I liked Arenya. I never stopped liking her. The minor drama she brought into our lives wasn’t her fault. It was the fault of that woman, the one who brought chaos and envy everywhere she went, her selfish lies and her cavalier attitude.
Arenya entered our lives the same way she entered the house, swiftly and self-possessed. She wore a light yellow sundress and brown leather riding boots. We took her on at first for a trial week. She applied to be an animal curator and caretaker for our organic farm. We tested her, how observant she was. We tested how properly affectionate she could be with the animals, and how well she got to know us quickly.
My mother created a quirky test for Arenya. She would give her five items, and Arenya would have to guess which item belonged to whom in the family. It seemed a bit too cute for my taste, but it was a good idea. She gave her an antique hairbrush, a harmonica, a thumb piano, an apron, and a ukulele. Arenya guessed all but two correctly. She assumed the hairbrush belonged to me and the harmonica belonged to my husband, but it was the other way around. My husband had a penchant for antiques and I was never short of breath. She gave us good reasons for it though, so we decided to keep her on anyway. She pointed out the other antiques I owned, and said Bo might try to learn the harmonica to fit into the family band. He did do things like that, though we never mentioned it.
The first full day she was there, we took Arenya out for ice cream. We were sitting outside under the red umbrellas, at the wrought iron tables, when I saw a man I hadn’t seen in years. Dirk had left town under a cloud of scandal and mystery. There were too many speculations to repeat them with any dignity. All we knew was that he left quickly and his parents never spoke about it. We had grown up together, hanging out after school and sitting together on the bus. So I knew his parents better than most of my customers. We delivered milk to them weekly, along with most of the town.
I decided to follow Dirk, to see if I could discover why he had left. I suppose I could’ve asked him outright, but this seemed more fun. Mother and Bo egged on Arenya into going with me. Both were too tired to chime in with one of my shenanigans again, and this would be a way to see how Arenya acts under pressure. We hopped into my hunter green pickup truck and followed Dirk out of the gas station.
We kept enough distance behind him so as not to be seen. Arenya was intrigued, but unconcerned. We knew enough people in this town so that anywhere we went, we could be going somewhere reasonable. He took us down into the gorge and pulled off just before the lumber forests. We stayed far enough behind and used binoculars to see what he was doing. He took out a small gun, and slowly approached a squirrel caught in a trap. He blasted him straight through the eyes, so he wouldn’t experience too much pain. Then he slowly and hesitantly skinned him, as if repulsed by his own behavior. Arenya almost threw up. I wasn’t too perturbed, but I wasn’t happy about it either. If he was so disgusted, why was he doing this? Dirk cleaned the fur, packed it away, and buried the rest. We could only guess where he’d take us next.
We continued to follow him to his grandmother’s yellow house. We drove past it, to avoid being caught. We waited around the corner. We don’t know what he was doing there, but he was inside for awhile. Arenya fell asleep while we waited. I watched that door like a hawk.
Next, we followed Dirk to what I guessed was his lover’s house, with Arenya still sleeping in the passenger’s seat. From the way they kissed when they saw each other, they were certainly that close. I’d never seen this woman before, and I’ve lived here all my life. Then, someone I knew came out of the blue house too; a man named Rolly who buys milk from us at the weekend markets. I guessed this woman was either a relative of his or a mutual friend, or else helping Dirk by giving her a place to stay. I guessed it wasn’t her house after all. Dirk handed him the squirrel fur and the woman shook her head in disapproval. Apparently, Rolly would be making something out of it. And the woman was an animal lover. I liked her already. She reached into the back of Dirk’s truck, pulled out a fat three-ring binder, and went back in the house with Rolly. Dirk got back in his truck and left.
We followed him to one more place. He went to see his parents, who lived far outside of town. I knew only one other family out there, so I’d have to make sure I stayed on the path to their place, to keep an excuse going. Luckily, his parents lived on the way to the somewhere we were hypothetically going. He stopped, and I kept watching. He rang the doorbell a dozen times before his mother finally answered. She yelled at him for awhile and slammed the door in his face. The noise finally woke up Arenya, who had drooled on the window. He kept ringing the doorbell, persistent to the bitter end. Next, his father came outside, speaking in a much calmer tone. They talked for awhile on the porch. Then, his mother came out and yelled some more. The only thing I could hear of what she said was, “and I never want to see her face again”. Whatever her reasons, I’m guessing his mother didn’t want to see that woman he kissed. He finally took the hint and decided to leave. His father hugged him and his mother slammed the door again.
We followed Dirk back to the blue house, which probably belonged to Rolly. He parked and went inside, and didn’t come out the rest of the night. Or so I guessed. Around 2 a.m. I gave up and we decided to go home.
When we got back, my grandfather was playing his thumb piano. He was waiting up for us. Now that we were safe, he agreed to go to bed. Arenya went to the guest cottage and I assumed she fell right asleep. There were brownies on the kitchen island, which my mother must have made, so I ate a few before heading to bed myself. Bo woke briefly when I tried to tiptoe into our room. He’s a light sleeper.
The next morning, Arenya was at the breakfast table when I got up. Mother was redecorating grandfather’s room and Auntie Delle was having coffee on the porch. Arenya said she had gotten a call last night while we were out, and she returned it as soon as we got back. It was a woman she had known at her last job. A milk cow dealer with quality inventory, who ensures the cows go to happy, healthy homes. The woman said she would be in town soon. Arenya invited her over so we could look through her book of cows.
