On the day I moved into my house, seven years ago almost to the day, Puck rang my doorbell. She welcomed me, told me how much she liked my house and that she had been living next door to it for 50 years, and how close she was to the seller (whom everyone else disparaged). She had just one favor to ask. Her husband, George, was dying. Time was short. The air conditioner on my roof made a terribly loud noise. Would I mind turning it down (even though it had been warm lately) when they had people to the house after the funeral? She would let me know.
I tripped over myself trying to find the right thing to say. I can turn it off right now. Not necessary. She’d let me know.
I never met George. I turned the air conditioner off when she asked. My mother died a week after George. I came to adore Puck.
She is from Holland. She wears a pin that says “Puck.” She loves to travel. When she comes over, we have a glass — maybe two — of white wine together. She knows everyone in the neighborhood, of course, but she also runs the “trees” — the complicated business of whose trees block whose views, and how once a year, we pay to have the trees across the street trimmed so it doesn’t block our view.
That’s the thing about our street: Here, in Santa Monica, two miles from the ocean, on a hill most people don’t know about, if the trees are trimmed, you can see straight out onto the water. When she first saw the house next door, 50 years ago, she told George, “I want that house.” But you’ve only seen one. We should look more, he told her. She knew what she wanted.
Every once in a while, she’d have the “girls” from the neighborhood come by, everybody bringing wine and snacks and laughing about whatever. Puck’s house is full of little treasures accumulated over the past halfcentury. What we girls have in common is that we live nearby and love Puck. It is enough.
As I’ve gotten older, and living alone, you look for women who make the future seem a little less terrifying; who hold on to their identity, play the hand they are dealt with spunk, find joy in their homes and their neighbors. That’s an especially big trick in Los Angeles, where no one is supposed to get (or at least look) old, and where many people don’t meet their neighbors until they find themselves standing outside together during an earthquake. I work too hard. I often leave early and come home late. Puck doesn’t email. But she would find me anyway, check up on me and give a hug to Rosie, the woman who has helped me raise my family for two decades. I got her a silly soap dispenser for Christmas. I thought it would fit in.
She always comes to see me right before she takes a trip. She usually takes a big trip to Holland once a year, last time staying in a cabin with a narrow stairway right on the beach. It will be fine, she told me, when I worried about her falling. It was.
She came to see me about two weeks ago. I was racing around doing something, probably work. We didn’t have wine. We just talked for a few minutes. She was going to Maui for two weeks with her daughter and a friend. She wanted me to know about the keys and who to call and the rest. Also, there was the business of the trees. I’ll wait for you to talk to the neighbor across the street, I told her. These are things you should know, she said. She looked at my yard. My new tree was starting to block her view, she said, but don’t trim it yet; it needs time to settle.
Puck’s daughter called me yesterday. My 86-year-old friend, my role model and neighbor, fell down the stairs in Maui. A bad fall. She broke her neck. A concussion. Bleeding in the brain. Two seizures. It has been four days now, and she is stable enough to be flown home to the hospital. She was calling me, she said, so I would know, and so she could tell her mother about the friends who love her and are praying for her.