Read The View from the Cherry Tree Online
Authors: Willo Davis Roberts
The View From the Cherry Tree
“Taut with suspense, this spellbinding story carries the reader along.”
, starred review
“Teeth-rattling suspense . . . an exceptional entertainment.”
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To THE KIDS,
who provided a good deal of the material in this story.
From his perch in the cherry tree Rob Mallory could see into the houses on either side. It was the Mallorys' tree, but it was closest to Mrs. Calloway's house; right up against it, as a matter of fact, and one of the numerous causes of problems with their neighbor.
It was into Mrs. Calloway's dining room that he was looking; behind him, at home, female voices came through the open windows. He couldn't understand what they were saying because they were all talking at once, but he knew, anyway. Something about the wedding. All anybody talked about these days was the wedding, like there was a law, or something, that made other subjects forbidden.
The day was warm enough for even Old
Lady Calloway to open her windows, and the slight breeze stirred the heavy lace curtains so that he caught glimpses of the inside.
He had lived next door to Mrs. Calloway for nine of his eleven years, but he'd never been inside her house. When he was little, he'd believed the stories the older kids told, about how she caught kids and ate them, like the witch in Hansel and Gretel. Now he didn't believe that anymore, but he wouldn't have gone inside her house for anything.
Mrs. Calloway's rug was dark red, which ought to have been pretty, but it wasn't. He couldn't tell if it was dusty, but he imagined it smelled funny, the way the old lady herself did. The furniture was all old and funny looking, too, very dark and depressing.
As he sat with his back against a big limb, eating cherries and spitting out the pits, he saw Sonny creeping across the lawn toward Mrs. Calloway's house.
Sonny was twenty-two pounds of the Âmeanest cat in the country.
Rob watched with interest as the cat approached the corner of the Calloway house.
Mrs. Calloway hated cats, and Rob was supposed to keep Sonny away from her place, but what sense did that make? You couldn't police a cat all the time.
Sonny made the leap from lawn to limb in one long bound, sitting below Rob in the cherry tree for a moment, then inching out toward the blowing curtains in Mrs. Calloway's window.
Rob knew perfectly well that he ought to stop him. The old lady would have fits if Sonny landed in her dining room. That was his mother's phrase .Â .Â . somebody was always “having fits,” or about to. He'd never actually seen it happen, and he couldn't think of a Âbetter place to see it than with Mrs. Calloway.
Sonny crouched at the end of the limb, his tail twitching, then still. The muscles bunched under the black pelt as he prepared to attack the curtains. And then Rob missed the action because out front a car horn sounded and he let it distract him for just a second. When he looked back, the curtains were still flapping, but Sonny was gone.
He waited, hoping something would happen. Like the old lady would start yelling, and
maybe she'd froth at the mouth when she had her fit. That's what dogs did. He'd never seen one, but he'd heard about it.
The car horn was just old Max, and now he was coming around the side of the house toward the back door. You'd think Max would quit coming around all the time, now that Darcy was getting married to Steve.
Old Max was twenty-one, and for a grown-up he wasn't bad. He had a sense of humor, which was more than some of the rest of them had.
Rob threw a cherry pit, but it was too light; it fell short, so he pitched a whole cherry. The second one hit Max between the eyes.
Max paused, looking upward into the tree and stepping off the sidewalk. “That you, Robbie?”
“I'm a frog prince.”
“No kidding. You do look sort of green at that, but I thought it was the reflection of the leaves. Where is everybody?”
“If you mean Darcy, she's having something altered. It's an emergency. Everything's an emergency at our house these days.”
“Yeah. Okay if I go on in?”
“If it's not, they'll throw you out,” Rob said. “That's what happens to me. It's not my fault they run around in their underwear, but they expect me to know when to open a door.”
Max considered, nodded, said “Thanks,” and rapped on the back screen door before entering the porch. “Anybody home? Are you all decent?”
There was a chorus of voices; his sister Teddi answered the door and let Max in.
Rob waited a little longer for something to happen in the Calloway house, then gave up. Maybe the old lady was taking a nap. She often took a nap, right when people wanted to use their mowers or play their stereos or something. No matter when you needed to make a noise, she was taking a nap.
