Authors: E.L. Konigsburg
William had many silences, just as he had many shrugs. Sometimes he entered a silence as if it were another language, and Amedeo would have to wait. This one was a silence from which William emerged slowly. When he did, he said, “The stories in the
tapered off. Then the stories stopped. The stories stopped altogether until Aida Lily Tull's daddy died. Aida Lily comes on home to St. Malo for her daddy's funeral, and there is her picture in the paper. There she is right alongside her glamorous mother, the duchess. And there in the picture Aida Lily Tull is big. She is downright fat. Everyone in St. Malo figures that maybe she's not so big in the Europe opera scene anymore because she's got too big for her breeches.”
“You mean that?” Amedeo asked. “Or you just trying to be funny?”
William said, “Both,” and bit the inside of his lower lip to hold back his smile.
“So that was the end of her career altogether?”
“Probably. After her daddy is buried, Aida Lily goes on back to Europe. No one knows if she continued with her career after that, and if she did, it would've been brief, because within the year, she returned to St. Malo as Mrs. Walter Zender. Mr. Walter Zender, he comes back along with her. The two of them moved right in here, living with the duchess, and this is where Mrs. Zender has lived ever sinceâeven after her mother died and even after her husband died too. I know she listens to a lot of opera, but I never heard her sing one note. Not even hum.”
William said nothing more, but smiled at the angel on his shoulder.
When it was time to take the
pictures of the music room, Mrs. Zender insisted upon posing beside the baby grand piano. She wore her feathered satin toque, two long ropes of pearls, and white satin gloves that came to her elbow. “Watch your focus, Mrs. Wilcox,” she cautioned. “I don't want the keyboard in the picture. There must not be
even a hint that no one is playing.” She tugged at her gloves and fingered her pearls. “You must not make me a clichÃ©, Mrs. Wilcox.”
Mrs. Wilcox took a step back and called, “Ready. One, two, three.”
Mrs. Zender lifted her chin and opened her mouth. Her lower lip quivered as if she were delivering a note above the ledger lines. She held that pose for minutes while Mrs. Wilcox moved forward and back and took several more shots. After all the angles had been played, Mrs. Zender moved from the piano and started taking off her gloves. “I never felt more like myself than when I was on stage being someone else,” she said.
“But,” Amedeo said, “you were always a boy or a bitch.”
“No, no, no,” she answered. “I was
a boy, and I was
a bitch”âshe looked at Mrs. Wilcox and winked, and then she continuedâ“but what I
was, was superb.”
Mrs. Zender decided to take the entire contents of her bedroom to the Waldorf. Every piece of furniture in that room was beautifulâelaborately carved, mirrored,
or paintedâand massive. Fitting all of it into a standard Waldorf Court master bedroom would be difficult, but size was not the issue.
The water bed was.
Mrs. Zender had one. Queen size.
Mrs. Zender insisted that she had slept in the finest beds in the finest bedroomsâand here she gave a wink to Mrs. Wilcox, which caused Mrs. Wilcox to blushâall over two continents, but her bed, the one she had here on Mandarin Road, was the only one that she had ever found that was not only comfortable but cool.
Mrs. Wilcox knew that water beds of any size were strictly forbidden in Waldorf Court, but Mrs. Zender chose not to believe her and insisted upon calling the property manager.
The property manager told Mrs. Zender that it was trueâwater beds were not allowed in Waldorf Court. He apologized for not having made it clear to her when she signed her contract, but the issue of water beds had never come up before.
âBecause no one here has one.
âI mean, why are they not permitted?
âBecause of the damage they can do.
âMy dear young man, damage may be done
one's bed, but not
âMrs. Zender, water beds can leak.
âDon't be ridiculous. Pipes leak. Garden hoses leak. Even information can leak, but beds don't leak.
âBut water beds do, Mrs. Zender. They can cause serious damage to floors and walls.
Mrs. Zender said that if she could not take her bed with her, she would break her contract.
The property manager said that he hoped she would reconsider. But water beds were strictly forbidden.
