Oh hi, I’m at the airport. I got this out in a little over an hour. It wasn’t too bad today. And I really like what’s developing with William and Abe. They should hang out.
It seemed to William things were getting way out of hand. It seemed to him that it was an accident—just that, an accident—but the whole neighborhood was determined to Do Something About It. Now, what they could possibly do, William didn’t know. But instead of saying so, he took an Oreo from the selection of cookies laid out on the coffee table along with Chips Ahoy and some other no-name selection. He was required to attend these meetings, some sort of HOA thing, and he’d already missed two. Another one and he’d get a letter, or—God help him—an actual visit from Moira, the HOA president.
“Those sidewalks are way overdue to be serviced,” she was saying at the moment William was twisting open his Oreo and scraping off the sugary cream with his teeth. “They were put in at the same time as our homes were, and that was in 1972,” she said. William noticed that their condos were never “units” or even “condos”; they were always “homes” to Moira.
“Surely they’ve been repaired since then,” Abe said. “I’m positive I’ve seen work crews working on the sidewalks and streets.” Abe was a widower who lived in one of the older sections of the complex. His hands shook a bit as he raised a self-supplied Corona beer to his lips. William got the impression Abe didn’t want to be there any more than he did.
“Of course they’ve been repaired,” Moira said barely disguising her reaction to what she thought was a stupid comment. “Here and there. Patch jobs or holes filled. But what needs to happen is a full replacement of the sidewalks in the common areas.” Moira neatly folded her hands in front of her matching jacket-and-skirt ensemble. It was the color of yellow that flatters no one.
There was murmuring in the room, and William and Abe exchanged glances. When it was clear Abe wasn’t going to ask the obvious question, William leaned forward in his chair.
“And our HOA dues will cover this, correct?” William said. “This is exactly why we pay such high fees, so that the excess is set aside for things like this? I mean,” he said, gesturing to the other people in the room, “if we agree this is the best thing to do.”
Moira took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Well, William, I wouldn’t say our fees are higher than any other community,” she said.
“I would,” Abe muttered through swigs.
Moira ignored him. “And I have to say, it’s really difficult for me to hear you say you might not think this is necessary. After the accident, I would think you and everybody here would be on board with this plan,” she looked around the room. There were uncomfortable shiftings and throat clearings.
“And I have to say,” William said, “I noticed you didn’t answer my question. So I’m going to assume that—no—our dues will not cover this. So I’m going talk about a couple of things before we get to the distasteful subject of money. First, I’m really sorry about what happened to Vanessa. Truly sorry.” William was sincere. Vanessa lived two units over and was a bright, friendly woman. That is, before her head made a violent acquaintance with the landscaping brickwork. Her family said she’d been almost completely unresponsive since.
“But,” he continued, “I’m not sure redoing all of the sidewalks is going to prevent something like this happening again. Her heel caught in a crack. She happened to land in a bad place. What are you going to do, put baby bumpers on all of the bricks?”
“Of course not William,” Moira said. “But I think if we—“
“Make sure you and the board’s collective ass is covered?” There was a gasp from Moira and subdued snickers from the room. Abe lowered his head, but his shoulders were shaking.
“That,” Moira said, “is very unfair. I’m only thinking about the safety of this community.” She reached into a large handbag. Its handles were made from fashionable gold-tone chains, and they chimed as she pulled out a collection of papers bound in the corner by a black spring clip. “Take a look at this,” she said, wagging the papers over the cookie tray toward William. “It’ll show you nationwide statistics of injuries and fatalities—yes, fatalities!—that occur from deteriorating walkways.”
William looked at Moira, then down at the collection of papers. He reached, and Moira leaned forward. William ducked his hand under the papers and took a Chips Ahoy from the plate.
“You know, Abe,” he said, turning the cookie over, “you can’t take a bite without hitting a chip.”
“I’ve heard that,” Abe said, nodding gravely.
“Are you going to look at these?” Moira said, flapping the papers.
William took a bite and turned to Abe. “Yep, chip,” he said. He looked at Moira. “You know what? I’m not going to look at those papers. I’m sure people trip and hit their heads a lot, all over the world. I’m not sure why you’re so gung-ho about getting these sidewalks replaced, but I don’t think it has to do with us, or Vanessa, or ‘the safety of our community.’”
Moira’s mouth popped open. “William, I cannot believe you could be so heartless, so unfeeling as to—“
“How much, Moira?”