There it was again – the flash of a black cat with white paws and a white-tipped tail from the corner of her eye, the cat gliding behind a door. She didn’t own a cat. In fact, she’d never had a pet. So where had the cat gotten into her house? Dashing towards the kitchen door, Rowena grabbed the door knob and jerked it farther open.
No cat hid behind the louvers. Holding her breath, Rowena strained to hear the click-click of sharp nails on the tile floor, the hiss of a tail brushing a wall. When she felt like she’d pass out, Rowena exhaled slowly and sucked in another batch of air. Nope, no cat noises came to her. She wondered if any of her neighbors had a new cat who’d figured out how to get into her house. Ridiculous, she realized. Her doors were kept locked, her windows as well. A woman living alone couldn’t be too careful.
Days went by, and the cat never reappeared. Rowena forgot about it and lived her life, such as it was. She shopped for food, nothing very fancy but then, her tastes were simple. She watched PBS, especially enjoying the British dramas. Seldom reading newspapers, she got most of her news from the local TV channel, and when holidays rolled around, she hung her father’s American flag from the pole he’d installed in the front yard when she was a baby. She was eternally grateful to her parents, who’d left her with a comfortable inheritance, a house in what had been a decent neighborhood, and an extensive library. By the time she was twenty, she was an orphan, and it seemed silly to work at some menial job when she didn’t have to. So, she started re-reading the library she’d inherited, and by now she was on her third go-round. It never occurred to her to be discontent with her life.
The next time she saw something from the corner of her eye, she almost panicked. A man, she was sure of it, swept past her bedroom door as she was folding back the quilt prior to getting into bed. She’d already checked the rest of the house for opened windows or unlocked doors, so she knew she hadn’t left anything unsecured. As quietly as she could, she slipped her bedroom door shut and locked it, propping her desk chair under the door knob for good measure. She almost picked up her beside phone to call the police, but she thought, given the cat incident, she’d better make sure first. She didn’t want the police making notes of her as a nuisance caller, and she certainly didn’t want or need their attention. So once more, she listened, ear pressed to the wooden bedroom door, breath held, her mind racing. If asked, she could describe the intruder as fairly tall, with light brown hair, wearing something dark. Neither heavy nor thin, she decided. And he hadn’t been skulking or wearing a balaclava or mask. He seemed to be traveling from room to room, as if he belonged there.
By the time her racing heart had calmed down, Rowena convinced herself no one was waiting in the hallway to pounce on her as soon as she opened her door. Still, she was keyed up enough to know she couldn’t sleep, so she crawled into her twin bed, checked once more visually to make sure her bedroom door was locked and barricaded, and pulled out her book. She was half-way through with Middlemarch, again, and enjoying it as much as ever. Only tonight she couldn’t concentrate on the words. Why had that man broken into her house, and what was he planning on doing?
The downstairs held only old family furniture, in massive need of refinishing, some sun-struck curtains, ancient kitchen ware and pots, and two threadbare carpets. Rowena never saw the need to repair, replace, or repaint anything, since everything had been good enough for her parents, thus for her as well. Only her books were worth money, and she knew no one would want to steal them. Too heavy. Too cumbersome.
Dozing off and on, Rowena awoke to a bright sunny morning. Brushing aside last night’s home invasion like a bothersome spider web, she got dressed and determined she’d check her household goods before she bothered to file a police report. Yes, that was what she’d do, she’d go down to the nearest police station and report the man. Maybe the police would send a squad car around the block for the next few nights. She wasn’t afraid, not of the man and not of the cat. She was made of sterner stuff, she reminded herself.
All her bravado deserted her as she cracked open the door of her pink bedroom, decorated with roses and vines wall paper when she was twelve. The white lacy curtains had aged into an ugly yellow, but Rowena never noticed such inconsequential details. “Hello?” she called tentatively from behind her door. “Anyone out there?”
Slamming the door shut would take mere seconds, she reasoned. She tried once more. “Who are you, and what do you want?”
