“Friends, neighbors, business owners, listen up. We called this meeting to discuss how to organize the neighborhood yard sale, since Karen used to always handle that sort of thing. Now that her bakery has closed and she’s no longer part of the neighborhood association, we’ll have to figure it out ourselves.”
“Good riddance,” muttered Arlene. A few other people nodded. We were all sitting at picnic tables next to the community garden, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. I bent down to retrieve a refillable water bottle from my bag, trying to hide my face for a moment. I had come to hate these vapid women.
Karen used to be the president of the association. There had been nasty rumors about her bakery for months before it finally closed. People said she was using expired ingredients, or that she was buying baked goods in bulk and passing them off as her own. They said she had a mouse infestation. Then they said she had brought in cats to catch the mice, and was keeping them in cages in the basement where she stored the spare flour and sugar.
The final straw was when Morgan, the vice-president of the neighborhood association, had claimed to have eaten a danish from the bakery and gotten violently ill. The health department had been called and had not found any violations, but it was too late. The idea of the bakery gave people a bad taste in their mouths, so to speak. When the customers had dried up, Karen had been forced to shut down.
“I’m sure you’re right,” I said. “Even though Karen used to go to work at three in the morning and bake for hours, then spend the afternoon working for the association. Remember the movie screenings she organized every summer? And the weekend karaoke parties for teens? And all those dozens of cookies she donated to bake sales at the school.”
“Morgan said she only did those things to drum up business,” Arlene said with a sniff. “She didn’t actually care about the neighborhood. She didn’t even live here.”
Karen lived on the other side of the city, in a house she had inherited from her parents. But she had chosen to open her bakery here, because she loved this neighborhood.
“Well, if Morgan said it then it must be true. I know that Morgan is a trustworthy woman.” I tried to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. “I’m glad she’s the president now. Especially since she so badly wanted to be.”
“Oh, that’s right!” Joanne said. “I had forgotten how angry she was after the last election, when Karen beat her again. Where is Morgan? Why isn’t she here?”
“I don’t know. She’s probably on her way,” I said, failing to mention that I had stopped by her office and let the air out of one of her tires. “Anyway, we should talk about the yard sale. If we want to pull off a spectacular ten year anniversary block party this July then we need to make a good profit from the sale. Karen had all kinds of ideas, but I guess there’s no point talking about any of that now.”
A few of the women perked up. “What kind of ideas?” Joanne asked.
“Oh, it doesn’t matter. Morgan said they were dumb and impractical, and she’s the president now. I’m sure her judgment can be trusted. Even though she bought chocolate eggs for the Easter egg hunt when it was eighty-five degrees out,” I said with a smile.
Arlene groaned. “My kids had chocolate everywhere.” She shuddered. “Everywhere.”
“And then there was the mulch,” I said, glancing at the community garden. Morgan had said she was too busy to do any work in the garden, but had volunteered to buy mulch. Since it was drought season, watering was only allowed on certain days, making the mulch critical. Morgan had only picked up enough bags to cover half the ground. She kept saying she’d get more, but finally Karen had stepped in and completed the job.
“And remember when she was supposed to look after Lydia’s house while she and her husband were on that cruise?” Joanne asked, like anyone could forget. “And she left the water on in the laundry room sink and flooded her house?”
“Uh huh. She said it was an accident,” Arlene said, eyebrows raised.
That had happened after Lydia’s daughter had been chosen for the lead in the school play, beating out Morgan’s daughter. Morgan had gone to the school and thrown a screaming hissy fit, but the music teacher hadn’t budged.
“But you’ve all known Morgan for much longer than I have. I only moved here last year. If you say that she’s a trustworthy woman then she must be,” I said, twisting the knife.
An uneasy silence fell.
“Yes, you haven’t lived here that long,” Joanne said.
“But it seems like it’s been ages. I remember the day I moved in. Karen dropped by with some Cornish pasties and a peach pie from her shop, to welcome me to the neighborhood.”
“Oh, that pie!” Arlene moaned. “After I tried Karen’s pie I couldn’t eat anyone else’s. I offended my mother-in-law at Thanksgiving.”
“And when I got married,” she continued, “I could barely boil an egg. I tried so hard to teach myself how to cook, but I kept messing everything up. I started dropping by Karen’s shop to ask cooking questions. She was so patient with me! She even gave me some lessons.”
“I ordered a cake from her for my twentieth anniversary reception,” Joanne said. “I thought it was going to be a plain sheet cake, but she got hold of some pictures from our honeymoon in Hawaii and printed them on the cake. And she made all these sugar paste flowers for the border. It was absolutely gorgeous! And she didn’t charge any extra.”
“She was going to bake a bunch of little bite-sized pies to sell at the yard sale,” I said. “That would have paid for a band for the block party.”
“She was one of a kind,” Arlene said softly.
“Hey, guys!” Morgan called, waving as she approached. “Sorry I’m late. I had a flat. What did I miss?”
She was met with icy stares.
I smiled. The suburban cold shoulder was worse than a crowd with torches and pitchforks.