“Listen,” Trudy Kay had Ettie Savage on the telephone and she was breathing somewhat more forcefully than normal. “About your living room. You’ll remember I was talking to you the other day. I want you to know I haven’t forgotten. I’ve been thinking. I’ve been turning it over in my mind. We’ve got to do something about that room. We absolutely have to. Do you know what it’s like now? It’s depressing. I get depressed when I go in there. It’s cramped and tight and you can’t figure out where anything is. Do you remember when we were designing it with Ed? Do you remember? The whole idea was to have space—” After saying space she paused and gave a forceful breath, as though to create space over the telephone. Then, when all Ettie could do was insert a tiny “Well,” she carried on: “The furniture. We have to do something about the furniture. Because nobody in his right mind can find a place to sit down. And I’ll tell you another thing, there aren’t enough ashtrays, but that’s something else. But you have to be able to sit down. I don’t know how you can live there. I don’t understand where you sit. It was originally intended—don’t you remember what Ed originally intended?—there’d be plenty of incidental activity going on, but I don’t know how you can do it. Everybody’s afraid to sit. I’m afraid to sit. Ed didn’t expect people would be burning holes in the sofa with their cigarettes or cutting holes with scissors or letting the dogs do their, you know, business on the chairs. You know . . . And the piano, you see what I mean? The piano. And the plants. And the pictures. It’s all gone wrong, it’s all gone meshugge. You know what I mean, meshugge?” Ettie coughed a little, in a genteel fashion although she knew perfectly well how to avoid gentility. “I can’t believe you like it that way. Tell me. You like having everything all over the place? Because Icouldn’t tolerate it. I just die when I’m in that kind of situation. Robert Keneally’s coming out. He comes out, you know. He’s coming out anyway so I thought I’d just get hold of him and we’d go over the place with a finetooth comb. If you’re talking decoration there isn’t anybody else, I’m sure you know that. Trust me. He’ll take one look at your place and it’ll be pure creativity.” When Ettie put the phone down and looked around the room it seemed fine, it was as it always had been, so she thought she’d better have a look with her glasses but trying under all the magazines she couldn’t find them.
On a day when there was nobody in the house, and when the dogs had been boarded and the plants watered and the bird feeders on the patio filled to capacity, Trudy Kay gained access to the house. She rolled into the graveled drive in her 1971 Ford Fairmont with the clutch that stuck. She waited. A 1979 Honda Civic rolled in after her, as gray as the gray translucent sky. Robert Keneally got out. He wore maple-colored corduroy trousers, a burgundy velour shirt, a pair of slippers. They stood for long minutes in the graveled drive and she pointed and he nodded and she pointed up at the yawning oak trees and he looked away. They came into the house as though perhaps she would sell it to him—“Isn’t it wonderful?” “Isn’t it spacious?”—and his eyes were rolling over the hibiscus and the poinsettia and the tumbling jades, the spreading lawns of violets, the Boston ferns blocking the light like jungle growth. She gave him the long tour, so that before they arrived at the living room they passed all of the bedrooms, and the four baths, and the study, and the parlor, the kitchen, the basement, the wine cellar, the sauna, and the nook where breakfast could be taken beneath a poster of a Toulouse-Lautrec. “Ahhh,” said Robert Keneally, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”