Silence answered her. Giving her shoulders a shake, she rammed her bedroom door open, knocking the door knob into the side of her pink-painted dresser. “I’m coming out now! You’d better not be anywhere in my house, you hear me? Mr. Robber Man?”
The floor board outside the bathroom creaked under her weight, just as it had done all her life. The sun streamed through the threadbare curtains in her parents’ room, sending dust motes dancing in the hallway air. Quickly opening the bathroom door, she jumped in, locked it behind her, and took care of her ablutions with a minimum of fuss. She needed to brush her teeth before she went to the police.
The bathroom mirror showed her the circles under her blue eyes. Her plain hair hung in hunks on her shoulders, since she’d been too nervous last night to braid it before lying down. This is silly, she told herself. No one’s in the house. Dressing quickly, she decided she’d keep herself physically busy today. Usually she became maudlin when she became housebound, and memories of her parents, already old when they adopted her but devoted to her happiness, came rushing in. But she’d been to the store, she’d even spoken with the cashier, even though her voice croaked from dis-use. She had a list to accomplish, she didn’t have time for such silliness as wandering down to the police station.
She needed to do something fun and different! She’d work on her music today, even sing a few of the old favorites. Though she loved opera, she’d never had the voice for it, despite years of lessons. Still, it gave her parents joy when she’d sing an aria or two, no matter how warbly. Yes, that was it! She’d resume her singing. Thatshould chase away any odd spirits or humans trying to take over her home. Or whatever they were. Rowena didn’t believe in ghosts, for surely if such a thing existed, her parents would have returned to her in some form or another, and they hadn’t, despite all her wishing and praying for it to be so.
She had to get to work, right now. Foregoing her morning tea and toast, Rowena grabbed her mother’s straw hat from the hook by the back door and jammed it on her head. Despite its ragged, straw-dangling edges and crushed crown, Rowena wore it whenever she ventured into the yard. That’s what a lady did, she protected her complexion. And Rowena’s skin was as smooth as a baby’s. Her mother had been right about wearing a hat. Next, she unlocked the back door and urged her feet into the morning sun. Her will power, never weak, seemed to be deserting her today, but that wasn’t the Rowena Wilkins her parents had raised. She would mow the lawn today, and that was all there was to it!
Without giving her feet a chance to drag her back inside, Rowena trod down the steps of the back porch and opened the door underneath. Dragging out the old push mower, she checked to make sure the blades were still sharp. They weren’t. She must have been careless the last time she mowed and neglected to sharpen them before putting the mower away. The hasp she used for sharpening hung on a string from a nail just inside the door, and she found it without looking. Kneeling beside the once-green painted mower, she went to work on the old blades, so worn there was almost no blade left. Her papa hated gas-powered gadgets, said they did nothing but belch black smoke and make too much noise. He’d have driven a horse and buggy if it had been possible. Rowena smiled at the memory as she worked to get an edge on the old blades.
“Could I be of some assistance?” The male voice came from behind her, sending Rowena into a very unladylike squeak and onto her bottom.
Hastily pulling her skirt down to her shins, Rowena tipped back the straw hat so she could see who was invading her privacy.
“Of course not. I know what I’m doing,” she snapped. “What are you doing here?”
He wasn’t tall, she noted. Nor thin. In fact, he was a bit pudgy and definitely not young, nor handsome. His thick lenses magnified his eyes so they looked out of proportion to his face. Rowena noticed they were very blue and looked kind.
“I’m Wallace Lacey. The piano tuner. I had a message there was a Steinway baby grand here that needed tuning. I must say, I was quite excited. It’s been a while since I got to work on a baby grand.”
Rowena finally noticed he was holding a briefcase. “I didn’t call anyone to tune my piano.” Trying to rise and keep her modesty was impossible, and she struggled to get to her feet.
Mr. Lacey held out his hand along with a sad smile. “I must say, I thought the address must be incorrect. I’ve been ringing the front door bell for ages, and to be honest, I always thought this house empty.”
With a huff, Rowena got to her feet with his help, but he didn’t let go of her hand. “Of course, it’s not empty, I’ve lived here my whole life. Rowena Wilkins.”