âNo water beds. No exceptions. However, if you do choose to break your contract at this late date, there will be a financial penalty. That, too, is in the contract.
Mrs. Zender hung up abruptly, more agitated than Amedeo had ever seen her. Mrs. Wilcox immediately tried to calm her down. “There is a lovely four-poster in that guest room that faces the river,” she said. “You might could take that bed instead.”
“That bed is not queen size, and I am.” Mrs. Zender pouted.
Mrs. Wilcox never argued and never attempted to override a veto. She went about her work, waiting for the hurricane force of Mrs. Zender's rage to pass.
“I would never have made that phone call, Mrs. Wilcox, if you had not brought the subject up in the first place. I could easily have taken my water bed to the Waldorf, and they would never have known. Now it will be the first thing they will look for.”
Sensing that the worst was over, Mrs. Wilcox said, “They would have known, Mrs. Zender.”
“How could they possibly have known, Mrs. Wilcox?”
“Your water bed would have to be drained before it could be moved. You would have had to refill it at the Waldorf, Mrs. Zender.”
“Yes, Mrs. Zender. Even if you were allowed to move it, you would have to drain it to move it.”
“Drain it of what, Mrs. Wilcox?”
“Of water, Mrs. Zender.”
“Is that what is sloshing around in there?”
“Yes, Mrs. Zender.”
And that is when Mrs. Wilcox chose to tell Mrs. Zender that she knew a master carpenter who could adjust the bed frame of the lovely four-poster in the guest room that faced the river so that a queen size mattress would fit. A little later, when Mrs. Zender inquired about how one went about buying a mattress, Mrs. Wilcox did not tell her
to look in the Yellow Pages. She passed her a list of stores that were well-known for courtesy and service.
The day following the water bed incident, Amedeo and William did their usual parting of the ways at the end of Mrs. Zender's drive, and Amedeo went home to do his usual hurried change of clothes. Amedeo's mother had come to trust his after-school project and often welcomed the opportunity to stay late at work. Amedeo was hardly inside his door when he heard the front doorbell ring.
There stood William, holding the bag in which he kept his change of clothes as well as the plastic bag containing the snack that Mrs. Wilcox always had for the boys to share before they started.
With a thrust of his chin in the direction of Mrs. Zender's, William said, “There's a situation over there.”
“Do you know what it's about?”
“Telephones. Mrs. Zender found her princess phone won't work in the Waldorf.”
“Can't it be retrofitted like the vintage appliances?”
“Probably, but I suspect that Mrs. Zender really wants new phones but wants to fuss about it. She is resisting. Ma says for me to change clothes over here and wait about half an hour before coming on back.”
“Must be bad.”
“It'll take time, and it won't be pretty. Ma will handle it, but she don't want me to witness her humbling herself that much.”
Unlike Mrs. Zender's house, the front hall of Amedeo's house was not a passageway but was a wide, bright, open lobby that gave a spectacular view of the river straight ahead. The entire east side of the family room was a wall of windows. The room itself was two steps lower than the hallway. William stopped at the top step.
With a gesture he had learned from keeping company with adults, Amedeo beckoned William to have a seat and asked him if he would like something to drink. Still cradling his bag of clothes in his arms, William didn't move. He stood at the top step and looked around the room and then out the window at the landscaped terrace and the pool beyond. “I knew you were rich,” he said.
Amedeo said, “I think we decided that that wouldn't keep us from being friends.”
William set his bag of clothes on the floor before stepping down into the room. Amedeo went to the kitchen and returned with two cans of Coke, wrapped in paper napkins. Once seated, he placed a coaster on the table near William and asked him to help himself to the almonds that were in a clear crystal bowl.
William took a sip of Coke and carefully centered the
can on the coaster. He looked around the room. “My house is nothing like this. It's small, and it's in an old part of town. But it's beautiful. Ma has good taste.”
Amedeo said, “My mother had a decorator. Decorators have good taste.”
William started walking around. “Decorators like beige a lot, don't they?”
