“Wait till I turn this off. Now.”
“That noise. Whatever is it?”
“The Hoover was running.”
“I said, I was running the vacuum.”
“Not that. Outside. Listen.” Rosie leaned over the banister.
“Oh, it’s the bee, dear.”
“Bee nothing. A thousand woodpeckers working on tin.”
“The working bee. You’ll see if you come down.” Mrs. Peale opened the front door. “Hammering nails into the elms. The whole town.”
“For heaven’s sake.”
“You make a circle of nails round the trunk of the tree. It’s supposed to stop the elm disease.”
“Didn’t you get the circular? And they came round, too, door to door. But then, you didn’t get up here last weekend.”
“No, that’s right, we stayed in town.”
“Nice when you can come up here weekends and be quiet. Don’t trip on the cord.”
Rosie closed the front door and crossed the hallway. “Some coffee, if it’s ready?”
“Thanks, but I’ve got the kettle on for a cup of tea. I’m going over to make cookies for my daughter’s boys when I’m finished here.”
The percolator was drawing great labored breaths, like a patient in anesthesia.
“Must be growing up now, Mrs. Peale. They’re older than Teddy.”
“You remember them, they came by at Halloween.”
“I don’t think I saw them.”
“Oh, they were here all right. You must remember. One was the devil and the other was a skeleton. You gave them a bag of marshmallows.”
“Of course.” Rosie stood at the kitchen window, drinking coffee.
The kettle shrieked.
“Breast high.” Mrs. Peale poured.
“The nails. They’re driven in at breast height. Special nails, from Peru.”
“From Peru. Fancy that.” Well, of course—tin mines, Incas, all that: Why not?
“Yes, Peru, Illinois. If you’ll leave that cup. I was just turning on the dishwasher.”
Upstairs, Rosie had forgotten to make the beds. She pulled the sheets down, then up again, and thumped the pillows. The dishwasher pounded below, cars swished on the highway. Mrs. Peale turned the vacuum on again. The furnace started up with a gasp and throbbed lightly and quickly through the floor and walls, as if the house had had a bad fright.