“Mrs. Wilkins, pleased to meet you. Sorry for the scare, I won’t bother you any longer.” With a sad smile, Wallace Lacy turned on his sensible oxford shoes and started walking away.
Smoothing her cotton skirt, Rowena glanced from her mower to Mr. Lacey. She had, after all, decided to resume singing just this morning. And she did possess a fine, though old, Steinway baby grand. It hadn’t been tuned in years, not since she’d stopped playing when her parents became ill.
“Mr. Lacy, don’t go. And it’s MissWilkins. I do possess a Steinway, and strange that you should show up today, just when I’ve decided to play it again.”
Pivoting, Wallace beamed at her. “I say, that’s quite the coincidence. Could I take a look? Just to make sure I can help it, you know. Sometimes, parts, new strings, new keys, must be ordered.”
Rowena thought of the cat and the man. Maybe if Mr. Lacey saw them, she could confirm someone had broken into her house. Then she wouldn’t feel so odd about reporting it to the police.
“Please, do.” Forgetting the mower, Rowena led the way into her kitchen with its cracked linoleum from the 1930s and the old wood burning stove.
“My goodness, this a veritable museum!” Mr. Lacey halted, gazing around in amazement. “I haven’t seen a kitchen this homey in years.”
“Well, it’s the way it was when my parents were alive. I hated to change anything, and since I didn’t have to, I didn’t. Everything works as it should.”
“Do you chop the wood for the stove?” Wallace ran a careful hand over the blackened iron surface. She used boot black on it at least twice a year, as her mother had. “Must keep your kitchen warm in the winter.”
“And summer. That’s why I don’t bake from June through August.” Rowena smiled, patting the cast iron surface with the apron hanging from an adjacent hook, as if trying to remove any trace of Wallace’s fingers from the surface. “Of course, I chop my own wood.”
“My goodness gracious. And you play piano as well.”
“I don’t know about the ‘well’ part. But I can play adequately for my needs. I’m actually a singer,” she said, her voice trailing off. Was she boasting? Could she call herself a singer after so many years of silence? How unbecoming of her. Mama would be ashamed. She needed to be truthful.
“Not a good one. I never was. But I love singing, and my parents indulged me,” she added after a second, as if she had to explain herself. “I play piano for accompaniment.”
“How wonderful to have such gifts.” Wallace gave a last look around the kitchen and following her into the breakfast pantry, then through to the dining room, he seemed overwhelmed. Only when she stopped in the front parlor beside the Steinway did he focus on one single thing. The piano.
The dark ebony wood gleamed. Rowena may not have been practicing, but she kept her house spotless. The Steinway, a gift from her father, got extra love. Wallace pulled out the bench and sat, running his fingers along the keyboard cover. “May I see how far out of tune it’s fallen?”
“Sure. Have at it.” Rowena took the rocker to the piano’s left, the seat her father used when he would shut his eyes and listen to her sing as she played melody.
Running the scales, Wallace concentrated on each note. Over and over, he plunked keys and turning his head like a curious squirrel, listened.
“I think I can put her to rights without anything else. Well, I need my tuning fork, of course.”
“May I watch?” Rowena found herself reluctant to tear herself away from this man who seemed to have appeared in her life like a sign from God. “And if you happen to see a cat anywhere, could you let me know?”
* * * * * * *
Rowena found her voice with Mr. Lacey. He offered to play for her while she sang, and sometimes, he’d weave in a gentle harmony that she secretly found thrilling. His harmonizing was never boastful, always respectful of her melody, and showed her just how much they could work together without rubbing each other the wrong way.
She almost forgot about the man and the cat who’d appeared to her. Wallace consumed her thoughts more and more, and she wondered if this is what it felt like to be in love. Whenever he sat across the old breakfast table from her, sipping a post-music cup of tea, she found herself daydreaming about how it would feel to have him around all the time. If they married, she reasoned, they’d live together in her house, of course. For she had no idea where he lived and what he did with the hours he didn’t spend with her, and it didn’t bother her one bit.
