Aldershot Run by SG From

Taylor managed to wait for an hour before asking. He knew it would annoy her, but after rummaging through the ninth box it slipped out.

“Are they really that important?”

Claire turned and looked at him as if he’d said something fundamentally stupid. He’d been getting that look more often in the last few months, which is why he’d waited an hour to ask.

“ You do know what I’m making, right?”

“Of course,” he said.

“What am I making?”

He was getting more of those, too: probing little questions to test if he’d been tuning her out.

“That’s really insulting,” he said, stalling for time because he’d been tuning her out.

“What’s insulting?”

“You’re insinuating that I wasn’t listening.”

“My apologies,” she said. “So. What are we having?”

“Our special meal. You know. To celebrate our first night in the house.”

“Right you are. And the special meal is?”

Mystery saved him with a sudden, manic peal of barking from the general vicinity of the back bedroom. He’d wandered off into the labyrinth of stacked boxes about an hour ago.

“I’d better go rescue him,” Taylor said, moving out of the kitchen.

“Who’s rescuing who?” Claire asked, opening box No. 10.

“Shouldn’t you be using a whom in there somewhere?”

“Shouldn’t you be using the word obfuscating in there somewhere?”

He was about to challenge her use of the word obfuscating when the name of the dish mercifully emerged from the ether.

“Chicken Kiev,” he called out when he reached the hallway.

“What kind of Chicken Kiev?” she called back.

Kind? Jesus. It had to be a trick question. He pretended not to hear her, sidling between boxes that lined the hallway until he reached the back bedroom. Mystery was stranded between two rickety towers of boxes marked Books, looking up at him with a sweet, pure relief that almost neutralized the tell-tale stain in the corner. Mystery was a rescue, and looked to be a stocky, 90-pound blend of lab by way of something else. The vet pegged his age at between 5 and 9, a range encompassing both canine middle-age and geriatrics. Thus his name: Mystery. Taylor took one of the boxes and plunked it on the stain. Not the smartest move, but satisfying. He reached down, ruffled Mystery’s ears and motioned for him to follow.

When he returned to the kitchen, Claire was still deep in rummage mode. She pulled a cereal bowl out of a box marked Spices.

“This is not encouraging,” she said.

“Never underestimate utility,” Taylor said, taking the bowl. “The Big M needs water.”

“Not too much,” she said. “Don’t want him going off for a leisurely pee on the new carpeting.”

Taylor winced, but he was facing the sink, away from Claire.

He filled the bowl halfway and placed it near Mystery, who gave it a desultory sniff, then lay down beside it. Claire started scanning the kitchen for her next target. She opened a box near the refrigerator, one of a half-dozen marked Kitchen Utensils. She pulled out his old baseball glove and shot him a harsher variation on that look: instead of saying something stupid, he’d done something stupid.


“Maybe there’s a certain logic here,” he said, taking the glove. “If we find a box marked Athletic Stuff, we’re sure to find the mortar thing.”

It was something she would have laughed at a year ago. They searched in silence for a few more minutes, sliding boxes around and carefully stepping over the snoozing Mystery when Claire came upon a third box labeled Kitchen Utensils.

“Third time’s a charm,” she said as she opened it.

Taylor watched as she fished around in the box, then went still.

“You find them?”

She didn’t answer. He stepped closer and looked over her shoulder, down into the box. It held some screwdrivers, a box of brad nails, picture frames and a copy of the Mayo Clinic Guide to Your Baby’s First Year, book-marked by a bouquet of yellow Post-Its. They hadn’t touched it in months. Taylor didn’t remember packing it, but its location in a box for kitchen utensils marked him as the likely culprit. Claire didn’t say anything. She closed the box and went on to the next.

They settled on takeout Italian for their first meal, sitting on the living room floor and drinking red wine from coffee mugs found in a box marked Extension Cords. Mystery remained in the kitchen, sound asleep by his makeshift water bowl.

Taylor’s eyes reflexively wandered up to the TV, already unpacked and on its stand just behind Claire. It would be lifeless until the cable company showed up the day after tomorrow, denying them a reliable antidote to the silence. But the wine picked up the slack. He was well into his third mug when he eased back against a box and gazed out the sliding glass door, past their little backyard to the thin line of trees that obscured the next row of townhouses. The foliage would disintegrate in autumn, revealing bits and snatches of strangers drifting through their days. He imagined them watering lawns, tending smoky grills, idling under patio umbrellas. The hushed rhythm of it lulled him. He breathed deep and leaned back still further, taking in this little moment as the summer light mellowed to ochre. He hoped these images would survive, seep in, dislodge others to oblivion. For a moment he believed they would. He reached across the box holding their plates and touched Claire’s hand. She looked up and smiled, or tried to smile, but didn’t look directly into his eyes.

