Sunday, November 15, 2015

Blood In The Mortar

Janet had driven by the old house on the hill many times. It always took her attention. She could always use her imagination to dress up the old house back to a beautiful mansion that she supposed it had been when it was built in the mid eighteen eighties. She would turn the faded white back to clean and virginal. A candle in each window to add sparkle at night. The metal roof, now with green stains, back to silver. She could imagine the overgrown lawn cut neatly and flower blooming from the gardens that would surround fountains of Greek statues. The bent and broken wrought iron fence she would fix and repaint a gloss black then allow Morning Glories to weave their way around and over. That was the simple part. She wished she could wander through the interior to get an idea of what it would take to fix it. Even after years of passing this house, she would still think about the makeover, then shake her head with a laugh when she totaled the cost. She made good money flipping houses but this project would require more than she had available and she didn’t think she would ever want to sell it. Still, it didn’t stop her from her dreams of digging in the flower beds and caring for a lush green lawn or sitting in a chair on a summer day with a glass of wine, watching hummingbirds hover around a feeder. She also imagined days inside with a cup of hot tea watching out the windows as rain ran down deforming the view beyond. And then it would be past her and she would continue on to where ever her next project took her. Today, Janet was closing on her latest project that would net her twenty thousand. She would take most of it, with some she had in the bank and start the process for her next one, a three bedroom rancher in a good neighborhood that had been in default for a year. She could get it from the bank for little. Janet stopped at a little coffee house after the closing. She was meeting her friend Abigail for tea and a salad. “Janet!” “Abby.” “Congrats Ms. Trump or should I call you ‘The Janet’?” “Stop it. I’m just plain Mrs. Kennedy.” “For God’s sake, drop the Kennedy. You’ve been divorced for two years now.” “Too lazy to change the stationary.” “Hmmm. So what’s next?” “I got my eye on a house in Greenleaves. I’m going to call in an offer this afternoon.” “Well, good luck.” “How are you and Bob?” “Great. Bob the constant golfer and me the constant gardener leave each other alone to pursue our interests and then have dinner and relax at night.” “You are a lucky girl.” “Lucky? Hell, we work together to keep it together…uh, not that you didn’t.” “No worries. I thought I did but maybe the job took too much out of me.” “Or maybe the guy is just a loon.” “Don’t say that. Craig was okay, we just quit meshing, different ideas, different futures I guess.” “Hot babe like you won’t last long in this town. You’ll be hitched up again real soon.” “No thanks. There isn’t a man out there that shares my dreams of the future.” “Give it time, girl. Give it time.” “Don’t worry. I like the single life. I can be as selfish as I want.” After lunch, Janet began the drive home where she kept an office. She was ready to make an offer and get busy again. Her conversation with Abby had opened some old wounds or should she say new ones. Craig leaving had hurt her. She just couldn’t figure out where she had gone wrong. She blamed herself. Did she become so wrapped up in work, she missed all the signs? How long had Craig checked out of the marriage? She didn’t even recall the last time they made love, more than just push, push, snore. She tried to put on a happy face everywhere but her insides were crying. Would she ever find love again, real love, love that would send her work to the backseat where it belonged? She almost missed the sign. Her inner thoughts had blinded her to her surroundings other than the gray road in front of her. She locked up her brakes not even looking to see if anyone was behind her. A loud honking came from a car that passed by her across the double yellow. She jumped but never took her eye off the house, the old mansion. Her eyes swept the rearview mirror to see if there were any traffic behind coming behind her. She backed up until she could read the sign. ‘For Sale – Juniper Realty’ and the phone number. She called the number from her car idling half on and half off the road. “Juniper Realty.” “Hi. This is Janet Kennedy. I see a For Sale sign on 129 Berry Road, the big place on the hill?” “Yes, We just listed it.” “How much?” “Well, we are asking three hundred thousand.” Janet felt her heart drop. That was way beyond what she could afford. “Can I see it?” she asked. If she couldn’t buy it, at least she could look at the interior and complete her fantasy. Maybe the interior was already pristine. Maybe she could flip it for enough to at least spend some time inside and at least get the lawn right. “Sure. When?” “I’m right across the street from it now.” “Oh. Well…okay. Give me twenty minutes. Nobody is home so you can just go up the driveway. Look around the property if you want.” “Thanks.” Janet thought that was music to her ears. She turned her car into the driveway and slowly drove up the winding gravel path. It ended as a circle in front of the main entrance. A few weeds had sprouted through the gravel and taller patches in the center of the circle waved in the breeze. Janet sat back in her seat and imagined the main entrance with heavy double oak doors all lit up. The circle she could see as a mowed, putting green short, spot with a Venus statue in the middle and flowers marking the edge of the inner circle. She could see a line of horses and carriages discharging passengers, women in long flowing gowns and men in tuxedos and top hats. Two butlers bowing and holding the doors for the guests. She could almost hear the violins playing inside and the gentle laughter filling the warm summer night. Her attention was drawn to a single man going up the steps toward the front doors. He stopped just short of the last step. She could see by the form of the suit that he had broad shoulders and although tall, carried no excess weight. His hair wavy light