Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My House, My Life

©2012 Theresa Oliver
“I said to get out and stay out!”
“But Mrs. McGregor …” Paula Harris exclaimed, clearly shocked, as the old woman used her cane to prod her toward the front door.

“You heard what I said!” Mrs. McGregor yelled as she literally pushed Ms. Harris out the door.  “Damn realtors!” she mumbled under her breath as she slammed the heavy wooden door in the realtor’s stunned face.

Tess McGregor was still mumbling under her breath as she slowly made her way through the living room, into the kitchen and to the sliding glass doors. The rhythmic tap, tap, tap of her cane resounded throughout the quiet, old house. Using all her strength, Mrs. McGregor pushed the sliding glass doors aside and stepped down onto the back porch. Nowadays, it was called a Florida room, but Tess called it her sitting spot.

A moment later, a car door slammed in front of the house and the roar of a car engine ricocheted off the walls of the old Victorian home as it zoomed down the street.

“And good riddance to you, too!” Tess McGregor yelled after the realtor’s unseen car as it sped around a corner. “It’s my house and no one is going to steal it away from me! This is my house!”

She carefully held the porch swing as she sat down with a plop onto the old wooden slats, remembering the day they hung the swing and painted it white. Now, the old paint was chipping , even peeling in places. “I guess you’ve seen better days, Old Girl,” Tess said to the swing with a pat of her frail hand, then noticed the skin of her hand growing thin, exposing her frail bones beneath. “I guess I’ve seen better days, too.”

Tess gazed out over the backyard as she slowly swayed back and forth in the swing, remembering the day she planted the two orange trees with her husband, Stan, and their daughter, Debbie.  Tess looked out over the trees, now full grown, having bore their share of good fruit over the years. It probably wouldn’t be long before they would need to be torn out and replanted.

She sighed, remembering. Where has the time gone? Tess wondered to herself as the heavy swing creaked loudly, singing an old familiar tune as she swung back and forth. Creak, crow … Creak, crow … Creak, crow …

The house was an old Victorian, built in the early 1900s. Tess prided herself that their home was one of the first built in their quaint little neighborhood on Brandy Lane. She and Stan bought the house just before they married. It was lovely then, a two-story Victorian painted pale yellow with dark brown trim. Then, she and Stan planned to fill the rooms with children, but were only blessed with one daughter, Debbie.

As a child, Debbie spent many hours playing in the halls of the old home and in the backyard under the orange trees. Tess could still see the image of her little girl with her blonde lopsided pigtails bobbing as she sang Mary Had a Little Lamb while playing with her dolls.  

“Mother? How could you?” an adult female voice barged into the room, bringing Tess back from her reverie. The young woman wore a red power suit and matching heels, contrasting beautifully with her carefully coifed blonde hair.

“Don’t you knock anymore, Debbie?” Tess asked over her shoulder, not budging from the swing as she tucked a stray silver strand of hair back into the bun at the nape of her neck.

“Mother, how could you?” Debbie asked again, ignoring her mother’s question. “And it’s Debra now.”

Tess laughed. “How could I forget? I was the one who named you, remember?” Creak, crow … creak crow …

“Mother?” Debra asked, crossing her arms with an exasperated sigh. “How could you throw Ms. Harris out like that? She’s trying to sell the house!”

My house!” Tess yelled, stopping her rocking abruptly in the rickety porch swing. “It’s my house, Debbie, or have you forgotten that?”

 “But, Mother, you agreed …”

“I agreed to nothing!”  Tess yelled, momentarily silencing her daughter, then added in a low voice, “It was your house, too, you know. Or it was supposed to be.” Tess shook her head as her mouth set into a thin straight line.

“Mother, I don’t want the damned house!” Debra yelled, frustrated, as she turned to gaze out over the orange trees.

Tess looked at her only daughter, shocked. “Well, I can see that now. Your father and I bought this house years ago, hoping to pass it down to you one day.”

Debra let out an exasperated sigh, then sat down on the swing beside her mother. The old swing gave a bit, but supported both their weights with ease. They both pushed the swing together, resuming Tess’ vigil. Creak, crow … creak crow …

“Mother,” Debra said, calmly breaking the silence between them. “Alfred and I bought a house a few years back, and you can’t take care of this one by yourself.” Debra thought for a moment then laughed without humor. “Hell, you’ve thrown out every housekeeper we’ve sent over!”

Tess grinned. “Tell Freddy boy not to send any more over, either, or they’ll be greeted with the point of my shotgun!”

“Mother!” Debra said with a humph, rising from the swing. “And his name is Alfred, not Freddy!”  she added,  starting toward the sliding glass doors.

“Where’re you going, Debbie?” Tess asked with a self-satisfied grin.

