The Resident (part two)

Pastel and ink drawing of trees at sunset

 

 

 

Chapter One
Dark Paneling
(continued)

 

 

He wore a fair isle vest, a short and tight one, over a Henley. His trousers were belted and corduroy, wales off at the knees, which to Desander detracted. Spanking new corduroy spoke (one might say); worn-in corduroy was only cloth.

“But look…” whispered Wissary. Aloud, he told the man, “I apologize. But look, Des.”

“The night is coming on chilly,” said Desander, “but your feet are bare.”

“These clogs have a flannel lining. I never wear socks with em. What,” the man said, visibly thinking further, “do you want? You after those cultos over there?”

“You’ll have to tell us about them. Are you a sort of agent, representing this place? Can you show us around?”

“I live here.”

The garage light clicked off. The visitors blinked, then suggestions of the disquieting passage, with the promised wellhead, gelled into view…and of the resident making down it.

“Don’t like those two,” he was saying to himself. “Pair of ghosts. Where’d they come from?”

Wissary led, keeping a soft-footed and respectful distance. He backhanded Desander, whose vest was black and double-zipped, in the diaphragm. “Solar lights!”

“Oh, exactly the touch! Not stuck in straight, either. What do you suppose our friend’s name is?”

Bluish small efforts uplit the laburnums’ lowest limbs. A moth came near and gave up.

“I want to sit at the center and absorb the aura,” Wissary said.

“Well, try.”

Desander left him, and at the house’s back door, tried the knob. He entered the kitchen, saw it underrated by the lister, being that a table lamp beaming homey yellow showed the cabinets painted mint, he would have sworn it…

He found a switch.

“What’s that? Did you come in my house?”

“Wonderful, Mr. Jones! It’s like Lady Borden ice cream.”

“What’s the other one doing?”

“Hunting flatness. Are you watching Wheel of Fortune? There’s no Mrs. Jones? Where do you plan to move when you leave?”

“My name is John Rancilton. Why would I leave?”

“Well, because…” But Desander left Rancilton, who had taken a can of cola from his refrigerator and poured it into a coffee mug. Yes, he was putting the mug in the microwave to heat.

Wissary sat crosslegged under the antennae.

“Very flat?” Desander asked.

“Extraordinarily flat.”

“We’re in the best sort of luck. We have to call the lister and make our offer now.”

“He has a wall phone in the kitchen?”

“He does.”

“Fine, then, Des. Why are you in a dither?”

“He comes with the house. And his name is Rancilton.”

 

“Oh, you’ll take one?” said the lister. “Oh, that one, with the laburnums? Mr. Rancilton?”

“Yes, just everything about him. Is the place ancestral to the R fam? Is he bankrupt? Did he…?”

“He and his wife were renters.”

 

 

3

 

 


 

 

Listers could be censorious. Desander asked, in the most polite way, “Renters, of Chaintree Cottage, we’ll call it… But the actual owner has let him stay on?”

“I said they were renters.”

“We’re all having a snack.” Desander stretched the curlicued cord, enchanted by it…even by its strange patterns of grime…finding ample length to reach the table. “Sliced ham and cheese on graham cracker. Warmed cola with marshmallows.”

“Do you think I’m taking that down?”

“I’m pointing out that you may unfold your story at leisure. And that I might speak in a moment with my mouth full.”

“The wife passed away, so say very little.”

“John, condolences,” said Desander.

Wissary said, “Oh! What a horrid shame!”, having heard none of Desander’s news from the lister.

“But, um,” said Desander, “what…?”

“A condition she’d been born with and expected to die of. Will that do? The Ranciltons had moved to a nursing home, her, and a hotel close by, him.”

“You make me cry. John, how touching.” Desander reached to pat Rancilton’s hand.

“And then he went back to the house. He hasn’t been willing to vacate…while of course, nobody wants to buy it. And the owner is absentee.”

“John,” said Wissary, who had scooted near enough to tilt an ear to the handset, “you will live here with us, forever.”

He scooted, next, to the table’s end, Desander perched now on the phone stool, naming figures.

“Let me share this with you, John. Where we come from it’s the commonest thing for a couple to live with a platonic third wheel. We’re crowded.”

Rancilton drew back a little. “You sound American, only…”

“Only refined,” Wissary decided. “But what I mean, when I say where we come from, is the future. We aren’t ghosts. We’re Tithonians.”

 

 

The catflaps appeared on the plots as clusters. But from the ideal dot, to even the nearest overlapping, could place the traveler decades outside the bid-for era. Wissary and Desander had requested the 1960s, had studied the period’s television, music, fashion, consumer offerings, its cultural touchstones, its “don’ts”, per their world’s advanced sensibilities. Sexism had been rampant, minority opportunities thin, bigotries hostile to a pair like themselves.

Also, stinky smoking.

“And you want to try it?” the lister had asked them.

“Oh, madly,” yawned Desander.

Listers were the only ones who could be so profligate with catflaps as to travel back and forth. Tithonians were to memorize a list of forbidden behaviors: No opinioning on social media, or its older variant of letters to editors, no home movies or videos aired, not even of your pets, no producing of fiction, poetry, songs, no manufacturing of goods for sale, no showiness at all…

A tatty bungalow (for example) sited behind a defunct business, one of those concrete boxes seen on sad street-ends, could be repaired. The idea was to repair the properties, to be quiet, kind, useful, to leave only good behind. Tithonians never lacked for money, the past being so much cheaper—but to spend lavishly violated the code. You could not influence; you could not use future knowledge to advance yourself, for any imagined purpose, into the public eye.

You must be circumspect, self-effacing, poorish. The bungalow was not to become turquoise, the business a “local success story”, putting cameras on the faces of the slightly odd people Tithonians were, thanks to immortality.

“But we don’t really look like specters, do we, John?”

“If you didn’t glow in the dark…”

 

 

4

 

 


The Resident

Pastel and ink drawing of woodland sceneThe Resident (part three)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(2022, Stephanie Foster)

 

 

 

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