The woman said she was leaving town as quickly as she’d arrived, and she only had time to come by on this one night. When she walked in the door she found me and Bo chewing on mother’s brownies. Arenya was sitting on the porch with mother and Auntie Delle, relaxing after a game of glow-in-the-dark badminton. Arenya came inside when she heard the screen door swing. The two women embraced each other with a deep, full body hug. The kind you only share with a lover, or ex-lover. She happened to be the same woman Dirk was kissing the day before. She was already in town when she called – that was her first lie.
“I’m so happy to see you”, Arenya said.
“Me too… you too.” The woman said in return.
“So what have you got for me”, Arenya asked.
We spent the next two hours looking through the woman’s book of cows, and chose half a dozen we wanted to buy. Overall, it was a successful night. And we were all ready for bed. Mother and Auntie went right upstairs and shut their lights. Grandfather stayed up for a bit playing his thumb piano. Bo and I stayed up chatting about the cows for a little before going to sleep. But the woman’s car never left the house. She and Arenya went back to her cottage and spent the night together.
The next morning, the woman left before she thought anyone had gotten up. But I saw from my window as she left and I knew what had happened. I also knew Dirk was the kind of guy who wouldn’t take too kindly to this sort of thing. Arenya came up to the house for breakfast and I met her with a scowl.
“Am I not allowed to have women stay the night?” She asked.
“Of course you are, how could you ask that. It’s just, you know she’s with Dirk.”
“I know no such thing.”
“I saw them kissing yesterday. I guess you were sleeping.” We had discussed it on the way home. But Arenya hadn’t actually seen the woman. The whole day, I had been telling her about how Dirk was such a helpful kid, looking out for me and going out of his way to walk me home.
“I knew her first. I was with her first.”
“That’s not the point.”
Then mother and Auntie Delle came down for breakfast and we cut the conversation short. We were silent the rest of the meal. The other women knew something was up, but they didn’t know what. They’re both the type of woman to try and figure something out before asking. I guess that’s where I get it from.
I knew I was being too harsh with Arenya. I liked her, she was my favorite new person in a long, long time. Maybe I was a little bit jealous. The woman with Arenya was the kind of person whose presence just puts pressure on you to be your best. But I was also worried about Dirk’s feelings. Look at how much he’s been through to be with this woman.
A few hours later, I went by Arenya’s cottage to apologize. It went very well. She said she understood where I was coming from, and how Dirk would feel if he found out. I didn’t tell anyone else in the family what I had seen. We both wanted to keep it that way.
I asked, “Will you ever see that woman again?”
Arenya said, “Probably not. She’s the kind of woman who only sticks around when there’s a thrill about it.”
For all her altruistic tendencies in her work, her love life is a mess.
We spent the rest of the day as usual. Mother cleaning the house, fussing, and cooking. Auntie Delle caring for the chickens and grooming the horses. Grandfather feeding the animals, cleaning the crap, and milking the cows. Bo helping him. Me, organizing our accounts, making phone calls, and making deliveries. I drove by Dirk’s grandmother’s house by chance on my way home, and he was there. I guess he came back to town to see her, and the woman had come for her own reasons. One of them must be to support him. Another might have been to see Arenya.
When I got home, everything was back to friendly fun with me and Arenya. We had a long chat about cows and farms. We laughed about the badminton game the night before, and we genuinely smiled. Arenya told me the woman would be coming over again tonight. I worried about how Dirk would react, but I thought it best not to say anything. It was more important that Arenya and I get along. Besides, she wouldn’t have listened to me anyway.
That night after dinner, Arenya went back to her cottage early. Grandfather, Bo and I stayed to discuss farm business and what our plans would be for expansion when the six new cows came in. Mother and Auntie Delle discussed the town gossip, which I had brought back and shared with Delle earlier in the day. We went to sleep that night snug as bugs in a rug.
As soon as I ran in the room, I knew what had happened. Dirk had shown up drunk, angry with that woman. She was out two nights in a row, I’m guessing she lied about where, and she probably went back to him smelling of sex. He must have followed her here, and he had spent the last few hours drinking enough to get up the courage to come into this house. He broke my mother’s favorite lamp. The ruckus woke Bo up and he woke up the rest of the family. Mother tried to stop Dirk from yelling and breaking more things, but she didn’t have the vocal or physical strength to get in his way. Arenya was hiding in the guest cottage. Dirk was looking in every room for the woman. He must have known it was our hired hand who the woman had been with, he knew it couldn’t have been one of us. Lucky too, that the woman had already left. He might have even noticed her on the road, if he hadn’t been so drunk.
Grandfather came out with his rifle and fired a warning shot into the air, and everyone stopped.
Dirk asked, “Where is she”. Everyone was confused, but I knew what he meant.
“She’s not here”, grandfather said. His automatic reaction is to protect people from other drunk, angry people. Even when he has no idea what’s going on. The family would have a lot of questions later, for me and for Arenya.
“Tell her I came by, won’t you”.
“She’ll get the message, alright.”
And with that, Dirk finally disappeared into the night. We never saw him again.