Mama had always said when the love bug bit her, it would bite hard. She rather thought that had happened, at long last. One night, braiding her hair and singing softly the old tune she’d practiced that day with Wallace, she wasn’t paying much attention to where she was going. She knew the way from the bathroom to her girlhood bedroom so well, she could have found it in pitch black. Buttoning the top button of her long gown, she almost fell over as something brushed her shoulder.
“Who’s there?” she whispered, afraid to take another step. This time, she saw the movement clearly, a woman this time, going up the stairs to hallway. Her brown hair bounced, its curls brushing her shoulders, and the housedress she wore looked suspiciously similar to one her mother had owned.
“Where did you get that?” Rowena called, bolder now that she’d had a good look. “My mother’s dress, why are you wearing it?”
Pausing in front of her parents’ bedroom, the woman turned and looked at Rowena full on. She’d seen that expression before many, many times. Love, pure love.
“Mama?” Rowena took a step toward the woman who so resembled her mother, only much younger than she’d ever known her. “Is that you?”
The woman disappeared. “Mama?” Rowena cried, racing for the bedroom door and snatching it open. “Mama, where are you?”
The dust covers over the furniture shook slightly with the breeze from the suddenly opened door. Her mother’s sewing basket still sat on the table beside the old chair where her mother had fixed hems and sewn on buttons. The curtains, as aged and yellowed as the ones in Rowena’s bedroom, lifted slightly as well.
“Oh, mama,” Rowena sobbed. “Come back to me.”
Even as feelings she hadn’t had in twenty years threatened to drag her under a thundering wave of sorrow, Rowena knew she wasn’t summoned to sadness. Her mother had smiled, looked happy, young, and as if she’d never aged and died. How could that be, Rowena wondered. Wandering back to her own room, she perched on the window sill and looked out into the night. Neighbors no longer lit their porches, and old cars littered their dirt-bare yards. In her parents’day, lush grass, flowers, and neat front porches lined the street. When had ugliness become the norm,
That night she dreamed of her family. Her mother and father worked the garden that overflowed with tomatoes and pole beans, which she canned with her mother during hot afternoons in August. Her father scrubbed the storm windows, preparing them for winter, and painted the porch steps every summer to keep them from looking worn. In her dream, her family was young and vibrant, in a way she’d never known them since she’d been adopted late in their lives. Strangest of all, a black and white cat roamed the yard, winding around her father’s ankles for a scratch behind the ears. Rowena had never known a pet, not ever. When had the cat been a part of her family?
Awakening the next morning, Rowena hurried to dress. She couldn’t wait to tell Wallace about it. She’d never told him about seeing the man from the corner of her eye that day, but how she could explain to him that she was sure it was her father, only younger. And her mother, entering their bedroom. He wouldn’t think her crazy. Or would he?
She worried about what to tell him all morning as she fixed a lunch for the two of them. He’d promised to drop by at one for a quick bite, for he had afternoon appointments to repair a trombone which had met its demise at the hand of a temperamental little boy, and a guitar run over by a bike. Children, he’d sighed when he told her about his next jobs, just hadn’t been taught respect for their instruments.
Setting the breakfast table with a red checked cloth and her favorite blue willow china, she decided to squeeze fresh lemons for lemonade at the last minute. Iced tea seemed too mundane for the conversation she wanted to hold with him. Checking the hand-wound kitchen clock, she saw she had thirty minutes until he appeared. If she hurried, she’d have time to get to the store and still make lemonade. Rushing, she didn’t notice the large equipment rumbling down her street. Only the bother of getting around them registered. The store wasn’t crowded, for it never was these days, and the lemons seemed puny and old, but she bought enough to get some juice, she hoped. Wheeling into her driveway with difficulty, she parked the old Ford in the shed where it always stayed and hurried into the kitchen.
The heavy equipment was parked in front of her house. She hoped Wallace could get into her driveway, where he normally parked his small car. Some neighbor must have to dig up a sewer line, she guessed, checking out the big pieces on flat beds before she unlocked the front door for Wallace. He liked to walk past the Steinway on his way to kitchen, so she always left the door unlocked for him.
