of the Manifestation
Tyler was spreading pine needles around her azaleas when
she saw the gold Cadillac pull into the driveway across
the street. The woman who lived there—a divorcee
who had just moved into the neighborhood—was always
bringing new men over, and Mrs. Tyler could never keep
herself from watching when they showed up. One of them
drove a brand-new silver Jaguar, so Mrs. Tyler wasn't
impressed with the Cadillac. Then she saw the vanity plates.
Immediately, Mrs. Tyler threw her garden
spade down and watched the driver's door. A few seconds
passed melodramatically as the car sat stock-still. Then
Freddy Wishbone, the local anchorman of Channel 11, stepped
out of the Cadillac, pulled his mirrored Ray Bans off
and slipped them into his chest pocket.
"I thought he'd be taller,"
Mrs. Tyler thought to herself. "Still—Freddy
Wishbone. Right here."
Wide-eyed, she watched the anchorman
walk around to the passen-ger's door and open it for the
divorcee, who stepped out and let Freddy hold her hand
as they walked into the house.
the divorcee moved in, the first thing she had done was
take down the tall white fence the previous owner had
erected around the house. The boards were rotting, and
several had already fallen into the yard, but Mrs. Tyler
and the other neighbors saw it as a sign of communal openness
when the woman went out and pulled the fence down herself
one Saturday afternoon.
The man who had put it up had been hated
by everyone—the neighborhood kids called him a werewolf—and
he had even rigged a wire up to the gate so that when
it opened, a row of floodlights concealed under the gutters
came on and an alarm went off in the living room. After
a neighbor explained what the wire was for (it, like the
fence, had stopped working years ago), the divorcee cut
it off at the point where the man had buried it next to
the gate, and she waved it over her head like it was a
dead snake. The neighbors, most of whom were outside doing
yard work, waved and smiled.
But then the stay-overs started showing
up. First it was a sky-blue Chevette that sat in the driveway
for two days while the bedroom curtains stayed closed.
Mrs. Tyler convinced everyone it was the divorcee's brother,
who had come from out of town and needed to rest from
his long trip. The woman had never mentioned a brother
to Mrs. Tyler, but she was willing to grant her new neighbor
a plausible story. A week later, though, a tall, dark-haired
man in a black Blazer showed up and stayed overnight,
and then at the end of the week, the Jaguar appeared with
the distinguished-looking, gray-haired man driving.
After that, the men began appearing
on a regular cycle, and it was impossible for Mrs. Tyler
to excuse them all as brothers and cousins from out of
town. The neighborhood wives (and some retired husbands)
were getting up in arms about their loose neighbor. Still,
the woman worked in her yard, washed her new Corvette
frequently and waved at the neighbors like nothing was
And what could Mrs. Tyler do about it,
appearance of Freddy Wishbone threw a wrench into everything.
It was no longer a simple matter of immorality; it had
become a case of local fame, where you could be working
in the yard or washing your windows and get to see the
man off the TV.
"Just imagine him becoming one
of the regulars," a neighbor said to Mrs. Tyler in
a thrilled voice.
Like everyone else, Mrs. Tyler was dying
to find out what Freddy was like. So one afternoon she
positioned a chair in front of the living room window
and waited for the divorcee to come home. A week had passed
since Freddy's first visit, and since then, she'd seen
his Cadillac in the driveway twice, but only in the afternoons.
Mrs. Tyler had to wait two hours before the divorcee showed
up, and by then she was so worked up that she was in the
woman's driveway before the woman had locked the doors
of her Corvette.
"I don't mean to pry," Mrs.
Tyler said. "But I was out doing yard work the other
day, and I saw a man come over here who looked just like
Freddy Wishbone—from TV 11."
"Oh yes." The divorcee smiled.
"He took me out to lunch."
"What's he like—if you don't
mind my asking?"
"Well," the divorcee said,
leaning against her Corvette, "he's a very nice man.
