My God! I could imagine Justin living here! It was as though the character in her current, inchoate novel stood close, hand on her shoulder and murmuring, "Welcome home."
Sara's next breath stuck in her throat as she stared at the sprawling Victorian dwelling. The dirty wood siding glared at her along with window frames badly in need of painting–why did she want to buy this house? It would need a lot of work. And yet, it seemed so familiar…
"Ms. McNeil? What do you think?" It was the real estate agent, clipboard dangling in a loose grip, eyes captivated by the view.
"It's quite beautiful." Sara hoped her voice did not reveal trepidation. "After some repairs," she added.
"Yes, quite a bit needs done," Julie the agent replied, her clipboard now front and center to review a list of the house's shortcomings. "Let's see…a new fence in the front–that red thing right now is atrocious; new gutters and painting; some brick siding; porch repair…" Her glasses slipped down from a perch high on her nose, sliding to rest on the very tip. "Oh, and a few new shingles."
Sara could not tear her eyes from the long elegant windows to respond. The windows…she imagined being inside looking out. Pulling back snowy white lacy panels that reached to the ceiling like angels in flight, she would look for her love to arrive…his carriage due any moment.
His carriage! What in the world was she thinking?
"Ms. McNeil? Are you okay? I have water in the car."
Sara cleared her throat. "Yes, certainly. May we go inside?"
The other lady smiled and nodded for her to go forward.
The door creaked like an old lady's joints as the agent pushed against it, finally adding a sound hard thump with her knee. The portal sprung wide open.
Sara strained to see, but the lights were off, and only bumps of covered furniture and other ghostly visions filled the dark void. Even when Julie shoved aside the drapes to let soft morning light in, the room emanated visions of gray anonymity.
"It's dusty. The man who lived here died quite some time ago." Julie attacked her clipboard like a hungry animal looking for more information. Perhaps she feared losing the sale if she couldn't put a human face on the dwelling for her customer to relate to. "Two years ago! He died two years ago!"
"I see. I wondered why things seemed so neglected."
"Yes, it says here he was ill before that. That explains the repairs not getting done."
"Yes, I suppose it does." Sara lifted a cover to reveal a beige and gold brocaded chair. Tinges of aged gray filth smothered the fibers. Running her hand along its bumpy contours, visions paraded through her mind of Victorian ladies seating themselves, with cups of tea daintily balanced on their laps. "Is that why it's being sold? An inheritance to be divested among his heirs?"
"I presume so."
"I see," Sara replied. The furniture was old, making it appear no one had dwelled in the house for generations. "Are you certain the man lived here just before he died?" she asked. "It doesn't look like anyone has made this a home since the furniture was still in style."
"Hmmm…I don't know," Julie replied, her eyes darting up and down the columns in her chart of notes.
Sara waited. Julie was a good agent; she trusted her because the woman came recommended by a friend. If something was suspicious about the house, Julie would not be part of the subterfuge. The squat little woman in a red dress probably didn't have an ounce of deceit in her.
"You keep checking. I'm going to see the kitchen," Sara instructed as she pushed through double doors to arrive in a spacious room with a generous row of windows all along one wall. They were designed to offer a grand view of the now defunct apple orchard. These days green overgrown branches reached out attacking one another like warriors in battle, obscuring what used to be neat straight lines of trees like outstretched arms reaching perpendicular from the windows to the horizon.
Once bright yellow, the kitchen was now a dull gold, but it still emanated some of its former good will with sunlight shining through the windows in soft rays and chairs with a table cozily arranged close to the welcoming stove. Sara walked to the room's center and breathed in the golden aura of the place. The oven, boasting a black iron cook top, squatted against one wall, and an undersized porcelain sink with tarnished brass faucet and handles stood next to that. They looked tiny compared to today's standards…like a toy kitchen. Across the room, Sara spied an old-fashioned ice box. She opened a side door to see a cavity where a huge frozen block would be placed to keep food in other compartments chilled.
The floor was linoleum with white and black squares in a checkerboard pattern. The white ones recorded the decades with scuffs of gray disturbing their clean look; while the black squares suffered with white streaks where the black had been scraped away by busy feet. This had been a happy room once, no doubt with the laughter of family and the antics of children. Their giggles murmured to Sara straight out of the walls in eerie cascades of the imagination. The room satisfied the heart and made one smile.
Content, Sara turned on her heel and returned to find Julie missing. A glance out the window revealed that woman in her car, poring over volumes of listings in the back seat. Perhaps she had more info about this house in those papers.
The ornate wood railing gracing the bottom of a staircase in the hallway caught Sara's eye. She dashed across the living room reaching for the shiny brown wood even before arriving. So beautifully sculpted, smooth and cool and rounded. The form surprised her releasing pangs of excitement by her touch. It felt so familiar, as though she had smoothed her hand along the old wood many times before. Cupping her grasp over a scrolled adornment at the railing's end, she closed her eyes to shut out the world for the moment.
For an instant her mind flashed with a memory from the depths. Or was it a memory? She stepped into another time but in that same room. Breathing in air that was still and as quiet as supreme emptiness would be…the stillness of a time before machinery. The persistent lingering of time punctuated only by the distant tick tock of a clock, so every second burst with the potential of that one loaded swing of the pendulum. Nothing rushed her, she needn't hurry…the day was a fulfilling dance, propelled by the self with no other thing to do, no other place to be. Time was burning gently at the hearth of life, welcoming her to stay.
A draft brushed by her rigid hand, still cupped on the railing, the coolness arriving in a sudden rush as its icy flare penetrated her knuckles and reached down in strokes to her elegant fingers. It felt like a freezing hand cupping hers. Dizziness took over as her body reverberated with bolts of confusion and then flashes of electric white joy while she tried to decipher the curious iciness and eerie familiarity of the grip itself. It was unexplained and yet delicious. Should she be frightened? Wavering in place, her mind spun into a blinding ragged shock while a beguiling love…was it love?…jet-rocketed from the cold draft enveloping her hand, to soaring on a direct path to her heart, bursting in an emotion of familiar, yet long lost reverence and awe. What was happening?
A whisper trickled in her ear…was it a whisper? It seemed little more than a spark, but it welcomed her. She felt welcomed to this house. Someone here knew her. It was home.
"Julie!" she called out. "I'll take the house."
Copyright JO Janoski
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