The lemon juice stung the small cuts on her hands, ones she hadn’t noticed she had. Still, it made her nails nice and white, and she dabbed a bit of the juice behind one ear so she’d smell lemony fresh. Her mother had done the same with vanilla extract. She wrenched the ice tray into the pitcher where she’d added the juice, water, and a good bit of sugar, and admired her handiwork. Lemonade made a meal special, she thought.
Checking the clock again, she saw that Wallace was late, which was very unlike him. She planned over and over how to tell him she’d seen her parents, but they were young and in the house. Draping a napkin over his sandwich (no mayonnaise, a little butter, and cut diagonally), Rowena wondered what could have held him up. She determined not to fret. But by the time he was forty-five minutes late, she felt panic threatening. Now that she’d resolved to tell him about her parents appearing to her as a young couple, long before she was born, he wasn’t there? Did he sense she’d decided to make a break from the past and weave a new future with him, for now that she was afraid he’d never see her again, she knew what she wanted to do.
Her parents could have the house. They’d always been there, she just hadn’t been able to see them before when she was closed off to happiness of her own. Now that Wallace had come into her world and shown her she could be happy with him, they’d appeared to give her permission to make a new life. She’d even, she told herself sternly, give up her own house to be with him in his if that was what he wanted.
The thought sent her reeling to the nearest chair. How could she go? And leave mama and papa alone in the house? But they’d been alone there before she’d been adopted, of course they would be just fine. Fingering the apron her mother had worn, and which now covered her own dress, she decided today was the day. Untying the apron, she removed it, folded it neatly, and returned to the kitchen to place it in the drawer with the dishtowels her mother had embroidered with little flowers. She would take nothing with her when she moved with Wallace. After they were married, of course.
She blushed at the thought. Here she was planning an engagement and wedding, and Wallace hadn’t said a word along those lines. But she knew he was thinking that way. He said he thought about her every minute he wasn’t with her. He praised her cooking and housekeeping and said he could sing along with her all day, it was such a pleasure. A man didn’t make such compliments lightly, she knew from reading novels. A man with marriage on his mind, did.
She hadn’t thought marriage was part of her future. And maybe it still wasn’t. Where was Wallace? Fretting, she kept busy dusting close to the phone, in case he called. The ice in the lemonade melted, making it too weak. She poured out the liquid in the sink and started over, thinking it was a good thing she’d bought more lemons than she needed. Too nervous to eat herself, she finally put the sandwiches in the ice box and lit the oil lamp on the kitchen table.
Hours passed. She stopped checking the kitchen clock.
Sinking into a chair, she hid her face in her hands. She hadn’t cried since her parents left her all alone. Now, the tears fell and leaked through her fingers, wetting her skirt. She’d never know where things had gone wrong with Wallace, but most of all, she mourned the future she’d believed was hers. Companionship with a like-minded individual. A man who found her to be talented and interesting. A man who could make her heart race just by taking her hand. By the time the oil lamp had burned down to the nubbins, Rowena was all cried out.
“There,” she proclaimed aloud, “that’s the last time I do that. Time for bed, I’ll clean the kitchen in the morning.”
Hauling herself upright, she made her feet march up the stairs to get ready for bed. Routine, that’s what she needed. To get back into her routine, her life before Wallace turned it upside down and six ways to Sunday. She wasn’t really looking when she got to the top of the stairs, she was so busy giving herself a good talking-to, so she almost missed it. Or them.
The man and the woman in her dream. Her mom and dad, decades younger. Her mom held a black and white cat in her arms, while her father’s right arm wound around her mother’s waist. Smiling, they waved to her and slowly dissolved. Farewell. That was their message, Rowena knew it in her innermost being. This time the tears came so suddenly, Rowena got the hiccups. Not only had Wallace abandoned her, but her parents’ ghosts as well. She was well and truly all alone. Sinking into a heap at the top of the stairs, Rowena sobbed until there was nothing left to come out of her eyes.
