The rest of the afternoon drags on until McKinnon returns. Her welcome speech is three lines long. Or four, but Lug's snores are too loud to recognize any commas, semicolons, and periods. Before McKinnon sends us home, she hands each of us a page with all upcoming activities. One glance and I know things are going to go bad very soon.
I won't tell Mom. She'll find out soon enough.
In the evening we try our dinner at the Sonata Grand Hotel. The experience isn't great. The food is so bad that Mom drags me out and tells me to hop into the car. Hellhole doesn't have much in the way of haute cuisine, but the local mall has a drive-through fast-food joint, and though their French fries are soggy, and their burgers made of cardboard, the shakes ain't half bad. On our way back Mom takes a detour. For a moment I'm worried we're going to visit Nuttley's, at night. Instead, we halt in front of the ruined house.
"Planning to invest in real estate, Mom?" I ask. "We should definitely expand our portfolio. Teaching is sooo last century."
She just shakes her head and shuts down the engine. Life would be a lot easier if she would simply tell me what's on her mind, but all she does is leave the car. I just watch and hope she won't take too long because I have to pee.
Mom walks up to the fence and pushes it. Nothing happens. She then puts both hands on the metal mesh and shakes it. Nothing happens. It doesn't move at all, not an inch, doesn't even rattle. Which is kinda weird for an old rusty fence like that. I sit up. Mom tilts her head, and walks back to the car, a strange smile on her face. I roll my window down when she knocks on it.
"Could you give me the chalk, dear?" she asks.
I open the glove compartment. She keeps a piece of blue chalk there, wrapped in waxed paper. I hand it to her. The chalk smells faintly like blueberry.
"Thanks." Again she approaches the fence, but this time she gets down on her knees and starts scribbling something on the pavement. I look around, nervous. This is a free country, but an adult drawing on the sidewalk is bound to attract some attention. Fortunately it's late, the street lighting is poor, and nobody cares enough to stop her before she's done.
She gets up and eyes her handiwork, then dusts off her hands. When she blows some of the dust towards the fence it sparkles in the air, just before it touches the metal mesh. Mom kicks again, and this time the fence rattles properly. She looks intolerably smug when she returns to the car and hands me the chalk.
I dutifully wrap it up again. "What was that good for?" I ask when Mom gets back behind the wheel. As usual, her chicken scratches mean nothing to me.
"I've composed a message," she says, "now it's your turn to send it."
She nods. "Yes. Why don't you climb the fence and have a look around? It is going to be an interesting experience."
"Why? Because they have guard dogs? Or landmines?"
"I never would send you into a minefield." She sniffs haughtily. "Not without some decent preparation. Serious now, what kind of mother do you think I am?"
"One that sends her daughter out to trespass in the middle of the night?"
"Well, there's that," she admits. "You know what, I'll turn the car and I'll be waiting for you at the corner."
"So you can assist me with a quick getaway?"
"I was more thinking about making my own timely escape, whilst my reliable daughter handles the real danger."
"What if that daughter desperately needs to see the restroom?"
"What a coincidence. Look, there's one right there." She points at the ruin.
I sigh. "Yes, Mom, whatever you say."
"Oh, you're such a good little girl," she croons. I grab a flashlight from the door pocket, and I'm out of the car before she thinks of adding some 'coochie coochies' and kisses. I can hear her laugh when she pulls away.
The fence is just that, a fence. I carefully study it, and the area it encloses. Two distant lampposts and the ambient light of a grey evening sky show a promising collection of ankle breakers, shin collectors, and scar inducers, all hidden beneath stingy nettles and thorny bushes. No signs of landmines, but who can tell? I look over my shoulder at Mom, who backed up and turned off her headlights. She's busy with her phone as if she doesn't have a care in the world. I prefer to think of her attitude as a show of confidence, that just sounds better.
I circle the fence to reach the backside. There are enough trees and bushes to hide me from the neighbors, though it looks like the place on the right is empty anyway. A wide ditch and a wooden fence provide shelter on the rear. There's no easy way to crawl underneath the fence or squeeze through the gap between two adjacent sections. I take a few steps back, run up to the fence and jump, hold on to the top for a split second, then kick against the mesh and neatly vault over. I land on a lonesome piece of high grass. My luck must be holding as nothing goes 'boom'.
The amount of green inside the fence is outright amazing. It's as if a truck filled with fertilizer exploded right in the middle. It's a stark contrast with the grass outside the fence that has been cut short. Who would mow the grass surrounding a patch of forgotten masonry? Some people simply have too much time on their hands. As I get closer it becomes clear where the roof went: it caved in, and now rests in pieces inside on the ground. I don't recognize any leftovers from any interior walls. The holes in the outside wall, hinting at doors and windows, suggest that once there must have been some.
It's hard to tell how long ago the place was abandoned.
I gingerly step through an empty door opening, the door itself long gone. The remains of the roof are overgrown with weeds, just like everything else. Someone has cleared a section to expose a strip of ground and mount a trellis against the wall. A vine with large red flowers crawls over the trellis and clings to the bricks of the wall. I think the flowers are red, but it's hard to see in the poor light.
I still need to pee.
Well, Mom told me to, sort of, and sometimes a girl has to do what she has to do. I sit down at the foot of the trellis, in the corner with the deepest shadows, and let nature have its way. After that, I inspect my surroundings one more time. Nothing out of the ordinary. There's little of interest here besides the vine and its flowers, and a wet patch of ground which I'm not going to investigate. I kick the wall, jump back when a stone falls down, and wait for something else to happen. Nothing moves, except for a few annoyingly buzzing flies. I take one of the flowers and leave the way I came in.
Mom's still waiting in the car. "Had a good time?" she asks when I get back in.
I stick out my tongue at her and try to give her the flower. She doesn't take it. It's just a flower so I drop it on the dash. She scrutinizes the red petals as they contain the keys to the secrets of the universe.
"Interesting… though not what I expected," she finally says.
"What did you expect?"
"I don't know… Did you have your break? Good. Now we wait."
"That, I don't know either." She smiles at me. "Do you enjoy our quality time together?"
I roll my eyes and ask myself why I didn't bring Sweets' book along.