Short Stories    

To download Donna's Dream House, please enter your e-mail address below and hit "Download".

E-mail address: 
(download Adobe Acrobat Reader)

Donna's Dream House

August, 2002

Donna took a quick breath, pinched her nostrils and leaning into it, pulled the heavy wooden slider open with one hand.

"Come on Gunner," she called, peering into the darkness that had been her kitchen. Her nasal tone resonated hollowly in empty gloom for a moment until the puppy, a gangly five-month-old Lab/Setter mix from the pound, bounded joyfully from the living room, his back legs skidding out from under him as he made the turn on the hardwood floor. He dashed out and Donna pushed the solid door firmly shut.

She moved quickly down the back porch steps and away from the house into the yard. An odd sight, had anyone been observing the middle aged woman wearing an old work shirt and stained jeans, a Gucci bag slung over her shoulder, carrying two bath towels and several assorted bottles, including an iced split of Dom Perignon, pulling a small, black suitcase.

She placed everything on the glass-topped patio table near the pool and picked up a bottle of tomato juice.

“Come on Gunner,” she called, unscrewing the lid as she moved back into the yard. He raced over, reeking of skunk. She’d had him little more than a week but he was already devoted.

Extolling his good boyness, and breathing through her mouth to avoid the excruciating smell, she held his collar firmly to keep him from shaking as she poured juice over him. He seemed oblivious to the indignity of a tomato juice bath, licking her chin in puppy excitement when she knelt to rub it into his chest and legs with her free hand.

The tricky part was letting go of the collar. She stood and released him with a quick back-step, avoiding the brunt of his full body shake. He took off at a gallop to the far end of the yard and she walked back to the patio, only slightly damp.

She rinsed her hands in the pool and toweled off, trying to remember if she’d ever popped the cork from champagne. If so, the memory eluded her. Odd, she thought, the things you think of.

It came out, after some twisting and thumb pressure, with a satisfying POP and she caught the first frothy liquid in a plastic cup retrieved from her purse. Plopping into a patio chair, she suddenly choked up, breathless with longing for at time when the kids were upstairs in their rooms with homework or even, as likely, screaming at each other. Jerry would be in his office next to the kitchen watching the news and she’d be cooking or cleaning up the kitchen, in the middle of one of what had seemed limitless, ordinary evenings.

She sighed and took a good swallow, if wishes were horses beggars would ride her mother used to say.

It was several hours after sunset, the intense heat of the day had dissipated into warm evening air redolent of Night-blooming Jasmine. The tart dry/wet bubbles burned her mouth. Cricket calls, like distant sleigh bells, counterpointed the river rush of the 101 slicing the canyon below. The puppy rustled in the bushes on the other side of the pool, coyotes yapped in the hills beyond the house.

For better or worse, it's done, she thought. She checked for remorse and felt none, just a giddy sense of wonder at herself.

They met on the steps of the administration building at UCLA when she was twenty and he twenty-one. She'd gone to make certain she’d gotten credit for classes taken over summer. He was pacing along the middle of the wide cement stairway in front of the entrance holding a sign, No Pigs On Campus. Their glances connected. She noted he was tousled and cute before she passed him on the way up.

When she came out he caught sight of her.

"Hey," he called. "You know what happened at the demonstration yesterday?"

She paused a few steps above him and shook her head. He approached and stopped on the step beneath her, eye-to-eye and a little too close.

"They called the cops and two guys ended up in the hospital," he said. "For protesting. Peacefully. What do you think about that?" He gazed with keen ferocity while freckles danced across his nose, a mix of boyishness and blunt masculinity.

Her sandals pressed against the back of the step, her stomach fluttered. "It's not right," she murmured.

A dimple appeared in his smile. "Yeah, that's what I think." He shifted his weight to the side, affording her space to breathe. "We're calling a sit-in for tonight. Can you come?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe."

"What's your name?"

"Donna."

"I'm Jerry. Try to make it, we need all the bodies we can get."

His dimple deepened as he moved aside to let her pass. She resisted glancing back until she’d completed the stairs. He’d gone back to pacing.

A few minutes before the end of the day she showed up to join about sixty other students as they took positions along the walls of the lobby and up the stairway to the second landing of the Administration building. Jerry, in animated conversation with a tall, pretty blond, didn’t notice her arrival and Donna felt foolish and hypocritical as she claimed an out-of-the-way spot against the far wall. Protesting wasn’t in her scope of activities, certainly not about an issue that seemed rather questionable and never on a night when she had classes in the morning. She hadn’t even thought to bring any books.