And he's really good with kids. He talked to some Cub
Scouts for a long time at the Red Lobster's yesterday.
Just went right over and started talking. They didn't
know who he was, of course, but he just kept talking."
"That's wonderful," Mrs. Tyler
The notion of Freddy in a Red Lobster's
struck Mrs. Tyler like a vision. She saw Freddy leaning
down to shake a Cub Scout's hand while patting another
on the back, and she even imagined him telling the boys
a joke or two. Then, as he leaned over to help a Scout
straighten his neck tie, Mrs. Tyler imagined his handsome
profile being illuminated by the large lobster tank behind
"He's a wonderful man," Mrs.
Tyler said, ecstatically.
"Yes, he's very sweet," the
"Are you—are you going out
with him again?"
"Yes. I think we'll go out again
The divorcee stared at Mrs. Tyler for
"If you don't mind my asking,"
Mrs. Tyler added, smiling.
"Noon, I should think."
After chatting for another minute or
two, Mrs. Tyler rushed back across the street and telephoned
all the neighborhood wives about the lunch with the Scouts
and the upcoming date.
Saturday, Mrs. Tyler tried to convince her husband to
work with her in the front yard from noon to one o'clock,
when Freddy was supposed to show up for lunch. Tyler,
who was building a fence around the back yard, compromised
and agreed to weed the front flower beds from twelve to
twelve-thirty. His wife kept watch while he went to the
shed to get his stool and garden spade.
Tyler's fence wasn't a mean-spirited
gesture, like the divorcee's fence had been. It was merely
a privacy fence, designed to create a feeling of intimacy
and leisure at family cookouts: a discreet fence, six
feet high along the back and down the sides, four feet
high across the front. The front yard, of course, would
be left exposed. Still, as Tyler looked down at his house
from the bank, he admired how his play-room addition served
as a natural privacy wall for the deck. From his elevated
vantage point, it took on the aspect of a well-defended
fortress. After a moment's enjoy-ment, he sighed and walked
around front, spade and garden stool in hand.
Fifteen minutes later, Mrs. Tyler spotted
Freddy's Cadillac coming down the hill just as her husband
saw a large—very large—brown beetle crawling
along the edge of the house. The beetle was scurrying
against the wall as if it were blind and clinging to the
brick foundation for direction. Tyler crouched over it
as the Cadillac pulled into the divorcee's driveway, the
car's heavy wheels crunching the gravel.
"There he is," his wife exclaimed,
but Tyler was busy routing the beetle out with a large
The beetle was the size of two large
walnuts glued together, and its belly was so swollen that
its legs barely reached the mulch it was wading through.
Tyler held a stick over its pincers, and once the beetle
had clamped on, he carried it to the flagstone sidewalk.
"Oh Tyler," his wife complained,
"put that thing down. You missed Freddy."
"Honey—look at this thing."
Tyler lifted the stick a few inches off the ground. "Have
you ever seen a bug this big? I just can't believe it.
Right at our house." Tyler twirled the stick slowly
to examine the beetle's underside. "I'm going to
kill it," he announced.
"No, don't." Mrs. Tyler grabbed
the stick, but kept the bug away from her legs. "It's
probably a mother beetle, and she's carrying her eggs
with her. You don't want to do that to an entire colony,
"She's probably worth a lot to
them—all their eggs," Tyler said, musing on
the beetle's history. "That's why she was so frantic
when I spotted her. She's probably never been away from
her people before." Tyler laid the stick down on
the flagstone, and, before his wife could stop him, he
picked up a large stone from the azalea border and dropped
it on the beetle. The sound of the beetle's hard shell
popping open was surprisingly loud. As Mrs. Tyler had
predicted, tiny white eggs jetted out from under the stone.
"Oh my God!" Mrs. Tyler held
her hand over her nose and mouth as the smell of steamed
rice wafted up to the couple.
"I had to do it—they could
undermine the house's foundation," Tyler said. "Really."
