Women scope out other women's housework like men scope out women, and so when the children opened the door opened to her knock, the neighbor involuntarily glanced around the living room. Scraps of paper lay drifted like snow across the floor; toys radiated out from the area around the playpen; books were piled high on tables, on chests, on shelves, on the floor. The children, though dressed, had the kind of fine hair that always slips out of barrettes and clips and elastics. The place was not exactly filthy, but one would be hard-pressed to call it clean. The neighbor, having children herself, made allowances.
The lady of the house came jogging down the stairs with her baby on her hip, pausing to kick a pair of old tights under the desk. The neighbor explained her plight: the air conditioner was being repaired; could the kids spend the morning over here? The lady of the house was amenable; the kids charged shrieking upstairs to form a new club and exclude the little brother. The neighbor stepped out into the heat, torn between relief that someone else's house was messier than hers, and a twinge of guilt reminding her that at least she'd known in advance that someone was going to knock on her door this morning.