Sands was an old bitch to begin with. That was the bare truth of it, and Sara knew it too. Even if she didn’t like to say. You don’t like to say a thing. But sometimes, of course, you can’t help it. Can you? Sara had seen her hose a cat once, just to get it out of the yard. Never a word to the neighbours. Stood in the doorway and glared if you so much as skimmed the bare parking spot in front of her house. She was the kind to clear the spot in winter but string up a No Parking sign, stretched between two old lawn chairs, so that no one else used it. She didn’t even clear it herself. Was her nephew who cleared it, or her cousin’s son. “And she with a perfectly good garage. Sure, I bet she doesn’t even use that spot,” Fannie said, calling from the next room. Fannie’s hair was piled up on top of her head, and she had one foot propped on a chair, her focus almost entirely on toe polish rather than the house next door. Sara nodded. Cautious, though. She was standing at the living-room window, to one side, mostly hidden in the ruffle of the sheer. Watching the action in the driveway. Sands. Mrs. Sands, she supposed, although there was no man on thepremises. But the old lady wore a ring. Sara had seen it, shimmering against the steering wheel when her car rumbled past the house. A Buick. “She’s all alone,” Sara said. Then, louder: “And unliked. You put yourself at risk when you move through the world like that.” It was not winter now. It was July, and a good one — another thing you don’t like to say. Who wants to jinx good weather? The action in Sands’s driveway was a yard sale. This, by itself, was unremarkable. But every weekend? For the whole month? Saturday and Sunday, both. And early!
Sara had a shift tending bar at Rascalz, Thursday to Saturday, the living-large tip nights, so most of the time she only crawled into bed around five. By seven, the noise of set-up had begun. Close to the grave if she didn’t get some sleep soon, she told Fannie now. She couldn’t complain to Harding, because he didn’t approve of the bar and she didn’t like to fight about it. Sara inched closer to the window. There was a junk minivan pulled up onto the curb, with a placard in both windshields: YARD SALE TODAY. This may have been the be-all of the marketing plan. Whether the thing was advertised on the buy-and-sell sites, Sara didn’t know, but there were never any other signs posted, no box ends, no bristol board Sharpied and stapled to the hydro poles at either end of the street. The troubling part was that Mrs. Sands didn’t seem to be involved. Sara hadn’t seen her since the sales had begun. Not in the garden or floating by in the blue Buick, driving out for milk. Not at all. Instead, a man in Adidas shorts and an old George Street Festival T-shirt paced the sale tables, a cash belt strapped to his waist. “It’s the nephew, yeah.” Fannie swept in from the kitchen to peer over Sara’s shoulder. “Lives up Barnes Road. The sketchy end. I used to see him in line for his bagels on Saturday mornings. But now I s’pose he’s here every Saturday.” The nephew was the owner of the minivan. Early thirties, Sara thought. Not quite what you’d call a skeet. “But those are his people,” Fannie said. “That’s what you mean: of skeet stock.” She turned from the window, casting about for where she’d left her sandals. “Familiar,” she said, “with the stolenmeat trade.” “I feel like I should ask him about her. Or someone,” Sara said. “Who would you ask about a thing like this?” “Car’s still there?” Fannie said. Sara nodded. The garage stood open, the glint of a blue bumper just inside. “Maybe she’s on a vacation.” Sara didn’t reply but let the curtain swing back into place. It brushed her
bangs as it went. She did not think Mrs. Sands was on vacation. Your relations don’t sell your belongings when you go away for a few weeks of sun. It was almost two o’clock: Harding would be home soon. Sara glanced down at her phone for the time and then again to make sure he hadn’t texted. She let Fannie out the back way, just in case.
“what do you care?”
Harding had the laptop open, clicking away. He’d kicked off his sneakers on his way in the door, and they lay there, piled up with the other shoes. Imelda, Fannie called him. Sara was in bare feet. She twisted a bit of her T-shirt around a finger and let it go. The T-shirt with a fringe of wrinkles along the bottom edge. “You don’t think it’s strange?” “If she’s dead, she’s dead. People die.” Onscreen, she could see tiny men on horses, jousting around. Not jousting. Whatever they did in the game to win or lose or kill each other. Harding said whenever Sara came around talking, she made him die. He slapped the screen shut, disgusted. “Cec says your sister’s in town. Back from Canada. From the u-ni-ver-sity.” Sara nodded in a noncommittal way, casual, then turned quickly to wash a pot that had been left standing in the sink. “Fannie? Oh, yeah. Yeah. She’s around.” “But not around here.” Sara said no. he had to go out to Mount Pearl for an eye exam on Monday, so Sara drove him, and they sat, afterwards, in the restaurant at the Irving under the glass dome, Harding still squinting against the light. Sara read him the menu. There was breakfast you could get all day and club sandwiches and bacon sandwiches, with that bargain mayonnaise that tastes like Miracle Whip, she reminded him, and a hot turkey and a hot beef with either one or two slices of bread. Besides that, just the usual dinners: spaghetti goulash, liver and onions. Suppers, Sara said, only old people order: “What’ll happen to the liver industry, when everyone over sixtyfive is gone?” But thinking of old people made her think of old Sands, and she didn’t mean to get back into that. There were three soups on the board: Turkey vegetable, fish chowder, pea. While they were waiting for their eggs and bacon, Sara watched the man in the booth behind them. “He’s got a shirt that says Las Vegas and a hat that says Las Vegas.” She leaned into the jam rack, so the man wouldn’t notice her staring. “When we arrived, he was eating turkey soup. Not a side bowl, but a proper bowl, a proper bowl of soup. Now he’s just finishing, still scraping at it, and the waitress comes and gives him a second bowl of soup.” She nodded, more to herself than anything. “It’s pea. Pea with a dumpling. Again, a proper bowl. Two soups. Who orders two soups?” Harding had his