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This week’s prompt is …loop…
Threw Me For a Loop
I answered the ad though details were sparse. The 30th of May loomed large. A guy needs to have a place to stow his stuff. Carting it around in my car wasn’t my style and living out of a suitcase even less. Even cheesy motels added up to serious money in short time. Six-thirty worked fine, the creaky voice had said. I hadn’t given it much thought afterwards, but the voice had almost put me off.
* * *
The place stopped me in my tracks. I threw on the brakes and melted a couple inches of asphalt and overheated the tires. An unfamiliar neighborhood, this. I double checked the circled house number in the folded newspaper ad. Yup. The roadway mailbox read 1002. A perfect match! I smiled for the first time in maybe three months, my freshly shaved skin taut across my cheeks. Today my luck might change. Maybe. The turn-of-the-century mansion rose above rich green lawns surrounded by bountiful flowers of every color. Like a red jewel, it glittered high on the hill at the end of the driveway, each side safeguarded by young pines saplings. The lane seemed shorter than I’d thought.
The closest neighbors were a couple empty lots wide on either side. I suppose at one time older buildings had been torn down and the lots abandoned. I hauled myself out of the car and put on my suit jacket. It appeared nobody was home. The stillness, except for the twitter of birds, and the buzzing of bees, struck me right away. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. City air didn’t smell this good. The sweet scents of almost country cleared my head. I zigzagged up the crumbling cement stairs and rang the doorbell. The sonorous chimes echoed deep inside. I waited, back to the door, the imperfect, weed-riddled lawn yawned large.
My cell read 6:32 p.m. I leaned on the doorbell again, longer this time. Once white and perfect window frames begged scraping and fresh paint. Thuds and shuffles, unhurried, but steady, advanced towards the door. Afraid to scare whoever opened the door, I stepped back grazing my ear on the flaked paint.
Two locks turned, a chain slid through a chamber. The door opened a crack wide enough to display an shadowy eye. “Yes,” a reedy voice said.”
“Oh, hi. I’ve an appointment with Mrs. Alexander-Cook. We talked on the phone this morning? Name’s Talbot—Mike.” I almost pitched forward for a handshake but figured this wasn’t the time.
“Yes, you’re that young man. Come in. Come in.” The inch gap widened and I slipped inside. So many windows at the front of the house. Leaded glass I presumed. “Follow me. We’ll sit in the parlour.” Thud. Shuffle. Thud. Shuffle. Her short steps dragged along the hardwood floor. I checked for rubber marks of her cane but found none.
As an impatient guy, I had the urge to pick up the bird of a woman and carry her in the hope we’d arrive before I turned forty. Paintings decorated the short hall walls. I thought I recognised a Matisse, A Woman Reading. It had to be a print. Who hung something of that value out in the open?
“Sit anywhere you like, Mike. A glass of lemonade perhaps. I took the liberty… Tell me about yourself.”
“Thanks. Can I pour for you Mrs. Alexander-Cook?” She had to be wiped after that painful shamble. How old might she be? Maybe a hundred? I half-filled two glasses and handed her one.
“Thank you. You sound a thoughtful young man.” She settled into a champagne sofa chair, brocade, and tucked the cane between the cushion and inside of the chair, feet inches off the floor.
I took a swallow. I hadn’t realized my thirst. “S-o-o-o good.” Even for a guy who enjoyed his brewskis, this tasted like ambrosia. I opened my eyes and caught the old lady scrutinize me, wearing the most divine smile, the brightest twinkle in her eye. For a fraction of a second, I recognized the beauty she had once been. The picture threw me for a loop. She wasn’t a hundred after all. Though her hair was white as cotton and face creased, her skin radiated pink as she blushed.
“Sorry Mrs. Alexander—“
“You can shorten it to Cook. Easier, don’t you think?”
“Okay. I’m 34, a soon-to-be divorced father of a four-year-old boy. I work downtown at Elliot and Elliot Engineering in Research and Development. For the past three months, I’ve moved from hotels to motels all nastier than the last. I’d held out hoping for a reconciliation, but my soon-to-be ex-wife refuses to reconsider.” I cleared my throat. Damn, how long would Christie’s unwavering alienation burn this raw? What about Junior and me? I squirmed in my seat.
Mrs. Cook raised an open palm, fingers curled and disfigured. “I’m 79 and have been a widow for almost five years. My children want to sell this house because I’m too old to live alone. Imagine that. My children treating me like a child.”
“I’m sorry Mrs. Cook. Does this mean—? I’m handy and enjoy fixing things, sanding, painting, keeping busy. Could work, right?”
Eyes aglow, she reached for her cane and slid her tiny frame out of the overstuffed chair. “Don’t you want to see the rest of the house? What if you don’t like it?”
Mike jumped out of his chair, placed their empty glasses on the coffee table tray and grabbed it. “Lead the way Mrs. C. Oops. That slipped out. No disrespect. Honest.” His ears bloomed scarlet, but Mrs. Cook giggled, a sound not unlike a gurgling spring.
“By the way I still enjoy cooking and am good at it. Do you like to eat?”
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