came down to his shoulders and shifted in the summer breeze. Something about how he carried himself had drawn her attention. He put his foot on the top step and then turned toward her. He looked right at her and smiled. She felt electricity tingle through her. Then he lifted his top hat to her and winked. She could feel her blood pressure rise and her heart quicken. The slamming of a car door brought her back to reality and when she blinked, the changes she had made to the house disappeared along with the people. Janet could feel her heart racing. After a moment pause, Janet got out of the car and walked over to the woman parked next to her. “Hi. I’m Janet Kennedy.” “I’m Marie Wadsworth. Juniper Realty. So you’re interested in this house?” “I thought a look would be worth it.” “Did you have a chance to walk around the outside?” “No. I actually just got here.” “Oh. I thought you said you were across the street. I’m a little late and was worried you may have left.” Janet took a quick peek at her watch. An hour had passed. How could she have been sitting there that long? “No, no. That’s fine. I did look around a little.” Janet checked her watch again. Maybe she had fallen asleep. She has been tired lately. “Ready to see the inside?” “Yes,” said Janet. “Lead the way.” Janet followed Marie up the wooden porch steps. Janet inspected them as they climbed. They felt solid. They needed a little care and some sanding, maybe varnish or paint. She looked to the spot where the man she had imagined had stood and tried to reimagine him. She continued up to the porch and waited behind Marie while she fiddled with the lock. Janet turned and looked at the view from the porch. Across the scrubby weedy lawn, she could see out over the small town center below and across to the hills above the valley. She could follow the main street through the outskirts. The golf course was in the distance, the green of the fairways obvious. The neighbors on the left and right were hidden by scrubby trees and vines. She heard the door creak open so she turned back to Marie. “Just needs a little oil,” she said. They walked through the front door into the anteroom where there were coat hooks and a boot rack. When they stepped into the main room, Marie stood aside so that Janet could take in the whole scene. She stood facing a large fireplace bracketed by a double staircase that made a half circle on each side up to a balcony that over looked the room. The floor was hardwood, still shiny in places, dull with wear in others. Doorways outside the stairs led to rooms on either side. Janet looked up at the ceiling two stories above. It could use a chandelier or a skylight, she thought. Behind the balcony was another opening leading further into the house. “Up or this floor first?” “Let’s go up,” said Janet. She followed Marie up the staircase letting her hand glide up the banister. She could feel the envious eyes of her guests on her as she elegantly climbed the stairs. She shook off the play acting and took a closer look at the stairway. It looked solid, no sagging, no creaking. The balcony walkway was carpeted with a faded Oriental pattern. She walked to the center and looked down. For a moment she thought she saw a pattern on the wood floor but dismissed it as the lighting. “What do you think?” asked Marie. “Nice view from here. This must be a bear to heat in the winter.” “We can get copies of the heating and cooling bills for you if you like.” Marie turned and led her down the hallway. A carpet runner covered all but the edges. Janet could see the hardwood floor along the wall that had faded wallpaper. In the middle of the hallway, an overhead light gave off a yellowish glow. There were four doors in the hallway, two on each side and there was an opening at the end. “There were four bedrooms when the house was originally built. A previous owner started to put a bathroom in the last one on the right one but never finished.” “So where is the bathroom?” “There is one downstairs.” Marie led Janet into the first room on the left. It was just an empty room. Again there were hardwood floors and on the wall along the doorway stood a small fireplace. “The fireplace is connected with the downstairs one. It’s a nice touch.” Janet nodded. She walked over and peered out the two windows to the unkempt lawn below. She could see the old flowerbeds that had been taken over by the weeds. She felt the excitement of recreating the lawn. “Ready?” Marie asked. The voice startled Janet. “Ah, yes.” “Are you alright?” “Yes. Just thinking about something.” “Ready to see the next room?” Janet could see concern on the woman’s face. Janet smiled but inside she chastised herself for daydreaming. They walked across the hall to the next room, which was a mirror image of the other, complete with the fireplace. Janet didn’t go to the windows. Marie led the way out and down the hall to the next room on the right. “This is the unfinished bathroom,” she said. Inside the room stood a claw foot tub, a toilet still in the box, and a sink on its side on the floor. They were all at least seventy years old. The room was huge. Janet couldn’t help herself. She saw them all standing in their proper place, a Victorian style bathroom with original fixtures in pristine condition. Not wanting to show the agent her joy, she put on a concerned face and turned. “That will be a lot of work.” “But how beautiful,” Marie said. They crossed the hall to the last room on the floor. “This is the master bedroom,” said Marie. They entered the room and the first thing that drew Janet’s attention were the windows. Every room had two windows on the outside wall, this room had five. Three on the outside wall and two on the back wall. Janet knew what direction the sun rose. She could see herself waking to the morning sun, and not alone. “It’s big. No fire place,” said Janet. Marie smiled and walked over to a pair of doors that Janet suspected covered a closet. Marie opened them and revealed a fireplace. Janet instantly thought of a roaring fire, a bearskin rug, a man with long hair. She turned quickly away feeling something she hadn’t felt in a while. “Well, that’s nice,” she said. She hoped