Mrs. McV., the housekeeper, spies me out the kitchen window. She puts down her mop and comes outside. “Hello, stranger. Haven’t seen you for a long time.” She’s Polish. The “Mc” is from her last or second-to-last husband. She has recently moved to Richmond with a new boyfriend—black, one of the daughters tells me. She commutes into the city each day on BART. She could be from central casting; the groundling taken root amid the upper crust. “Hey. I want to ask you, can I take a cutting of that white plant for my garden?” She points to a Santa Barbara daisy.
“There are some sprouting in the path you can dig up.”
“What about that one?” she points to a wild geranium.
“Same thing. It sows itself everywhere.”
“Can I take a few?”
“It’s a weed. You don’t want it.”
“But it’s pretty,” she says, and digs up a seedling. “You went to see your father. That’s nice. My father disappeared during the war. My mother took another husband and one day a letter came from my father, from Siberia. Forget about him, my mother said, but I didn’t listen. I went to find him. I never did so I came here.”
I deadhead the roses, imagining, trying to imagine, unable to imagine, what that journey was like. Did she make it to Siberia? Surely not. How did she get here? She had a first name then.
“I’m leaving now,” she yells out the back door. “Do you want me to lock up?”
“Do what you always do, but don’t turn on the alarm.”
“Why don’t you use the bathroom before I lock up?”
“I don’t have to.”
“Go ahead. Use the bathroom.”
“I don’t have to.”
“Okay, you can go back there and water the plants. I won’t tell.”
Mrs. McV likes to insinuate there’s complicity, almost a conspiracy, between us. It’s a class thing. We’re both pushing dirt around. I don’t respond. Surely I am better than that, even if I do sometimes pee on the bushes.