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‘Redhead by the Side of the Road,’ by Anne Tyler: An Excerpt | Press "Enter" to skip to content

‘Redhead by the Side of the Road,’ by Anne Tyler: An Excerpt

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By now the kitchen floor had dried, and he returned to wash the breakfast dishes and wipe them and put them away. (Some might leave them to air-dry, but Micah hated the cluttered appearance of dishes sitting out in a draining rack.) Then he put on his glasses—rimless distance glasses for driving—and grabbed the car topper and his carryall and left through the back door.

[ Return to the review of “Redhead by the Side of the Road.” ]

His back door was at the rear of the building, at the bottom of a flight of concrete steps that led up to the parking lot. He paused after he’d climbed the steps to assess the weather: warmer now than when he had taken his run, and the breeze had died. He’d been right not to bother with his jacket. He clamped the TECH HERMIT sign onto his car and then slid in, started the engine, and raised a hand to Ed Allen, who was plodding toward his pickup with his lunchbox.

When Micah was behind the wheel he liked to pretend he was being evaluated by an all-seeing surveillance system. Traffic God, he called it. Traffic God was operated by a fleet of men in shirtsleeves and green visors who frequently commented to one another on the perfection of Micah’s driving. “Notice how he uses his turn signal even when no one’s behind him,” they would say. Micah always, always used his turn signal. He used it in his own parking lot, even. Accelerating, he dutifully pictured an egg beneath his gas pedal; braking, he glided to an almost undetectable stop. And whenever some other driver decided at the last minute that he needed to switch to Micah’s lane, you could count on Micah to slow down and turn his left palm upward in a courtly after-you gesture. “See that?” the guys at Traffic God would say to one another. “Fellow’s manners are impeccable.”

It eased the tedium some, at least.

He turned onto Tenleydale Road and parked alongside the curb. But just as he was reaching for his carryall, his cell phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket and raised his glasses to his forehead so he could check the screen. CASSIA SLADE. That was unusual. Cass was his woman friend (he refused to call anyone in her late thirties a “girlfriend”), but they didn’t usually speak at this hour. She should be at work now, knee-deep in fourth-graders. He punched Talk. “What’s up?” he asked.

“I’m going to be evicted.” “What?”

“Evicted from my apartment.” She had a low, steady voice that Micah approved of, but right now there was a telltale tightness to it.

“How can you be evicted?” he asked her. “It isn’t even your place.”

“No, but Nan came by this morning without telling me ahead,” she said. Nan was the actual renter. She lived now with her fiancé in a condo down near the harbor, but she had never given up her claim on the apartment, which Micah could understand even if Cass could not. (You don’t want to seal off all your exits.) “She just rang the doorbell, no warning,” Cass said, “so I didn’t have time to hide the cat.”

“Oh. The cat,” Micah said.

“I was hoping he wouldn’t show himself. I was blocking her view as best I could and hoping she wouldn’t want to come inside, but she said, ‘I just need to pick up my— what is that?’ and she was staring past me at Whiskers who was peeking out from the kitchen doorway big as life when ordinarily, you know Whiskers; he can’t abide a stranger. I tried to tell her I hadn’t planned on having a cat. I explained how I’d just found him in the window well out front. But Nan said, ‘You’re missing the point; you know I’m deathly allergic. One whiff of a room where a cat’s merely passed through a month ago,’ she said, ‘one little hair of a cat, left behind on a rug, and I just—oh, Lord, I can already feel my throat closing up!’ And then she backed out onto the landing and waved me off when I tried to follow. ‘Wait!’ I said, but ‘I’ll be in touch,’ she told me, and you know what that means.”


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