When he walked anywhere, which was not very often, he hid his face from passing cars. At that time, which is long past, residents had to pick up mail from the box at the top of the Cottage Road; I thought that’s what Devane was doing when I passed him one morning in my parents’ car. He turned and walked sideways, looking down into the ditch that ran along the side of the road.
That evening my parents had a party—this must have been around 1984—at which the subject of William Devane came up, as it not infrequently did, especially after the release of Hadley’s Rebellion. I don’t remember exactly why the subject of Devane came up, but it might have been some joke about why my parents didn’t invite the Devanes to their Friday-night party. The O’Keefes, who lived year-round in the winterized cottage beside the Devane’s, saw no humour in any such joke. “The man should be left in peace!” declared Mr. O’Keefe. Thus began a good-natured debate, to which even I, the only kid present, contributed.
The O’Keefes reported that Devane’s neighbours on the other side, the Wellses (who were not at my parents’ party) had recently dropped by unannounced on Devane’s wife—William happened to be out—with appetizers or something as embarrassingly presumptuous. In their defence, the Wellses claimed they were just being spontaneously neighbourly, as they would be with any new neighbour; here O’Keefe pointed out that it was the Wellses who were in fact new: they had moved in three months previous, and Devane and family had been summering at their cottage since 1976.
The thought of the Wellses standing on Devane’s doorstep with a tray of tapas, or whatever it was, peering in vain over Eugenie Devane’s shoulder for a glimpse of her famous husband, filled Bradley O’Keefe with contempt.
As he explained: “Now, if Mr. Devane’s car had needed a jump start, or if his kids’ ball was thrown into their yard, or his kids’ kite got wrapped around the Wellses’ TV antennae, or if somebody was trying to break into Mr. Devane’s garage, okay, then you’d be justified in making contact. But to just show up on their doorstep? That’s an invasion.”
“Invasion? Hardly an invasion, Bradley,” put in my mother mildly. “Neighbours are neighbours, are they not? What’s wrong with being friendly? William Devane or no William Devane?”
“So what did the Devanes do?” asked my father. “Eat the tapas?”
“Devane was out, but his wife did not accept it,” said O’Keefe in a lecturing tone. “Eugenie Devane said ‘Thank you very much, but I am sorry. We’re not up here very often, and when we are, prefer to spend the time with our family.’”
“That is just so prissy,” called Sharon Bovell from across the kitchen. Sharon worked at the bank, was very tall, and smoked long cigarettes the colour of peat. “Can you imagine, turning a neighbour away like that? She should be ashamed. Wife of William Devane or no wife of William Devane.”
“So the Devanes have some sort of duty, Sharon?” challenged the hitherto silent Shauna O’Keefe. “Are they not allowed to refuse hospitality? How many times have we all wanted to?”
“It’s not the turning down of the hospitality, or the tapas, that I find objectionable per se,” replied Sharon Bovell, pleased with her articulation, which favourably contrasted Shauna O’Keefe’s. “It’s the finality of it: like saying never come here again for no good reason! Civilized people make excuses.”
It was here that I piped up in my reedy kid’s voice. But at the very instant I began to speak, Mr. O’Keefe roared
in reply to Sharon Bovell’s last statement. To my surprise, however, O’Keefe glanced to me and fell silent, deferring to the child of his hosts. My parents, meanwhile, looked worried that I would say something very silly. An adult cleared a throat.
I’d been waiting some time for a pause. I’m sure I spoke too quickly: “But hey you know what, Jake Devane told me this afternoon that last night somebody let the air out of their car tires and his Dad had to walk to the garage this morning to get help.” Breathlessly I continued to the listening room, “So who knows maybe a neighbour did that on purpose to try to get to know the Devanes better!”
Silence continued for a moment until Mr. O’Keefe roared “Ha!” again.