“Doors stuck, shelves fell, and don’t get me started on the landscaping.” Albert pointed at the scratches still marring his cheeks. “I thought paint a little and rent it out.”
“It’s a Tudor Revival,” nice, solid pre-Depression construction. “And you know I worked on my Dad’s team, so I can do restoration.” I even had all Dad’s tools in my trailer.
He guffawed in my face. “Jenny, it’s a ruin by a swamp. No one’s lived there for decades, kids just go there to see the ghost lights and get drunk.” Much like he was.
He poured himself another. “Tell you what – you fix it up by month’s end, and I’ll sell it to you for a dollar.”
“A dollar? That’s it?”
He shrugged. “And back taxes, but that ain’t much. And Lynette has to agree.” Lynette had been a friend since grade one; she’d also turned me on to Albert’s latest ‘get rich cheap’ scheme. It was sell or take a bath on those back taxes.
I knew to the dime how much I had in the bank.
I could do this.
We shook hands and he gave me the keys. “Twenty days.”
The outside was ivy and ornate flourishes.
The inside was a place you hid from zombies.
It took me all day to unjunk the place; trash, cigarette butts, empty bottles, unmentionables. I expected dead animals, but even the cabinets were sans vermin. The City of Port Goode wanted to raze the property and make it a gas station or something, but the house had good bones under the rotting flesh. Hardwood floors, casement windows, carved baseboards: the builder had loved this place and it showed.
And under all the slime and grime, the bathrooms… <sigh>
I checked the living room fireplace then built a fire. Cot, sleeping bag, wind up clock and a good book.
Outside, fireflies played in the moonlight. I didn’t get much reading done.
The next day…
Windows stuck. Drawers tried to brain me. My tools moved from room to room, and the power went off – twice! – when I took a drill to a wall. Food rotted and my water smelled funny. I got wallpaper to come off in rotten sheets – thankfully, there wasn’t any carpet anywhere – but the stairs threatened collapse.
I fought back: bleach, wood, nails, and elbow grease. After the first time, I was hauling the trailer with me to get supplies, which ate gas but let me get more at a contractor’s discount. Worked until I was working by lantern and falling over.
And I woke up the next day and…
The zombies had been there and partied. Hard.
So I got up, and started all over again.
It was Monday.
I wanted this place. I loved this place. I needed this place. I’d spent ten days and most of my money.
Dad always said I was too stubborn for words.
I got up – stepped in the obligatory puddle – and rolled up my sleeves. “Listen to me, house. I’ve got ten days to put you right, or they’re going to make you into a parking lot.”
The fireplace belched soot, the pantry door crashed open, and a hippy dressed in leaves popped out, pointing a stick at me. “Get out, stubborn human!”
I didn’t throw the clock at her. “Look, Lady, I don’t know who you are, but I’m fixing this house. It doesn’t deserve to be torn down.”
“My house!” she waved the stick – and kudzu ate my cot.
“Ok,” Palms out, I backed off until the door behind me shut and locked itself. “You don’t want help keeping this place…”
“Keeping?” She frowned at me. “Not ‘gutting’? Not ‘painting white’?”
I shook my head hard. “No! Fixing! Keeping! Restoring!” When she hesitated, I went all in. “I love this place. I’d love to see it back how it was, beautiful, nice…”
She lowered the stick slightly. “Talk, human.”
I spent the morning explaining building codes and eminent domain. Then I got more done in the rest of the day than the previous ten. Bye wallpaper, hello wood paneling – almost everywhere wood paneling, though I got my bathroom.
Every time I went out for supplies, she examined everything I brought back. “Stain, finish, OK, but no paint!”
I lowered my head. “Your house, your rules.”
That got a nod and I got back to work. Almost fell off the roof twice, but there was this tree branch…
The city did it’s inspection three days before deadline. The house ‘barely passed’, but I had the papers in hand when I called Albert.
He was there inside an hour.
“Here, all nice and legal.” I had the new deed all filled out for his signature.
He slid the papers back at me and leered. “I’ll rent it out to you, Jenny. Won’t be that much.”
“That wasn’t the deal, Al.”
The lights went a little dim.
“You have that in writing?” He fondled my new wooden walls. “They’ll look good with some white paint.”
The fireplace spat soot again and the leafy woman stepped out of the pantry, pointing her stick. “Sign papers, man!”
“What is this, Halloween?” He spat on the wood floor. “What are you going to do if I don’t?”
Albert always was a little slow on the uptake.
Lynette signed next to Albert’s scrawl, and I handed her my last dollar. “Place looks like it suits you, Jenny. Your Dad would be proud.”
I stuck the paperwork and the tax receipt in my purse. “Thanks. It was lots of work – more than you’d know. But this place grows on you.”
“It just might. But what’s with the rock sculpture in the living room?”
“Oh that?” I gave her a smile. “Donated by a local artist.”
“It’s so… disturbing. What did she call it?”
About the Author: Chris Makowski
Chris was born in the Pacific Northwest and lived briefly in Hawaii before being reared in New England. After traveling up and down and back and forth from coast to coast, he was dragged kicking and screaming in the bonds of matrimony to the State of Texas and has been mostly residing there ever since with his wife and son.
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