Afternoons passed the slowest. Particularly on these gray, winter days, with the wind incessantly rattling her windows in their panes and the impenetrable clouds blotting out every ray of light. Not that the sunlight could really come through the plastic stapled over the windows anyway. It would be hours yet before her evening guests-a family of squirrels in the attic, a bat in the upstairs bedroom, and a family of mice in the kitchen would scuttle in and wreak a bit more havoc. How sad that she had begun to think of them as her guests! What had become of her? Once a warm and stately home, where mice were driven out immediately and a bat would never have considered attempting to enter?
Of course it was partly due to her age, she knew that without truly understanding what “age” was because the many people who had come, walked through, and left never to return over the past few years were always talking about her “age.” But even more so, it was a lack of care. The basement was full of empty coffee cans, once filled with fasteners and tools for this project or that and the stairs up to the pantry were creaky and musty. The first story floors had all warped as she settled, her original supports having been replaced with temporary, ratcheting poles that had never been made permanent as intended. The walls were stained, the wallpaper peeling, and all of the carpet was rotting where it lay, old and dirty.
The kitchen ceiling was cracked and sagging after that terrible leak in the roof. The bathroom ceilings were stained as well, dry wall giving way to mold. There was a new roof, now, but the damage remained. Every available surface held evidence of the rodents that had taken over when the last, human occupant had left for good. There were holes chewed through doors, excrement everywhere, and little piles of cracked acorn shells in the attic. Who could ever want to live with me? She thought to herself.
She had been truly beautiful once–the envy of the block with state of the art windows and so many in every room that sunshine poured in any time of day. Six spacious bedrooms each with their own closet, a large yet cozy kitchen, two indoor bathrooms, and . . . oh . . . was that the front door was swinging open? A moment passed before he crossed the threshold and she realized that the man was back again.
This one had come a bit ago and looked around. They had talked of age again and he’d pointed out several of her more serious flaws. Truth be told, it had been an entirely humiliating visit and she’d hoped to not see him again. She no longer got excited when a person came to look, and this one had not been any different than the rest. But now he was back and why? Just to insult her further? Mock her in her lowest hour? He paused there, in the entryway holding the door open and she realized she had been so focused on her embarrassment reliving his last visit, that she had failed to notice he wasn’t alone.
At first, she thought it must be the other man or “agent” as she had heard him called. He always came with whoever wanted to walk around pointing out her inadequacies. Of course, it could also be Will, coming to check on things as he often did. If it weren’t for Will, the pipes would have burst and all would have been lost after Mamie moved on. Then she heard it, so faint at first, but getting louder . . . a baby! There was a baby! How long had it been since the sweet cries of a baby had echoed against the walls? The pitter patter of tiny feet, the squeals, the giggles . . . oh how she missed having a family of her own.
They all grew up, of course, and grew old. She had held some from their first breath to their last and it had been her joy and her honor to shelter them as they went about their lives. Truly, it had been a fascinating two hundred and thirty or so years! The way styles and gadgets had changed! She would never forget when the wood stove for cooking had been replaced with propane! Or the day they turned her first light-bulbs on back in eighteen whatever it was. So very exciting! She’d had her doubts when they decided to move the plumbing inside, but it had worked out famously in the end and it filled her with pride to always have the latest updates.
But it wasn’t always easy. There were hard times for the people she held and she could tell by the way they paced or sighed or spoke in low tones the children couldn’t overhear. When the people worried, she knew she might not get her usual upkeep and she didn’t mind; she was built to survive such times. But this had been different. This time she had simply stood empty, something she’d never done before, and there were no people inside to care if everything slowly fell apart or became overrun with creatures.
First, the mice had come with their scratching and nibbling. How horrifying that had been! In no time at all they became quite bold, chewing holes right through the walls! Climbing the chimneys to make each and every room their own. Then it was the squirrels. There were fewer of them, but the damage they could inflict was ten fold! They chewed holes right through her solid wood doors! Between that and the leak in the roof, she quickly found herself in state of wretched disrepair. After which, began the parade of gawkers, none of whom wanted to take her on. By the time the first bat slipped in through a broken, attic window, she could no longer muster any indignation.
A soft sigh brought her out of her sad rememberings . . . not the man, and certainly not the baby . . . it was a woman. She must be the mother. Had the man brought his family here to look? If she’d had hands she would have been wringing them, but as it were, she could only stand tall and still with her terrible hope and her terrible fear known only to herself. She had thought herself past the point of wanting, but to see a young family, it was impossible to not yearn for them to be hers. And in her state??? What mother would want to raise a child in her rodent infested nightmare?
But before she could work herself up any further, she heard the woman quietly breathe the words, “It’s perfect.”
She said it with such awe . . . as if she couldn’t believe her luck.
They proceeded to walk from room to room discussing this or that. The man would point out flaws, just as he had when speaking to the agent, and the woman would murmur some acknowledgment then start talking about paint colors and shelves and carpets and cabinets, counter tops, and windows, and curtains . . . she even picked out a room for the baby. It was hours before they finally stepped out onto the crumbling, old welcome mat and locked the door behind them. When the squirrels and mice came in from the cold to scratch and skitter about, she hardly noticed them and when the bat flew in to rest upside down behind a particularly large peel in the wallpaper she could not bring herself to care.
It was, without question, her best afternoon in years.