“God, it’s still bad,” Claire said as they stepped out onto the front porch.

“It’ll get cooler after dark,” Taylor said with assurance, clipping the leash onto Mystery’s collar.

 “In July? You think?”


He heard her laugh. It was a relief. After dinner he’d fed Mystery and started unpacking glasses. He was in the middle of the third box—where he found the spoons—when he heard Dammit. Claire was in the living room, still looking for the mortar and pestle. He was about to call her into the kitchen to distract her with an inane riff on the located spoons when Mystery walked to the front door, providing him with the perfect excuse to get her outside.

“Which way should we go?” Claire asked, stepping off the porch.

“Doesn’t matter,” Taylor said. “It’s all new.”

Claire led the way. When they reached the end of their street, she stopped. Taylor looked both ways: townhouses to the right, townhouses to the left.

“Let’s go left,” he offered.

Claire shrugged. They started walking. Aldershot Estates was a massive development tallying 3,000 units, built upon what had once been gently rolling fields of soy and corn. There were four models, distinguished by slightly differing facades and varying square footage. They’d chosen the Colonial because it had three bedrooms. It gave them something to shoot for. It was a thought Taylor kept to himself.

“That a Colonial or a Promenade?” he asked, pointing to a unit on their right.

“Promenade,” Claire said without turning. “Two bedrooms. With fireplace.”

They walked to the first corner, passing a backyard bordered by brilliant red flowers. An older man in baggy beige cargo shorts stood over them, hose in hand.

“Very nice,” Claire said. “Dahlias?”

“Zinnias,” the man said with a vague smile.

“Would’ve bet on dahlias,” Taylor commented. He didn’t know why he said it. He knew as much about dahlias and zinnias as he did mortars and pestles.

“Zinnias,” the man said again, looking at Claire. “But they’re both members of the sunflower family. Asteraceae.”

“Asteraceae,” Claire repeated softly.

“Best to water them at dusk,” the man said.

“Right,” Claire said. “If you water them under the sun, they can burn.”

“Precisely,” the man said. “The water acts like a—” He stopped and looked down at Mystery, who’d let out a soft moan, lifted his leg and released a stream against the man’s fence.

“So sorry,” Claire said.

“At least he’s watering the fence at dusk,” Taylor offered.

The man stood still, hose tinkling, looking at Taylor.

“You have a good evening,” Claire said, walking on.

When they reached the corner, Claire turned to him.

“Did you really just say that?”

“I was trying strike a neighborly tone,” Taylor said.

“You struck something.”

“Don’t forget Mystery. We’re a team. I bet on dahlias. He’s into fences.”

Claire laughed again. He was on a roll.

“Which way now, Magellan?” she asked.

It was the same choice as before: townhouses or townhouses.

“I’ve got a yen for townhouses,” Taylor said, “so let’s go right.”

They started down the street, Claire again leading the way. He noticed the steadily expanding spot on her t-shirt, between her shoulder blades. He knew he had one to match. It wasn’t cooling down. After a few minutes she pointed to their right.

“Tennis courts,” she said.

There were four of them, fenced in behind a row of waist-high shrubs. He tried to recall the last time they played tennis. He couldn’t. As they walked on he noticed one sapling had been planted in each tiny front yard.

“Do we have a tree?” he asked.


“A tree. Do we have a tree in our front yard?”

Claire stopped, then turned to him.

“I don’t know.”

She closed her eyes and raised her chin as if trying to catch a scent. She shook her head.

“That is so beyond weird. I mean, we just bought the place. We own it. And we don’t know if it has a tree.”

“Not that weird,” Taylor said. “Day’s been a blur.”

“The last week has been a blur.”

Claire took his hand. They started walking, following the gentle curve of the street, Mystery occasionally stopping to sniff or leave his mark. The sun was down, leaving purplish-blue streaks in its retreat. The streetlights started snapping on. They turned left at the next corner to find a little playground equipped with two sets of swings. Taylor felt Claire’s hand tighten on his.

“They had a name for these, remember?” he asked, grabbing for any distraction. “In the brochures?”

“Micro play stations,” Claire said.

They walked another two blocks in silence. Taylor looked at the units they passed. They seemed different.

