(original drafts 1997-2009)
Village 2-Story, 2 BR, 1 BA, New Vinyl Siding, All Appliances, $59,900 read the ad that was eventually placed. The caravan of realtors came today, marching single file through the livingroom, down the stairs to the kitchen, then up those stairs again, and up the second flight to the bedrooms. There was a little traffic jam on the landing that serves both sets of stairs, as the high heeled women, and one grey-suited man, navigated the steep turns. In a grander house it would be called a spiral staircase.
When Uncle Bob visited, he said it reminded him of a boat. I try to remember why I liked this house. The price, certainly. It was livable, and considering the price, that was a miracle. Plus, it was different. When we finally decided to sell it, the realtor looked down his list of house styles and chose "2-Story," pausing for a moment to consider "Colonial." I remembered what I learned in a class on architectural history and told him it was a Temple House, but that wasn't on the list. Tall, with a tiny footprint, it is actually three stories. It certainly isn't a colonial, though it is more than 100 years old, built, I imagine, for workers from the piano factory down the hill. That factory thrived when railroads were king, sparking the construction of the bungalows, four squares and temple houses that line village streets. The factory is long gone, but this house is here still.
We are eager to sell it, full of dreams about what our new place will be like: Two bathrooms. A garage. A real dining room. An acre of land. A swimming pool. Mountain views. Space for a big vegetable garden, instead of the puny four-by-eight square where I manage to wring out a surprising number or tomatoes and cucumbers every summer. I imagine hardwood floors and a dishwasher and oriental carpets. The new house is immaculate, for in my vision I have somehow purchased house cleaning skills with the real estate. Of course, there's a spacious room for writing.
Tied up in that fantasy was always a drive to be a published writer. But that desire could not wait, and so I spent many hours writing in the small second bedroom of the 2-Story, Colonial Temple House. Surrounded by books, listening to music, quietly typing. Initial inspirations come most often not in my third-floor writing area but in the kitchen, sitting at the table. In both spaces, my companions have been dogs, cats, and a fevered imagination.
When we bought this house, there were pennies in all the doorways. Not a believer in superstitions, I removed them on the day we moved in. In the ten years since, I've sensed nothing in these rooms but happiness and good luck. "You have a lovely cat," said one realtor as she passed by me in the living room, where I was standing, restraining Rudy, my young hound dog, from jumping all over her Sunday best. "I like your flowers," offered another. "You've really fixed up this place nicely." And then they were gone, in and out in less than ten minutes.
I released Rudy's harness and relaxed. My eyes scanned the room, trying to determine what the caravan might have thought. I was scrubbing frantically until moments before they arrived, and barely had time to appraise the results of my efforts. It looks good. Shows well. It is not bad for a modest little house that is just over 900 square feet. Then I notice a crack in one of the pine floor boards, and remember that it was caused by dancing. Dancing during one of the many parties of our twenties.
I surveyed downstairs and decide I should have washed the bathroom window. Then I smile as I recall the room's horrible state when we bought the house, and the two weeks we went without one while renovating it. There was no money for a contractor, so we did it ourselves for less than a thousand dollars, guided by telephone conversations with my father about plumbing. Outside, I am thinking of the family barbeque we had one year on Labor Day weekend when I see the scratches in the green paint on the bottom of the kitchen door. Howie's scratches. Howie, my beloved fifteen-year-old dog died in this house.
A week ago, in the mail at this house, I received my first acceptance letter for one of my stories. One piece of my vision unravels a little, and I see that I have already grasped it. I wrote that story, ten others and a book in my small writing space without a mountain view, upstairs in this house.