Trees and birds

This was my chance. Since the wave of bad luck with Chantilly Gates Homeowners Association, I really needed the dough. To be banned from building there had been a major downer.

I parked the Corvette in front of my parcel about a half-block from Airline Highway and got out, tucking my linen shirt into the slacks I’d bought in New York previous to the Chantilly Gates debacle. Traffic all of a sudden beat at my ears and all shades of gray smoke stung my nose.

Low-cost would be the word today. And what struggling young family could resist the package: their choice of any lot on the three-acre parcel and a new house to boot. Having paid next to nothing for the land, I’d make out too.

An ancient Isuzu Trooper pulled up and the driver’s door swung open, revealing the rear view of a sturdy fellow who was unstrapping a squealing kid from a car seat. Once he was out, I saw that the guy was not just sturdy. He was borderline fat, both face and gut like pumpkins.

“Chuck and Barb Morgan,” he said as his wife, dressed the same as him in gray and blue-striped shirt, blue shorts, and heavy knee-length socks, approached from the other side.

The guy shifted his kid, the little darling’s mouth dribbling a curdled mess, from one arm to the other and extended his hand. “Excuse the twinsy look. Saturday morning soccer, you know.”

“You both play?” A nod and smile to disguise my stupefaction.

“It’s a couple’s league. Teachers.” Chuck twisted his head away from the kid, who was now trying to snag one of his old man’s gargantuan ears.

“Teachers! Love it. Salt o’ the earth. My aunt’s an English teacher. Smartest woman I know.” A genial look that gave no hint that Auntie Harriet wasn’t my favorite. She was stuffy to the nth degree. Cheap too.

“Yessir,” Chuck went on. “Barb’s kindergarten. I’m history and coaching. And I guess you know what that means.” The kid began whimpering, and Chuck bounced him. “That’s why your deal in the classifieds sounded interesting.” He looked around. “But — ”

“I guess this is reality, huh?” Barb whined, looking around as well, hands on oversized hips. “And what’s that smell? It hurts my nose.”

“I think it’s diesel,” Chuck answered.

“I was lucky to get this parcel,” I said before any real flak could fly. “Right after I nabbed it, the prices around here skyrocketed.”

“But is this residential?” Barb was staring at the rail cars on the other side of the highway.

“Right here it is, and you’ve got your choice of lots.” I paused long enough for a groaning semi to exit the warehouse area. “I own the whole three acres.”

Barb shaded her eyes with her hand and, like the proverbial Indian, rotated slowly, taking it all in this time. “To be honest, this isn’t what I expected.”

“No?” At my asking price it seemed like a deal to me.

“Well, I thought it was country. Trees and birds. That’s what your ad said.”

I rubbed my chin, leaned against their car. “That’s where landscaping comes in. Trees, then birds. Finally you don’t even know you’re anywhere near a highway.”

“Yeah but landscaping costs so much, and we’ve — ”

“What are those?” Chuck broke in. He’d noticed the metal bus barns next to my parcel.

“Not sure,” I answered. “I’ll check into it though. You know, what’s really special about this area is that it’s not in the floodplain.”

“Mmhmm.” Chuck gazed away.

While waiting for the sudden rush of highway noise to subside I considered a new approach. “Ever heard of Chantilly Gates?”

“Who hasn’t?” they both said at once.

“Well, I built some of their fanciest homes.”

“Impressive,” Chuck said before bouncing and shushing the fussing kid and then giving me a sidelong glance. “This might seem nosy, but I have to ask — what are you doing out here when you could be in Chantilly Gates putting up mansions?”

I met his eyes with the true-blue gaze of a bleeding heart. “It was a matter of principle. I decided I’d rather provide lodging for good, simple people who deserve better.”

“Interesting.” He narrowed his eyes and went back to bouncing the kid, who all at once gave out a whopper of a yowl.

When he handed the brat to his wife, she growled, “He’s hungry and we’ve got to go,” and with that, snapped around and headed for the door on the passenger side. “Thanks,” she called back in the rock-hard voice of a female soccer player.

“Yeah, thanks,” Chuck said, reaching for the door handle.

I thought fast, reached for his arm, took one last shot. “If you’ll wait a minute I’d like to show you something. Got a sec?”

I didn’t wait for an answer, instead hustling to my car, where I picked up some flyers from the pile on the seat.

“These were done up by Chantilly Gates,” I said, handing a few to Chuck when I got back. “They might give you some idea of my background.”

Chuck opened the door of the Trooper and got in.

“You know, you won’t find a cheaper deal. And — ”

“Thanks,” Chuck said again. He shut the door, started the car, and burned away, leaving me in a cloud of acrid smoke.

When I got into my own vehicle I sat for a minute, staring out, thinking this might not be as easy as I’d hoped. I’d need to revise my plan, draw attention away from drawbacks and toward strengths. Maybe start with the handout?

The handout. I picked one up and put on the reading glasses from the console. Over the past five years, Henri Bertrand, President of Choice Construction and personification of excellence in the building industry, has been committed to the creation of superb custom homes as well as to using the fine skills of his fellow parishioners at Church of Good Blessings in Kenner, Louisiana. The homes he builds not only benefit you, his customers, but needy members of this close-knit Christian community. Mr. Bertrand’s promise is that the quality of your new home . . .

I stopped reading. This might be it. Start with the church part next time.



By Susan Swanson