Lawrence stepped out of the office in a foul mood. He’d had to discipline one of the project supervisors for submitting an incomplete report, and it did not go well. This supervisor, Alan, felt that the report was complete, even though its incompleteness was a matter of fact, not opinion. The interaction became somewhat heated, and now Lawrence’s lunch break was ruined. He would spend the whole hour continuing the argument with Alan in his head. He walked to the newsstand down the street and purchased his usual three papers and a small coffee. He continued on toward the park. The audacity, Lawrence thought. The audacity of Alan.
Waiting at the intersection to cross over to the park, he noticed something in the window of the pawnshop on the corner—a figurine of a boy. A little cowboy. Plaid shirt tucked into jeans. Classic cowboy hat, cute scarf. The boy’s hands were positioned at his hips, like he was readying to draw his pistols, but he didn’t have any pistols. Lawrence leaned in close to the window and studied the doll. The boy’s expression was sneaky but good natured. Lawrence felt his mood soften.
In the park, finding his preferred bench unoccupied, he sat and unwrapped his sandwich. Tuna with cut-up pickle pieces. Normally, he read through the local paper while he ate, but today he was distracted by his exchange with the project supervisor. Alan was becoming a real problem. But forget all that, Lawrence thought. It’s a beautiful day. Young people walking by with strollers and dogs. Squirrels chasing each other. And that funny little cowboy doll. A wholesome piece of craftsmanship. It was really something. Thinking about the doll cheered him up. Maybe it would look nice in his office at home. An inspirational cowboy to remind him of the goodness in the world. He rarely purchased anything for himself. He sipped his coffee. He finished his sandwich. He walked back to the pawnshop.
“Excuse me,” Lawrence said, entering the shop. The old man behind the counter looked up from his magazine. “How much for the cowboy in the window?”
“Oh, Buddy West,” the old man said. “Five hundred.”
“Five hundred dollars?”
“Yup. A real collector’s item. From the thirties. You’ve got a good eye.”
“I also have common sense. Good Lord. If someone is willing to pay five hundred dollars for a little cowboy figurine, then there is something deeply wrong with them.”
“Well, that’s what he runs for.”
“And this was a waste of my time.”
Back at work, Lawrence noticed a certain awkward energy around the office. Everyone seemed slightly uncomfortable. Working away at their desks as usual but now with an invisible cloud of negativity hovering over them. Alan was out on his lunch now. He probably told the other supervisors about their interaction. With clear bias. Word spread around. Anyway, no matter. He had his own report to finish. He sat down in front of his computer.
His desk phone rang. His wife’s number appeared on the display.
“Everything okay?” Lawrence said.
“Yes and no,” Millie said. “I mean we’re fine. It’s the neighbour again. Are you still on lunch?”
“No, and I’m rather busy. What did the idiot do now?”
“He was marching around in his backyard without any clothing. Toby was home for lunch and saw.”
“He was naked, Lawrence.”
“Is there anything I can do right now? Do you want me to come home in the middle of my workday and deal with the situation?”
“Now I’ll be distracted and bothered by this, and it will affect my work. But there’s nothing I can actually do about it while I’m here. So you’ve upset me for no reason. Thanks for that.”
“I’m sorry, honey. I just thought you should know.”
“What’s done is done. We’ll deal with the neighbour when I get home. I’ve got to get back to work. Is Toby okay?”
“He’s fine. I’m sorry.”
“I’ve gotta go.”
Lawrence hung up the phone and sat back in his chair. The draft of his report on screen, cursor blinking. Alan came walking down the hall, back from lunch. Was he grinning?
I’m going to buy that damn cowboy, Lawrence thought.
Lawrence poked his way home through rush-hour traffic with an unusual calmness. He’d managed to talk the proprietor down to four-fifty, and now the briefcase resting on the passenger seat contained one rare, mint-condition, 1930s’ Buddy West statuette. A smart and valuable investment, but more than that, the doll emanated a pleasant, peaceful aura. It would improve his day-to-day life by reminding him of the wholesomeness still out there in the world, and it was thus a practical purchase. Still, Lawrence thought, it might be best to keep the particulars of the transaction from Millie. She might find four hundred and fifty bucks steep for a doll, even though it was clear now that he’d made a wise financial decision. Stopped at a particularly slow light a few blocks from home, Lawrence reached inside his briefcase and crinkled the protective paper around Buddy West’s head.