Tension quieted the crowd when, at the usual time, the staff began walking downstairs through the demonstrators and out the front doors. Nobody called the police. Custodians locked the doors to the offices, turned off the electricity in the building and left.

There were boxes of doughnuts, people had thermoses of coffee, a few brought guitars, only one or two had thought to bring flashlights. They sang the anthems: We shall Overcome, Blowin' In The Wind, If I Had A Hammer, as the huge room darkened.

Jerry sought her out in the gloom and sat beside her. She smiled, very glad she’d come, and took the cup of coffee he offered. When the singing ended they turned to each other in shadow while the general volume surrounding them drifted down into whispered conversations.

He told her he was a History major but thought he might go to graduate school in film. He wanted to produce or direct socially conscious films with actors who looked like real people. She was majoring in Psych and planned to become a psychologist, eventually have a family. She’d grown up in San Jose, he in Newport Beach, her father was a dentist, his a tax attorney, both their mothers worked in their fathers’ offices, they both had younger siblings. He'd never been in love, didn't know if he believed in it. She’d had one serious relationship, as a junior in high school.

They talked through the night until, in the darkness before dawn, they kissed. The soft, gentle introduction of lips ignited into a reclining sinewy dance of tongues and an exhilarating exploration of hands. The darkness faded into grey exposing murmuring bodies, strewn around the floor. They pulled themselves apart and dizzily sat up.

Custodians arrived to turn the electricity back on and clean the restrooms before the staff returned. Around ten a.m. the Chancellor announced his good faith promise to consider the student's point of view and the demonstration ended.

It took a week for Jerry to call. To repay the agony and uncertainty of waiting she gave him only a goodnight kiss at the door after Midnight Cowboy and then spent a sleepless night worrying she’d never hear from him again. Two days later she called and invited him to her studio apartment in Santa Monica for dinner.

They sat on pillows she'd sewn and covered in Indian madras fabric, eating homemade spaghetti and meatballs at the coffee table she'd fashioned from an old door placed on two cinderblocks and covered with a collage of pictures from magazines she’d set in resin.

He could see who she was, a girl who cooked and sewed and decorated. She might have copies of The Feminist Mystique and The Second Sex in her bookcase but she still wore make-up and a bra most of the time.

They made intense, fevered love, pressed against bolsters she'd covered in patchwork to match the bedspread. Afterward she lay in his arms dreading him getting up and dressed. They remained still and silent for a long time, until she shivered. He pulled the covers down and crawled under with her.

She’d had only one lover before and no one else since that night.

A month later she picked up boxes from behind the Vons Market at the end of her street and drove to the Valley to clean his dusty, ugly apartment while he packed his things. When his landlady refused to return the cleaning deposit they sued her in small claims court and won.

In retrospect it had been a predictable, commonplace romance, even their parents tacitly approved, but at the time she’d believed her love a fireball of passion and joy and tenderness unlike anything else in the world and had embraced its white heat searing into the center of her being without a moment’s thought of ashes.

She’d loved him with abandon and craving and heedless desire and waited eight months for him to say it first. She finally faced him with deceptive calm.

"I know you believe words are superficial and bankrupt, and we agreed not to put labels on our feelings, but the truth is I'm in love with you and I need to know how you feel."

He’d looked so startled. "Uh, I'm not sure."

"Oh. Well. Maybe you should move out then, until you are sure."

He’d stared at her, alarmed. "I want to be with you. Isn’t that enough? Can’t we just be together without the words?”

She hadn’t answered right away.

“I mean, I probably love you. I guess I do,” he’d floundered on, helplessly.

She’d sighed and rescued him. "Oh never mind. I shouldn’t have forced it."

Donna reached for the bottle and poured another glass of champagne to drink a toast to that openhearted girl. What had become of her? Perhaps she was inside somewhere, still ready to give the store away.

No. In thirty-four years virtually every cell in her body had been replaced several times. She'd become someone else.

Then again, she mused with champagne lucidity, maybe there’s no such thing. Maybe each of us is just a consensus of cells pretending to be integrated into a person. How could anyone be certain who or what they really were?

But, of course, she knew.

She’d been twenty-six, and from the moment Jerry in a surgical mask, tears in his eyes, placed Mariah in her arms, she’d had no doubt who she was. Jared and then Alyssa had further confirmed the necessity of her being. Even now, although they were 28, 25 and 19, and it was no doubt superfluous, her fierce maternal love remained unchanged. She supposed it to be her defining characteristic. If her brain were sliced away piece-by-piece she would retain herself as long as that remained and when the cut came that removed that part she would no longer be.

