My mother’s thrice-removed cousin from Tennessee had popped up from nowhere to rent our house in Vieques.
And he appeared to be a bit of an oddball. Imagine my surprise.
I called my dear ma for guidance. Bad idea on so many levels.
She vaguely remembered Kevin but categorically denied that they were related in any way.
I sketched out the whole bizarre scenario as best I could. “You know, that rings the faintest of bells,” she said.
“…My grandmother was always vague about that side of the family.”
“So you know Kevin?”
“Barely. I haven’t seen him or his wife in fifteen years.”
“Are they nice?”
She hesitated. “I’m sure they’re very nice.”
This was a typical non-answer from a woman who had spent her whole life studiously avoiding saying anything unpleasant about anyone, including Slobodan Milosevic and Atilla the Hun.
“Let me re-phrase. Do you know of any reason we wouldn’t want to rent our house to them?”
“Sweetheart, I haven’t seen these people in decades. Rent away.”
Kevin called me from the airport in Vieques. “How do we get to the house?”
“Didn’t you call Jane from San Juan?” At Jane’s request, we always asked our guests to call her just before boarding their flight to Vieques, because (in Jane’s memorable phrase) “time slips in Puerto Rico.”
“No, we didn’t think it was necessary,” he answered impatiently. “Our flight left on time.”
“In that case, I’m sure she’s sitting at home waiting for your call.”
“She should be here. We told her our flight number. She could have called the airline and found out it was on time.”
“She used to do that, Kevin. And she ended up spending hours sitting at the airport waiting for so-called on-time flights that were seriously delayed.”
A short pause while he retrenched. “Anyway, I’ve lost her number.”
“I’ll be happy to call her for you. Just wait at the airport.”
Jane called a couple of hours later. “Did you say these folks are relatives of yours?”
“Very distantly. Emphasis on ‘very.’ And ‘distantly.’”
“I thought southern people were supposed to be polite.”
“There are a few still left. Take me for instance.”
“We’ll let that pass for now. In the meantime, your cousins have asked me to come back tomorrow and drive them to the beach. Because they didn’t rent a car.”
She spoke the last sentence in the same tone one would use to say, “He stabbed his mother to death with a butter knife.”
“I know. It’s part of their budget travel routine.”
“What should I do?” Jane so rarely asked my opinion I could barely muster a response.
“Don’t take them.”
“I already said I would.”
“I’ll call Kevin.”
I got him on the phone later that day. “Jane can’t take you to the beach.”
“She said she would.” He sounded very relaxed.
“It’s not her job.”
“Well, she shouldn’t have said she would if she didn’t want to.”
“She was surprised by your request.”
He repeated this to his wife, who laughed with gurgling delight. “You know, our philosophy of travel can be traced back to one of our favorite Beatles song, the one about getting by with a little help from our friends.”
I’d had just about enough. “Jane’s not your friend.”
“But you are.”
I thought about my mother, living in a small town within spitting distance of this man. If she ever went to the supermarket (which, I admit, was a highly unlikely scenario), she might run into this man someday and be forced to acknowledge the reality of his connection to us and our house.
“So you’re really not going to rent a car?”
“No way, José,” he said breezily.
“Okay,” I said, breathing deeply, “how about renting scooters?”
“Are they cheap?”
Not as cheap as you are, I longed to reply with every fiber of my being—but I didn’t.
“I think they’re relatively inexpensive.”
“Let me just confer with the old ball and chain.”
A brief pause ensued.
“We’re ready to scoot. Are you willing to pay half?”
“Oh god yes.”
It turns out my mother did run into Kevin and his fair bride one day a few months later. “Your son’s house is lovely,” Kevin told her.
“But, just between us, our visit to Vieques was the most expensive vacation we’ve ever taken.”