She opened the double doors and the light flowed in like honey, confused dust motes drifting on the air currents stirred up. She smiled, and the day grew even brighter.
“I think this will do nicely,” she said to the emptiness before her. The realtor behind her breathed a small sigh of relief.
She turned and shook the realtor’s hand. “You can give me the tour, but I’m pretty sure I don’t need it at all.”
The realtor beamed and led the way through the empty rooms and hallways, up and down the stairs, pausing at nearly every nook and cranny. By the time they were back at the front door, the deed was done. She was in love with the house, and nothing was going to stand in her way.
She moved in only a few weeks later and proceeded to decorate in a monochrome style, shades of blacks and whites and grays throughout the house, with a single splash of a single color in each room. A flower here, a chandelier there.
When it was done she hosted a party, but her guests didn’t stay long; none of them could stand the subsonic tones she played on the recently installed sound system. She didn’t care. She liked it, and that’s what really mattered, right?
But she soon grew lonely and tired of only her own company. Finally she figured out that it was the house pushing everyone away; it couldn’t possibly be her personality.
She locked up for the last time and moved to an apartment in the city, where she let her interior decorator have his way with the new place. She hated it, but her parties were always the talk of the town, so she dealt with it.
The lawn was weedy and overgrown and the house was listless and peeling, but something about the property spoke to Ruben. He called the realtor as soon as he got back into his car.
“I’ll take it.”
The realtor was thrilled; she’d expected it to sit unsold for at least another year or two. The sale went smoothly, and it wasn’t too long before she put the keys in Ruben’s hand.
He smiled to himself. This was going to be the project of a lifetime.
Eight months later, Ruben was still at it. He hefted the axe for the final chop, and stepped back to watch the tree tumble down. This one made way for the hot tub he had planned. He tossed the axe to the side of the tree and trotted back to his lawn chair for a long pull on his beer.
Next week he hoped to watch the sunset for his new porch.
It was all coming together nicely. Except the paint. The rust that he thought would contrast so nicely against the acres of trees had dried to a bloody mess. Ruben had no intentions of spending the rest of his life in a murder house, but he couldn’t put his finger on the right color.
Maybe he’d find it next month. He could live with the blood for a while.
If I were not sworn for life to protect confidentiality I would have a photo to share with you. But I can tell you some of the story.
Tonight while on official business, my last address of the day turned out to be an abandoned old house on a hill. I got there by an overgrown gravel road.
Had it been dark, I would not have stopped and gotten out of the car. As my friend said, that’s the start of a horror movie. But it was still daylight, so I stopped.
I saw an old mattress on the back porch as I picked my way through the weeds. I found a “taxes due” notice on the front door. No one answered my knock, which I expected, but I saw there was still a couch inside, at least.
I saw an extension cord leading from the house, and when I walked towards the shed that it disappeared into, I noticed that the shed was locked.
I wonder what’s going on there.
Since the tax notice was fresh, I went ahead and left my card. Maybe someone will call.
It was an old Victorian style home, placed gently at the end of a cul-de-sac. I rested my hand on the wrought iron gate and winced at the screeching sound it made as it turned inward on abused hinges. I checked over my shoulder for signs of the impending major thunderstorm that had been predicted for today, but the sky was clear as a bell.
I walked to the front door and entered the house.
The foyer was inexplicably decorated like a dream I’d once had; the sinuously carved legs of the table spoke to me in a language I didn’t understand. A portrait of an ancestor I’d never caught the name of loomed over me, and I cowered in response.The elephant foot umbrella stand contained the two curved-handled umbrellas that had once sheltered my grandparents from the rain.
The heavy door swung silently closed behind me, and in the last wink of natural sunlight I caught a glint of something shiny on the edge of the table. When I moved closer I saw that it was a shining silver anklet, hanging off the table, just enough of its weight left on top to keep it from sliding all the way to the slate floor beneath. The initials engraved on a tarnished tag, which contrasted starkly with the newness of the chain, were my grandmother’s initials, WCS, twining softly through and around each other like lovers. I choked back a sob at the memories that came rushing to the forefront of my mind.
I continued further into the dark house, and went straight to the windows of the sitting room to open the drapes wide to let the afternoon sunshine reveal the treasures within. Some of the furnishings I remembered from my childhood; others, not so much. This rug, ancient and faded as it was, still retained the muted maroons and oranges of long ago. I traced the shapes of the poppies with my foot, remembering, remembering.
