The Resident (part one)
Terrible old place with dark wood paneling, sticky to the touch, white bloom on the sticky. Narrow, inadequate windows, electrical outlets in short supply, mishmash of ancient (not antique) furnishings, to be sold with. Large back lawn features laburnum, undercarpeted in messy pods, limbs marred by strange attempt at wiring to a pergola, which impresses as constructed from old TV antennae.
Cistern in basement, cemented-over wellhead occupying side passage along (windowless) garage exterior wall, exuding sense of disquiet, should a person tarry there. Some hope in view of empty field beyond rear fence, evocative of outside life and possible escape.
Dismal apartment, exterior access only, mounted above business now defunct, once garage specializing in spray-painted artwork on vans. Smell remains, pervasive. Kitchen features yellow walls with vertical cracks, cabinetry thick and prickly with layers of latex enamel, applied over bodies of tiny, trapped insects. Living room with sofa bed, free to renter for personal use. Curtains brown, pull-cords as usual excessively long, stiffened with tannish liquid, and tied in knots. Windows open by crank, but only in theory. View is of intersection, busiest during late night hours.
Bathroom linoleum decomposing near toilet.
Woodland half-acre, with cabin, 10 x 20 feet, constructed of parts. Certain of these are corrugated metal; others are shipping pallet. One may be daub and wattle, with an interior protection of barn siding, which both rests loosely and seems firmly attached, a paradox the interim owners had not wished to explore. The exterior of this part is concealed under a lush growth of poison ivy. A window (the window) overlooks a mound, providing insulation on the northern exposure, and composed of tarps wrapped around things. The things show evidence of being metal poles, in some cases, while in others are visible indications of wooden stakes, with ragged cloth stapled on. The land is unfenced, but replete with No Trespassing signs.
“I do lean towards the house. Why take another apartment?”
“But the cabin has, what do they say? Possibilities.”
What decided them was the resident.
Wissary was taking snapshots from the passenger seat, Desander driving. At a crossroads, they looked at each other, sighed and shrugged. Here a landscaping business stretched, its pebble piles, its tarps and tires covering mulch mounds, its thousands of potted shrubs, plastic sheets peeled off and tied at the sides of greenhouse scaffolds—
And there was a sign, meant to discourage noncommercial inquiries: BULK DISCOUNTS, 640-22…
Desander took them left, east. They passed another pole barn—a gas station, its Flash Mart, its game arcade, its teeshirt and flag store.
“Well, there’s a whole new world,” Wissary said. “People wanting souvenirs of here.”
“I think this is the road. It looks…occupied.”
They bumped over railroad tracks, observed traffic in sedans and SUVs overthick, found the cabin, the No Trespassing signs, a row of trees ripped by a clearing machine, growing back. These were ugly, and probably angry, but not sinister. The cabin, as the two walked its perimeter, felt well as though it had a dead body concealed—believably by accident—in one of the wall structures.
“But it needs more,” Wissary said.
“We haven’t done urban living.”
“No. Ixnay. Otnay, evernay.”
“Get therapy. What an invented problem, you have to have space around you! You don’t even like nature.”
“I didn’t say nature, I said space. It’s my ancestral urge. I need vantage.”
They stopped, to top the tank, Desander tending the pump, squeegeeing the glass, and watching Wissary make his pretense of not being desperate to view the teeshirts; to buy one, if the artwork screamed, to buy the cake donuts in their sixpack, and the chocolate milk to wash them down.
“You didn’t want anything,” Wissary said, returning.
“Half of yours.”
“I truly hate these. It’s a disease, having to have them. Take four.”
“No. Three and three. Give me a swig.”
They drove, and dusk crept on.
“What’s the address for the dark paneling place?”
“Are you thinking we’ve got to see the laburnums at the perfect hour?”
Oathbreach Farm, a sign read. Be buried green here
“Lord! Can it all be one? I will hate it so much if our house isn’t affiliated with the Oathbreachers.”
“Wissary! Don’t say our.”
Sunset fired the sky behind a white farmhouse. This sprawled on its mild rise, and the gloss of its green roof advertised faux shakes. They were a good, dark forest green.
“Which is nearly the last color you’d want,” Desander allowed.
But the farm must have fronted on some other road. Desander backed them, risking the swing across lanes. Wissary squirmed a little.
“You know what this means?”
“It was blocked. It didn’t look used.”
When they passed the mud drive again, they saw the fallen tree was branches, substantially. And when they stepped out to prod it, and squint at it, they found the trunk only eight inches diameter.
“Yes, why not be accurate, as long as we’re hefting it?”
Darkness began to close over the lane.
Desander said, “Now we’ve cleared the way I almost change my mind.”
Then: “I don’t believe you.”
“No, about driving. It looks mucky, for one. And won’t it be nicer trodding up, getting the ambience in increments?”
The garage was fitted with a motion-sensor light. It popped, and showed them a human.
(2022, Stephanie Foster)