“I’ll be back later, Mother. I can’t talk to you right now,” Debra replied, stepping through the sliding glass doors into the kitchen. “And my name is Debra!” The glass rattled as she slammed it tightly shut, leaving her mother on the porch.  

 “You should be ashamed of yourself, you know,” a strong male voice said with a laugh.

“Stan,” Tess replied with a smile, turning to face him. “I should’ve known it’d be you.”

“Would you be expecting someone else besides your husband?” Stan McGregor said I a  strong Irish brogue.

Tess laughed. “Well, as a matter of fact, I do have a gentleman friend …”

“Stop teasing me like that, Mrs. McGregor,” Stan replied, sitting on the swing beside his wife. “I worked hard trying to win your affections before you finally agreed to be my wife.”

“I remember,” Tess replied, smiling at the memory. “You know, Bill Flannigan was sweet on me, too …” Actually, Tess met Stan during WWII. He was an RAF pilot and she was a nurse. They met in a hospital in France when his plane went down and he was wounded. She fell in love with him instantly and never looked back.

“You …” Stan teased, slipping an arm around his wife’s shoulders along the back of the swing, then Stan’s voice turned serious. “I’ve missed you, Tess.”

“Do you remember the time when you almost fell off the roof on that old ladder, right over there?” Tess asked, looking at a corner of the roof just on the other side of the screen enclosure, ignoring his comment.

“Now, stop that, Tess.” Stan McGregor was the only man who could ever handle her.

Tess looked at him in shock as an innocent look spread across her face. “What on earth are you talking about?”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about,” Stan chided, then softly added, “It’s time fo for you to come home.”

“This is my home!” Tess replied as tears sprang to her eyes. “This house is my life! Our life together!”

“No,” Stan corrected with gentle grey green eyes, watching his wife lovingly. “This house holds our memories, but it isn’t us.”

“Oh, you Old Coot!” Tess interrupted, pushing him away. “You don’t know what on earth you’re talking about!”

Suddenly, the sliding glass doors opened abruptly again. Debra stepped through them and onto the back porch with a cell phone glued to her ear. She placed a hand gingerly over the receiver and whispered to her mother, “Good news! Ms. Harris says she has a buyer!”

Tess laughed, shaking her head in disbelief. “You don’t give up, do you?”

“Oh, Mother!”

“I’m surprised Ms. Harris would even want to come back,” Tess added, chuckling lightly.

“Well, I promised I’d be here when she arrives,” Debra added, then turned her attention back to the phone. “That’s right! She said it’s okay …”

“I said nothing of the sort!” Tess yelled loud enough for Ms. Harris to hear at the other end of the phone.

“Sure! She won’t mind,” Debra said into the phone, ignoring her mother. “That’s fine, Ms. Harris. Bring them over.”

Tess rolled her eyes.

“In an hour? That’s just fine! We’ll see you then.”

“I never agreed to this …”

“Mother, now you be nice to Ms. Harris …”

“I’ll do nothing of the sort!” Tess interrupted, turning to face her only daughter, then added, “And stop treating me like a child!”

“Mother,” Debra crossed the porch to sit beside her mother on the wooded swing. Then she took her mother’s hands into her own and looked into her eyes. “Mother, Ms. Harris is bringing a nice family with children by to look at the house …”

“Get out!” Tess replied, taking her hands out of her daughter’s grasp.


“You heard what I said, get out! And if that Ms. Harris brings that family by … well … they can just get out, too!” Tess yelled, having heard enough.

“Mother you really don’t mean that …”

“Then you obviously aren’t listening,” Tess cut her off, but after taking in the shocked look in her daughter’s eyes, she sighed and added in a low voice, “Okay.”

Debra raised an eyebrow. “Okay what?”

“Okay, you can bring the family by,” Tess replied in a rush. “But don’t expect me to sell to them!”

A broad grin spread across her daughter’s face. “Oh, thank you, Mother! You won’t regret this!” Then she crossed the porch to give her a hug, when a thought crossed her mind. “Mother? Who were you talking to before?”

“What are you talking about?” Tess hedged.

“Before I came back,” Debra replied, taking a step away. “Who were you talking to?”

“Oh, your father.”

Debra’s eyes flew open wide in shock. “What?”

“Stan was here just a little bit ago,” Tess added, matter of fact.

Fearing the worst, Debra took her mother’s hands into her own once more and looked into her eyes, then gently replied, “Mother, Dad died 10 years ago …”

“I know, but he was here …”

“Mother, I’ll be right back,” Debra said in a rush, holding her cell phone to her ear once more, then ran out the sliding glass doors, “Alfred? I’m worried about …” Then the sliding glass doors slammed firmly shut.