How about Jerry? Would he claim fatherhood as his defining characteristic? A dollop of bile rose in her throat; she breathed in deeply of the night and swallowed it down with champagne.

 

Graduation in the early seventies had cost Jerry his student deferment and they’d lived under the lottery cloud until it blew by, leaving them miraculously dry. Plans for midnight escapes to Canada abandoned, at twenty-two years old, she’d walked to him on her father’s arm, barefoot, in her grandmother's dress, a garland of flowers in her hair. They’d stood holding hands in San Jose sunlight under the plum tree she’d climbed as a kid, reciting vows they'd written to each other. Hers: that she would be there always and, when they quarreled, reach out first to make up, that she would listen until she understood, that she would love him until death. His: that she had taught him what love meant and he would never forget how lucky he was and would spend the rest of his life loving her.

After the ceremony the guests divided into two camps: their friends who smoked pot, laughed uproariously and ate most of the food, and their parents' friends who shook their heads in disapproval and did their best to ignore the behavior of their children while drinking most of the liquor. The pictures came out unfocused because the photographer, an Art Center student, had used the wrong lens.

The puppy, still odoriferous of skunk which the tomato juice had muted but not erased, disturbed her reverie with a nudge that spilled champagne over her hand and the table. She put the cup down and stood, a little unsteadily.

“Come on boy.”

She picked up the baby shampoo and walked over to the fence where the hose was coiled. He joyfully followed and seemed undaunted by the rinse and wash, scoring sloppy kisses whenever her face came within range.

"Things are going to change Gunner," she told him, stepping back to let him shake. His tail waved like a toddler’s flag on the 4th of July and she rubbed him off with a towel before letting him scamper off and roll in the grass. The first order of new business would be housebreaking; Jared liked dogs, but not at the expense of his oriental carpets.

She stripped off her clothes and pulled fresh ones from the suitcase before diving deep into the tepid pool and surfacing in the dark water under the night sky. Hovering shadows from the surrounding trees completed the feeling of a wild lake. She climbed the steps dripping and exhilarated. A few minutes later, toweled off and freshly dressed, she picked up her champagne and settled back into the warm night and her memories.

They’d used their graduation and wedding money to move into a tiny one-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood. It had a little garden outside their bedroom window lush with ferns and banana trees, evocative of a tropical jungle when they lay in bed on hot, sexy afternoons. They set up a café table there so they could eat al fresco.

She remembered sitting at that table watching Jerry tear open the letter from the USC film department. His eyes had moved rapidly through the text before he’d offered it to her, attempting to look heartbroken while his dimple gave away his excitement over the acceptance into the master's program for Film/TV.

She’d put off her PhD and instead took work that paid enough for food and rent, teaching English to Japanese Businessmen at Berlitz and to Latino immigrants in night school. Once he started USC Jerry worked as a Teaching Assistant, which covered his classes and materials, plus a few extras. On weekends they’d jump into the old VW bug with a tent and a hibachi and take off for Baja to camp on the beach

When Jerry finished the program at USC she was pregnant. Instead of taking a position with a small independent film company he’d cut his hair and opted for security and the higher salary of Production Assistant for a magazine show at NBC. A seminal choice it turned out. A strong competitive drive emerged in him, coinciding with Mariah's birth. He ascended steadily through the ranks: assistant director, line producer, supervising producer, executive producer. He was never out of work for more than a month, a rarity in the tough, cutthroat business of TV. He’d succeeded brilliantly as far as salary and security were concerned. Although he sometimes felt he’d compromised his values because he hadn’t created the socially conscious films he'd imagined.

She continued to work part-time as a substitute ESL teacher for LA City until Jared was born; by that time Jerry was making enough for her to stay home. She’d never considered a career after that, believing, erroneously perhaps, that the point of Women’s Liberation had been claiming the right to become whatever you chose, even a full-time wife and mother.

Their sex-role divided partnership had been an unspoken arrangement that Jerry occasionally complained about, along with his compromised values.

Not that he wanted to deal with colic, diaper rash, constipation, vomit, play-dates, reading problems, organizing Brownies and cub-scouts , driving, marketing, cooking, cleaning, homework, room parenting, supervising field trips, organizing silent auctions, making Halloween costumes, overseeing social relationships. He would simply have been happy to hire a live-in housekeeper or a nanny so she could pursue a career like most of the women they knew. He believed it didn’t matter who did the grunt work, good parenting could be accomplished in quality-time, like soccer coaching, or Sunday afternoon bike rides.

