Angel Falling Softly

Chapter 7

Don't judge a book by its cover

In purely utilitarian terms, being the mother of a dying daughter was not that difficult.

Every morning Rachel had someplace to go and something to do. It was almost like having a job again. She hustled the husband and the daughter out of the house, showered and dressed. And then hung around children for several hours in a teaching institution staffed by busy, competent professionals. Yes, many of the children were dying, but other than that . . . And it was only part-time employment. She was done every day by noon, one o’clock at the latest.

And so the days came and went.

In Sandy she stopped at Smith’s to get a few things, a few things that quickly filled her shopping cart. How many people had they invited to family home evening, again? Charlene was bringing a tossed salad. She’d talk to Doris at church on Sunday and get everything else on Monday.

She moved to the checkout queues. “Rachel!” A woman hurried up to her, a woman in her late forties stuffed into a Liz Claiborne pantsuit that would look much better if the person inside it lost twenty pounds and didn’t use quite so much makeup.

“Guess what!”

Rachel didn’t guess. A tree falling in a forest wouldn’t make a sound until LaDawn Gunderson told somebody about it.

“I’ve rented out the Lindstrom place!”

“The Lindstrom place? Oh, yes, the Lindstroms.”

“You’re going to have quite an interesting neighbor.” LaDawn spoke with an almost rapturous intensity. “Though I don’t think she’s a member. Didn’t seem at all like the kind of person you’d expect at Relief Society, if you know what I mean.”

“Not a family?”

“Oh, no. Single, early twenties. Very professional. Immaculately dressed. Quite attractive. The whitest skin you’ve ever seen. Rather a strange girl. No, eccentric, that’s the word. She wanted to see the place at night! Probably one of those supermodels you’re always reading about—doesn’t want to be seen in public. I didn’t recognize her. She drove up in this fancy car with her own chauffeur and everything!”

LaDawn lowered her voice to a whisper. “I shouldn’t be telling you this,” she said, patting her friend’s arm for emphasis, “but she paid six months all in advance. Wrote out a twelve-thousand-dollar check, just like that—like she was buying groceries! Can you imagine?”

“Ma’am?” said the checkout clerk, leaning over the scanner to get her attention.

“Sorry,” said Rachel.

LaDawn said, “Well, I’d better get going, myself.” She stopped and asked, “And how is Jennifer doing?”

“She’s doing fine.”

Such transparent lies no longer bothered Rachel when it came to greasing the wheels of social conviviality.

She pulled out of the parking lot and turned onto Sego Lily Drive.

Cottonwood Estates was the quintessential Salt Lake subdivision. Pluck this plot of earth out of the ground and deposit it outside the beltway of any Midwestern American city, and nobody would notice.

It was so unremittingly normal that the developers felt compelled to mess up Brigham Young’s commonsensical east-west, north-south street-numbering system with meandering mazes of ways, lanes, places, trails, circles, and avenues. She had to wonder when a neighborhood got too good for plain old streets.

Still, it was safe, quiet, and clean. The neighbors’ kids behaved. The neighbors’ pets did their business on their own lawns. Yes, she had in her youth sworn that she would never end up in a place like this, just as she had sworn she would never end up a bishop’s wife. But right now she was perfectly willing to sacrifice a small part of her principles for nothing jumping out and surprising her.

She drove up Larkspur Lane. There was the Lindstroms’ house. Mary had been second counselor in the Relief Society. Rachel missed her. But the Lindstroms were a young, upwardly mobile couple, and their future lay in Sacramento, not Salt Lake City.

An R.C. Willey furniture delivery truck was parked in the driveway and a pair of rusty pickups out by the curb. A small crew was busily trimming the lawn, washing the windows, sweeping the porch, flushing out the sprinkler system. This was a tenant LaDawn wanted to impress.

A supermodel, LaDawn had suggested. How did one welcome a supermodel to the neighborhood? Would a supermodel appreciate a loaf of homemade whole-wheat bread? Or would that be like giving a chicken bone to a cocker spaniel? She had no idea.

