The Resident (part three)
Days later, they had done much happy excavating.
Their new house had closets ill-fitted to every room, and the cardboard boxes inside, the piled coats, the shoes and boots, the mated wire hangers, sculptural in their descent from bar to floor, the brooms, the headless handles belonging to possible brooms, the feather dusters and the dustmops, the hairdryer (working) and the toaster (shorted out), the coffee cans full of coins, the invoices for utilities, the sheer population of catalogues, and envelopes unopened (that John called junk), gave the new residents hours of fun.
Upstairs were four bedrooms, two wallpapered. Claudine Rancilton had chosen gingham, a good large-squared gingham, no two strips of it matched, one bedroom in peach and the other yellow.
“Cheery!” Desander said, to give encouragement. He prompted, peering at John, “And then…?”
“Then? Yours to fix if you want something different.”
“But the others have that marvelous stuff with the sharp little nubs all over, and the dark boards around the ceiling, and the closet doors with no… No metal thing screwed into the carpet to slide on. They swing.”
“You’re wanting to know which is the newer?”
John that day was dressed, still, in his Henley and vest. Wissary and Desander waited with simmering excitement, to learn what change would bring, when change occurred.
“It’s the gingham, isn’t it? And then, I mean, with apologies…your wife fell ill.”
“No. The rooms were done over when we came here, eighty-six. She wanted them nice for some guests she was expecting.”
Wissary and Desander were resolved not to pry. John filtered off downstairs to heat his Diet Coke.
“Hmm,” said Wissary, entering one of the dark rooms and picking, in moody thought, at the wall stuff. “People were married in those days. It meant something to them. I don’t know what.”
“You’re saying, as to trust and confidence. Some notion they had that the ceremony was binding, in a magical way.”
“So why does he speak of guests as though she never told him who they were? It seems unnormal.”
“Did the guests show up, even? I am a little agog. I think we’ll pry, after all.”
They had abstracted to their bedroom several shoeboxes of mixed documents and printed photos. As to redoing, the two had plans of their own… But listers always lurked, invested by the old government with powers somewhat threatening, so that any Tithonian knew better than to splash into a new neighborhood.
In the course of ordinary shopping, they would add one item per week. A ceiling fixture first, reminiscent of the decade they adored and had hoped to land in.
“We’ll order this chandelier, won’t we?” said Wissary, waggling his phone.
“Let me muse one more day. It’s so hard. Crystals…I mean, crystals! But, not really sixties-specific. I’m awfully drawn to the one with the brass hoops.”
Desander was murmuring, while his efficient hands dashed from the box snaps to the right, docs to the left. Wissary tapped “Buy Now” on the brass hoops.
“I wonder if she wrote him letters, when they wooed? Aren’t letters nice? Look, Wiss, here she is. With a little tree. A plaid coat and a pompom hat.”
“Say! Look closer, Des. They’ve got metal labels in front of those bushes…roses, do you think? That’s keenness. What plans she must have had, our poor Claudine!” He sighed. “We’ve got to make a memorial garden to her. She will be our house angel.”
The next day, because overnight they had abandoned caution (as a joint decision), they nosed from the driveway, making for the nursery.
“This is the wrong way. And they’ll turn us down, because we aren’t buying enough. Fifteen roses of one variety, maybe, but fifteen separate kinds…”
“They’ll give advice. If we seem stupid, all the more so. You are always this way, Des.”
“You’d rather live with a second you?”
“Please. No call for being spiteful. Wait… This is the…”
“Oathbreach Farm? I told you.”
“Fifteen, do you think?” Wissary, rolling ahead, reversed the car to the drive.
“Well, do we or don’t we want them bordering our trees, the roses? Mind the ditch. Maybe twice fifteen…”
Wissary clutched Desander’s arm. “Glory be! …did people say that?”
Oathbreach Farm had white brick gateposts, capped with little green roofs. The wrought iron gates stood embracingly wide, and a cardboard sign covered the rustic one of wood:
Garden Tour and Plant Sale
June 2 thru 7
All Proceeds Support Our Work!
“Do we want to support their work? We don’t know what it is.”
“I’ll ask first off, Des.”
“Don’t, though. Let’s blend and listen.”
They came to a broad awning on stilts. So Wissary described it, and said to Desander, “But you know the names of things.”
“A pavilion. You see they have tables, plants laid out. Food up front. A TV screen going. What’s wrong with you?”
Wissary, gazing while he drove, had t-boned a stranger’s car.
The driver jumped out. Desander clamped Wissary’s hand to shift them into park. He reached across to shut off the engine.
From the pavilion flung a figure in a tucked white polo. “You better have insurance!”
“We pay cash for everything.” Desander climbed out. “What does a car like that cost?”
“No-o…” the woman, the driver, fairly assumed to be the man’s wife, said. “But give us your information, and… I’ll mail you an estimate…?”
“Lemme see some ID!”
“Were you still looking or leaving? Wissary and I are new to the neighborhood…new to gardening, in fact. We’ll get to know each other dandily, if you’ll walk the pavilion with us. We’re especially in need of roses.”
Chin up, the driver said, “Looking. I was moving the car. It wasn’t parked right.”
(2022, Stephanie Foster)