“Taupe,” Amedeo replied. “Our place in New York was beige. This one is taupe, the daughter of beige.”
“Taupe,” William repeated.
Amedeo watched as William continued his survey of the room. He could tell that William hated what he was seeing. His house was too horizontal, too coordinated, too taupe. Too
His house was too much a part of the neighborhood, too much a part of the Neighborhood Watch, and it made William feel that he wasn't. Amedeo pointed to a painting in the foyer. “Look at that,” he said. “Not beige. Not taupe. My dad and Peter picked it out. They picked out all the art in our house.”
William walked to the foyer and stood in front of the painting.
“That's an abstract,” Amedeo said.
“I know what it is,”William answered.
“Do you like it?”
“Is this some kind of test?”
“No. It's not.”
“Is this something your dad did?”
“No. I just want to know if you like it. Simple.”
“Well, I do. I like abstract.”
Amedeo said, “Jake has taken me to see tons of abstracts. He told me to look at them like I am listening to a conversation in a foreign language.”
William looked at him skeptically. “But don't you feel left out of the conversation?”
“Sometimes. Sometimes Jake and Peterâ
“Peter Vanderwaal, my godfather. I already told you about him. He's director of the Art Center of Sheboygan. Peter and Jake would sometimes have a conversation about an abstract that took up more time than the artist took to paint it.”
They walked back to the family room, and William asked, “Since you've seen so much art, what do you think of Mrs. Zender's?”
“Kitsch,” Amedeo said.
The paintings on Mrs. Zender's walls were modest landscapes framed in ornate gold frames and hung from
silk cords suspended from carved ceiling moldings. The walls in the parlor were covered with red silk brocade, and the ceiling was high enough to accommodate two rows of paintings. Each frame had its own little light, which Mrs. Zender never turned on. “The light fades the brocade,” she said.
“Maybe not kitsch. Maybe it's calendar art. Peter says that paintings of Elvis on velvet are kitsch and make him smile, but mediocre landscapes in elaborate gold frames are calendar art, and calendar art makes him want to cry.”
William leaned back and stretched his arms and did a slow turn around the room. “Mrs. Zender told Ma that her husband bought mostâor maybe even allâof the art for her house. She'll be keeping only a few pieces. To cover wall smudges, she said. And Ma, she's so smart thatâwithout ever hearing what you just saidâshe turned on the lights that are on those gold frames, took a good look at each of the paintings, and said she's turning all of it over to an interior decorator and not even calling an art dealer.”
When Amedeo and William thought that Mrs. Wilcox had safely turned away Mrs. Zender's anger, they walked over. Mrs. Zender approached Amedeo. “It seems I must purchase
telephones. Since your mother is an executive with a communications company, I'll need you to come with me. We'll go tomorrow.”
Amedeo was no more qualified than Mrs. Zender to buy a phone. His mother had always taken care of such things, and Amedeo himself had never set foot inside an office supply store or a large container store or even a Wal-Mart, but he wanted to do this, so he said, “Sure.”
William smiled at him and muttered, “People.”
For their trip to Dig-It-All to purchase telephones, Mrs. Zender wore a white linen pantsuit. Under the jacket she wore a purple beaded sleeveless blouse, and for a collar, she wore a pearl choker. Instead of her usual head scarf, she wore a headband of crushed pink velvet to which she had pinned a starburst of multicolored rhinestones.
They entered the store through an electronic scanner and were greeted by a young man dressed in black slacks and a red T-shirt bearing the Dig-It-All company logo. Mrs. Zender returned his greeting and then jumped back when he pulled a cart from a train and wheeled it to her. Both Amedeo and Mrs. Zender took the cart and started down a corridor, blinking into the blue fluorescence.
A woman wearing the same red T-shirt and black
slacks approached and asked Mrs. Zender if she could help. Mrs. Zender replied that yes, she could help by finding her a man who could assist in selecting a telephone for her new residence. “Yes,” the young woman repeated, “how can I help?”
Mrs. Zender looked puzzled. “I thought I just said that you could find me a young man to help me select telephones.”