Rachel made the dogleg from Larkspur Lane onto Willow Way and up the driveway of their three-bedroom rambler. The garage door opened at a touch of the remote. She popped open the back door of the Honda Odyssey and hauled the groceries into the kitchen.

After dumping the groceries haphazardly on the table, she ran a glass of water at the sink and paused at the kitchen window. The lots bordering Dimple Dell Park were a cluttered no-man’s-land of yellow backhoes and concrete foundations. Men with sunburned shoulders and tool belts slung low around their waists marched around like a small army on maneuvers, making war with circular saws and air hammers.

One good earthquake would topple the whole street into the Dry Creek arroyo, to be carried away with the alluvial flow.

The front door opened and slammed shut. Laura tromped into the kitchen. Rachel asked, “How was school, Laura?” and began putting away the groceries.

“Okay.”

Rachel had read an article the other day about how to get a child to reply to such questions with more than one-word answers. She’d have to read it again.

Laura asked, “What’s with the Lindstroms’ place?”

“Oh, yes. I ran into Sister Gunderson at Smith’s. She said she rented it out.”

“Who to?”

“A woman, she said.”

“Any kids?” Laura got the orange juice out of the refrigerator and poured herself a glass.

“I gathered she was single.”

“So why’s she moving here?”

“I don’t know. LaDawn did say she was quite attractive. Like a model.”

“She’s a model? Really?”

“She said she looked like a model.”

“Oh,” said Laura, disappointed. She put the glass on the counter. “I’m going to Heidi’s.”

“Be home by five.”

“Yeah, Mom.”

Rachel returned the orange juice to the fridge. It was time to start thinking about dinner. She looked in the refrigerator and found the pork chops left over from Sunday dinner. A bell pepper, an onion, a can of stewed tomatoes, tomato paste—she could whip together a cacciatore in thirty minutes.

That was enough thinking about dinner. She went down to the family room and turned on the computer. “Move it, cat,” she said, nudging the animal with the toe of her shoe. The cat had a habit of camping out next to the warm power brick. It jumped up and headed to the living room to find a patch of afternoon sun under the bay window.

Three e-mail messages were waiting for her. Two from her brother Carl and one from her brother Phillip. The first was a programming question from Carl directed to Phillip. Unless it was of an expressly personal nature, Carl mailed his messages to everybody on his list, regardless of relevance.

They want me to add all this interactive garbage to the website, Carl wrote, and I can’t remember the JavaScript routines and I’m too lazy to look them up and I figured you’d know it off the top of your head anyway.

“They” were Carl’s investors, or the government, or the church, the forces of nature, the Godhead. Whatever. His was a binary view of life: thumbs up or thumbs down. Things were okay or they were stupid, and most things in life were stupid.

The message from Phillip was a solution for Carl.

Carl’s second e-mail was addressed to her alone. Debby hates our guts and wants new parents. You have a spare bedroom available these days. What do you say?

Rachel had stopped being offended by Carl soon after he was born. She hit the reply button and typed, No thanks. We already have one pubescent teenager. Maybe Mom & Dad will take her.

Carl would get the joke. They grew up in Maine until their dad took a job in the physics department at Utah State University. No surprise, then, that their parents had retired to Great Diamond Island in Casco Bay. It was, if not in the middle of nowhere, then within shouting distance. The week they’d spent there last summer for the family reunion, Debby and Laura had died multiple deaths from boredom.

Rachel pushed the chair back from the computer and stared out the sliding glass doors. New neighbors were always interesting. A model, she thought again. Michelle Montgomery still did some modeling for Macy’s. Maybe Michelle knew the new woman.

She shook her head in self-reproach. No, that was as absurd as the habit Utahns had of assuming that any two Mormons living east of the Mississippi must necessarily know each other. Still, a model for a new neighbor would be interesting. Not as interesting as having a daughter dying in the hospital. But even tragedy got boring when it dragged on long enough.

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