Rick had stepped across the street to talk to the yard man, now stowing the mower into the back of the small black pickup parked in the Cashes' driveway. It rankled me to see him using Tish and Barrington's driveway even though it made sense. That house had been vacant for years, so why clog up Sue Ellen's driveway unnecessarily? But increasingly, people had begun disrespecting the property; at least I thought so. Because there is no parking on the street, Tish's driveway had become a sort of neighborhood parking lot for anyone who had a bridge club, holiday party, barbecue, or needed a place to stow his or her car for a quick getaway when workmen were going to be at their house all day. Her curb lawn became the repository for a few people to place their tree limbs and brush until the city came around to pick it up. Aghast, I watched as the woman next door took her dog out and led it into Tish's front yard to do its business. I stood on my own front porch, impotently furious. Had she glanced over and seen me, I doubt she'd have cared.
At least Sue Ellen had stopped hooking up her hose to Tish's outdoor faucet to do her watering. That had ended years ago, and it probably was because Tish's water was turned off, I'm guessing. There's nothing at Tish's to even pretend to water. Her chubby pots of yellow marigolds and mums have been gone for so long, I almost forget what they looked like. The only thing blooming there now is the huge clutch of brilliant orange tiger lilies surrounding her black locust tree in the back yard. A family of little brown bunnies lives in it again this year, in defiance of the urban hawks and one stray cat that has managed to survive.
Ever since Tish left, the redbud tree in her curb lawn has been slowly dying. It rallied one year, about two years after she disappeared from across the way, but then its decline was steady and inexorable. This spring, it barely showed any pink blossoms at all, just a few on a couple of branches. One limb is entirely dead, and the rest are sparse with leaves that have already begun to yellow, and brown ones litter the ground below. Last week, a green card from the city appeared on Tish's front door. Her redbud tree is going to be removed soon. It's too far gone.
For the past several months, every now and then, I would see a car or truck at Tish's. Once, several lovely pieces of fine furniture--an armoire or china cabinet, a table, and something else--were piled into the back of a pickup truck and it drove away. Another time, a young couple in a bright red jeep went to the house for a while. Recently, three elderly men were there for a while and came out talking. I was watering my plants on the front porch, and it was impossible not to hear them, talking loudly in that Old Man Way. "...And this way, he doesn't have to sell the house," one of them said. "Right!" the other one agreed heartily. Before they left, one stooped low, painfully, and fixed the blue rug on Tish's front porch. I almost burst into tears. I've fixed that rug dozens of times. At least now I'm not the only one.
"That guy wants twenty bucks a week, just to cut and edge our little old front yard!" Rick said when he came back later. "That's ridiculous. I told him I'd get back to him, but obviously I won't. Oh, and he told me that on Saturday, he's doing all the trimming and mowing at Cashes'. The house is either sold or rented. I asked him when he was finally going to shape up Tish's bushes and cut out that tree from the middle of that one that's been bothering you all summer."
I felt a little breathless for a minute. But Rick continued.
"Nance, Tish has Alzheimer's."
What I said next is unimportant. My impression will forever be The yardman knew. The yardman knew. Which I guess is reasonable. As I've said before in my previous posts about Tish,we were merely cordial neighbors. We waved and said hello. She was kind to us and my children. She led her life and we led ours. Why, oh why, am I so invested in her life now? Why am I heartbroken for her? Why am I raging at the unfairness of it all? She is not me; our lives are not parallel.
I will be happy, truly, to see Tish's house come alive again. When the crew arrives to take away the dying redbud tree, I will probably cry just a little. But when the new neighbors arrive, I'll bake a tray of fresh blueberry muffins and step across the street to welcome them.