He pictured Sonny stalking through the odd-smelling house, finding the bedroom, and leaping onto the old lady's chest. That would give her a fit, all right, if twenty-two pounds of cat landed on her!
He'd been eating cherries for half an hour, but he needed more than that. Cherries weren't very filling. He wondered if they were ever going to have dinner. It was time somebody
started cooking something if they were.
He slid down as far as he could go and then dropped onto the grass, his tennis shoes making no sound. Going in, he slammed the screen door, expecting someone would say something, but they were all too busy. Rob sighed. Nothing happened the way it was supposed to around here anymore.
The kitchen was empty. There wasn't anything cooking, no good smells coming from the oven. He opened the refrigerator door and debated whether it would be worth it to cut a slice off that cold ham. It was all fancied up and they'd be able to tell if he cut it. Usually his mother was fairly reasonable about such things, but these days it was hard to tell. He decided he'd better leave it alone and settle for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
The dining room was full of women, but they'd let old Max in, so they must all be dressed. Rob licked the oozing jelly from the edges of his bread and stood in the doorway, looking them over.
His older sister Darcy was the one getting married. You'd think she was a queen, or
something, the way everybody waited on her and catered to her. Darcy had dark hair and blue eyes, like Mrs. Mallory, and while she just seemed like old Darcy to him she must be pretty because all these guys kept coming around, even after she was engaged to Steve. She was standing on a chair while her mother pinned a hem in her dress.
“Don't get that on anything, Robbie,” Mrs. Mallory said. “And somebody answer that telephone.”
Teddi, her long hair swirling as she spun, stretched across Max to reach the instrument on the table near the doorway. Because she was the one moving, Rob looked at her.
Teddi wasn't as pretty as Darcy, but he liked her better. Of course she was closer to his own age, being only six years older, and she didn't look down on him quite as much as the others did.
Teddi picked up the telephone and answered it.
“Yes? Mallory residence. Oh. Yes, Mrs. ÂCalloway.” She winced, holding the receiver away from her ear. “Yes. Yes. Yes, I understand.
Yes, I'm sorry. I'm sorry.” She looked at her mother, rolling her eyes until Mrs. Mallory rose and offered to take over for her. Teddi shook her head, then mouthed a final “Yes, I'm sorry” before she hung up. “Mrs. Calloway.”
“We gathered that. What is it this time?”
“Couple of things. Max is parked on her garden hose. He's ruined it, she says. She'll have to have a new one, and he'll have to pay for it.”
Max scowled. “I'm parked at the curb. Where's her crummy hose, in the street?”
Teddi shrugged. “I don't know. Besides that, Mom, Sonny got into her house.”
A moan sounded through the room. Mrs. Mallory ran a hand over the lower part of her face. “All right. What did he break?”
“He walked across her bed after he'd knocked over a potted plant she'd just watered, and tracked mud all over the spread. Then he ate one of her goldfish. An expensive variety. We owe her for that, too. She spilled the rest of them onto the floor while she was trying to chase him away, and it's no thanks to us that she didn't lose them all.”
“Where's Sonny now?” Mrs. Mallory's mouth
was a flat line as she went back to her task of pinning the hem.
“That's the final part. She threw him out, and he scratched her.”
“Well, naturally,” Max said. “He's not an idiot, that cat.”
“She's going to have to have a tetanus shot, she's sure, and maybe rabies shots.”
“Sonny's had his rabies shots,” Mrs. ÂMallory said, jabbing angrily with a pin until Darcy protested. “Rob, I wish you'd find a way to keep that cat away from her.”
Rob spoke around the final mouthful of peanut butter and jelly. “I can't watch him all the time. He just doesn't like Mrs. Calloway.”
“Nobody likes Mrs. Calloway,” Max agreed.
“It's the only thing I don't like about this house,” Mrs. Mallory said. “Having her for a neighbor. Don't mention this latest ruckus to your father; he'll have a fit.”
Rob tried to imagine his father having a fit and failed. “When are we going to eat?”
“What time is it? That late already? I'm going to have to stop pretty soon, Darcy.”
“Not before this is finished, I hope!”