“Almost home, Buddy,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence took off his coat and shoes and entered the living room, where he found Millie and Toby sprawled out on the couch and floor respectively, staring expressionless at the TV. A man on screen was walking down a hospital hallway with a rifle, shooting everyone.
“What the hell are you watching?” Lawrence said.
“It’s a commercial for something else,” Millie said. She hadn’t changed out of the clothes she’d slept in the night before. “We’re watching MasterChef.”
“I saw the neighbour’s peen,” Toby said.
“Don’t say ‘peen,’” Lawrence said.
“What are we going to do?” Millie said. “The Palmer kid was completely naked, Lawrence. Right out in the open.”
“Christ, I just walked in the door. This is my greeting? Anyway, I’ll have to go over there. This behaviour simply can’t continue. What was he doing?”
“I don’t know, he just was out there, wandering around the yard. Showing off, I guess.”
“It’s a provocation. That’s what it is. He’s trying to provoke us. I’m going to put my things away and wash up, then head over there. Which I’m not looking forward to, by the way. You wouldn’t believe the day I’ve had.”
“It looked crazy,” Toby said. “He has a huge peener.”
“Don’t say ‘peener,’” Lawrence said. “Don’t say ‘peen.’”
The Palmer home had fallen into disrepair. Overgrown lawn. Eavestrough clogged with leaves. A pair of jeans lying in a puddle in the driveway. Boxes filled with beer cans scattered around the porch. Lawrence rang the doorbell and waited. The lights weren’t on and the shades were drawn, but the lights were never on and the shades were always drawn. The Palmer kid did not leave the property as far as he knew. The “kid,” who was actually in his thirties, had moved in that summer after his mother passed. Mr. Palmer had died the previous winter. The senior Palmers had been kind, respectful neighbours. Their families never interacted beyond exchanging basic pleasantries in the driveway, but Lawrence could tell they were hardworking. Mr. Palmer was in insurance pre retirement, and Mrs. Palmer taught piano lessons out of their home, right up until the end. Lawrence had never seen their son around—until he took over the house. And now here he was, occupying his deceased parents’ once-beautiful home, lazing around, no job, no respect for home ownership, or even basic personal hygiene, from what Lawrence could tell. Something seriously off about the guy. Most days, he’d wander into the backyard and exercise. Push-ups, lunges. He’d sprint between the patio door and the back fence, grunting. He’d jump up and grab onto a branch from the Palmers’ oak and hang there for extended periods. Sometimes he’d bring out a huge machete and use it to swat at tennis balls. Sociopathic behaviour. And now, apparently, he was adding public nudity to his repertoire. Destroying everyone’s property values.
The Palmer kid shut the door. Lawrence stood there, in shock. He thought about ringing the doorbell again. The nerve.
Footsteps clomped toward the door. It swung open, and there stood the Palmer kid, shirtless and glassy eyed. He didn’t say anything. His home unlit at six o’clock.
“Hi there,” Lawrence said. “Lawrence from next door. Do you have a second to talk?”
“What do you want?”
“I’m sorry to bother you, but my wife says she saw you out in the backyard earlier and you weren’t wearing any clothes. My nine-year-old saw too. Which is obviously not ideal. And so I’m wondering if you could please, you know, wear clothes. In the backyard, where my family can see you.”
“No, I was wearing clothes.”
“Well, okay. But my wife says she saw you.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. You know, I’ve seen your wife out on your patio with her glasses of wine. While I guess she’s supposed to be watching your kid. You should probably keep an eye on that.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, man. Anyway, I’m busy.”
The Palmer kid shut the door. Lawrence stood there, in shock. He thought about ringing the doorbell again. The nerve. Making accusations like that. He turned around and went home.
Millie was plating dinner in the kitchen. Vegetable lasagna and garlic toast soldiers. Toby at the dining room table, pushing his knuckles into his eye sockets. “Toby, enough,” Lawrence said, walking past. The TV was turned up loud in the other room so Millie and Toby could listen to the end of their show.
“Are you sure he was naked?” Lawrence said. “Because he denies it.”
“Of course I’m sure,” Millie said.
“He said something about you drinking wine.”
“He said that?”
“Is this something we need to talk about?”
“Jesus, Lawrence. He was naked. I saw him. Toby saw him. There’s no room for interpretation there. What did he say exactly?”
“So you were drinking?”