Perhaps he’d found her boring. Possibly, on some level, he felt cheated. After all, she’d never said she intended to be a housewife. She hadn’t meant to mislead him, she simply hadn’t known how motherhood would change her. Still, the truth was he’d bargained for an equal partnership and had gotten an unequal one in which his values were compromised and hers were fulfilled.

The night began to cool at about one am. She opened the suitcase for a thin sweater and pulled out some socks for later. Too bad she didn't have a pack of cigarettes. She hadn't smoked since her first pregnancy, but she suddenly felt like one. She dismissed that bad idea, poured another glass of champagne and moved to stretch out on a chaise-lounge. A half moon shown through wisps of cloud, casting silver over the tree tops. The dark house stood silent, its familiar form mysterious in shadow.

Twenty-two years ago Jerry had landed a position as line producer on a successful sit-com, which meant a substantial and dependable income and a fairly secure future. They’d been renting a three-bedroom condo in Culver City, socking money away, and had saved enough for the down payment on a home.

She drove around West Los Angeles, Culver City, Brentwood and Santa Monica for months with a real estate agent searching for an older house in need of work, something she could love, with a yard, and a price tag below the national debt. The agent found a property in the multiples that sounded perfect, but it was in Hollywood.

Donna had been hesitant to move further east, concerned mainly about air quality and schools.

The agent told her it was in the hills. “I don’t think the air’s too bad,” she’d said, “and there’s a good local elementary."

So Donna had reluctantly agreed to take a look.

Built in 1912 on a gently sloping 1/2 acre parcel in the hills west of the Hollywood Bowl, the once graceful Craftsman bungalow, with wide front porch, high-beamed ceilings, oak floors, hand-crafted cabinets and bookcases and magnificent tile work, had become a sad and shabby wreck, stripped of its fixtures and much if its tile, the woodwork pitted and painted psychedelic colors, the floors scratched and stained, with rat droppings in every room.

The house considered a tear down but it would take almost every cent they had for the down payment because the land was quite valuable. Jerry opposed buying since they’d have little ready cash to spend on repairs and it would be months before it could be made livable. She’d countered with passionate stubbornness and a promise to restore the house within their budget while they remained at the condo.

For almost a year, three-year-old Jared in tow, she’d worked alongside plumbers, electricians, masons and carpenters. She sanded and refinished the interior woodwork herself, painted and stenciled the walls, sewed curtains and hung wallpaper, searched antique suppliers, installed and polished brass fittings, fixtures and hardware.

The result surpassed her vision and the sunlit and burnished house opened its graceful arms to embrace their happy family for nineteen wonderful years. Within those walls Alyssa had been conceived, taken her first steps, learned to run and then to dance. She'd spoken her first words, rhymed her first poem, written and rewritten her valedictory speech. In that house Jared held a violin for the first time and practiced scales for years and years, it was there he perfected his audition for Juilliard and there, in the dining room the summer after his first year in New York he'd told them he was gay. Mariah received her first kiss on the front porch, lost her tooth sliding down the banister, broke her arm climbing out the window, nursed her new puppy through kennel cough and mourned for him all night when he died twelve years later. Donna and Jerry had made love in every room, except the children's bedrooms, thrown countless parties, large and small, indoors and out, fought and made up hundreds of times. She'd cooked thousands of meals in the kitchen and held Jerry sobbing in the living room the night his mother died.

And, three years ago, when she’d gone to New Jersey with Alyssa to help settle her into a summer program at Princeton, Jerry brought his thirty year-old girlfriend inside those walls and had sex with her in their bed.

Donna got up and poured the last of the champagne, she took the socks back to the chaise and put them on. Gunner snored softly on the other chaise, his paws twitching in his sleep.

The relationship between Jerry and the woman, a Hollywood talent agent, had been going on for a year by that time, but he confessed it only after the woman, Sami with an i, became pregnant. Sami told him she intended to have the child and would hold him fully accountable to fulfill his role as a father. She gave him a week to think about what to do before she called Donna.

Donna remembered thinking, when Jerry said he wanted a divorce and told her what the woman, what Sami had said. While her chest exploded and the pain seared through her, she'd thought, ah, so that's how to deal with him.