“Are these Promenades?”

“Manhassets,” Claire said. “One bedroom, without fireplace.”

They went another half a block when Taylor picked up the tingly scent of chlorine.

“Smell that?”

“Pool,” Claire said.

He spotted it straight ahead, between a wide gap in the next row of townhouses. They walked up to a fence ringing the swim area. The little clubhouse was dark. No one was around except for a kid skimming the pool surface with a long-handled net. The pool was illuminated by underwater lights. Mystery sat on his haunches, tongue out, watching the kid.

“Hey there,” Claire said.

“Hey,” he said.

He looked all of 16. Taylor noticed the red cross on his white T-shirt. He was a lifeguard.

“When do you open?” Claire asked.

“We’re closed. For the night.”

“I mean your hours?”

“Ten to 7 weekdays. Except Fridays, for swim nights. Open til 9.”

“It get crowded?” Taylor asked.

The boy looked at him.“What?”

“Crowded?” Taylor asked. “Does it get crowded?”

The boy’s eyes went to Claire, then back to Taylor.

“Kind of lighter on the weekdays, crazy on the weekends. You know.”

“We’ll have to check it out,” Claire said.



“Can’t. Need a pass.”

“Ok. Where do we get one?”

“Clubhouse,” the kid said, gesturing over his shoulder.

“We’ll get one tomorrow,” Taylor said.



“Clubhouse is closed on Sundays. Try Monday after 9.”

“Thank you,” Claire said, turning to leave.

“Nice dog,” the kid said. “W hat kind?”

“When you find out, one of us will know,” Taylor said.


“He’s a mix,” Claire said. “Not sure of what. Good night.”

“See ya.”They walked away from the pool and back to the street, with Claire again leading the way.

“Why do you speak in riddles all the time?” she asked without looking back.

“W hen you find out, one of—”

“—yeah, yeah, one of us will know.”

She dropped back to take his hand again, almost smiling as they reached the corner.

“Should we head back?” Claire asked.

“Let’s go a bit further.”

“He may be getting tired,” Claire said, looking down at Mystery. His tongue was hanging out a bit more, and he was starting to pant.

“I think he’s got a few more blocks in him,” Taylor said.

“Ok. Which way?”

“You choose.”

“Let’s try left,” Claire said.

“Good call. Maybe we’ll find some townhouses.”

Claire didn’t answer. They turned left and started walking past a row of units that were replicas of their own. In another half block they came upon another micro play station, this one with a jungle gym. She let go of his hand.

“How many of these do they have?” Taylor asked, trying to keep his tone neutral.

“One per 70 units,” Claire said.

They walked on. Claire moved several feet ahead. The new darkness accentuated lights glowing from the living room windows they passed. Taylor heard the occasional pop of distant fireworks, though the Fourth was two weeks gone. They came across a few fellow dog walkers, but no one else. He felt the sweat on his back seeping through his T-shirt and noticed how the backs of Claire’s legs glistened. Mystery started slowing. Claire moved further ahead, the space between them punctuated by blotches of light from the street lamps. Taylor watched Claire’s smooth, natural gait, the gentle bounce of her pony tail. His mind wandered to the next day and all the boxes to unpack, furniture to arrange, pictures to hang, routines to recover and then he thought of all the firsts to come at their new home: the first time they’d make love, the first time they’d argue, the first guests they’d entertain and as his mind sifted through the list it began to relax and open and that’s when the names drifted in. They stood vigil at the periphery, defying reason, distraction, the dead weight of exhaustion. He could alphabetize them without effort: Bravelle, Cetrotide, Clomid, Dostinix, Fertinex. Then came the procedures. Intrauterine insemination. In vitro fertilization. Intracytoplasmic sperm injection. Gamete intrafallopian transfer. Zygote intrafallopian. They all had acronyms. GIFT through ZIFT and everything in between. None of them worked. Their only function was to serve as guideposts to other milestones: Mystery was acquired from a rescue shelter between Clomid and Dostinix. The townhouse was purchased between in vitro and intracytoplasmic sperm injection. And now they were here, walking through the steamy catacombs of Aldershot Estates with micro play stations turning up at every other corner, taunting little monuments that gave them no choice but to pass, to keep moving no matter what. Claire stopped and turned around.

“I think we should head home,” she said.

“Right,” Taylor said.

“Which way?” Claire asked as she looked around.

“Let’s just reverse course,” Taylor said, though he had no idea where the course was.