“I had a glass of wine. Is that ‘drinking’? And that’s not anyone’s business anyway. You think I got drunk and then, like, hallucinated? Was Toby drinking and hallucinating?”
“No, I know. I’m a little concerned is all. That everything’s okay with you. Have you put any thought into going back to work? I don’t know. It could be good for you.”
“I had a glass of wine, Lawrence. You know, that’s incredibly insulting. I don’t feel like eating. I’m going upstairs.”
Millie wouldn’t come out of their bedroom. Toby helped Lawrence clean up after dinner. They went into the living room afterward and watched a documentary about a microchip factory until Toby fell asleep. Lawrence carried his son to bed and then checked in on Millie. Sleeping, or pretending to.
In the evenings, Lawrence usually brought a plate of cheese and crackers and a peppermint tea up to his office, where he’d read through the papers he’d bought on his lunch break. He prepared his snack and turned on the kettle. While waiting for the water to boil, he checked the recycling bin. An empty wine bottle lay beneath the lasagna box. Did Millie drink it all that afternoon or finish up an old bottle? He couldn’t ask, not now. Anyway, he was better off ignoring his unhinged neighbour’s comments. Another provocation.
Upstairs, Lawrence set his plate and mug and newspapers down on the table beside his chair, then unwrapped Buddy West. He placed the doll on the shelf above his desk, next to the antique clock. The statuette fit the room and in fact improved the overall ambience. It made him think of the old western films he watched as a child with his father and a simpler way of life that was hearty and good. He sat back in his chair. The newspapers he’d purchased lay on the table next to him, unread. There wasn’t anything in there he needed to know. It was enough to sit and enjoy his little piece of Americana. That’s what it was: Americana. He liked that word. The more he stared at Buddy West, the calmer he felt. He didn’t think about his deranged neighbour. Or Alan. Or Millie storming off and sleeping through dinner. He thought about Buddy West and what a smart purchase he’d made. Worth every penny.
Lawrence stood up and walked over to the shelf.
“You’re worth every penny,” he said. “Yes. I got the sweet end of that deal. What do you think, do you like it here? This is your home.”
Buddy West smiled.
“Well, goodnight, Buddy. Let me know if you need anything.”
He paused in the doorway and took one last look at his clever little guy before turning off the light.
The next morning at work, Lawrence was summoned to Mr. Halton’s office. Mr. Halton was the general manager. Lawrence’s boss. When he walked in, Alan was already sitting there. What the hell is this, Lawrence thought. Alan’s head pitched forward, hands clasped in his lap. Weak, defeated body language. Good.
“Thanks, Lawrence,” Mr. Halton said. “Sit down.”
“Good morning, Mr. Halton. Alan.”
“We need to discuss yesterday’s incident.”
“I’m afraid you will have to fill me in. I’m unaware of any incident.”
“Apparently you spoke to Alan in a harsh and inappropriate manner. And used an offensive word.”
“Offensive word? What word?”
“Well, I don’t want to repeat it. An outdated, derogatory term.”
“No, I don’t believe I used any words like that. Although, thinking back to yesterday, perhaps I employed the past participle of ‘retard,’ as in ‘to delay progress.’ Which would be the correct usage when referring to Alan’s incomplete report.”
“You said I was that word,” Alan said.
“And you delayed the progress of our company by submitting unfinished work. Although I’m not sure I used that exact word. But would have been correct if I did.”
“Lawrence, come on,” Mr. Halton said. “This isn’t the first time I’ve received complaints about your interpersonal behaviour. We’re a team here. I know you’ve had a rough go of it this year. All of us here, you know, we’re all sympathetic. But we need to work together. We can’t have this kind of behaviour in the office. Bullying and inappropriate language.”
“Alan: did you or did you not submit an incomplete report to me yesterday? Yes or no.”
“That’s not the issue,” Mr. Halton said. “Forget the report. We’re here to discuss your demeanour.”
“All I did was take Alan aside and, respectfully, explain to him that his work was unacceptable. Perhaps I used a word that he misconstrued as an offensive term, I don’t know. I can loan you my dictionary, Alan, if you want to work on your vocabulary and avoid similar misapprehensions in the future.”
“Lawrence, just listen. You need to adjust your attitude a little, okay? You don’t need to be so harsh with your co-workers. Understood?”
“I understand your premise but reject the conclusion. I will continue to conduct myself professionally. No adjustment needed.”