The kids had been duly shocked and upset, but they recovered their equanimity fairly quickly. They were involved in their own exciting lives and she kept her acrimony from them, unloading it instead on her therapist and occasionally on Jerry, who, in the wake of the initial merciless betrayal, had behaved as well as could be expected. He hadn’t argued over the generous settlement she’d demanded or her desire that she and Alyssa stay in the house until Alyssa left for college. They’d agreed that at that point one of them would buy the other out or they'd sell the house and divide the profit. At events requiring their joint appearance, such as Alyssa’s high school graduation, they’d behaved with calm civility, and Sami had stayed away.

It had been a tough three years, some days worse than others, the hardest perhaps the one on which he married.

Of course the children had received wedding invitations. Mariah, a Veterinarian, had quickly opted out by volunteering for a mission to Guatamala to contend with an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease. When the other two asked what they should do, Donna left it up to them. Alyssa called her father and excused herself citing onerous finals. Jared accepted the invitation.

The morning of the dreaded day Alyssa went to the local video rental and returned with Two for The Road and An Unmarried Woman, also a huge brick of dark chocolate and several bags of microwave popcorn.

Donna hugged her fiercely, willing herself into a smile. "How could I be so lucky as to have you?"

Midday Mariah called to check in and offer her love. In the evening the doorbell rang and Jared stood on the porch holding his overnight bag and two bottles of wine from a vintner friend. He kept them up late with his wicked descriptions of the waddling, whining bride, satin stretched across her belly, complaining to everyone about backaches and water retention, her mother, with a mole on her chin like something out of the Brothers Grimm, following her around with an inflatable lumbar pillow, and the forcefully jolly bridegroom, more of an age with the mother than the daughter, attempting to make it feel like a party.

"You knew, didn't you?" Donna said, finally letting the tears flow. It was very late, Alyssa had gone to bed. "I needed a witness."

Her beloved son nodded, pouring the last of the wine for a toast. "To lost love," he said, raising his glass, “and whatever comes next."

She’d tried to believe in something coming next, but rage the size and weight of a cannonball in her guts had kept her pinned to the spot for another year.

Then, as the weight began to lighten and she could breath again, Alyssa left for Stanford. Thrown back into acute desolation, she’d swallowed her pride and called Jerry to ask for another six months.

"It'll be best to put it on the market in the spring," she’d told him.

"It's okay Donna," he’d responded gently. "Take whatever time you need."

Slowly her spirits lifted.

Jared called with a description of a beautiful old house in San Francisco he wanted but couldn't afford on his own.

"We could restore it together. It 's large enough for each of us to have a wing. You'll be near Alyssa, Mariah says she'll come and stay as long as we feed her."

It was exactly the kind of project she craved. Life held promise and she was excited to go. The packed car waited in the garage, ready to leave in the morning.

She was a bit drunk and had to pee, her legs felt wobbly so she took it slowly in the dark, moving around the pool to the bushes. She had a wad of Kleenex in the pocket of her jeans, which she dropped into the trash container on her way back to the chaise.

It was probably around three a.m. but she wasn't cold. She had a little champagne left in the cup.

She raised it in the direction of the house.

"Thank you," she said.

"I'm sorry," she added a moment later.

Two months ago, in the late afternoon, Jerry had called. He’d sounded tentative and soft, a tone of his she hadn't heard in years.

"I need to talk to you, can I come by?"

He knocked at the kitchen door about an hour later, smiling at her through the glass panes. She didn't return the smile but opened the door and they faced each other for the first time in over a year.

"Hi," he said, slightly flushed, his abashed dimple conceding the absurdity of the situation.

She sighed with a slight smile she couldn't help and stepped aside to let him in.

He sniffed. "Lentil soup?"

She shut the door. He was still looking at her with that smile.

"Smells good."

"Jerry, what is it you needed to talk about?"

"I didn't eat lunch. Do you think I could have a bowl?'

She gave it to him with a slice of bread and sat across from him at the kitchen table.

"God, this is good, I haven't had homemade soup since…" He paused, after a moment he looked up and their eyes met. His smile was gone, in its absence his face look tired.

"I really fucked up, Donna.”

It was the first time in three years she'd been able to look at him without rage. "What did you want to talk about?"

He sighed. "The house. Instead of selling we want to buy you out."

"Ah."

"Sami loves the place and I thought it might be nice for the kids." He gestured between them. "Our kids….for it to stay in the family."

Sami loves the place, she'd thought, oh, then by all means. Is there anything else in my life Sami wants?