They turned around and went down the street, this time with Taylor leading. They took their first right. The street didn’t look familiar, so they turned left at the next corner.

“This look like the way?” he asked.

“I think so,” Claire said, but there was no conviction in her tone.They walked down the next street, turned right, then took another left.

“Tennis courts,” Taylor said, pointing to their left.

“Great,” Claire said. “Wait. Weren’t there four courts?”

“I think so.”

“There are only two here,” Claire said.

Taylor looked. She was right.

“Maybe they roll two of them up at night,” Taylor offered.

Claire didn’t laugh. They walked on. One right, another left. Townhouses. Townhouses every where. After one more right turn Mystery stopped in his tracks and sat. Taylor stood over him, waiting for a moment before gently tugging the leash.

“C’mon boy, lesgo.”

Mystery sat where he was, looking up at Taylor, panting.

“Lesgo boy. Lesgo.”

Nothing. Claire came up to them from behind.

“What?” she asked.

“Nothing. He just quit.”

Claire squatted down, took Mystery’s head in her hands and peered into his eyes.

“C’mon boy. Let’s go home. Let’s go home for a treat.”

Claire rose and took two brisk strides away from them. Mystery lay down. She came back.

“Maybe if we wait a few minutes,” she said.

“Right. He’ll catch his breath.”

They stood still, staring down at Mystery. He didn’t move. Taylor tugged on the leash again. Nothing.

“He needs water,” Claire said.

Taylor looked around. He didn’t know for what.

“Wish we had our cells,” Taylor said.

“We don’t even have pockets,” Claire said.

They stood in silence for a few more moments, waiting for a miracle.

“Let’s do this,” Taylor finally said. “You stay here with Mystery. I’ll find my way back home, get the car, and I’ll come back for you.”

“Can you? I mean find your way back?”

“I’m sure we’re close,” he said, trying to sound confident. “I’ll get my bearings.”

Claire took another look at Mystery. His head was down on the sidewalk, his eyes shut.

“Ok,” she said.

“Back soon,” he said, giving her a quick kiss. She tasted of salt.

“We’ll be here.”

He started down the street, this time taking note of the street names at the corner: Harvest and Zinnia lanes. Taylor looked again. Zinnia Lane. He turned to point it out to Claire, but she was already sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk, holding Mystery’s head in her hands. He’d tell her later. He walked away with what he hoped looked like purposeful strides until he was out of sight, then slowed and stopped, waiting for some kind of instinct to kick in. It didn’t. He decided to go left, then veer off to the right. In another few minutes he came upon a road that looked wider than the others, like a main thoroughfare. He followed it for four blocks, the sweat trickling down his sides. Fireworks still popped from far off, peppering the constant, brittle churn of crickets. He made another right, then a left. Townhouses. Nothing but townhouses. He was about to take the next left when he saw someone approaching. It was the pool kid. They stopped under a street light.

“Hey,” the kid said.

“Hey. Off for the night?”

“ Yeah. Finally.”

The kid stood there, looking at him.

“Wonder if you can tell me where Stanton is?”

“Stanton,” the kid said absently.

“Yes. Stanton Court. We just moved here to—”

“—where’s your dog?”


“Your dog. Where is he?” the kid asked, looking down where Mystery should have been.

Taylor wondered why the kid didn’t ask about his wife. It would have to wait.

“He’s around,” Taylor said. “Do you know where Stanton is?”

The kid looked up, then around.

“Yeah. Sure. Stanton is that way,” he said, pointing to their right.

“Can you be a bit more specific?”

“Yeah. Two rights, I think, then one left.”

“Two rights and one left. Got it. Thanks much.”

“Sure,” the kid said, giving him a little wave and walking on.

Taylor was skeptical. It was too simple. He took the two rights, then the left and found himself looking at the old guy’s zinnias, backlit and flaming red from a blazing back porch security light.

“Asteraceae,” Taylor said aloud as he passed.

It took him another four minutes to get home. They’d left the door unlocked. He went in, stopped short at the shock of air conditioning on his sweaty skin, then grabbed his keys and wallet from the kitchen counter. As he walked to the car, the looked at their little front yard. There it was: a sapling. It made him feel better.

Taylor cranked up the AC in the car as he made a left turn out of their street. He remembered the next two turns, but then grew hazy. He took a guess and went left, slowly cruising down an empty street. He took the next right. There was no sign of them. He kept going. Every other street looked familiar until it didn’t. With each new street, he expected to see them. He knew it would happen. On the next turn, they’d be there, waiting.