Mr. Halton sat back in his chair and rubbed his palms over his eyes. He sighed. “Just apologize to Alan, Lawrence. I don’t want this to drag on all day.”
“I’m sorry, Alan, if you felt hurt by what I said. Although you literally delayed our progress as a company by submitting incomplete and shoddy work, and all I did was point this out.”
“Do you hear this?” Alan said, the little worm.
“Just apologize, Lawrence. No editorializing, no excuses. Say you’re sorry.”
“Fine,” Lawrence said. “I’m sorry, Alan. Are we done here?”
Two old women had taken over Lawrence’s preferred park bench. He stood off to the side, holding his coffee and sandwich, looking over at them with a polite smile. Hopefully they would recognize the social cue and relinquish the bench. He tucked his sandwich under his coffee-holding arm and called Millie.
“Thank God,” she said, answering. “I didn’t want to bug you at work again.”
“He’s out there again, naked. I think he’s still there. He waved at me, Lawrence.”
“I went out on the patio and looked over, and he saw me and waved right at me. While naked. I ran back inside, and I’m too afraid to look out the window. In case he sees me and waves again. Thankfully, Toby’s back at school. I don’t know what to do.”
“Okay, calm down. Are you sure he’s naked? How much have you had to drink?”
“You can’t be serious. You didn’t just say that.”
“It’s only a question. Simply answer it, and we can move on. I assume you’re sober and saw everything clearly, but I need to ask so I can get a clear picture of the situation. That’s all.”
There was no response. Lawrence looked at his phone. Millie had hung up. He tried calling back—no answer. Fantastic.
“Excuse me,” Lawrence said. The two women on the bench looked over. “Are you almost finished? This is a communal bench, you know. Let’s remember to share.”
Lawrence returned home that evening to find Millie and Toby watching MasterChef again. Millie wouldn’t look at him. He asked Toby to fetch him a glass of water from the kitchen, then knelt down beside the couch, next to Millie.
“I’m sorry,” he said. His second apology of the day. Sometimes it was best to just say the words so everyone can move on, he was learning. “I’ve had a stressful day. I didn’t mean to upset you. Tell me what happened. Did you see him out there again?”
“It’s okay.” Millie reached over and rested her hand on his arm.
“And no. I looked out after you called, and he was gone. Haven’t seen him since. He waved at me, Lawrence. Should we call the police? I mean, it is his yard. But you can’t walk around naked where your neighbours can see, can you? And wave at them? He had this sinister look in his eyes.”
“He’s testing us. Well, I’m going over there. He’s not getting away with this—nope.”
Toby re-entered the room and handed Lawrence a baby bottle.
“What’s this?” Lawrence said.
“I got your water,” Toby said.
“Why is it in a baby bottle? Where did you get this?”
“I found it in that box in the closet. I thought it would be funny. It’s a practical joke.”
Millie turned to face the back of the sofa. Quivering.
“Mom, are you okay?”
“She’s fine. Let’s go put the bottle back, Toby. Come on.”
Lawrence rang the doorbell and knocked three times forcefully. It was important to establish a firm tone from the get-go. No answer. Lawrence knocked again, with even more oomph. Eventually, footsteps approached.
“Oh,” the Palmer kid said, opening the door.
“You were naked again. After I specifically told you to keep your clothes on.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“My wife saw you. This is unacceptable. If you wish to sunbathe or whatever it is you’re doing, you will have to build a proper fence or put in hedges. I looked it up. If we can see you, even from our upstairs windows, you can be charged with indecent exposure.”
“Look, man. I wasn’t naked. I wasn’t even home today. I’m sorry your wife is having these fantasies involving me or whatever, but that’s not my business.”
“I’m not judging you guys or anything. We all have our issues, right? You know, my dad was an alcoholic. I know what it’s like to be around all that.”
“My wife is not an alcoholic. And she certainly isn’t having fantasies involving you. This ends now. Do not wave to my wife, or talk to her, or even look at her. And keep your goddamn clothes on. I will not warn you again.”
“Hey, man, I’m sorry for whatever it is that’s going on with you right now, but I don’t appreciate the attitude. You should probably leave.”
The Palmer kid shut the door. The lock clicked.
“You will keep your clothes on!” Lawrence shouted into the door. He turned to leave, shaking, and saw Mrs. Connell from across the street hurry past with her poodle, eyes cast down toward the sidewalk.
