The missed back payments were strangling her.
December 16, 2013
A VG Serial: ToxiCity
Over the next few weeks, she spent time on the phone with Joan Stewart and Frannie Yablonski trying to find a common denominator among the children. She found two. All three families got their water from the same wells, and all three children had spent lots of time at the playground.
Maggie started to wonder what Meadow City had been before the homes. She remembered the empty field, but what was there before that? She pulled out the pictures Greg had taken before construction began, when they would drive out on Sundays, but she couldn’t tell anything from them. She asked her neighbors, but most had moved in after the development was underway. No one knew.
The pastor of the church referred her to Iris Thornton. Her family had farmed these parts for generations, and she lived on one of the few farms left. Maggie took both boys with her. Mrs. Thornton, now in her eighties, seemed eager for the company, setting out tea and a plate of home baked cookies for the boys.
“That land has an interesting history, child,” she said.
“How so, Mrs. Thornton?”
“Call me Iris, honey. Everyone does. Old maid Iris.” She winked at Dusty. “You young people think I don’t know.”
Dusty colored. Maggie smiled. She liked Iris.
“That land used to be owned by Illinois Edison.”
“The electric company?”
“Yes ma’am. Back in the last century there was a coal gas plant here.”
“Coal gas? What’s that?”
“You’re way too young to remember, but years ago street lights used to have gas in them to keep them lit at night. That gas came from coal. And that’s what they made here. ‘Course, when everything got electric, they didn’t need it anymore, and they shut the plant down. I think it was sometime in the Thirties.”
“I had no idea there was coal this far north.”
“There wasn’t much. But there was some.”
“So what happened to the land? After the plant closed down, I mean?”
“I reckon it just sat here. For a long while. Over forty years, probably. The place was a dump, in fact, until that developer started to build.”
“Where my home is.”
“What do you mean a dump?”
“It was an eyesore. There was all sorts of trash, barrels, things like that on the land. For a while, you could even see it from the church But then the trees and prairie grass grew so tall, you didn’t really think about it.”
Maggie watched Dusty give his cookies to TJ who gobbled them up quickly. He was putting on weight again, thank god. She thanked Iris and took the boys home.
She wasn’t sure what to do next. Logically, she should call the developer and ask him about the land. But she wasn’t anxious to do that. She still paid the mortgage through his company, but when TJ was sick she’d missed a few payments. First she got some nasty letters. When she tried to call and tell them what was going on, a woman, the bookkeeper she thought, was downright mean to her on the phone.
“If you can’t come up with the payments on a timely basis,” she’d said in that clipped tone business people used, all stripped of emotion, “we’ll be forced to take further action.”
Taking precious time away from TJ’s bedside one day, Maggie cabbed over to the developer’s office to talk to the bookkeeper in person. The woman listened to Maggie’s story, and Maggie thought she was making headway. The woman rose, walked around, and sat on the edge of her desk, leaning very close to Maggie. Maggie wanted to back away, but the room was small. There was nowhere to go.
“I’m sorry to hear about your troubles, Maggie,” she said, “but unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do.”
Episodes in the novel will be published on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Please click the following title,ToxiCity, to read more about Libby Fischer Hellman’s books on Amazon.