The day we met Veronica was the day Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka held their lemonade stand’s grand opening. And it was grand. The girls had positioned the card table on the front sidewalk just so. They covered its marred top with a cheery plastic tablecloth, and they had signs. Signs for the lemonade and signs for the iced tea. And a sign for the books that were for sale too. Our mailman, wearing his blue cowboy hat that day, rummaged through his pockets for change. He left with some reading material—one of the Goosebumps books—and a glass of lemonade.
Then Veronica floated by with her two big dogs, walking them one on each side like she was carrying two weightless suitcases. She promised the girls she would circle back after the dog walk with enough change for a drink. And she did. We asked if she was new to the neighborhood. No, she had moved in nine years earlier. She pointed out her house—only five down from ours. What? But we had moved in nine years earlier too and had never seen her before. She said she walked by our house every day, but she hadn’t seen us before either. We recognized her dogs, though. We had recently noticed her husband walking them.
“He’s the guy who looks like Daddy except for the tattoos,” Ricka whispered in my ear.
Veronica spotted Lala observing her from our porch.
“Oh, how cute!” she said.
“Yeah. But just a few weeks ago, I wanted to kill her,” I said.
“I hear you. Puppies are crazy.”
She told us about her babies—Frog, her 75-pound pit bull, and Pig, her 95-pound bullmastiff mix.
“Frog and Lala could play together sometime,” she offered.
“The sooner, the better,” I said. “Lala needs someone to wear her out.”
Bruno, our neighbor from three doors down, strolled up with cash.
“I’ll have an Arnie Palmer,” he said to the girls.
“What’s that?” said Dicka.
“When you mix lemonade and iced tea. Here you go. Keep the change.”
The girls’ mouths dropped open. A five-dollar bill.
The lemonade stand was a success. The girls had moved some books, and they cashed out at the end of the day with lots of change—and that five-dollar bill. And Lala had the promise of a new friend.
Later that weekend, Dallas handed me a pinot grigio over the fence.
“C’mon over,” I said. “We’ve got nothing going on.”
Dallas and his friend Beth—bearing cheese, crackers, and a bottle of wine—entered the back gate and settled in around our patio table. The umbrella went up, and the music went on. Then I phoned Glenda. She came over toting fresh cookies. Two hours passed. Husband found some salami in the fridge, and Dallas ran home to forage for more snacks. I sent the girls to knock on a few neighbors’ doors to invite them over too. Dallas returned with salsa he had canned with tomatoes from his garden. Beth told us about buying the wine in our neighborhood.
“It’s not a bad store,” she said, “if you ignore the barred windows. And the woman ahead of me in line had a wonderfully creative way to carry her credit card: in her décolletage.”
Lala stretched herself out on the warm brick patio, tuning in to our chatter only when her name popped up. The girls brought out the sidewalk chalk, and soon elaborate designs swirled around our feet.
The usual kids headed over to shoot baskets. At first, it was just the four of them—Antoine, Armani, Peanut, and Keyondra. But then a few more drifted over. While they dribbled, they looked out of the corners of their eyes at our table—full of food and explosive laughter—and they didn’t seem to mind the errant ball that forced them to enter the yard to retrieve it. I didn’t mind either.
“So have you met Veronica from five doors down?” I asked Dallas.
“She and her husband have the two big dogs, right?” he said.
“Yeah. She’s lived there for nine years, and I just now met her. I hadn’t even seen her until now. And she hadn’t seen us. Isn’t that strange?”
A few days later, Veronica came over with Frog for our first play date. Lala, eager to have a new friend, pulled out her most unpleasant behavior. But with one well-placed snarl, Frog established the boundaries, and Lala fell in line. Then they ran off in the yard together like two old friends. And so the weekly get-togethers began.
While the dogs played, Veronica and I sat side by side in lawn chairs, sipping sparkling water. We talked politics, dissected the plotlines of our favorite shows, and bemoaned our loss of nice grass because of having big dogs. I learned Veronica’s husband Sergio had a recording studio in their basement, and she worked for a bank. She was also an artist: her medium—fingernail polish. Each time I saw her, I was dazzled by the different works of art on her fingertips.
“So let’s do nails sometime,” she said. “I have lots of supplies.”
As one with short, no-nonsense nails, I was open to some new entertainment. And so were the girls. Our doggy play dates expanded to manicures at our patio table. And over the seasons, while the dogs played, we did our nails. We gathered some interesting findings: 95 degrees is too warm for nail polish to dry properly, but while 40 degrees is better, one’s fine motor skills are compromised in those temperatures.
Frog was enamored of our girls. I learned she’d wait for their school bus to bring them home each day, and she wouldn’t drop the surveillance until she was satisfied they were safely inside our house. When Frog visited our back yard on hot days, the girls would get into swimsuits and run for the hose. Our canine guest wriggled with excitement, knowing what was coming. They shot cold water in her face, and she chomped at the stream, guzzling so much it ran straight through her.
After Frog was waterlogged, she’d turn back to Lala for more games. They’d face off for some seconds—motionless—before charging each other. The two animals were so vocal in their play I worried passersby would think we were staging a dog fight in our back yard.
Even though she was bigger than Lala, Frog was happy to play the dead dog during their wrestling fun. She understood drama, but not the rules of gravity; as she flopped onto her side on the ground—eyes closed for effect—after a good match, her tongue hung up instead of down.
During one of those play dates, I surveyed the back yard from my lawn chair. Frog sprawled out in the garden in a pool of sunshine. Lala gnawed at a tug rope. The girls slurped popsicles at the patio table, chatting amongst themselves. And for the moment, my nails were perfect.
“I still can’t believe we didn’t meet years ago,” I said.
“We weren’t supposed to meet until now,” said Veronica.
“You’re not an angel showing up suddenly like this, are you?” I half-joked.
“No, I don’t think so,” she said, smiling.
And it made me wonder.
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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.