Closing up shop…

It was an ordinary-looking house. A post war Kleenex box with a roof. It looked like every other one on the street.
I pulled to a stop in the driveway. I could feel it coming on me already. I knew that this was going to be a bad one.
My job is to visit foreclosed homes before they are auctioned off. I assess the property for the mortgage company so they can report accurate conditions to the bidders. I walk the floors and check for carpet wear. I flush toilets, run faucets and crank up the air conditioner to see if it works. My boss calls it “closing up the shop.”
But I am cursed…cursed with the ability to see the lives and feel the emotions of those that lived there. I’ve seen love and heartbreak, sadness and tragedy, joy and celebration.
Most houses have a pretty even balance. This one felt a lot different.
Not in a bad or menacing way, and I didn’t expect a hockey-masked psycho to jump out of the linen closet at me.
But this felt different. And the house looked different.
When I stepped across the threshold, I saw something that I rarely see.
No dirt. No dust or cobwebs. Not a cracked windowpane. The carpeting still had the tidy lines left in it from it from its last vacuuming.
And then I saw her. She was slightly out of focus, like a hazy VHS tape that has been watched too many times. She walked worriedly through the living room, stooping to pick up a speck of lint. Worry lines furrowed her face. Pure sadness was in her eyes. She studied the countertops in the kitchen. I followed her. She took something from a white bottle that was under the sink and scrubbed a spot. She shook her head and dropped the rag and headed to the basement. She did not want to have the new owners think ill of them.
I decided not to follow her down. I walked back into the tidy living room to see a boy of about 7 playing with Legos on the floor. He hummed to himself as he lay on his belly, constructing impossible combinations of pirate ships and interstellar cruisers. He held up one creation proudly to his dad, who sat on the couch holding an infant girl, feeding her a bottle. The dad smiled and nodded encouragingly, but the boy noticed something in his dad’s eyes. He saw fear and worry. It made the boy’s stomach flutter. He did not like to see his daddy scared.
I turned away and went down the hallway to the bedrooms. I peeked in the first one on the right and saw the dad years earlier, holding the boy as a baby as he rocked him to sleep. The father’s face was pure contentment. The baby was asleep, but it felt so wonderful to hold his first child in his arms that he just wanted to keep rocking that baby forever here, in this beautiful house that they had just bought and moved into.
I felt this pain inside me. The father’s pain. Grief and a sense of failure. I walked into the parents’ bedroom and walked over to the window. I needed a break. I had hoped to see a bird or squirrel, something to change what I was feeling.
Instead I saw the father again. This time pushing the lawn mower. His back was slumped. Defeated. He was mowing the yard one last time before they left. He trimmed the edges carefully. He pulled stray weeds from his flower beds. He didn’t know what else to do. They were taking his house from him, but he was doing it his way. He sat on the back steps of the house, surveying his yard. Then he put his head down and wept. Big, racking sobs where he knew his family couldn’t see him.
I turned away from the window, eyes wet.
I was met by scene that I was never meant to see. The mother and father making furtive love, trying to be quiet and not wake their sleeping children. Passionate kisses. Bodies with a fine sheen of sweat. She stopped him mid-thrust, putting her index finger on his lips as they paused, listening intently for the stirring sounds of a baby. He giggled and she shushed him, smiling. Passion resumed, quietly intense.
I left their room, with a blush that they never would have imagined.
In the last bedroom, I saw the girl at 5, carefully and gently laying her dolls in a white banker’s box. She wasn’t sure why they were leaving this comfy house, it made her sad. Mommy and daddy had tried to smile and tell them that it was an adventure. They were moving to a new neighborhood with a new school for the fall. It sounded fun, but was scary at the same time.
I spun and walked back down the hall towards the front door.
I could take no more, it was time to close up this shop.
I put the key in and locked it. As I walked to my car I saw the family carrying their belongings, arms loaded with boxes, heads swiveling from side to side to see if neighbors were watching their walk of shame.
I slid into the driver’s seat and keyed the engine. The sun was setting over the roofline. I turned on the radio and hit the scan button, hoping for relief. The second station it landed on was a country station playing “There’s No Place like Home.”
No. There would be no relief tonight.

Leaving Helena

Our bodies strained in rhythm with the brassy voice coming from the radio.  Not sex yet, not yet, but very close.  So close.  Sweaty, bare skin warmed by the flames just a few feet away.  Her chambray shirt had worked its way off her shoulders and she wriggled free of it to place her slim fingers on my chest.  She lay back on the green carpet with flinty eyes searching mine for a sign of giving in…or giving up.  She had teased me before like this, getting me worked up into hormonal frenzy and then hitting the brakes, saying no, she just couldn’t do this.  Months of smoldering looks, whispered taunts, her fingers seeking out the electric buttons of my nipples, a few wondrous seconds of unfulfilled oral sex…all had turned me into a walking volcano.

