Ricardo, the pool boy, served sandwiches. We had spent a few days per Canoe's instruction, contemplating the responsibility of our action: the absolute commitment, the difficulty, the discipline, the sacrifice. Esther Curran now sat among us. Someone had invited her. She was speaking of how He had shown her a Cape near Grendale Knoll after Walter's death, when she had believed she couldn't bear it -- the house, the reminders -- and how she, Esther, was no longer a beautiful woman. Here Esther peeled the crust off her sandwich and looked away.
We sat around her in Canoe's wrought-iron; it was too cold to lounge. The weather had suddenly turned, and the reason we sat around the pool at all was beyond us, unless it had something to do with Ricardo. We watched him receding toward the pool house then turned back to Esther.
This was the point, Esther was saying, though we may have lost it.
He had taken her hand. He had stroked it. He had told her of the possibilities. There wasn't much to be done -- the demolition of the Florida room, a few shingles rehung, refurbishing the kitchen. Think of it, He had told her.
We watched Esther with looks on our faces. We had never understood her. Rich as Croesus, she drove a Dodge and compared prices at the Safeway. Her husband, Walter, had died years ago, but she still referred to him as if he had run downtown for milk and would be back any minute. She allowed her hair to gray, her nails to go ragged. True, she had always been our eccentric -- an artist, she kept chameleons in her living room draperies and would often arrive at parties with paint on her hands -- but more than once in recent years, we understood, she had been escorted in the early hours of the morning, found wandering in robe and slippers on the old Route 32, luckily rarely traveled, for she could have been struck down as easily as a stray dog.
Now here she was among us.
"Intervention," she said, "is not a word of which I am particularly fond." Esther cut her crustless sandwich into nine even squares. "Walter and I are of the live-and-let-live philosophy," she continued, "but in certain unavoidable circumstances, such as the one we confront here today, I say, yes. I say, intervene." She picked up a square and we waited, thinking Esther might have more to add, but she simply smiled and popped it whole into her mouth.
"Frankly," Canoe said, this to Pips Phelp, who had convened the meeting and sat at the edge of us in a deck chair, "I don't want to hear about Him wrapped around a telephone pole. I wouldn't be able to live with myself."
Pips Phelp nodded. We knew him from the Club, one of a number of men who zipped by in a cart heading elsewhere, gloved hand guiding the wheel. He seemed to have little to say, too quiet for an interventionist, though Canoe insisted he was skilled in these matters. And we had read in the literature that we needed him: a leader, a discussion initiator.
"Understood," he said.
We agreed to meet the next day in the Safeway parking lot for a run-through. Pips Phelp would play His part. Did we understand fully, Pips had explained, that this would be tantamount to ambush? There would be little time, he said. He will fight you. He will want to flee. He will deny your accusations. You will have to talk quickly. Under absolutely no circumstance can you allow Him to leave the vehicle. (We had decided that this would be the place we'd find Him.) When it is over, one of you will get behind the wheel and drive Him to the Center. You will check Him in. It has been arranged.
Pips Phelp now sat in his Buick, the motor running. We saw him clearly though we pretended not to: This was part of the plan. We pulled in in Viv's Suburban and got out one at a time, no one saying a word. Canoe gave a short whistle and we circled the Buick, feeling the rush of the boarding-school escapade. What were we doing? Was anyone watching?
Copyright © 2004 by Kate Walbert
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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