Ever since Rachel had deigned to introduce herself to me, she spent every afternoon sunning herself on the veranda as I did the yard work. Perhaps she thought she was torturing me, stretching out her long, leonine form on the Swiss chaise lounge, so that the most minute ripple and sigh of her body, clad only in a blue bathing suit and oiled obscenely as if she were a prize fighter or a piece of meat on the grill, was plainly visible and easily observed. As if every breath meant something to me.
It did. I worked in a frenzy, trying to convince both her and myself that her presence meant nothing to me. I mowed the lawn, pruned the azaleas, pulled weeds, laid down mulch, trimmed the hedges, the rose bushes, and even snipped off part of the tail of a lazy, unsuspecting squirrel. I scrubbed away his trail of blood with intensive vigor. The ASPCA petitioned Mr. Hawthorne to fire me, but he stood firm in both his nascent affection toward me and his conviction of the ruling class’s right to cheap labor.
One afternoon I had wearily laid down my shears to take a break when I heard an ominous buzzing followed by a sharp blossoming pain upon my calf. I had been stung by a wasp.
I must have cried out in pain, for I saw Rachel raise her head in a bored fashion. Then I must have fallen to the ground, for suddenly I was staring up at the sun and the patio was beneath me and everything hurt. My leg in particular—where the wasp bite was—felt horrible. I felt a strange, tightening sensation crawling through my calf muscle. I looked down. My leg was swollen to twice its normal size.
Suddenly Rachel’s form eclipsed the sun. Her cleavage loomed in front of me, like duel suns in a science fiction movie—mammary globes, perhaps, of a great matriarchal society, where Zsa Zsa Gabor was the Queen of the Planet and maybe Eve Arden in the twilight of her career was Zsa Zsa’s spiritual mentor.
I want to say that Rachel looked concerned for my well being. At the very least she appeared curious, or that’s how I interpreted the tilt of her head and the lopsided skein of her lips. Her eyes remained a mystery behind her sunglasses.
Later, the doctor in the emergency room told me that I had gone into state called encephalitic shock and that it was a miracle I did not die or become a vegetable. I should like to attribute my survival to Rachel. For as I lay there, helpless, my dry lips moving soundlessly, she finally took note of my elephantine leg, her face contorted in horror, and she squealed, “So disgusting!” and ran into the house.
Thus began our summer of love.