A rapid, overly loud knocking noise came from downstairs. Glancing down the stairs, Rowena wondered for a second what time it was. Had to be very late at night, she guessed. Who could be at her door at this hour? Dragging herself to her feet, she resisted the urge to hurry down to see if it was Wallace. He would never be so inconsiderate. But if not Wallace, then who?
The front door burst open, slamming the opposite wall so hard a picture crashed to the floor. “Rowena,” Wallace yelled. “Get up. We must go now!”
She’d forgotten she’d unlocked the front door hours earlier in anticipation of his arrival for lunch. Now, she was beyond hurt and into being furious. How dare he burst into her home with no warning? No call?
“Get out!” Rowena screamed from the top of the stairs. “I don’t want to see or hear from you ever again!”
Stumbling up the stairs in his haste, Wallace aimed his flashlight at her face. “Rowena, there’s no time for hysterics. They’re going to tear your house down in about an hour! They finished with mine late tonight, and I’ve just gotten what I could salvage into my car. They kept me out while they knocked down my apartment building. When they finished for the night, I got back in, and oh, Rowena, I heard the workmen say before they left that your house is next!”
Mouth ajar, Rowena pushed her hair out of her face, her tears forgotten. “They can’t do that! I own this house! I’m never leaving!” All thoughts of moving in with Wallace after their marriage had disappeared for good.
“Honey, they can do what they want. This whole block is scheduled for redevelopment. Again, I heard the workers talking while they took a break. I don’t know why you didn’t receive a notice, but your neighbors are all gone. Not a single one is still living here. Didn’t you notice?”
She didn’t know how to tell him she never paid any attention to her neighbors. They were simply there. Her life was in this house. With her parents.
“I can’t go. My parents are still here.” She didn’t tell him the whole story, about her mother’s little wave of farewell. “And I want you to leave. Go away and don’t come back.” It killed her to say the words, but she wouldn’t ever cry again over Wallace Lacey.
No one could demolish her house. She’d chain herself to the tub. She’d beat off anyone who dared challenge her. She knew how to hit a man where it hurt, her father had showed her. She started down the stairs to get the snow chains for the car’s tires from the shed, focused on what she had to do immediately, without seeing Wallace step in front of her.
Wallace stepped in front of her, holding her arms so hard it hurt. “Sweetheart, you can’t do a thing. I know. I’ve spent all day at city hall, tracking down anyone who could help me, but the truth is, all these properties were condemned months ago. Let me help you pack whatever you can in the next hour, and we can be out of here before they fire up the bulldozers.” Wrapping his arms around her, Wallace kissed her forehead, then her lips.
“All that matters is that we’re together.” His words, whispered in her ear, cut through the panic and fury.
“Really?” Rowena couldn’t see his eyes in the darkness, for his flashlight was aimed down. “You mean it?”
“I do, my love. I have a ring somewhere in my coat pocket. I picked it up from the jeweler today. Wanted to surprised you with it at lunch, and then I saw the bulldozers ramming my apartment building when I came home to pick up my repair kit.”
“Why didn’t you call me?” Rowena felt childish, but she’d been through such hell, she didn’t care.
“My phone was inside my apartment,” he reminded her gently. “I couldn’t get in until they left off work, and then, I was mostly looking for my repair equipment. The phone was gone, of course. I had no idea they were going to knock down my place, either. I mean, I knew I was the only tenant, but I had been for years. The landlord still cashed my checks!”
“Oh Wallace, how awful. I feel terrible now. I thought you’d given up on me and didn’t have the courage to tell me good-bye.” Rowena started to sniffle once more.
“”Now, now, my love. Don’t cry. We’ll get through this. After all, we’ll have each other. Now, where is that ring? I want you to wear it this instant. Never think I don’t love you. I have since we first met by accident and find myself more and more in love with you every day, if that’s possible. And I quite think it is!”
Even in the flashlight’s glow, the diamond sparkled. Gasping, Rowena offered her left hand, smiling through her tears as Wallace slid it on her ring finger. “Forever, my dear Wallace. We’ll be together forever.”
“Of course, dearest. I wouldn’t settle for less.” Clasping her tightly to his chest, Wallace rained kisses on her.