Mrs. Tyler fled indoors, the Freddy
Wishbone sighting forgotten. After a moment, Tyler lifted
the stone and studied the beetle remains. Then, jamming
the stick into the pincers (still opening and closing
from reflex), he carried it to the trash cans. "Just
got a huge beetle that was threatening the house,"
he called out to their next-door neighbor, who had come
out when she'd spotted the Cadillac.
"You just don't care about Freddy
and what he's doing for this neighborhood," Mrs.
Tyler complained when her husband finally came in. "You
just don't care."
days later, Freddy became a stay-over, and the neighborhood
was ecstatic. He had come over for lunch that afternoon,
as he had begun doing regularly, and after the six o'clock
news was over, his Cadillac pulled back into the driveway,
where it sat until nine o'clock the next morning. The
fresh morning light reflected off the car as if it were
That night, the neighborhood wives gathered
in Mrs. Tyler's living room to watch the news, to see
if Freddy's sleeping in their neighborhood had changed
him. Although he didn't say anything directed particularly
at them, the women all felt as if he were speaking to
them individually. They all agreed with Mrs. Tyler when
she said that she felt like an eager servant who had been
blessed with the King's staying in her village.
"Maybe we should buy the two of
them something special," Mrs. Johnson suggested.
"How about some nice satin sheets?"
another woman said. "Baby blue like Freddy's eyes."
But this idea was considered too risqué,
and the issue was dropped.
a period, the neighborhood was living a fantasy. The divorcee's
other male friends disappeared, and Freddy's Cadillac
appeared every morning like the waving flag that drives
tired soldiers on. Then suddenly, three weeks after becoming
a stay-over, Freddy stopped coming over altogether. Everyone
in the neighborhood waited for the Cadillac to come back,
but it never did. Finally, one morning before the divorcee
left for work, when she could no longer contain herself,
Mrs. Tyler walked over to her house and asked what had
"I found out he's married,"
the divorcee said. "And still living with his wife.
That's something I won't get involved in. It's wrong,
don't you think?"
Mrs. Tyler stared at the woman and shook
her head. "Freddy's a good man," she said. "You
shouldn't have done that."
"And I found out he's seeing two
other women as well."
"But it's Freddy," Mrs. Tyler
yelled over her shoulder as she stepped off the porch
and nearly got struck by Mr. Drewson as he drove up the
was more bitter about the divorcee's abandoning Freddy
than she'd been about anything before, and her rage grew
as she sat in her house and ruminated on it. She paced
through the downstairs rooms, sat in front of an hour's
worth of soaps without following the stories, and finally
went out to rake the yard.
As she jerked at the leaves under the
front yard maples, she cast angry glances at the divorcee's
house. "Floozy—floozy—floozy," she
kept muttering, in rhythm with her raking. Then, when
she'd gotten a big pile raked up and had worked it down
to the roadside, she decided—suddenly and irrationally—to
keep raking the pile across the street and dump it in
the center of the divorcee's yard.
"A big tell-tale sign for the floozy
that we don't like her kind around here," Mrs. Tyler
said to herself as she worked the pile across the road.
Once she'd gotten it into a neat, volcanic pile between
the two pine trees in the center of the divorcee's yard,
she leaned against a fence post the woman hadn't gotten
up yet. She was admiring her work when Mrs. Johannson
power-walked by with her gleaming-white walking shoes
"What have you done?" Mrs.
Johannson called out.
"Just letting this woman know what
we think about the way she's treated Freddy," Mrs.
Tyler called back, triumphantly. "This'll teach her
she should have kept her fence up."
As she resumed her power-walking, Mrs.
Johannson shook her fist over her head in a gesture of
the Corvette pulled into the driveway that evening, there
was just enough sunlight for Mrs. Tyler to see the divorcee's
face as she stared at the pile of leaves in her yard.