eyes closed: “Honest to fuck.” She straightened but kept an eye on the man, with furtive glances anyway. “I’ll tell you what I think,” Sara said, but then Harding opened his eyes and looked at her and she didn’t tell him any more. when they were home, Harding slumped on the couch with his dark glasses on, and she went out to buy their beers on foot, because it meant she could cut through the cemetery. There was more than one graveyard in town, surely, but isn’t there some unspoken law of burial? If the old woman was dead, wouldn’t they have put her in the ground close to home? “She’s not a dog, Sara-bear. They don’t just dig a hole in the backyard and put a rock with your name on it and a paw print.” Fannie picked through the shrub around the graves and popped the cap on a Jockey. Sara toed at a weedy flower with her boot. There were reports of a new kind of weed: something that burns you, real burns, the blisters hanging on for months and flaring up whenever sunlight hits your skin. She sucked her hands up into her sleeves. “Most of these are not what I’d call current,” Fannie said. “Hep Ryan, b. 1921 d. 1970. Minnie Chafe, Angels Belong in Heaven. Minnie! Imagine walking around like that. If I had a girl, what would I call her? Not Minnie. Margarita, maybe.” Sara said if she had a baby girl, she’d always give it a boy’s name, like Leslie or Seton or George. So that the world treats it better. Fannie said if she had a girl, she’d call her Limoncella or Barack Obama or Hot Lips Houlihan. “The newspaper,” Sara said. “The newspaper lists obituaries.” “This seems like a lot of work for someone you don’t like.” Sara picked up Fannie’s beer cap from where it was lying on the ground and slipped it into her pocket. “I just like to be cognizant,” she said. “I like to keep track. Who’s dead and who’s still living.” on wednesday, Harding went out of town for a few hours, and she wondered if he would hit a moose. On his way home, because it would be twilight then, the grey time where you hear most about that kind of accident. A moose defies your expectations. You see pictures, or even, the odd time, a real one, mawing at the side of the highway, but you never can know how big they are until you hit one with your car. Hit a moose and you only take it out at the knees. It’s less the impact than the weight of the thing falling into your windshield that kills you. Sara stood at the window, her cellphone pressed to her ear. The minivan was there, up on the curb, the engine clicking as it cooled.
A trail led down to where she stood at the base of the stairs: more leaves, and white petals, curled and drying.
“What’s he here on a Wednesday for?” This came out in a whisper. She didn’t want the nephew to hear her, if he were outside in the side yard where she couldn’t see him but somehow he could still hear her through the glass. “How long has he been there?” Fannie said. “Thirteen minutes. Didn’t take anything into the house. Hasn’t brought anything out. He might be in the backyard.” “You know, if she was on vacation, he might be looking after things. The garden or whatever.” Fannie was washing the dishes as she talked, the clink of cutlery a steady background distraction. “Why don’t you come over here for the night?” she said suddenly. “Lots of room. Or I could come there. If you’re alone, anyway.” She waited a moment for Sara to respond. Then: “I’m not afraid of him, you know.” Sara didn’t say anything back. There was a distant thud, like a door slamming somewhere, and then a true slam, the front door, and the nephew striding back out to the van. The squeal as he worked to get it going. She lay a thumb on the screen’s red circle and hung up.
THE SUN WAS GONE, and Harding still had not come. She wished he would call: it’s better to know, is he or isn’t he. Before you go doing anything with your time. Outside, the grass was cool under her feet and rough where the weeds had been mowed down to stubs, and she suddenly remembered the burning weed and was sorry she hadn’t put on shoes. But she wanted to be quick. She wanted to be quick and stealthy, sort of in case the nephew came back, which she knew he wouldn’t, so really in case Harding came back. Which he would, eventually — unless there had been the moose. She wished for a moment that Fannie were there after all, but then she recanted. The latch on the back gate was brass, with a little string pulley in case you wanted to open it from the other side. In the backyard, the old lady had a deck that was blue painted and a café set with no umbrella and no cushions, just hard metal chairs that baked and rusted, depending on the season. There was a sliding door, but it was locked. At the edge of the house, she caught a gap in the decking and dropped down to her knees to follow it, running her fingers along the seam. She picked in with her fingernails to see if the panel would lift. There was a snap from the front porch. Sara froze. The motion sensor flickered on, vague and squandered, a reverberation of light, shining wanly through the window at the front and across the smooth floors of the house, then glowing at her through the glass of the back door. A glimmer. Sara waited. There was no noise or car door or anything, and she thought, a cat, a rat. A shopping bag abandoned to blow down the street, down to the harbour, to float away, to choke a sea turtle, to wash up somewhere far away and start again. She wedged her fingers and pulled. A kind of trap door creaked open in the deck, revealing the ramp to the cellar below.
A ROOT CELLAR: Sands must have had the deck built on top to hide it, the cement crumbling a little. At the foot of the ramp, there was a wooden door with a flimsy lock, leading into the house. No work to get inside. The back basement had the same crumbling floor. An oil furnace the size of a church organ, deep red in colour, took up a whole corner of the room. There was a sprung mousetrap near the foot of the stairs with only some dusty bones in it, the lace framework of a former mouse. She touched a foot to the bottom step and it creaked, and between the slats, she saw something move. “Mrs. Sands?” Sara called the name up the stairs, a safeguard, but she did not expect aresponse, and none came. Above her head, a pull chain dangled from a bare lightbulb screwed into the ceiling. With the light on, she knelt on the steps and peered through.