Petunia Roach took a moment to practice her smile in front of the hall mirror. She cocked her head to one side and showed her teeth. She stopped immediately. The ruby red lipstick made her mouth look like a gash across her face and called attention to her crooked, notched teeth. Cordelia would never trust such a smile.
Petunia tried again. She kept her head straight and went with a half-watt smile. That was better, but her eyes were too wide. She looked startled, or, like she had a bug up her butt as Jackson, her seven year old grandson, had once said.
The thought of Jackson made her frown, causing her forehead to crease in a most unflattering manner. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, releasing the stress with it. After all, once she had washed his mouth out with soap Jackson had learned his lesson.
The third smile was the winner. It was pleasant and her eyes were soft and narrow, though not so scrunched up that her crows feet appeared. That was the smile to use.
Petunia brushed a few imagined specs of dust from her floral print dress, picked up the apple pie that had just come out of the oven, and marched next door.
It was time for Cordelia to learn a lesson.
"Hello Petunia. What do you want?"
"I've brought a peace offering." Petunia held up the pie.
Cordelia sniffed. "What kind of pie?'
"Apple," Petunia said.
"I prefer blueberry."
Petunia almost lost her grip on her smile, but managed to keep it in place. "Cordelia, really, we're neighbors. We shouldn't go on feuding like this. Please, let's make up."
Cordelia hesitated, then nodded, undid the chain and opened the door.
"Have a seat in the sitting room, I'll make us some tea and maybe get us a slice of this pie."
"I think it still needs some time to cool."
Petunia sat on the plastic covered couch in the sitting room and marveled at how Cordelia had managed to accumulate such an incredibly large number of completely unrelated tchotchkes. Hummel boys and girls were scattered amongst china dogs, wicker baskets, and seashell sculptures.
It took Petunia a few moments to spot the scaly head that was peaking at her from around the doorway. Petunia had never seen anything like it. The beast looked like some sort of lizard or snake, with a head the size of Petunia's fist and mottled scales that alternated between black and tan. The animal bobbed its head back and forth like a robin looking for a worm and a pink tongue, the length and thickness of Petunia's thumb, flickered in and out of its mouth.
A second and third head appeared around the corner, all exactly the same as the first. For the first time she noticed the beast's eyes, which had irises that shifted shape, from hourglass, to slits, to deep, dark pools.
"That's enough of that, be off with you then," Cordelia gave the beast a nudge with her foot and the three heads disappeared back behind the door.
Petunia blinked quickly and yawned, like she was just waking up. "Oh my, what happened?" she asked.
"Hercules was just having a bit of fun with you is all. Here's your tea. It's Earl Gray," Cordelia said.
Petunia took a sip. "It's quite good. So, that was, Hercules you say? What is it?"
"We're not really sure. My boy Sandy, he works over for Chemcom Labs, cleaning up at night. The stories he can tell. Well, one night he overheard some of the scientists saying that they were going to put poor Herc down, so Sandy smuggled him out that very night. Three heads, can you imagine? I'd always be so confused if I had three heads. He's been here almost two weeks already."
"Has it really only been two weeks," Petunia murmured.
"Yes, and Sandy knew I'd been so lonely since they came and took Smaug away last Fall. Hard to believe someone, some neighbor, called the police and reported him as a threat to the neighborhood." Cordelia cast an accusing glance at Petunia.
Petunia pretended not to notice but just shook her head sympathetically and said, "You and your unique pets."
"At least I get to visit him in the zoo. That zoo owner was really happy to get such a large Komodo dragon. They built him a special enclosure and everything."
"Have you seen Bart around lately?" Petunia asked.
"My yellow lab. He went missing, oh, about two weeks ago. He always reminds me of my poor Fred, rest his soul. Fred loved that dog. Just having Bart around makes me feel like Fred is still with me, if only in spirit. There was a hole under the fence separating our yards, but Bart is awful old to be digging holes."
Cordelia shook her head. "No, I haven't seen Bart, I'll keep an eye out for him. I know the pain of losing a pet. You must remember Elmo, my Emu?"
"Yes, and I must say again, how sorry I was about that Cordelia. It was a complete accident. After Elmo ate my award winning rose bush, I was just looking for something to take its place and White Oleander is such a pretty flower. It never occurred to me that Elmo would come back into my yard and eat another one of my plants. It was a tragedy."
"Yes, yes it was."
Suddenly there was the clatter of a pie dish and Petunia heard what sounded like a bag full of marbles being dragged across a sandy beach and the clicking of nails as something scurried out of the kitchen. Petunia had heard those sounds two weeks before, the day Bart went missing.
"Gosh darn it, Hercules, that pie was for everyone. Now it's spoiled. Come back here!" Cordelia got up. "I'm sorry," she said.
Petunia held up her hand. "No need for apologies, obviously you've got your hands full. I'm just glad we had a chance to set things right. I'll show myself out."
As Petunia walked back to her house, she stopped beside her recently pruned Oleander bush. She had taken every blossom, and could only hope that being ground up and .baked in a pie hadn't diluted their effectiveness too much.
From next door she heard a loud, wet, splatter, followed by Cordelia's shouting. "Sandy, get the wet vac!"
copyright 2012 John Lance