Exercising the craft—March 18, 2013

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: Selling Your House—You put your house on the market and, on the first day, an extremely old woman comes knocking on your door. She’s not interested in buying your house, though. Instead she tells you that this is the house she lived in as a child. The friendly mood suddenly changes when she reveals something terrible that took place in the house years ago.

http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts/selling-your-house

Melanie pulled her bathrobe tighter at the neck with one hand as she lifted her coffee cup to her lips with the other.  Maybe if she drank enough coffee this morning it would defy the frigid Salt Lake winter.  At least, she could pretend that would happen.

I’ll have to count on the bathrobe and the coffee to do the job.  The furnace sure won’t.

She sighed wistfully as she heard the monstrous appliance “tink” and knock as it turned on.  Despite its age Melanie knew she’d miss the huge hunk of metal that looked disproportionate to the size of the house.

Who am I kidding?  I’m going to miss the whole place.  I wish I didn’t have to sell.  I wish I hadn’t lost my job.  If only that little witch, Amy, hadn’t interfered, I would still have been the head of marketing.

Melanie shook her head.   She was doing it again.  After getting over the shock of being fired without notice and without much explanation almost three weeks earlier, Melanie had promised herself she wouldn’t dwell on it.  She wouldn’t dwell on that or the fact that now she had to move back in with her parents until she found a new job or that she’d have to leave this city she’d grown to love so much.

Worst of all, she’d have to leave this adorable house.  Her first home, that she’d made all her own.  No longer hers.  Even though she had seemed to have a never-ending stream of bad luck since moving here — breaking her wrist that first year, losing her boyfriend last year, and now the job — Melanie had still loved the house with its old-world charm.

The economy had finally picked up enough that the real estate agent had shown some cautious optimism.  That along with the house’s location in Salt Lake’s coveted historic Sugarhouse neighborhood gave Melanie some hope that she’d be able to sell before her savings ran out.

She sipped her coffee again and just then the doorbell rang.  Melanie glanced at the clock on the wall and frowned.

Who’s coming here at 8:30 in the morning?  Kay said the showing today was in the afternoon.

Pulling the bathrobe closed at her neck again, Melanie got up and took the half-a-dozen steps to the front door.  She looked through the peephole and then unlocked the deadbolt, although she left the chain on.  She opened the door and cocked her head to one side.

“Can I help you?”

The elderly woman must have been at least 80 years old, if not older.  She wore an elegant yellow hat with a wide brim and a heavy overcoat and held a cane, although somehow Melanie felt like the woman didn’t really need it.  She held herself with a regal air and a sense of gentility, and for a moment Melanie felt transported to a different era altogether.

“I’m sorry, but I live down the street and was out for a walk.  I saw the ‘For Sale’ sign out front,” the woman said in a strong voice.  “I—lived here once, and I just felt like seeing the house one more time.”

Melanie felt a finger-width of hope poke the back of her brain.

Could I really sell this house today?  On the first day it’s on the market?

“Sure,” Melanie said.  “Just wait one minute.”

She shut the door and unhooked the chain, trying to keep her mounting excitement in check.  Taking a moment to take a deep breath to control herself, she opened the door wide and stepped back.

“Please, come on in, and welcome home,” Melanie said.  “Would you like some coffee?  I just made a fresh pot.”

The woman smiled, and Melanie detected something amiss in the smile.

“Yes, a cup would be nice.  But, please, don’t think I’m here to make this my home.  I don’t think of it that way, and there’s no way I’d want to live here ever again.”

Melanie felt her heart press inside itself, and she understood how a balloon felt when someone let the air out of it in a rush.

“Um…okay.  Well, why don’t you follow me to the kitchen for that coffee?” Melanie said flatly, trying to remain cordial.  “Or—well, I guess you don’t really have to follow me, do you?”

“I remember where it is.”

Melanie turned and headed for the kitchen, not even bothering to see if the woman came behind her.

Great.  She’s here to make fun of me.  How do I even know that she really lived here?

A new feeling replaced her excitement from moments earlier: apprehension.  What if the woman was some crazy old person?

“We used to have wallpaper with small roses on it in here when I was young,” the woman said, settling herself at the table.  “It was very Victorian looking.”

Melanie paused, thinking of the small corner by the back door.  She remembered poking at it when she first moved in, discovering a square of about three by six inches with faint roses on it.

Could she really have lived here?

“My bedroom was the smaller of the two back there,” the woman continued, her voice sounding slightly sentimental as she gestured behind her without turning around, and Melanie grabbed the cup in her hand so hard the heat of the coffee burned through her palms.

Okay, so she has lived here, but why—

The woman smiled again, this time acknowledging the obvious question on Melanie’s face.

“I don’t know if you really want to know this, but I guess since you’re preparing to move out it doesn’t matter much,” the woman said.  “I don’t want to live here ever again.  And it’s because of the things that happened here.”

Melanie’s breath caught.  “What happened here?” she repeated.  “What do you mean?  What happened?”

For the first time since she had come to the front door, the woman’s eyes dropped and she didn’t look Melanie in the eye.  Melanie sat across from the woman and put the coffee cup in front of her, but still the woman didn’t look at her.  They sat like that for a few minutes, and Melanie wondered whether she had made a mistake in asking.

But she brought it up, not me.  She’s the one who showed up at the front door.

“My father,” the woman said finally, “had—more than one wife.  But he wasn’t LDS.  He was just a good, old-fashioned bigamist.  For years we thought he was simply a traveling salesman with a busy schedule.  As we found out later, he had a busy schedule because he had another family.  And when I was 10, he brought that family here and made us all live together.”

Melanie held her breath, not knowing how to react.  She blinked a few times but otherwise didn’t move.

“If my father had tried to make us all one family, then maybe our situation would have been somewhat—bearable.  But he didn’t.  He—he pitted all the children against one another.  He made the wives compete for his attention.  And then one day, he just left us all here.  No money.  Almost no food.  And no way to support ourselves.”

Melanie put her hand to her mouth.  “Why?”

The woman shrugged and finally looked Melanie in the eye.  “I don’t know.  But he left when I was 14, and he never came back.  I was the oldest child in the house, and my mother and my father’s other wife, and I all had to—resort to unbelievable means to keep the house going.  And after a while, I started hating this place.”

“So why did you come here this morning?”

The woman sighed.  “I’d hoped that maybe even with its sad history, the house would have brought some happiness to someone.  But then I saw the sign out front, and I realized that maybe the house isn’t meant to help anyone.  Maybe it just isn’t destined to do so.”

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