* * * * * * *
“This is the last one, thank God. These old places give me the creeps. Look at that grass, will ‘ya? Must be
three feet high. Didja ever?”
“This block went downhill twenty-five years ago. I tell ya, they shoulda condemned the whole block back then. Nothin’ but rats and trash, that’s all it is. Look at that house, I tell ya, you can’t really say it’s a house anymore. All those broken windows, porch and roof caving in. Bet druggies been hangin’out in there.”
“Let’s get going. Don’t want another long day like yesterday. That old apartment complex was a bear to take down. And it looked in worse shape than this slum. Fire up the ‘dozer and get ‘er off the flatbed.”
Dawn was just edging over the horizon as the beasts roared into life and charged into the front porch. One lift of its bucket, and the porch was nothing but kindling. The two men worked tirelessly, and by ten that morning, nothing remained of the house that had stood for a hundred years but its brick foundation.
“That’s it, then. We can take a half day off, far as I’m concerned. Good work.” Loading up the bulldozers, the two men drove off, leaving the square miles behind them as flattened as if the Nagasaki bomb had been detonated.
* * * * * * * *
Even though Rowena threw a few belongings and mostly photos in the old cardboard suitcase her mother had used last on her honeymoon, she wasn’t ready to leave. At Wallace’s urging, she took a last wander through the old house, visiting her special spots where she’d read, the kitchen where she’d spent many happy hours with her mother, and her father’s workshop in the shed.
“Can I take some of his tools, do you think?” she asked Wallace.
“How much do you think you can carry out of here? We can buy what we need at our new place. Come on, honey.”
As she turned to leave the shed behind for the last time, Rowena caught the morning sun glinting off the second story windows. “I can’t do it, Wallace. You have to talk them out of it. I’d rather die than leave my house. Can you do it? Can you talk to them, please?” Her tired eyes filled with tears once more.
“Honey bunch,” Wallace sighed. “Oh, all right. I’ll give it a try. No harm in asking. No promises, either.”
She waited in the yard while he spoke with the men wearing hard hats. Finally, they shook hands with Wallace, and drove off. She couldn’t believe how brave Wallace was. Such courage, she thought. And he’s mine.
If possible, more love and joy bloomed inside her. How happy mama and daddy would be. She hoped they’d stuck around long enough to see what a great son-in-law they were getting.
“Come on, sweetie. We can go back inside. All’s well that ends well.”
“When can we get married? I’d like a simple affair, here in the house.”
“Whatever you want, darling. We have all the time in the world.”
His words were true. They lived the rest of their lives in the old house with yellowed curtains. Every now and then Rowena thought she saw her parents and the black and white cat from the corner of her eye, but part of her knew it was wishful thinking. They’d moved out when they were sure she had found happiness and true love. She hadn’t needed them anymore.
* * * * * * *
The condominiums that sprang up on the ground cleared of rubble from all the demolition work sold like party favors on New Year’s Eve. The neighborhood had been gentrified, the locals said. It was now a desirable address.
One young couple bought their first house in the complex, spending too much but knowing it would be their home for many years to come. They liked everything about their new condo, except the wife would get the strangest feeling she was being watched. It wasn’t possible, of course. Then one day she saw a black and white cat in the laundry room and got spooked. There was no way that cat got in by itself. When she went to pick it up to see if it wore a collar with a tag, it disappeared. Literally before her eyes.
She was afraid to tell her husband about the cat. She wasn’t the type to get scared easily, and she didn’t want to ruin her reputation. That didn’t last long. A few days, at the most. The short, pudgy man she glimpsed out of the corner of her eye while she fixed her kale smoothie sat as if playing a piano, but there was no piano. A faint, warbling echo of a song came to her, and with that, she ran from the house, got in her car, and didn’t stop driving until she got to her gym, where she did an extreme workout and swore she’d never mention seeing a ghost as long as she lived.
Baffled by his wife’s insistence that they sell the condo immediately, her husband wondered if she was pregnant and hormonal. His mother said it was possible, so he bought a pregnancy test on the way home.