The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

LIBBY’S LIFE #79 – Gladiator games


Summertime. Crickets, cicadas. Long evenings, hot days.

Or, back on Planet Earth in 2013: June. Thunderstorms. Hailstones, lightning. Flood warnings, incessant rain. Central heating returning for another encore, and cabin fever causing small children to ricochet off walls and demand opportunities to test the effectiveness of recently purchased wellington boots.

Rain or no rain, after several days cooped up inside, we are going for a walk this afternoon.

It’s a slow process, though, I’m discovering. It’s taken nearly five minutes to get Jack, plus the twins in their double pushchair, from the front door to the other side of our street, because the very puddles I need to avoid with the pushchair are those in which Jack wants to jump with his new, camo-patterned rainboots.

As the children and I bicker and squelch past the entrance to Maggie’s long gravel drive, I spot Maggie trotting from her house towards us, holding a black and red golfing umbrella above her head and squinting into the driving rain.

“You do know,” she shouts, “that if someone who is not English sees you out in this downpour, they will call child protection services? Or at the very least, they’ll call the men in white coats?”

We laugh. The Woodhaveners’ attitude to rain is a private joke between me and Maggie. Woodhaveners will happily cope with two feet of snow and an ice storm, but send them a bit of rain and they flap around, panicking about damp basements and aquaplaning cars.

I explain about the cabin fever and Jack’s new wellies. “What’s your excuse for going out in it?” I ask.

“Checking the mail for Montana-postmarked letters,” she says, and I groan softly.

Maggie’s been waiting for a letter from Montana for about a week now. A letter from Chuck, the current owner of the house I want to buy. Chuck is strangely inaccessible by modern communication. After our liquid lunch in the Maxwell Plum, Maggie phoned the emergency number he gave her a few years ago — his neighbours’ number — and left a message.

The message was that Maggie thought he should know that someone (me) was interested in buying his mother’s house, and Maggie had reason to believe he might not know this (because we think Melissa, his real estate agent, hadn’t told him we’d put in an offer) so would he please call Maggie back ASAP.

After two days with no response, she phoned again. Chuck’s neighbours sounded slightly annoyed and told her they’d most certainly passed on the message to Chuck, who had said he would write a letter to Maggie. Yes, they told her, a real letter. On paper, in an envelope, with a stamp, with her address on it. Surely she had heard of such an invention in Massachusetts?

“More to the point, hasn’t he heard of Facebook in Montana?” I asked. “Who writes letters on real paper these days, for goodness’ sake?”

“People who live in the middle of nowhere and communicate mainly with horses, apparently,” Maggie said.

Now, as Maggie opens her mailbox and I see that it contains only this week’s issue of the Woodhaven Observer, I’m starting to think that he’d decided to bypass the postal system and deliver it himself. On horseback.

I voice this theory to Maggie, who looks at me sympathetically.

“At least you’ve got somewhere to live in July now,” she says. “You won’t be homeless.”

This is true. Oliver, via his company’s HR contacts, has managed to get a three-bedroomed apartment near the mall, in the same complex we stayed when we first arrived in America, two years ago. So, no, we won’t be homeless —  but the apartment faces the freeway, it’s noisy with the heavy traffic, and I’m not counting on many undisturbed nights from the twins. It’s most irritating, because they’d both just started sleeping through the night.

We looked at some new houses in Banbury, two towns away. The houses that Melissa’s new boyfriend built. This detail would have been enough to put me off buying one, if the cost hadn’t already done so. The base prices of the houses seemed reasonable enough, but once you started adding in the cost of options, the real prices zoomed vertically, because the “options” weren’t terribly optional. The houses don’t come with decks, for example; not a big problem, you might think, until you realise that the French windows (or French doors, as they call them here) leading out into the back garden have a five foot drop to the ground when you open them.

Both Oliver and I want, more than ever, to stay in Woodhaven, in the magical old house that used to belong to Maggie’s friend, Cathy.  Oliver even calls it “our house” whenever we drive past it.

If only we could speak with Chuck, the actual seller, instead of having to go through real estate agents who have their own unscrupulous agendas. Because Maggie, Oliver, and I are absolutely convinced that Melissa has her own agenda in all this. It’s no coincidence that a house with a lot of acreage and a need for fixing up isn’t selling if she’s a) representing the seller and b) dating a local builder/property tycoon.

