A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
(For Part I click here)
On Thursday evening, it threatened a summer rain, so Mrs. Ferguson made tea and she and Madison sat on the back patio to wait for the storm. They didn’t see the taxi or hear the doorbell and were wildly startled when Freddy Hughes walked cautiously around the side of the house.
“Hey!” Madison said from her chair and stood up.
Freddy leaned around the young woman.
“Hey, Syl! How you doing?”
Madison glanced back at her Grandma, saw the shock and quickly turned her eyes back to the man — but now there were two men.
“Hey, Syl,” the other man said.
Madison reached back to the table for her telephone, and in the quick glimpse to locate it, saw her grandmother standing up.
“What in the world? What are you two doing here? You scared the life out of me!”
“Hey, Syl,” Freddy said again.
Madison had her phone in her hand and looked around expectantly.
“It’s alright Maddy. These are – uh – old friends. What in the …? My God! Come here you two.”
Sylvia stepped forward and opened her arms.
“I can’t get over this. How did you find me?”
Both men dropped their bags, and there were hugs and heys until Sylvia stood back and touched her finger to a couple of tears under her eye.
“My God! What are you doing here? How did you find me?”
“Great detective work. Do you know how many Sylvia Fergusons there are in the world?”
“I can imagine. But … come. Sit. Madison, these are two of my oldest and dearest friends: Freddy,” Sylvia pointed, “and Teddy. I’ve known them since – well – forever. This is my granddaughter, Madison.”
There were hellos and a tentative pleased to meet you, but Madison was not sure about this. Her grandmother didn’t have friends … not real ones … maybe the other old ladies from church … but certainly not men friends … men friends who showed up unannounced when Poppa wasn’t home. She sat down but kept her phone in her hand.
“I don’t believe this. After all these years. I don’t know what to say.”
“It’s been a while Syl.” Freddy looked around, “You’ve done alright.”
“We like it.”
“You’re lookin’ good, Syl.” Teddy added.
Madison didn’t like that and sharply cut across the conversation.
“Just how do you all know each other?”
Freddy laughed, “Your grandma was …”
“We worked together.” Sylvia interrupted, “At a transportation company.”
It was a pointed statement.
“A long time ago.”
“Yeah, it’s been what? Thirty years? More. You were …”
“I was very young.” Sylvia interrupted again, “But enough ancient history. What are you boys doing? And what are you doing here?”
There was a tight, wary silence. It hung in the air.
“Oh, what am I thinking?” Sylvia reached over and shook the teapot. “Maddy, could you go make the boys some tea? Would you like some tea? Are you hungry? Can we fix you something?”
“No, we’re good, but tea would be nice. Airport coffee,” Freddy said, shaking his head.
“Maddy?” Sylvia handed her the pot.
For a minor second, Madison thought of saying, “I know what you’re doing,” but she didn’t. Instead, she said, “Sure, Grandma,” took the teapot and went into the house, casually leaving the patio door open. She filled the kettle, put it on the stove and then stood just out of sight at the sliding glass door. She couldn’t actually hear the male voices. They were low and confidential, but the tone was serious, and she could catch a few of her Grandmother’s words.
“Oh, my! That’s terrible …”
“When … Are you sure?”
“Call him … fly out … fixed …”
Then louder and clearer.
“You ripped him off. What the hell were you thinking?”
Grandma didn’t swear.
“No, I can’t …”
“Don’t ask, please …”
The male voices were getting louder, too, and not so friendly.
“You have to…”
“Really, I just can’t …”
“I wouldn’t ask if …”
“Come on, Ted …”
And then suddenly it was louder, clear and angry.
“You owe me, Syl.”
“Don’t you pull that shit on me, Teddy Copeland. We all know who owes who here — and now I find out you two took the money? That certainly explains why you didn’t waste any time coming back for moi.”
“Hey, Syl.” It was the other man’s voice. “Let’s be fair. We looked. You know we did.”
“Not hard enough.”
Madison was frightened. The kind of fear that stuns you — like a deer in the headlights. She could feel the sweat under her arms and a sick churn in the bottom of her belly. Her hand shook, and she held it to her stomach. But she couldn’t move. She didn’t know what to do. She wanted it to just go away. Stop. She thought she was going to throw up. She swallowed, but her mouth was too dry. Who were these people? They had no right … no right to … and without thinking, Madison came around the corner, shaking with adrenaline and stepped hard onto the patio. Her grandmother was half standing, with her hands spread out in front of her on the table. The other man, Teddy, was leaning forward, nearly out of his chair.
“Hey, assholes! You better get out of here, now — or I’m calling the cops.”
Without taking his eyes off Sylvia’s face, Teddy stretched his arm back and pointed directly at Madison.
“What would you do if it was her, Syl? What would you do then?”
He stood up, threw his hands in the air and stomped out into the yard.
Sylvia straightened up from the table, the thought in her head.
“Anything I could,” she said, half to herself, her anger gone.
“We did look, Syl. We did.”
“I know you did, Freddy.” Sylvia said quietly. She puffed up her cheeks and gave a long exhale. She drew a bigger breath and turned to her granddaughter.
“It’s alright Maddy. Just calm down. It’s fine. Everybody just got a little stressed. It’ll be fine, really. Okay.”
Fred stood up and Sylvia reached out and touched his shoulder.
“No, give him a minute to cool off. I’ll talk to him,” she said, tenderly.
“Maddy, can you go take the kettle off the burner? It’s going to boil dry.”
“And go to the liquor cabinet. Poppa’s got a bottle of whiskey. I think we’re all going to need something stronger than tea. And Maddy – bring four glasses.”
In the early night sky, the storm had settled in, and it had started to rain.