she had sounded non-committal but she didn’t trust her voice. “Are you ready to see the downstairs?” “Let’s go.” Janet followed Marie into the hall. Marie turned left and Janet saw the opening in the end of the hall led to stairway going down. Janet looked down over the rail and saw a hallway running the width of the house below her. The stairs ran along the wall to the right and ended facing a doorway outside. They turned back the other way along the hall. “This leads to the kitchen.” Marie led the way down the hall and turned into the kitchen. Janet looked around the room. It was a mix of old and new appliances. There was a wood stove and an electric range. There was a microwave and a cooking fireplace with warmers. In the center was an island made like a chopping block with a rack above for hanging pots and pans. A counter ran halfway around, Formica, dull, tan with cupboards under them. A tall sideboard stood against the wall that was painted white. A small refrigerator sat next to it. Janet looked at the layout but couldn’t form any remodeling ideas. A kitchen took time and planning and this hodgepodge would take some time. Marie led the way through a swinging door like they have in restaurants with a small round window. She followed Marie into what must have been the formal dining room. It wasn’t large but could hold a setting for at least sixteen people. Cherry hardwood rose from the floor to the chair rail. The floor itself was dark and highly polished wood. A chandelier hung from the middle, the hanging crystal glinting rainbow colors. A few cobwebs linked parts of the gold colored frame. The door out led back into the main room. As they crossed by the large fireplace, Janet surveyed the mantle and the backing. It looked like black marble. They entered the room on the other side. Marie found a switch and the room lit up from fixtures attached to the wall. Janet knew right away this was the library. The bookshelves were mostly empty and dusty. The deep red carpet with a few faded spots silenced their footsteps in the room. Janet could imagine the high back chairs, the cigar smoke, the tinkling of brandy glasses, men laughing at whatever men laughed at. The wood paneled walls where bookshelves weren’t, was dark. The ceiling was a flat off white. Across the room sat a set of doors with wavy glass. Marie walked to them and opened both. “I am sorry about this, but this is the room the last owner used for a bedroom. It could be a fourth bedroom or an office or whatever.” Janet looked around the empty room. Four bare plastered walls with two windows that no light came through. Flat white plastered ceiling. Unfinished hardwood floor, stained in several places. Janet could detect an odor but couldn’t pin it. The room was small, smaller than all the others. There was only one other door. Marie walked over to it. “This is the first floor bathroom.” Janet looked around the corner. It was small, very small; a toilet next to a tub and a sink on the other side. One could sit on the toilet and touch both without bending. Janet turned and walked back through the library and back into the main room. The dimensions in the house didn’t seem right. It was built as a square but… “Anything else?” asked Marie. “Is there a basement?” “There is a small root cellar that is accessed from outside.” “Well, there’s a lot to think about. I want to walk around the property outside if you don’t mind.” “Sure. I can take you.” “Oh, don’t bother. I’m just going to walk around. I’ll maybe call you if I need another look. I have to run the numbers and see if I can make an offer.” “Great. Here’s my card. Call me anytime.” Janet stood on the porch and watched Marie go around the circle and down the gray stone gravel driveway. She looked to her left where her imagination had made up the man but all that she saw was the wood planks of the stair. Janet slowly went down, testing each step for weakness. Her mind was trying to return to the interior but she pulled it back. She turned and went around the side of the house. The weeds had taken over and covered the lawn. She remembered that from upstairs she had seen distinct paths. She looked through the overgrowth for old flower beds and found stones here and there that would mark the outlines. She moved deeper into the property toward the side boundary trying to see the size of the lot. She came to a square wire fence, rusted and supporting briars. She followed along the fence till she came to the end. Then she turned and followed that behind the house. Halfway down, she saw where the fence was bent down, and the weeds around it flattened. On the other side she could see an obvious trail. She looked on her side but couldn’t see anything that would tell her where the trial went on her side. An easy fix she thought. School kids taking a short cut home. She continued until once again the wire came to an end. It was where the black and rusted wrought iron fence began. She followed that to the driveway. She saw where hinges were still attached but she didn’t see a gate. She crossed the driveway and followed the fence until it again met the rusty wire fencing. She walked along that to make sure she completed the property line. She came across another dip in the fence and a trail. She nodded her head. Once she had completed the property line she returned to the center of the lawn and walked around the house. In the back she saw the folded over doors to the root cellar. It was locked with a brand new padlock. She furrowed her brow and pinched her chin. She looked around for no reason then back at the lock. She would have to mention it to the realtor. She continued the rest of the way around looking at both the ground and the side of the house. Once she stood back in front of it, she took one more look at the whole thing as a package. She looked at the front door. It appeared to be ajar. Hadn’t the realtor locked it? Janet when up the steps and across the porch to the door. She pushed on it and it opened. She heard the squeal of the hinges and it jangled her a bit, now alone. Goosebumps rose. She shook them off. She stepped inside.

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