Object Lessons Online - Anna Quindlen Page 0,1

forth, its shovel going up and down and over and up and down and over again.

A sign announcing the development had stood in the fields behind the house for four years, since before the fourth Scanlan baby had been born. It started out white with green letters. “On this site,” the sign read: COMING SOON. TENNYSON PARK, A COMMUNITY OF HOMES FROM $39,500. “Ha,” said Maggie’s grandfather Scanlan, who knew the price of everything.

Two men with a post digger had come and put the sign up at the end of the cul-de-sac behind Park Street. After the sign went up, the older children in the neighborhood waited for something to happen, but it never did. For years it seemed to stand as a testimonial to the fact that everything was fine just the way it was, that everyone in Kenwood knew one another and was happy in the knowledge that all their neighbors were people like themselves: Irish, Catholic, well enough off not to be anxious about much except the slow, inexorable encroachment of those who were not their kind. The sign got older and the paint got duller and someone carved a cross into the back of it with a knife and all the excitement about new construction and new people died down. One Halloween the sign got pelted with eggs, and the eggs just stayed there through that winter, yellow rivulets that froze on the white and green.

Mrs. Kelly, who lived in the house at the end of the cul-de-sac and whose driveway was nearest the sign, was by turns enraged and terrified at the prospect of the development. She said that they had built a development near her sister in New Jersey, split-levels and ranch houses, and the next thing they knew there had to be a traffic light at the end of the street because of all the cars. But Mrs. Kelly’s husband died of emphysema three years after the sign went up, and Mrs. Kelly went to live with her sister in New Jersey, and there was still no development, just the sign.

Maggie sprang up onto the kitchen counter and sat there, swinging her legs. “Get down,” Connie Scanlan said, feeding Joseph scrambled eggs, although Joseph was really old enough to feed himself. Maggie stayed put, knowing her mother couldn’t concentrate on more than one child at a time, and Connie went back to pushing the eggs into Joseph’s mouth and wiping his little red chin with a napkin after each spoonful, the bowl of egg balanced in her lap. “You heard your mother,” Tommy Scanlan added, but he continued to look out the window.

“Is that it?”


“Tennyson Park,” Maggie said.

Her father looked over at her and put down his cup. “Get down,” he said, and turning to his wife, his hands in the pockets of his pants, he said, “That’s the best-kept secret in construction. They’re digging foundations, you’ve gotta figure cement within the month, you’ve gotta figure actual construction in two. My father hasn’t said anything, my brothers haven’t said anything, and I haven’t heard a word from any of the union guys. But they’re out there today with an earth mover, they’ll have cement trucks by next week.”

Without looking up, Connie Scanlan said, “Your father doesn’t know everything, Tom.”

“You’re right my father doesn’t know everything, but he happens to know what’s going on in construction,” Tommy said. “And this is the kind of thing he usually hears about. And being in the cement business you’d think I’d have heard about it, and I haven’t.”

“Maggie usually hears because she listens to everything,” Damien said in his squeaky cartoon voice.

Tommy looked down at the second of his three sons, a skinny little boy as angular and jumpy as a grasshopper. Suddenly Tommy grinned, the easy grin that lit his face every once in a while and made him look half his thirty-three years.

“We’ll keep that in mind, Dame,” Tommy said, as Maggie glared at her brother across the kitchen table, and then he looked out the window again. “Jesus, am I going to catch hell,” he said, and the grin faded to a grim line. “The old man will be on me about this for six months.”

“I don’t know why everybody calls Grandpop that,” said Maggie. “He’s not that old. Sixty-five’s old, but not that old.” She hopped down from the counter. “Daddy, will you drive me to Debbie’s?” she said, as her father took his white shirt off a hanger bent to hang on