“I've got it pinned, now. You can do the hem yourself while I'm starting dinner.”
“No, I can't, Mom. Steve's picking me up in fifteen minutes. We still have to go talk to Mr. Felton about the music. That has to be done tonight, so he knows what to play at the rehearsal tomorrow night.”
“Well, take it off, and don't knock any pins out of it, and I'll see what I can do later. That confounded telephone has rung twenty times this afternoon; I'm beginning to want to tear it out of the wall.” She answered it herself this time. “Yes, oh, is that you, Vivian? Yes, just a minute, let me get to the other phone.”
Max helped Darcy down. “It's a shame, kid, you wasting yourself on that Sanderson bum. After all, you could have had me.”
“Sorry, lamb,” Darcy said. “Excuse me, I have to run. See you later.”
Max let her go, and brought his gaze around to Teddi and smiled. “Dinner's going to be late around here. Why don't we go catch a bite at Dino's?”
Astonishment flashed over her face. “Me?”
Rob watched the byplay with mild interest.
Outside the window he saw Sonny streaking up the trunk of the cherry tree to vanish into its secret places. He was all right, then. Too bad he'd had his shots; Old Lady Calloway deserved rabies or something.
“Sure, you. Maybe even the frog prince. How about it, your highness?”
Rob shook his head. “No, thanks.”
“I'll ask Mom.” Teddi grinned and took off for the den and the other telephone where her mother was speaking.
Max sighed. “I wonder how much that old bag thinks her hose was worth?”
“It was an old one,” Rob said. “It leaked.”
“Did it, now? I wouldn't be surprised if she laid it out where somebody'd have to run over it so she could get herself a new one.”
“How old do you have to get before you drop dead of old age?”
Max laughed. “Older than that crone, I'm afraid. Although she's mean enough to poison herself on her own spit. Find me an ashtray, will you, sprout? This place is so cleaned up I don't dare touch anything.”
Rob headed for the kitchen. He was
reaching for the ashtrays stacked on the counter when he heard his father's footsteps on the back porch. The floor always creaked there under Walt Mallory's two hundred pounds.
Rob liked his father. They didn't talk an awful lot, but he wasn't a grouch like some kids' fathers.
He wore light gray work clothes, sweat-stained under the arms and across the back. He said, “Hiya, chum,” and got himself a glass of iced tea out of the refrigerator. “What are we having for dinner?”
“I don't know. Nothing's started yet; they've all been fussing about Darcy's clothes.”
“Where's your mother?”
“On the phone.” He decided to spill some of the news. “Max parked on Old Lady Calloway's hose, and she says he has to buy her a new one. The one she had was wrecked already.”
“She's a winner, that one.” Mr. Mallory opened the refrigerator again and poked around. “You suppose it's safe to eat some of this salami?”
“Darcy did. But that's not saying anyone else can. If anybody ever fixes dinner around here, let me know, huh?”
He wandered back through the dining room, to where Max was standing with a handful of ashes, and passed along the ashtray. Max nodded without looking at him. He was busy looking at Teddi.
“What do you mean, you can't go? You're seventeen years old, for crying out loud! You can't go out to a drive-in for a hamburger?”
“It's because of the wedding. Mom's about frantic, there's still so much to do. She wants us all to hang around to help with the loose ends.”
“Even if you starve?”
“Oh, we'll throw something together.” Teddi brightened. “Why don't you stay and eat with us? It won't be anything fancy, but you're welcome.”
“I thought you'd never ask. Listen, is it safe to sit down anywhere except on a straight chair in this house?”
“Let's go out on the porch and sit in the swing. It's cooler.”
Rob watched them go, then made his way down the hallway toward the front of the house. His mother was still talking on the telephone, sounding harassed, the way she had for the past month.
“There are only two categories things fall into around here now,” she was saying. “Things that
to be done before the wedding, and things that can't possibly be squeezed in until afterward. I hope when Teddi decides to get married she elopes.”
The living room was empty and pleasantly dim with the draperies drawn against the afternoon sun. Rob turned on the television and sprawled in a chair. After a few minutes Sonny came strolling through the cat-door from the front porch and leaped into the big recliner, settling down to wash himself.