Once Toby was in bed, Lawrence prepared his tea and snack and went up to his office. He turned on the desk lamp and sat down in his reading chair.
“Hey, Buddy,” he said, glancing up at Buddy West. Then he opened the Globe. His eyes traced over the words on the page, but he didn’t take anything in. He set the paper down. Looked back up at Buddy West.
“Let’s get a closer look at you.”
He retrieved the doll from the shelf and sat down with it. The hat was removable, Lawrence discovered. He removed it. Reddish-blonde hair. Made from real hair? He brushed it with his fingers.
“Does that feel nice?” he said. “Actually, sit tight.”
Lawrence set the doll down and left his office. He stepped carefully down the hall and went into the bathroom. In the cupboard above the sink, he found the little moustache comb from when he’d had a moustache. Perfect. On his way back to his office, he stopped. Listened. Millie was snoring lightly. Silence from Toby’s room. He turned around and crept over to the little room at the end of the hallway. He opened the door slowly. The room smelled musty—he would have to open the window and air it out soon. Quietly, he opened one of the boxes next to the bassinet. Tiny onesies. He opened another box and poked through until he found the book Millie’s mother had brought to the hospital: Happy Farm Animals. He closed the boxes and shut the door and returned to his office.
“Look at this, Buddy,” Lawrence said. He set the book on his knees, Buddy West nestled in his lap. He combed the doll’s hair gently. “Look at all the animals. Look at the horsey.”
The next day at work, the awkward atmosphere permeating the office continued to permeate—and perhaps was worse. Lawrence’s co-workers wouldn’t meet his eye. He’d go into the break room and the person in there would walk out, mid-snack. There were glances in his direction—negative ones. He soldiered on.
Lawrence returned home that evening to find Toby catatonic in front of the TV. Chocolate frosting on his face. What looked to be old footage of a funeral procession on screen. Crowds lining the streets. Princess Diana’s funeral, Lawrence realized.
“Why are you watching this?
“Hi, Dad. I don’t know.”
“Did you put this on, or did Mom put this on?”
“Uh, I don’t know. Mom put it on.”
“Where is your mom?”
“She’s having a bath.”
Lawrence took off his coat and shoes and climbed the stairs to the bathroom. He knocked gently. No answer.
“Millie?” Lawrence said.
“Yeah,” a soft voice answered.
He went in. Millie was sitting up in the tub, staring straight ahead at the wall. Lawrence stepped over and dipped his hand in the water. It was cold.
“What are you doing?” Lawrence said. “It’s freezing.”
“Sorry. I guess I lost track of time.”
“Don’t be sorry. Didn’t you notice the temperature drop? Let’s get you out of here. Come on.”
He helped Millie stand up and climb out onto the bath mat. He wrapped a towel around her shoulders and then wrapped another around her hair. He used a third towel to pat her arms and legs dry and then walked Millie to the bedroom. He pulled her robe and a pair of socks from the dresser. Millie sat down at the end of the bed, and Lawrence sat next to her. He held her close and rubbed her back over the towel.
“Oh, Millie. Are you doing okay?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, I’m right here.”
Lawrence was preparing his tea and snack in the kitchen when he heard a thumping noise. A steady, pounding rhythm. He opened the window above the sink, and it got louder. Dance music. Techno or whatever they call it nowadays. Coming from the Palmer house.
Upstairs in his office, Lawrence didn’t even bother with his newspapers. He took Buddy West down and walked him around the room. He told the doll about the situation at work. He told him about the techno. He stood by the window.
“That’s the idiot’s house there. Sad state of affairs. But that’s the view. You probably get sick of staring at the one wall all day, huh? I should get you a little television set. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
He brought Buddy West over to his bachelor’s degree hanging by the door.
“Got this at McGill. Which is in Montreal. Great school. Those were the days. I was on the dean’s list.”
He sat back down in his chair. The doll resting on his legs, looking up at him. He took a piece of cheese from his snack plate and pretended to feed it to the doll, then laughed softly.
“You’d love Montreal, Buddy. Plenty to see and do. Of course, you’re more of an outdoorsman. Riding the range and whatnot, right? Well, maybe we could take a little trip out west. Get you out on that range. Wouldn’t that be something. You and me.”
“What are you doing?” another voice said.
Lawrence jolted forward in his chair, dropping the doll onto the floor. He looked over. Millie stood in the doorway in her bathrobe and socks, looking confused.
