This was her dream, and she wouldn’t regret it.

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A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 31

Eight Years Earlie

It took over a year to build the house. On weekends Maggie and Greg would drive out to Meadow City, and Greg would stomp around the field, striking up conversations with the men on the crew. Maggie would stand at the edge of the field, pinching herself to make sure it wasn’t a dream. She couldn’t believe how much her life had turned around.

Greg always brought the camera and took pictures during construction. Already they had rolls of film of the empty field. Once he caught a shot of a crow picking at what looked like a dried cornhusk. Maggie thought it was artistic and had it framed as a birthday present.

Once when they visited, the field was full of giant holes. They were ready to pour the foundations, and the architect had come out to supervise. Maggie stayed out of the way, but Greg introduced himself. Maggie watched them talk. Greg’s hands waved in the air, and he pointed to one of the holes a few times. The architect’s posture was rigid, his arms akimbo. When Greg finished, the architect spoke, then abruptly turned on his heel. Greg went back to Maggie.

When she asked him what they’d talked about, Greg said he’d suggested combining a couple of interior rooms on their house, but the architect brushed him off. Leave the design work to professionals, he said. Greg shrugged it off, but Maggie fumed.

The next time they drove out she saw that the line of trees at the back of the field was gone. They’d been razed for a playground, she learned, leaving an unobstructed view of a church with a narrow spire. Maggie wasn’t religious, but everyone said the church was eager to welcome new members from Meadow City, and the developers were planning to build an access road that would lead directly from the playground to the church. They’d have to start going on Sundays, but Maggie didn’t mind. It was part of the package.

During that first year, Maggie made most of the monthly payments. She was supposed to send them in, but once she took them to the developer’s office. Greg wanted to be in charge of their finances, but he never knew when he’d be in town, and Maggie felt safer this way. It made for an occasion, anyway. She bundled Dusty up, and they took the train downtown. Afterwards, she thought she’d shop in Carson or Field’s basements.

The Meadow City office was on the fifteenth floor of a tall building on LaSalle Street. Unfortunately, no one seemed to know what to do with her when she showed up. Maggie figured it was because most people sent their payments in by mail. She ended up with the bookkeeper, a young woman with dark eyes and dark hair. But the way the woman stared at her made Maggie uneasy. She had the odd sense that the bookkeeper was imagining what Maggie looked like naked. And liked it.

After paying the mortgage, she and Dusty lingered in the reception area, admiring a tiny but accurate floor model of Meadow City. When Maggie pointed out where their home would be, Dusty’s eyes lit up, and he tried to pry off the small house Maggie said was theirs. He probably thought the model was a toy, like his Playmobil castle, a gift from Greg, which cost more than they could afford. Maggie realized her mistake and told him to stop, but he kept prodding. When she tried to move his hand, he screamed. And when she tried to pick him up, he escalated to bites and kicks. Embarrassed, she finally managed to drag him to the elevators.

A stylishly dressed man and woman were waiting for a car. They threw curious glances at Maggie and Dusty. Maggie turned to the woman.

“It’s hard,” she said with a contrite smile. “He thought it was his toy.”

The woman cleared her throat and shot a knowing look at her husband.

“We’re going to be living there.” Pride swept into Maggie’s voice.

“How wonderful.” The man smiled.

Maggie wondered if they were going to be her new neighbors. If so, she was definitely outclassed. These people looked like millionaires. “Are you going to be living there too?”

The woman laughed. A fluttery, artificial tinkle. “No. I shouldn’t think so. We’re investors.”

“Oh.” Maggie wasn’t quite sure what she meant, but, to be honest, she was relieved that this elegant woman wouldn’t be her new neighbor.

“You’re a very lucky woman,” the man said. “Clean air, clean land. It’s a great place to raise children. You won’t regret it.”

“I’m sure I won’t.”

The elevator arrived, and they descended the fifteen floors in silence. As they headed to the lobby, the man smiled at Maggie again. “You made a good decision. Good luck.”

The woman grabbed her husband’s arm.

 

Episodes in the novel will be published on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Please click the following title,ToxiCity, to read more about Libby Fischer Hellman’s books on Amazon.

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