Leighton Radcliffe had been weeding his flowerbed in silence for the better part of 15 or 20 minutes, aware someone was watching him. He could guess who was standing over there, on the other side of the fence that separated his property from his neighbor’s, and he was doing everything possible to focus his attention in the opposite direction.
He knew he was situated far enough away he could justify not having heard her meek five year-old voice.
“Misther Ra-ciff? ‘scues me Misther Ra-ciff?”
Please kid, he thought, go away.
” ‘scues me? ‘scues me, Misther Ra-Ciff? Hey, um, hey, um, hey…’scues me, Mister Ra-Cliff?”
“Lee!” Startled, Leighton jolted his head up to see his wife standing just inside their screen door, hands on her hips. She nodded towards the girl. Reluctantly, Leighton turned toward the direction of the fence, but said nothing.
“Hi Jenny!” Mrs. Radcliffe called out from behind the screen door. The kid was where she usually stood, her little fingers twisted around the metal links of the fence and her face pressed hard against them.
“Little Jenny, don’t do that,” Leighton quietly grumbled. “You’ll get a mark on your face.” The child obediently pulled her head back.
Mrs. Radcliff had stepped out from behind the screen door and was making her way across their yard. “Where’s your mommy today honey? Is your daddy home? Mmm? Where’s Daryl?”
“No,” Jenny snapped; her initial reply to any adult who made demands. She twisted her head side to side when she said it, making her ponytail whip each side of her face. She tried catching the ends of it in her mouth.
“Jenny honey where’s Daryl?”
“Daryl’s at Edies’s,” she offered, spitting her ponytail out.
“Who’s Edie, honey?” Mrs. Radcliffe asked.
That poor, damn kid, Leighton thought to himself. He shook his head and went back to weeding.
Mrs. Radcliffe asked again, “Jenny, sweetie, who’s Edie?”
“Does Edie live in the neighborhood?” Jenny shrugged with a quick, sort of spasm. After a second or two, she did it again, before going back to whipping her ponytail back and forth against her face and trying to catch its ends in her mouth.
“Sweetie,” Mrs. Radcliffe continued, “Where’s your mommy today?”
“Daryl’s out and your daddy’s out, too?” Mrs. Radcliffe pressed.
Jenny stopped and nodded her head, abruptly up and down like a horse frustrated with its bit, followed by her little spastic shoulder shrug, and then the two together.
“OK, well, you come on over here, honey,” Mrs. Radcliffe gestured toward the gate of Jenny’s yard, and continued the gesture with a sweep of her arm over the sidewalk, circling her wrist as if waiving Jenny in. “C’mon, you come spend the afternoon with me and Mr. Radcliffe.”
Leighton scowled at his wife when he caught her eye, but she ignored him. It was damn difficult getting anything done with that kid underfoot. This time, he promised himself, when he saw either of her folks, this time he was going to have a word. The pair of them! That poor damn kid.
“Please,” Leighton begged his wife, who was now standing beside him with the kid, holding her hand. “Just let me finish in the yard, and have some lunch, and then I’ll set up the train, OK?”
Mrs. Radcliffe smiled and the girl started to bounce up and down, “Train!!” she squealed.