First, the woman stood on the sidewalk and gawked at the
pile. Then she set her purse down on the grass and walked
around it. And finally, she looked up into the two pine
trees as if the pile had been thrown out of the trees
and the person who had done it was still sitting up there.
Then, after a glance up and down the street, she picked
up her purse and walked inside.
From behind her blinds, Mrs. Tyler watched
the woman turn on the living room lights and close the
hours later, after they had conferred with one another
by phone about Mrs. Tyler's gesture, eight of the ten
neighborhood wives closest to the Freddy situation snuck
out of their houses and met in front of the di-vorcee's
house. Each of them had brought something for the pile—a
few bags of garbage, two large branches knocked down by
a recent thunder-storm, a grocery bag filled with used
cat litter. After casing the house for movement, each
of the women ran into the yard and threw her contribution
onto the pile. One of the women—Mrs. Drewson, whose
husband co-owned a small radio station—wanted to
set the pile on fire, but she was voted down.
"We wouldn't want to do anything
illegal," one of the women said.
"Just a little fire," Mrs.
Drewson said. "Just a small one—we'd keep an
eye on it."
Finally, after some debating, the group
agreed that one small corner of the pile could be lit,
as long as the flames were contained. So after all the
other women were grouped safely across the street, Mrs.
Drewson lit a book of matches and set it down on the pile.
Once it ignited, she ran to the others.
By the time Mrs. Drewson caught her
breath and looked back at the pile, the flames were as
high as the lowest branches of the two pine trees that
stood over it.
"You said you were going to keep
it small," one of the women hissed.
The women stood motionless, paralyzed,
watching the flames catch the lowest limbs on fire. Their
faces glowed red; even across the street, they could feel
the heat coming off the pile.
Mrs. Tyler, who had been watching the
women's movements all along, stood in her front doorway
with her right index finger hovering over the '1' button
on her cordless phone. She had already dialed 9-1, but
she was waiting for something else to happen before she
completed the call. She wasn't sure what she wanted to
see—the divorcee coming out, perhaps, dressed up
in a red floozy outfit and crying for forgiveness. But
even soshe didn't know exactly what she wanted. Then,
just as the flames were beginning to climb to higher branches,
the divorcee jumped out onto the porch.
She was wearing a discreet, baby-blue
nightgown and robe whose distinctive flower patterns suggested
to Mrs. Tyler that it was a Laura Ashley design. For a
moment, the woman stood as still as a department store
mannequin. Then she ran down to the fire, screaming. As
she danced back and forth around the burning pile, hot
orange pine needles fell into her hair and onto her shoulders.
The women watched as she flailed her
hands at the needles frantically. From the shadows of
Mrs. Gilson's pair of magnolias, they watched her succeed
in knocking all but one glowing pine needle off, and that
one burned through her nightgown and seared the glowing
image of a stick man into her shoulder. After the divorcee
ran back into the house, the women fled. Almost immediately,
large brown beetles began scurrying out from under the
Mrs. Tyler retreated to the den, where
she and her husband watched the firemen battle against
the flames that had now reached the house. Mr. Tyler,
who had been taking a nap, had been woken by the sirens.
"Just look at it," she said.
"All because of what she did to poor Freddy. I'll
bet she wishes she'd been nicer now," she said, drumming
her fingers on the window sill.
"Umm," her husband said. He
was still groggy from the nap, and watching the firemen
move around in their bulky jackets somehow made him even
sleepier. Then, as the road began to ripple in tiny waves
toward the house, he sat up. "What the hell is that
stuff on the road?"
Mrs. Tyler squinted at the road as the
waves clarified themselves into small, crawling dots.
"Bugs," she said, uncertainly, as she heard
the back door slam.
Seconds later, she saw her husband appear
from the side yard, a shovel lifted high over his head.
At first, the firemen were alarmed. Then, after Tyler
began beating flat the beetles that rushed madly from
the fire, they shrugged their shoulders and turned their
attention back to the flames, which were soon put out,
though the two pines, they all agreed, would have to come