“Jesus, Millie. You scared me.”
“I’m sorry. Where did you get that doll?”
“It’s an antique statuette. Decorative. I thought it would look nice in here. I was cleaning it before you interrupted.”
“Are you okay? Is this about Malcolm?”
“What? Millie, no. Jesus. I was just muttering nonsense.”
“It’s okay. It’s good to process things.”
“I wasn’t processing anything. I was muttering nonsense. I’m tired. It’s been a hell of a day. Anyway, it’s rude to eavesdrop. You should knock or cough to let the person know you’re there before listening in on what could be a private moment. I was only muttering, but still. Let’s work on our manners.”
Millie continued on to the bathroom, and Lawrence brought Buddy West downstairs and into the garage. He could hear the music from next door still pounding away. With a sigh, he placed the doll in the garbage bin. It had been compromised. Compromised by Millie. Now it only made him feel silly. It was silly of him to purchase a doll. He went inside and washed his hands. He poured himself a glass of water. At the staircase, he turned around and returned to the garage. He took the doll from the trash and wiped it off with his sleeve and placed it in the trunk of his car. He’d spent a small fortune on the thing. Maybe he could sell it. He went inside and washed his hands again and went to bed.
It was a Saturday, so Lawrence slept in until eight-thirty and then joined his family at the kitchen table. Millie had the waffle maker going. She’d changed out of her usual loungewear. A smart blouse. Her hair looked different. It looked nice.
“You look nice,” Lawrence said.
“Oh, thanks. I’m going to get groceries later. If you wanna come. Toby might go over to Dickie’s this afternoon.”
“Maybe,” Toby said. “Dickie has to promise to crate his dog. Only then will I go.”
“What’s wrong with Dickie’s dog?” Millie said.
“Wait.” Lawrence raised his hands. “Everyone be quiet.” He listened. The thumping. The neighbour’s techno music—it was still going.
“Oh,” Millie said. “He must have fallen asleep or something. I can’t imagine how.”
“It’s on purpose. He’s trying to mess with me. Well, that’s it. I’m going over there. And if he won’t come to the door, I’m calling the police. I’ve had it.”
Lawrence walked over to the Palmers’ place and banged on the door. The music coming from inside shook the front window in its frame. Will the kid even hear me over all this, he wondered. He knocked louder. He rang the doorbell. He rapped on the window. He waited. No answer. Lawrence tried the knob—it wasn’t locked. He opened the door a crack. The music got louder.
“Hello?” Lawrence called out. “It’s your neighbour!”
He opened the door a little wider. He poked his head inside. The lights were off. It smelled of body odour and mould and neglect. He went in. Turned his phone’s flashlight on. He could see into the dining room. The table and chairs and a cabinet were all pushed up against one wall, and there were various dumbbells lying in the middle of the floor. He walked into another room, which appeared to be the living room. Clothes strewn about. The TV on the floor had a large crack in the middle of the screen. There were several plastic pitchers of water placed out on the coffee table for some reason. He went upstairs.
The thumping bass boomed even louder. The walls rattled. He stepped over some towels piled up at the top of the stairs and went into the room where the music seemed to be coming from. A lump in the middle of the bed. Uh-oh, Lawrence thought. He pressed the light switch. The Palmer kid was splayed out on the mattress, his head resting in vomit. Pill bottles on the floor next to the bed. Lawrence couldn’t hear his own voice cry out for help.
Lawrence took a personal leave from work—Mr. Halton was all too happy to sign off on it. He spent a lot of time staring out into the neighbour’s yard. Millie would see him standing there at his office window and rest her hands on his shoulders. Come on, she’d say. Then he’d follow her to the living room, and they’d watch TV with Toby.
Lawrence eventually went back to work. Millie too. It took her some time to adjust, but she adjusted. Christmas came and went. They brought the television upstairs and turned the nursery into a little home theatre. They even put in an old-fashioned cinema popcorn machine that Lawrence found on eBay, but Toby burned his hand on it pretty bad, and they had to throw it away.
Sometimes Lawrence would drive by the cemetery on his way home from work, slow down, and give a little nod. A few days after the funeral, Lawrence had taken Buddy West out there and stashed him in a bush. He had to wait until the groundskeeper wasn’t looking. It felt right having him there, outdoors, in his element, watching over the three Palmers. Watching over Malcolm. Projecting his good nature out across the greenery and into the afterlife.