“You really shouldn’t scare our daughter like that.”

Tess turned around to see Stan sitting beside her on the swing, looking as young as he did on the day of their wedding, 50 years ago. “Stan …” Tess replied with a smile. “I know, but it’s fun.”

Stan chuckled under his breath. “You haven’t changed a bit, have ‘ya now? Still the feisty young lass I fell in love with years ago,” Stan replied in his pronounced Irish borough that she loved so much.

“I don’t know about young …” Tess replied, shrugging her shoulders, resuming her vigil on the porch swing. Creak, crow … creak, crow … creak, crow …

“Tess …” Stan said, brushing a silver strand of hair away from her heavily lined face. But to Stan, she was as beautiful as ever. “I miss you, love.”

“I miss you, too,” Tess replied, then added, “but the house …”

“This house wasn’t our life, Tess.”

“It was mine,” Tess softly replied, looking down at her hands clasped within her lap as a tear slid slowly down her cheek.

“Tess … my lovely bride, Tess,” Stan said as love filled his beautiful grey green eyes once more. “The house just holds our memories. Our true memories we carry with us within our hearts.”

“I will not give up this house!”

“You are one stubborn woman!” Stan scolded, moving to the other side of the swing. Then, after a moment, Stan continued, “Tess, I need you, darling.”

Tess laughed without humor, “You don’t need me.”

“Yes, I do,” Stan said, placing a gentle hand on top of hers. “I miss you. You’ve lived your life, darlin. Your place is with me now.”

“My place is in this house.”

“Mother?” the sliding glass doors opened again as Debra stepped onto the porch in her crisp red suit. “Who were you talking to?”

“You don’t want to know …”

“Mother, are you okay?” Debra asked, looking at her mother as if she belonged in a mental institution.

“If you’re asking if I’m crazy, no I’m not,” Tess replied, with a slight smile on her face. She looked over to where Stan was sitting, but he was gone.

“Mother, they’re here …”

“Who?” Tess asked, then understanding dawned within her eyes. “The people looking at the house,” Tess answered herself, then took a deep breath and slowly let it out.

“Yes, the family I told you about earlier. You remember, right, Mother?” Debra asked as concern filled her eyes.

“I’m getting old, Debbie, but I’m not an imbecile,” Tess replied, slowing rising to her feet.

But before Debra could answer, Ms. Harris cautiously peeked her head through the sliding glass doors. “I knocked first, but no one answered …” Ms. Harris’ voice trailed off.

“Well, you may as well come on in, then,” Tess replied, exasperated, grabbing her cane from the side of the rickety porch swing. “Let’s get this over with.” Then Tess turned abruptly to face Ms. Harris, who stepped hurriedly back as Tess looked into her eyes and quickly added, “But I’m not selling.”

Tess didn’t give her time to answer as she took a step into the kitchen. The rhythmic tap, tap, tap of her cane resounded against the hard tile floor as she made her way into the living room. In the living room, Tess gasped, taking in the charming family.

“I do hope we aren’t disturbing you,” the mother sheepishly replied, then added, “we can come back another time …”

“No, you’re here so you may as well look around,” Tess replied as both Ms. Harris and Debra sighed of relief. Tess slowly made her way to her favorite chair as her cane tapped methodically against the hard floor. Tap, tap, tap …

She sat down with a plop, feeling every bit of her 90 years on this earth, when Tess suddenly felt eyes staring at her. She looked up, and saw a blonde little boy and a little brunette girl watching her with wide eyes.

“Boo!” Tess said, unable to resist, but neither of them ran away. “Hello.”

“Hi!” the little girl replied with a smile, twirling around, clearly enjoying wearing a dress. And even though she was the younger of the two, she was the bravest. Her brother was frozen in place, not sure what to make of this strange old lady with a cane sitting before him.

“What’s your name, little one?” Tess asked the girl, clearly enjoying the exchange.

“Emily,” the little one replied with another twirl, then asked, “What’s your name?”

“Tess,” she replied, not quite sure why she gave this child her first name instead of her last.

Emily bent down into a low, wobbly curtsey. “Nice to meet you,” she replied. Obviously, her parents had taught her well.

A genuine smile spread across Tess’ face. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, too,” she replied, watching Emily turn twirls in the living room, then Tess turned to face the boy. “And what’s your name?”

“David,” the boy answered timidly. “I’m eight.”

“You are?” Tess asked, astonished. A huge smile spread across the boy’s face as he suddenly found his courage. Then she turned her attention back to Emily. “And how old are you?”

“Four,” Emily replied with another twirl, but lost her balance and landed hard upon her bottom. She didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry as she sat upon the floor.

“It’s okay, Emily,” David said, wrapping a protective arm around her shoulders.