The wing-back chair had been my grandfather’s; he would sit with his paper and his cigar, shutting out the rest of the world, smoking ferociously, refusing to admit that he had a family who loved him in spite of his denial of our existence. The arms still bore the marks of his elbows, the table next to it the shadow of the circle of his ashtray.
Someone had moved the ashtray to the mantel. I retrieved it, and walked it back to my grandfather’s table, caressing the angles and facets that would glint in the light from the chandelier that–I glanced upward–was no longer there. Why had they taken it out? I’d never know now.
The fireplace was different, too. The mantel smoother, more polished than I remembered from before. The bricks, though, were still solidly mortared into an orgy of fire and ash. Marshmallows never dropped, blackened and cracking, onto this hearth. This fireplace was forbidden to anyone born after World War II. No one that young could possibly offer it the respect it demanded. I never understood that rule.
I ran my hand across the top of the mantel, sweeping up a ridge of dust against my leading finger, and a piece of paper wafted to the floor, disturbed by my motion, I bent to pick it up, and paused halfway back up, eye to eye with a picture of tattoo celeb Kat von D. I furrowed my brow; this was not a thing that belong in my grandparents’ house. They had never bought a television. They wouldn’t even recognize this woman as an actual person, with her star tattoos and fancy eyeliner. I turned to see what other changes had been brought since my grandmother’s passing.
Her sofa was still there, the one I’d never sat upon. I crossed to it now, around the coffee table with its mosaic of light and dark woods. I put my hand out to touch the back of the sofa, and made as if to turn and sit, but I could not. She would never have approved of a blue-jeaned ass on her Chesterfield.
Headshot limply dangling from my hand, I left the sitting room behind, to disappear from my sight as I had disappeared from my family while they still lived and breathed.
I trailed my hand along the wallpaper that had coated these walls for decades, tracing the flocked decorations and picturing them in my mind without looking at the real thing. The wall sconces hadn’t been polished in years; their tarnish seemed to suck in what little light reached this far down the hall.
I turned into the kitchen, and my jaw dropped at the sight of a three-tiered birthday cake resting comfortable on a white porcelain cake stand in the middle of the tiled island. I’ve heard of fruit bowls, flower vases, many things served as a centerpiece, but never birthday cakes. It looked so good, though. So fresh.
Nothing in the sinks, no stains on the stove, nothing peeking from inside a crooked cabinet door. My grandmother had always kept her kitchen spotless As I moved farther into the room, I could see the stack of small dessert plates placed next to the cake, forks resting atop them.
Had the probate attorney known today was my birthday? Even if he had, he should have known that I would be here alone. I have no one with whom to share cake. I lay the photo next to the plates, Kat side down.
I turned my back on the cake and entered the dining room. When I opened these drapes, shaking their dust into the air I was already struggling to breathe, I heard the sound of something in the distance, and lingered at the windows, swiping at a pane with my closed fist to make a cleaner spot. I stared at the treeline for twenty, maybe thirty seconds, before a dog came padding from between two pines. It barked, and I recognized the sound as what I had heard. I was still confused; no one on this street had ever had a dog that large. This was strictly a purse-sized canine neighborhood. I shrugged, and turned back to examine the table.
The same dark wood, the same darkly upholstered chairs. The same chandelier, unlike in the sitting room. The same sideboard, full of the same china. I reached for the knob to open the top cabinet, but my nose was assaulted with the smell of rotting seaweed. I lifted my hand to shield my poor nose, and bent to examine the floor. When I saw a row of filthy shoes lined up beneath the sideboard, straight as an arrow, my back muscles pulled me into a position to match them, an incredibly erect posture of surprise.
My grandmother would never have let shoes like that into her home. But the house was only a few miles from the ocean, although much farther from the heavily frequented beaches that the tourists loved. In the midst of my confusion, I heard the sound of the front door–no, I felt the air pressure change in the house as it closed. That door had never made a sound from the day it was hung.
Rhythmic shuffling footsteps coming closer. I let my hand fall to my side.
The door on the other side of the dining room flew open, and my sister screamed “Surprise!”
I never liked her.
The Blog Propellant–Very Roomy. I know I didn’t do exactly what I was supposed to do, but this is what I got.