"You can put it on the market and I'll pay you 5% over any offer you get, or, you can just decide what you think it's worth and I'll give you half. "

"I'll get three estimates from real estate agents and take the highest."

He laughed. "God Donna, you were so right. I didn't appreciate you."

“Right,” she said, picking up his plate and moving to the sink. He came up behind her as he had countless times, to put his arms around her waist and nuzzled the back of her neck.

"I ache for you," he whispered.

His warm breath turned her flesh to goose bumps, stunning her utterly by how fast she excited, like a light. She hadn't had sex in three years. She hadn't even thought of herself as a sexual being. She'd closed the door on it. Suddenly her pulse raced and she spun in his arms, arching up greedily to his mouth.

He slipped his cell phone from his pocket and, looking into Donna’s eyes, told his wife he was hung up at work. It rolled out of him so easily, the same excuse he'd used often during their marriage. He’d always worked long hours. Could she be certain, even before Sami, it had always been work? Strange to think after thirty years she didn’t know him. Gratifying to realize it no longer made any difference.

She took him up to the bedroom and they came to each other as old lovers, with a sense of irony and humor and memories. Until the humor evaporated and they stared at each other, ageless and glowing, on fire with pleasure and urgency. Afterward they lay together for a long time.

"I'm too old to be the father of a two year old," he finally said. "People think he's my grandson. I’m still getting up with him at least once a night. Is that normal?"

"You'd better go home," she said.

If he’d been looking for a rescue, he’d come too late.

She wasn't enraged anymore. That wasn't why she'd done what she’d done. More than anything, she supposed, it had to do with a remark her therapist had made: that first wives often marry unfinished young men and end up raising them, and that second wives get the benefit.

She simply couldn't tolerate the idea of Sami benefiting from any more of her hard work. It gnawed at her as she sifted and sorted and packed thirty years worth of accumulation and memories. The woman had taken Jerry, albeit he’d been willing to go, but worse, with him she’d stolen the future Donna had earned: the family celebrations, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, summers, family vacations, the house echoing with the squeals and laughter of grandchildren, the beauty of growing old together. Finally, in in what was perhaps intended as the coup de gras, she intended to usurp Donna’s home.

Donna called the movers and arranged for them to pick up and hold her things in storage for ten days before transporting them to San Francisco. She’d called the Salvation Army to come by and collect what she didn't want.

Then, she set to work.

She found Gunner at the East Valley Shelter. Too big to crawl under the house but still all puppy, with a shy lick of her fingers he’d captured her heart. He was thrilled with his new home and the free range she gave him. He'd responded by refraining from soiling the dining room where she’d set up her old sewing machine on a card table and made a bed for herself on the floor. He slept curled at her feet and left his wet and smelly deposits in the other rooms of the house, which he explored while she worked.

She removed the screens that protected access underneath the house and above into the crawlspace between the roof and the upstairs ceiling where the electrical wires converged, and scattered cat kibble inside the openings.

She’d gone to Home Depot to buy brushes, rollers, a new ladder, and hired the salesman, a sweet acne-laden kid of twenty, to help paint in the evenings and over the weekend. She’d had to special order the paint from Dunn Edwards. She’d used chartreuse, fuchsia, violet and cobalt for the woodwork, deep navy for the walls.

While the paint dried, she took down all the curtains she'd made in the living room, dining room, and bedrooms, opened the hems, stuffed them with frozen shrimp and then re-sewed and finally, that afternoon, finished re-hanging them. The scurrying of tiny feet above her head as she worked upstairs told her the rats had returned. Meanwhile, a family of skunks had taken up residence under the house, which Gunner discovered night before last while she finished sewing the curtains.

The house would sit in the heat, ripening for a week before the new residents and their nanny returned from vacation in Hawaii. The stench, already quite remarkable, would be unforgettable.

Dawn came in increments of warmth and lighter gray. The shadowy outline of the house filled and slowly turned into the familiar wood shingle siding with white trim.

She put her suitcase in the trunk and let Gunner jump into the passenger seat of the old Volvo. At the end of the street she stepped on the brake and turned to look back.

A deep cleaning and airing, sanding, painting and refinishing of the woodwork, walls and floors and some minor electrical repair would get the house back into shape, but she doubted Sami would ever live there. She didn't seem to be one to dig into the work necessary to make a home.

Although a malodorous residue might linger even after the cleaning, the house would eventually recover. With time, almost everything does. Donna sighed, took her foot off the brake, gave the car a little gas, and turned the corner.

 

Copyright 2006 by Jessica Davis Stein.