmore’s world, that’s a hearty guffaw. “Would you like me to make arrangements for the additional staff, Miss?”