Was it Friday or the following Tuesday? I don’t remember. September was a bit of a blur. A friend quit her job around the middle of the month, and after that, all hell broke loose. I cancelled my trip to Berlin and Prague (and I was looking forward to my trip to Berlin and Prague). But it had become obvious that I needed to figure out some serious shit, and, like, immediately. I called P., who took me out house hunting a couple of times, but she kept showing me ugly houses and then even uglier houses, and would occasionally ooh and ahh and I could never tell if it was for my benefit, because I was so unexcited, or if it was to reassure the other real estate agent.
I saw myself reflected in the seriously shiny gray Formica of the curvy cupboards in the dining room, floating on an acre of white shag wall-to-wall carpeting, hovering above the sunken living room, and escaped, stumbling, to take one more look at the view of the tennis court from the oversized master bedroom. I decided two things: first, that we needed to go outside; second, that I needed to stop working with P. as soon as I could manage.
When did I indicate that this was the kind of house I was looking for?
I started over with another agent, M. M. understood that I needed to see three or four houses a day until I found something, and we weren’t screwing around. Our lease had a month left.
The first day, M. and I met at the first house on our list, but we got there before the listing agent and couldn’t open the gate across the driveway without the code. It was a narrow, wooded lane, and for lack of something more important to say, I asked, “When did it become fall?”
“Just today,” M. answered. Leaves blew around her navy chinos. Soon, she’d have to start wearing socks with her loafers again.
The second house we saw looked like a French chalet from the front, but around back it was a great, brown, plywood box. At least it had a nice pool.
I picked up my first acorns in front of another brown house, overpriced for what it was, with a decent patio and pool, cheery, light-filled bedrooms, though the kitchen was uninspiring. A black lab lay in a wire crate in the living room, not making eye-contact or noise. I wondered if he was on drugs. He seemed so sad and withdrawn. My dogs sleep in crates, and eat their meals there, but when someone comes home they look at people, make noise, and ask to come out.
The acorns I found were perfect little giants, with the caps on, some green and others brown. They were so lovely and intact. I used to want to be able to eat them as a kid, until I got one open, and did. I shared one with M. She accepted my gift without condescension.
The last house M. showed me that day was a humble, tan and brick house, low slung, with a steep, wood-shingled roof. It was on a very quiet, dead end road, surrounded by woods. The front doorknob was tricky to open. We walked into the front hall and there, beyond the entry, was a large living room, fully furnished in chairs with needlepointed seat covers that might have been made by the ghost of my grandmother N. The kitchen was large, with cherry cabinets and 80s vintage appliances. It wasn’t anything special, but it was clean (really, really clean), with spacious rooms, hardwood floors, and, you know, potential. We headed upstairs. There was a small white button on the wall by the front door. I ignored it, and looked at the rooms upstairs. There was an upstairs room with a sloping ceiling that seemed like it wanted to be my sewing room. It had a lot of ugly wallpaper, but also a lot of closets.
The next day I finally got in to see a house I’d been waiting to get into for over a week (some bullshit about renters not leaving until Labor Day). It was special, with a rambling floor plan and a lot of interesting things like a pretty view, a big porch, and a workable kitchen. There was a fireplace in the master bedroom and an obvious room for my sewing stuff. Bonuses like a workshop and an apartment over the garage. But it was more money, and the neighborhood wasn’t walkable. To be honest, its woods were creepy.
I arranged another visit to the bland house that reminded me of my grandmother. I brought the Bacon Provider to see what he thought. My husband was unimpressed. He saw six kinds of ugly wallpaper, thirty-year old AC units that needed replacing, and clunky old storm windows. The owner had already moved to a condo, leaving furniture in only a few rooms. So, while my husband wondered if we could agree to a price, he voiced his suspicion that we might be able to make a deal with a quick closing.
We headed upstairs. There it was again: that small white button on the wall by the front door. I’m not sure why I might have thought it was a doorbell. Or if I thought it was a doorbell. It obviously wasn’t a doorbell. It was some sort of other button. I pressed it without thinking as I went up the stairs. The house was practically empty. What harm?
The real estate agent M. caught up with me on the landing. I asked her what she thought the button on the stairs was. “That’s a panic button,” she said. “You didn’t press it did you?”
“Oh no,” I laughed, meaning, “Oh, shit,” but sounding like, “Oh, of course not.”
Then I said, “Well maybe,” and then I added, “Well, if I did we’ll find out if it worked.”
It did work. A local Bedhead Hills policeman was at the door, within minutes, his hand on his gun and a look of concern on his face. The front door was sticky and hard to open. I explained that it was my mistake. M. gave him her card. She pointed to me, “She’s a child.”