15 Peas in a Pod

“Come on now you two, time to get out and put the pool toys away.” Mrs. James called from the relative safety of a deck chair, well beyond the splashing and kicking. “Your Father will be home soon.” She didn’t like going in the pool with the girls; she feared inundation with so much water surging about, more like a water park than a sensible lap pool. The children liked having it just to themselves, as they did today. chapter-16-peas-in-a-pod

“Oh please Mrs. James, a few more minutes.” The wheedling chorus commenced. Wise mother that she had become, she built in a little extra time at the outset, anticipating such requests. Clever children that they were, they knew that she did this. There were indeed a few more minutes to be eked out in the water. But it was never quite as much fun after that first call.

Poppy and Pansy Mendel were the eight and three-quarter year old daughters of Greg Mendel, resident, professional hockey coach, and divorced father. Desperate to find care for his twins, by decree in his custody most weekends, and that time rarely coinciding with his own free time, he had spotted Mrs. James alone in the lobby one day and wondered if she might be the answer to his prayers, such as they were. He was aware of a teenage girl living in the building but he knew he needed someone more available.

“Mrs. James?” Greg took aside the trusty Gervase to ask his opinion. As concierge, he knew never to ask why. He gave it when he could. Sometimes there was an ensuing explanation, more frequently not. “Mrs. James is a real lady.”

“Casting around for a sitter, for my girls. Can you tell me anything about her? I see her sitting down here. She seems to have free time.”

“You’re wondering if she might be interested or be suitable?”

“That’s it, yes.”

“Well Mr. Mendel, you must know that she is association secretary?”

“Come to think of it, maybe I did know that. Never get to the meetings much. But about her, personally?”

“As I understand it, Mr. and Mrs. James sold their house in a nearby suburb where they raised their family, and bought a unit here. Mrs. James is recently widowed. Her adult sons live out of town.”  This much was common knowledge so Gervase felt free to speak. “She does often spend time in the lobby, the solarium, and the pool. She says she likes to meet and talk to the other residents.”

“Is she, I mean, how do I put this…is a she a gossipy, busybody type? I wouldn’t want anybody yakking about me.”

Greg Mendel, professional hockey coach, ex-husband, and father in search of child care.

Greg Mendel, professional hockey coach, ex-husband, and father in search of child care.

“She’s interested in people, for sure. Never heard her say anything gossipy.” Gervase had a keen ear for gossip himself. He wondered what it was about Mendel that might be worth repeating.

When Greg Mendel did approach her Mrs. James was at first dubious, having raised only boys not girls, and that some time ago. However, two of her sons were twins. When she mentioned that, for him it sealed the deal. Mendel was so appreciative of her experience, so hopeful that she would prove the perfect caregiver that she agreed to a trial period. Her compensation for being available on weekends would cover her monthly fees, surely a widow’s boon.

She preferred, whenever possible, to have the girls into her own unit where they would be on their best behavior, rather than at their Father’s. They had to sit still and fairly close to view her one 16″ television. Hers was an electronic desert; her only devices were kitchen appliances and an aging desktop. She talked with them, instead. She was very pleased when they showed interest in what she was doing. Child-like curiosity opens many doors.

“Mullins is sooo cute and sooo warm in the sunshine. Daddy says we can’t have any pets here,” Poppy grumbled, sprawling beside the cat on the sun-splashed floor. “He says he’s away too much. It’s not fair to us. Gervase could take care of it when Daddy isn’t here.”

“Then perhaps then we should say that it wouldn’t be fair to the pet or to Gervase, either. You have Mullins when you are here.”  Or should I say that Mullins has you, she said to herself, knowing the children were not yet attuned to the true nature of the cat-human relationship. “Gervase only helps people with their pets. It’s not his job to mind them all the time. He’s not running a menagerie.” She made a mental note to ask Gervase if he sometimes thought he was actually running one, animal or human, as concierge of a condominium development. “It’s something for you to look forward to when you’re older, keeping a pet.”

“What’s a ‘meangery’?” Both girls asked Mrs. James a lot about words because Mrs. James always just told them what they wanted to know. Not like their meanest mother ever who always told them to go look up a definition for themselves.

“‘Men-aj-urry.'” First came the pronunciation and then the definition, in the now accustomed and gratifying way. “It’s a collection of animals, usually in a show.”

“I wish I was already old,” Poppy commented, rolling over. “There’s so much stuff we can’t do now. So boring.”

“You wish you were already older?” corrected Mrs. James. “Why?” She instantly regretted the question.

“Here, at Daddy’s, it’s boring. No friends. No pets. No yard. Nothing to do.”

“When I came here, I had no friends either except for Mullins. You can’t make new friends just sitting around inside having a moan. Have you ever had a friend who wasn’t the same age as you, eight and three-quarters?” She was careful to add the detail, mindful of the importance of these age distinctions.

“Some of our friends are already nine. Wonder where we’ll have our birthday party this year?” Mrs. James hastily changed the subject.

“Would you like to meet some new people here in the building? I could introduce you to some. Interesting people, too. I suppose you don’t know anyone but Gervase, or your Father.”

“We know our other baby-sitter, Lee, and Daddy’s yucky girlfriend. And Gervase. But everyone knows Gervase, don’t they? And he knows everyone. Who else is interesting here? Daddy’s not, not even when he’s with us.”

“Mr. Arbuthnot. I could introduce you to him. He’s comes to have tea with me sometimes. He knows lots of amusing games to play. Perhaps you could ask him to teach you some.”

“What kind of games?” Pansy, walking into the living room, wanted to know.