In this year-long serialized novel set on the Vineyard in real time, a native Islander (“Call me Becca”) returns home after two decades to help her eccentric Uncle Abe keep his landscaping business, Pequot, afloat. His staff includes Mott, the big-brotherly general manager, and Quincas, a cute Brazilian. Abe has a paranoid hatred of Richard Moby, the CEO of an off-Island wholesale nursery, Broadway. Convinced that Moby wants to destroy Abe personally, and all Island-based landscaping/nursery businesses generally, Abe is obsessed with “taking down” Moby. A series of increasingly disastrous failures (one of which recently resulted in his breaking his leg) have done nothing to dissuade him. Last week, over Thanksgiving dinner, Abe learned that his ex-wife Gwen is now engaged to Richard Moby.
The big news this week has nothing to do with Abe, believe it or not. He’s brooding on the news of Gwen’s engagement to his nemesis, but for the moment it has not gone beyond brooding. I do feel bad for him, but I shudder to think how this will further fuel his futile rage against the Moby Machine. (Huh, guess somebody gave me an alliteration lollipop this morning.)
Nope, the big news, is Quincas is sick. He didn’t show up for work several days in a row, and he didn’t call in — that’s unlike him, he’s über-reliable. Nobody had ever been to his house before but Mott knew where it was, so we took a ride over there today to check in on him.
Not unexpectedly, on the way over, I got the Avuncular Talk from Mott, beginning, “You and Quincas seem to have taken a shine to each other.”
I immediately blushed. “We’re buddies,” I said.
“He follows you around like a puppy,” Mott corrected.
“Nah, he follows Abe around like a puppy,” I corrected.
“He used to follow Abe around like a puppy. Now he follows you around like a puppy,” he corrected.
“Oh,” I said, after a happy little pause. And then, because he seemed to want me to say something more, I added, “Okay.”
“You don’t have somebody back in New York, do you?”
“Mott, I haven’t left the Island for six months.” And then realizing the deeper meaning: “And I’ve moved back here. For real. This isn’t just an extended visit.” Another insight: “Wait, are you being protective of Quincas? You’re afraid I’m, what, stringing him along?”
Mott shrugged noncommittally as he turned onto the dirt road down to the house. “You both seem to be taking your sweet time about it all,” he observed.
That made me blush even more. “I didn’t realize we were being monitored,” I said. “Is there a control group at some other nursery, moving faster than we are?”
“Well, now, I’m just checking,” Mott said peaceably. “I wanted to make sure I wasn’t crazy to think you returned his interest.”
“There’s nothing to return, it’s not like he’s ever made a move,” I protested.
“Maybe he’s intimidated to hit on the boss’s niece. Maybe you need to make the first move.”
“Mott!” I said, with much more nervous laughter than I’d realized was building up inside me. “Don’t be ridiculous! He’s Brazilian!”
“So?” Mott glanced at me.
“It’s a macho culture! The woman’s not supposed to make the first move!”
“Oh! Sorry, I didn’t realize you were planning to date an entire culture, I thought you were interested in a particular individual named Quincas.”
“Ouch. Point taken.” I felt myself blushing again. I hate that. “You really think he’s waiting for me to make the first move?”
“Unless he’s pouncing on you behind the Bobcats, then, ummmm, yes,” Mott said, trying to repress his amusement as we lurched over the mother of all potholes. “I don’t know if he’s legal and I don’t care, but he is very careful about keeping a low profile, and going after your boss’s niece, when you know how crazy your boss can get over nothing ... not a safe move. Not worth getting thrown out of the country over, especially if you have no evidence the niece even returns your interest.”
“Wow, I never thought of it that way,” I said. “Thank you. Thank you for that perspective.”
We pulled up to the house. I don’t know anything about the Brazilian community here, just the “conventional wisdom” factoids. Based on that, I guessed that in that nondescript, slightly unkempt house out in the woods — saltbox, about 30 years old, three bedrooms or so — there were probably eight people living, four of them legal, most of them from the same place in Brazil (Minas Gerais), all male, under 45, hard workers and manual laborers, sending a big part of their paycheck home to family in Brazil. Nothing wrong with that at all, but if Quincas was flat out with the flu or something, it wouldn’t be the most nurturing place to recuperate. Feeling a little bubbly inside from Mott’s comments, I ran up to the door, thinking I knew what to expect.
I was so wrong about what was on the other side of that door. But I have to stop now, and will try to write more later — you’ll understand why when I get back to you —
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Vineyard novelist Nicole Galland’s critically-acclaimed works include Crossed: A Tale of the Fourth Crusade. Visit her Web site, nicolegalland.com.