Gretchen’s house is exactly how I remember it – picture perfect. The white colonial stands proudly on top of a small hill, framed with lilac bushes and colorful sprays of wildflowers. Its crisp black shutters make me think of batting eyelashes, its barn-red front door of puckering lips. It’s almost like this house, like all of Connecticut, is trying to woo me.
Mom stops the car in the driveway, next to the winding walkway that leads to the front steps. At the base of the steps, a small metal plaque sticking out of the ground catches my eye. Welcome to the Malone’s, it reads.
It takes me a moment before I realize that the plaque is referring to Gretchen and Andrew, and not to Mom and me. I always forget that when Gretchen married Billy, she did indeed become a Malone.
“We’re here!” Gretchen sings out, unlatching her seatbelt.
Just then, the front door of the house swings open and a large, pale woman in a billowing powder-blue sundress and heavy white Reeboks steps outside. Her white-blond hair is pulled back tightly in a bun, and her creased face looks weathered and tired. When she sees us in the driveway, she sighs loudly and throws both of her thick arms in the air.
“Miss Malone, I not a babysitter!” the woman calls out in a heavy Polish accent. She grabs one handrail and heavily lowers herself down the front steps. “I supposed to clean up the mess, not watch him make it.”
Gretchen scurries to the front door, her heels scraping harshly against the cement. “I know, I know Magda, I am so so so sorry. It will never, ever happen again. I promise.”
Magda raises an eyebrow and hoists her canvas pocketbook onto her shoulder. “Mmm hmm,” she replies through pursed lips. From the way she looks at Gretchen, with a mix of exasperation and motherly care, I know she’s heard this before. “Well, I go now. The little one, he is a mess. Found paint or something, I don’t know. I can’t catch him. My knees, you know.”
Gretchen nods her head sympathetically the entire time Magda is speaking, but for some reason I’m not convinced she’s listening to a word the woman says. “Of course, go home. It’s fine, I’ll get it all under control.” Gretchen gives Magda a quick hug. Then she bends down, pulls off her heels and runs into the house barefoot, calling out for Andrew.
Magda turns and looks at Mom and me where we stand motionless in the driveway. She seems like she’s about to say something, but she stops herself. Then she sighs deeply again and begins hobbling toward her car parked on the street.
“Good luck,” she calls out behind her.