Welcome to my humble abode! It’s a one-story cottage clad in lumpy stucco, like oatmeal flung at the walls. A big fenced yard, maple tree in front, garden in back. Tuscan columns on the front porch help with the southern exposure. They add a touch of class, don’t you think?
Have a seat in the rocking chair. Not much traffic on this street. Birds warble, an old man scolds his little black dog, and children ring their bicycle bells while coasting downhill. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. You can hear yourself think.
The roses in the front yard are done, the iris blades are yellow and limp, and the dwarf azaleas have blushed crimson. Dry leaves litter the long grass. Summer here is bright and hot. The little blue lizards love it.
Step inside. The living room is surprisingly large. The ceiling is high, with stippled plaster, a quarter-circle sweep in each corner, and a starburst in the middle—fancy trowel work. The floor is polished hardwood strip. There’s a handsome mantel, but no hearth. When the house was built in 1915, they used a kerosene stove for heat.
No two doors and windows match. The walls lean slightly. Floors are uneven. You can feel the slope as you walk from room to room. The tile floor in the bath is askew. If you stare too long, it will make you dizzy.
In the dining room, the chandelier was salvaged from a house that was razed. The frilly glass shades and crystal swags tremble at the least vibration. Pull the chain to turn it on.
When it rains, generally at night, it drums on the sheet metal roof. A spicy smell seeps down from the attic. On a clear day, sunlight floods the living room. Flowers in the oriental carpet nod. The furniture is worn, a mélange from the past—a brown leather sofa, a clawfoot armchair in gold brocade, and a Florentine desk with molded panels. Check out the bronze drawer handles.
The oil paintings in gilded frames are anonymous—a green mountain landscape, a still life of a copper pot and plums. A scene from the Gounod opera Faust shows Marguerite in a white gown and blond braids beside Mephistopheles in a scarlet gown and sword. He’s a real devil. It was made in 1924 in New York for a magazine ad for radio receivers. The message was, “Listen to opera on the radio.” You still can.
In the step-saver kitchen, there’s milk in the fridge, a loaf of crusty bread in the cupboard, and a pot of soup on the stove. Help yourself. Sheets and blankets are on the beds. Go ahead and rummage through drawers and closets. Try on a hat or a sweater. The woolen jacket with the notched lapels would look good on you. Need to freshen up? The shower is primitive, but the hot water tank is monster-size, so it never runs out.
Plenty of books in every room, in all shapes, sizes, and branches of knowledge, with a bent toward literature, especially stories. The books came from thrift shops, yard sales, and bargain bins. Covers are dented, pages are thumbed, and several names are written inside, some with dates and inscriptions like, “With love from your old flame.” You will recognize most of the titles, and probably some of the owners.
The upright piano stays in tune. A book of easy etudes is open on the rack, next to perennial favorites. More sheet music is in the bench. If you can’t find a good song, improvise.
When the mail comes, open it. Maybe you’ll find a fabulous offer, a letter from a friend, or a magazine. Maybe you’ll find your own story!
If someone knocks on the door, be kind. Pretend you live here. If everything goes according to plan, I’ll be back before you know it.
Robert Boucheron lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. His short stories and essays appear in print in Alabama Literary Review, Amsterdam Quarterly, Bellingham Review, The Concrete Desert Review, Fiction International, Louisville Review, New Haven Review. His flash fiction appears online in magazines linked at robertboucheron.com.
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