Looking up at her brother, then to Tess — who looked on with hopeful eyes — Emily wiped a tear from her eye, got to her feet and resumed her twirling again, no worse for wear.

“Are you okay, little one?” Tess asked, clearly amused by the two.

“Uh huh,” Emily nodded between twirls.

“She’s okay,” David proudly announced, then added conspiratorially, “She does it all the time.”

Tess laughed a huge belly laugh.

Suddenly, Debra and Ms. Harris, dressed in a black business suit, entered the room along with Emily and David’s parents.

“Thank you very much for giving us your time and letting us see your lovely home on such short notice,” the children’s mother said sheepishly.

“It’s my pleasure,” Tess replied as both Ms. Harris’ and Debra’s jaws dropped. “You have two wonderful children.”

Ms. Harris and Debra both gave each other a double take, unable to believe what they were hearing. “Hum … Mrs. McGregor? This is Mr. and Mrs. Miller.”

Tess gave her a dirty look, which silenced her right away. “Yes … well … what do you think about it?” Tess asked, getting right to the point.

“About what? The house?” Mr. Miller asked.

If Tess hadn’t been in such a good mood, she probably would have said something smart. Instead, she replied with a pleasant smile, “Yes, the house. What do you think?”

“Well,” Mr. Miller began, looking first at his wife then at Ms. Harris, who shrugged.

Mrs. Miller nodded, then answered, “We love it!”

“I see,” Tess replied, smiling, then looked down at the children. “This house needs children.” She paused to look at the children, as Ms. Harris and Debra held their breath. Tess ignored them and turned her attention to Mrs. Miller. “It’s been a long time since children have graced the halls of this house,” Tess then looked at Debra, who smiled with tears in her eyes. Then Tess turned to face the Millers again. “I want you to have the house.”

The Millers looked first at each other, then at Tess. “What? Are you sure?” Mr. Miller asked, as Ms. Harris and Debra breathed a sigh of relief.

“Very sure,” Tess replied, looking at the children, then back to their parents. “It was very nice to meet you. You have a lovely family.”

“It was nice to meet you, too, Ms. Tess,” Emily replied with a smile and another twirl.

“It was nice to meet you, too, Little Lady,” Tess replied, smiling at the child.

“Well,” Ms. Harris interrupted, obviously intervening before Tess could change her mind. “I’m sure the Millers have plans to make, so we’ll be going,” Ms. Harris replied, edging toward the front door as the Millers followed.

“Thank you, Mrs. McGregor,” Mrs. Miller said, smiling. “It was so very nice to meet you.”

“The pleasure was all mine,” Tess replied with a smile, as Debra’s mouth fell open.

“Mother, let me help you to your swing,” Debra said after Ms. Harris and the Millers were gone.

“No, Debra, you go ahead,” Tess replied, patting her hand. “I’ll be fine.”

“Well, if you’re sure …”

“Quite,” Tess answered, reaching for her cane.

Debra headed for the door, then turned to face Tess. “Mother, I love you.”

Tess smiled, then rose to her feet. “I love you, too.”

Then a devilish grin spread across Debra’s face, causing her to momentarily resemble her mother. “Mother, I’m proud of you …”

“Oh, now, you get on out of here …” Tess snarled, teasing as she waved her cane, then added, “I’m proud of you, too.”

Debra grinned as tears glistened within her eyes, then she walked out the front door.

Alone, Tess made her way across the tile floor, headed toward the sliding glass doors. Tap … tap … tap …  Once more, she pushed open the sliding glass doors with all her might, carefully stepped down onto the back porch, and made her way to the haggard porch swing, then sat down with a plop onto the rickety wooden slats. She gazed out over the backyard, resuming her vigil. Creak, crow … creak, crow …

“I’m proud of you, too, darling,” Stan said, suddenly appearing beside his lovely wife.

Tess laughed. “I love you, you Old Coot.”

“I love you, too,” Stan replied, sitting beside her, rocking for a spell.

“Are you sure I can take my memories with me?” Tess asked, looking into her husband’s beautiful grey green eyes.

Stan smiled, then replied, “And the love, too. You take it with you, Tess.”

Tess nodded, as Stan placed a gentle hand over hers. “I’m tired, Stan.”

“I know, darlin,” Stan cooed gently to his wife. Creak, crow … creak, crow … “Are you ready?”

Tess nodded. Stan took her hand, then they stood together, leaving Tess’ body behind. Standing beside her husband, she looked as young as she did on their wedding day, with her strawberry blonde hair falling in curls to her shoulders, framing her beatific, unlined face, wearing a dress that showed off her beautiful figure.

And together, they walked into the light, taking their memories and their love with them, leaving the house and their lives, behind.

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