17 Hoi Polloi

“So, Mrs. James, how’s it going with the twins?” Gervase and Mrs. James were having a chat.  “Keeping you on your toes?”

“Funny how mothering comes back to you after all that time. All those questions they ask! And that reminds me, I have two for you. Questions, not twins.”

“Fire away!” chapter-17-hoi-polloi

“Number one, would it be alright, sometimes when all our schedules work out, if we were to go out dog-walking with you? The girls are hoping to meet some of the resident pets because their father has vetoed having one of their own here.”

“More the merrier, I say. I’ll just have to remember to not tell secrets to the dogs out loud, as I often do. Mum will be my word, too…and the second?”

“This is silly but, after your confession just now, perhaps not so inappropriate. I was explaining the word ‘menagerie’ to them, and that you didn’t run one. But it occurred to me to ask you if, in private, sometimes you thought you did? Some of the things that one finds out, and mind you, I’m only the secretary! Not that I’m asking to share secrets with you. Not at all. When I lived in my house, over time we got to know the neighbors and some of their business. Only what they told us, on occasion what we observed. It’s so different here.”

“It sure is. But not everyone is friendly, like you. A few of the residents keep pretty much to themselves. They come and go but don’t really treat this place as their neighborhood. And, this building is well sound-proofed, too. Imagine the secrets if it weren’t!”

“Of course, many areas and things are owned in common, by all of the association members, so we’re bound to be in each other’s paths more of the time, those of us who use them, at least.”

“Even those comers and goers are.”

“And we’re supposed to see each other regularly at association meetings to consider our joint affairs.”

“Not everyone does that, though.”

“Sadly, no. At least we are self-contained and needn’t deal anymore with the hoi polloi, just anybody wandering up to our front doors.”

“Because of me, do you mean? The ‘keeper of the keys’? The ‘guardian at the gate’?”

“Yes! The worst were the ones R.T. used to call the ‘soul savers.’ ‘”Here come the ‘soul savers’ again, Ivy. Quick, close the door!'”

“Who do you mean, Mrs. James?” Gervase looked puzzled.

“Why, haven’t you ever seen them? Walking up and down the sidewalks, knocking on doors, interrupting people, and presuming to preach to them?”

“Oh, them. You can rest assured I wouldn’t let them or anyone else in who had no business here. Or their stuff either. There was a group of them once asked me if I would display their magazines in the lobby. Right…”

“R.T. always had a theory about them, that they were out casing houses. He used to say, ‘Look at them Ivy, they walk so slowly they almost look like they are going in reverse.’ Like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland. You remember her, Gervase?”

“Something about running in place, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, that’s right. She and Alice had to run very hard just to keep in the same place. To get ahead, they had to run twice as fast. Anyway, R.T. was fascinated that, even though there was a different group each time, they all invariably walked at this same slow pace. There was certainly no urgency about the soul saving. He was convinced they had an ulterior motive, snooping around, looking in yards and windows, and lingering in doorways figuring out which houses would be easiest to come back and rob.”

“Compared to the speed of delivery truck drivers, it’s true, they appear to be walking through treacle. That’s molasses, to Americans. Maybe they walk slowly so we can admire their finery. They sure do all get decked out.”

“I used to picture them as fore-runners of the trick-or-treaters at Halloween. There was some mistake though, a switch, because the really colorful costumes are on those kids out joyously celebrating and recreating the souls of the dead, though they are mostly unaware that they are.  The dark suits and ponderous costumes are worn by those halting, joyless bearers of salvation.”

“Quite the philosopher, aren’t you? Well, rest assured, I don’t let in any trick-or-treaters either, of any age, unless they have a key. We are more insulated in here than in a house, as you were saying.”

“No more siding and gutter salesmen.”

“No more save the whales.”

“No more candidates.”

“It’s a long list, Mrs. James.”

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

The following Friday afternoon, after the girls were dropped off from school, Gervase stopped by to collect them, along with Mrs. James, and

Poppy and Pansy, eight and three-quarter year old Mendel daughters, in Mrs. James care on weekends

Poppy and Pansy, eight and three-quarter year old Mendel daughters, in Mrs. James' care on weekends

they all went up to the Pardoes’ unit. Rosie, an experienced hostess, made them all feel at home, sniffing and wagging. When everyone had been properly introduced, and or petted, they set off on their pre-arranged outing. Poppy and Pansy each took a turn holding the leash, with a watchful Gervase at her side, and each a turn carrying the pooper scooper, with Mrs. James coaching mindfulness as to its correct position.

“Keep it pointed down, my dear. Always down.”

Rosie led the way. The girls took in the fine points of going around trees and other obstacles, untwisting her leash when tangled with the leash of another passing dog, and learning how long to pause at each stopping place. They were on their homeward journey when they encountered an older couple walking behind a boy riding his tricycle. As children do, he stopped and stared at them.

“Good afternoon.” The gentleman addressed Mrs. James, then the boy. “Now you must get off from your trike, Keki, and let the people and the dog go past.” It was Poppy’s turn with the dog, and Gervase directed her.

“Poppy, now you must pull up tight on the leash. Not that tight! And hold on so Rosie can’t jump up, when you go past a child. Some kids are frightened of dogs and won’t go past you, so you have to go, first.”

The woman spoke. “I am his grandmother. Keki’s not afraid of dogs, quite the reverse. He always wants to pet them. May he pet your dog?”

“Sure. Now Poppy, tell Rosie to sit. When she does, tell Keki her name and hold out your hand, like this.  Show him how to hold his hand for Rosie to sniff. Then he can pet her. That way, yes. Nicely done.”

“I live in that building, over there. Where do you live?” Keki asked Poppy.

“In this one, right here.”

“Say thank you, that’s enough now, Keki.” Keki retrieved his trike and waving goodbye, called back.

“Bye Rosie, see you soon.”

“Oooh.” Pansy cooed. “That little boy is sooo cute.”