It was her last chance.  And mine.  Was this just another tease…the mother of all blue-balls?  My heart jack-hammered my ribcage and my body shook from fear and desire.  The ring on her finger wasn’t mine.  He was at work, not due back for several hours but known for occasionally popping in when he was in the area.   Would he reach for the gun on his hip if he walked in now?  Shouldn’t I stop this and leave here with a somewhat clean conscience?  I can’t stop…not unless she says no.  If she says no, I’ll just extract myself from the tangle of arms and legs and run for the shower…just like I always had done before.

I kissed my way down the fuzzy little valley between her breasts towards something I had never done before.  I knew she’d halt me like she always had with a gentle grab, a giggle and a headshake but this time she didn’t.  Her hands rested lightly on top of my nodding head, her fingers laced through my hair.  I hoped that what I lacked in experience was compensated for with pure searing lust.  Her back arched slightly.  Was it desire, or discomfort?  I’d better check.  A quick look up and her gaze locked onto mine.  I saw something different in her eyes that night.  The normal stone grey was gone, replaced by indescribable dark electricity that went beyond color.

She was tiny, barely 5’4” and I was a foot taller but she pulled my body to her as if our sizes were reversed.  I was still mesmerized by her eyes but the question running through my brain must have been in my eyes because she shook her head yes.  Sweet yes.  I fumbled.  She guided.

I should have been lost in the sensations.  Reba McEntire admonished us with one song, and serenaded with the next.  The fire was perfect, the carpet soft and October’s chill was blunted by logs and stone of the lodge.  The exquisite feel of  her skin, the indescribable warmth that I felt where only my hand had been before and the hypersensitivity of each grazing touch of her hands on my chest and back.  And all I could think about was “Oh my god, I’m actually having sex” or “I hope she’s enjoying this.  I hope I’m good.”

The sudden rush and explosion came as I was debating on whether to pull out or not, rendering it moot.  She was cool about it though.  She wasn’t finished with me yet, locking her legs around my hips keeping me firmly in place and guiding my hand to her until a shudder and limp legs told me that we were done.

I lay next her, tracing the landscape curves of her body with my index finger, waiting for commentary about what had just happened.  There was silence that went on just a little too long to suit me.  I started to try and say something witty but she spoke a millisecond before me.

“You are the most affectionate man I’ve ever known.”

“Yeah.”  It was the best I could muster. Sex induced stupidity.

“I don’t want you to regret this.”  The flint in her eyes had returned, albeit slightly softer.

Regret hadn’t even entered my head yet.  Disbelief still had the floor and wasn’t budging.

“You neither.”  Me talk not so good.

Alas, regret came almost as quickly as I did.  My F-150 was packed and both gas tanks were full, ready to trek eastward in the morning.  My life was ending and I was headed back to suburban drudgery and life with my parents.  Now I was completely in love with a woman, a love that was as difficult as the mountain range that surrounded us, with just as many peaks and valleys.  And I was leaving in the morning.  What the hell should I do?  I can’t go on like this with her…too much on again, off again has left me a chain-smoking wreck.  And there was the small matter of her husband, who happened to be my boss.  And a gun lover.  He was one of the softest guys I knew, but probably wouldn’t take kindly to finding me on top of his wife on his living room floor.  He’d already been cheated on by his first wife…twice.

“What’s going on in that head of yours?”  She raised herself up, resting on her elbow and appraised me with a stare.

“I just don’t know what to do.”  Disbelief had left the building, and regret just bum-rushed the stage.

Her voice soothed and smoothed, fat with the lies I needed to hear.  She was okay.  I should go back and get on with my life.  I could be a writer, maybe even write about her someday (with a wink and a smile).  She’d be fine.  We’d always have this night as a memory.  She’d just had the best sex of her life, she needed to get some sleep and she’d see me in the morning.  I had a long drive ahead of me and I should get some sleep, too.  Soothe. Smooth.  She was fine.  OK.  See you in the morning.

Our parting in the morning was quiet and awkward, with her husband sitting there across from me and next to her.  As I smoked my post-breakfast cigarette, I almost threw in the towel and told her I was staying.  But I couldn’t.  An emotionless A-frame hug and polite peck on my cheek from her and a hearty slap on my back from him and some fatherly advice to drive safely sent me on my way.  I thanked them both and strolled to my truck with fake nonchalance.  I attempted a jaunty wave as I pulled away to begin the journey of a thousand miles.

Before they were even out of sight, I drove like mad to try and outrun the pounding compulsion to turn around and go back.  I cleared mountain passes that normally petrified me in record time.  I didn’t stop until I made it to the state line.  The late afternoon sun cast my shadow halfway across the rest area’s parking lot.  I smoked, drained a Coke, and smoked some more.  I don’t remember how long I stayed there, but it was close to dark when the final flick of my lighter lit my last smoke and a heavy sigh forced me back into the truck with my headlight beams pulling me eastward into Kansas.