But without Chuck’s side of the story, we have no proof.

As we all stand in the rain, a black Escalade tears up the street and drives through the water-filled pothole next to us in the road, sweeping a wave of muddy rainwater onto the sidewalk and all over our little group. Beth and George are safe behind their clear plastic rainshield, but Jack, who was nearest the road, is drenched. He bursts into tears, and sobs that his new rainboots are broken because they’re filled with water.

“No, they’re not broken. They just don’t work when the puddles come from above,” I say, mopping his face as best I can with a tissue that is similarly damp. “We’d better get you home and dried off. Honestly, some drivers, no common courtesy or even common sense…”

“That’s our Melissa, all right,” Maggie murmurs.

I look up. The black Escalade is now parked on the driveway of my house and, sure enough, Melissa Harvey Connor is getting out of it.

“What’s she doing here?” Maggie asks.

“Beats me. Can we disappear up your driveway and hide until she goes away?”

Too late. She’s already seen us and is gesturing furiously.

“I suppose I’d better see what she wants. You wouldn’t like to come with me for moral support, would you?”

“Much as I love a nice bit of gladiatorial entertainment with my afternoon tea,” Maggie says, “I’m expecting a parcel delivery, so I’d better not. Good luck,” she adds, as she starts to wade up her driveway towards her house.

Who is the gladiator and who is the lion?  She doesn’t say.

I look across the street at Melissa, who has seemingly forgotten I changed the locks on her house eighteen months ago and is trying to open the front door with a key that doesn’t work.

When I eventually reach the door, I get my own key out of my purse and Melissa steps aside.

“I’m here to inspect the house for damage,” she says, and my heart sinks. Three children, two adults, and a dog have lived in this house in the last two years. “You know, for things that have to be put right before you move out, that you have to pay for.”

She holds up her useless key.

“New lock system, for example.” She smiles, baring sharp canine teeth. Or perhaps feline.  I’m the gladiator, it turns out; the one facing a big cat. “Cost to you: $300. And that’s before we even get inside the house, Libby.”


Next post: LIBBY’S LIFE #80 – A place of our own

Previous post: LIBBY’S LIFE #78 – Trust no agent

Read Libby’s Life from the first episode

Want to read more? Head on over to Kate Allison’s own site, where you can find out more about Libby and the characters of Woodhaven, and where you can buy Taking Flight, the first year of Libby’s Life — now available as an ebook.

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Image: Travel – Map of the World by Salvatore Vuono /

7 responses to “LIBBY’S LIFE #79 – Gladiator games

  1. Janice June 15, 2013 at 8:19 am

    OMG, looks like Libby is in for it now. I hate to think what Melissa will find that needs to be fixed or replaced. Right now she’s in the driver’s seat Poor Libby.

  2. ML Awanohara June 16, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    Kate – I was thinking about this line this morning when I was sitting outside at Veselka here in the East Village having breakfast, and large raindrops started pattering down:

    Woodhaveners will happily cope with two feet of snow and an ice storm, but send them a bit of rain and they flap around, panicking about damp basements and aquaplaning cars.

    I was already wearing a hat (for sun AND rain) so was able to carry on until the shower passed, though I did have one or two thoughts about protecting my oatmeal (I don’t like it too watery). You Brits taught me well!

    It’s also the kind of observation that makes Libby such a treat for those of us who’ve lived in new & olde worlds! 🙂

    • Kate Allison June 17, 2013 at 1:44 pm

      That was one of those lines that came out of a real conversation in the family this week! Someone said that the driving schools here make a big deal about the dangers of aquaplaning, as if it’s inevitable once you set your tyres on a wet road. But a Brit gets used to driving in the rain (and fog.) I used to drive Minis – the original ones – and I used to carry around an old towel and a can of wd40 for the occasions when rain got on the electrics and the car ground to a halt. NBD.

      • ML Awanohara June 17, 2013 at 10:58 pm

        Ah, yes, the old WD-40 — wish I’d know about that when I was driving on the country roads of Suffolk, where I used to break down with alarming regularity.

        So how do Brits like you adjust to the snowy conditions of NEW England — do the same principles apply: NBD and all that…?

        • Kate Allison June 18, 2013 at 10:01 am

          New Englanders seem to think NBD re snow. It sends me into a panic, though — my equivalent of their rain — although not as much since I got a sturdy 4WD 🙂

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