A friend of mine tells me he's up to ‘here’ with his kids.
“They spent the morning filling the washing machine with bullfrogs from the pond. Felt bad for them, all that dirty pond water…”
We stood in his yard and looked first at the well manicured pond in the distance, and then back to the house where, from all appearances, there was peace and order and prosperity.
He chewed his bottom lip and winced. “After the first rinse…” he gurgled, looked away and managed to squeak out, “I have ha hard time talking about it…”
“You have a washing machine?”
“I didn't know it either, until…” His eyes glazed up.
“Filled?” I made like measuring with my hands.
“Up,” he said, through fist full of knuckles.
I was going to ask another question – there were a few – but he shook his fist out of his mouth and headed for the house.
This friend of mine, a white linen and straw hat in the summer guy, met his wife – a floppy sun hat over face covering sun shades in the summer gal – while traveling the islands by yacht to visit his offshore wealth.
The twins arrived in Provence . They were christened in Florence, and had their tiny, pale-pink ears pierced in Shanghai by a well know monk who did those sorts of things for pale-pink people.
“Girls. You figure less problems.”
“They've cost me,” he offered.
He rifled off properties by location, “Bonnieux, Taiyuan, Balmoral… dear sweet lord, I watched that one slide down the beach and slip in flames into the sea.”
“They're what, eight? Nine?” I asked.
“Three au-pairs, two assistants, one manager, and Felicia. The au-pairs know karate. Did you know that?”
“Yep. They also speak seven languages between them. They can drive blindfolded – some C.I.A trick they picked up in their training… you’d figure…”
“Balmoral Beach - They all thought it would be a nice surprise for me. All of them! Filled the terrace with birthday candles – front to back, top to bottom. It never occurred to them…”
We passed through the library annex to the reading room.
“Have you been in here?” He nodded to a row of photos framed in silver leaf on a wall of plush red velvet with brown trim.
The images were all black and white and mostly grey; smoke, splinters, crowds of people – mostly fleeing - animals in various states of discordant repose…
“I've hired consultants to assist them with touchy issues: how to best feed the pets without collateral damage; which beach toys are least likely to produce deadly results; how to enter and exit a wildlife preserve without loss of life or property…”
I stroked the edge of one of frames. The evidence of some growing malignant failure was on display without rancor or malicious intent. It wasn't the wall of shame. The photos were not a punishment or complaint; they were the family vacation pictures, unedited, objective, and direct.
I hadn't been in the annex, hadn't seen the images or heard about half the stories behind them. A few more questions bubbled up in my brain.
“Here they are! Simone, Annette, look who's here!”
End of part 1