2000: In the Sub-Basement

A huge house was something that we weren’t used to. There was lots of room for the kids. It was a step up. I didn’t like the drive to the house. [Landlord] said it was just right over here, and we got in the car and the road in the car seemed like it was just going on and on forever. And then we finally get there, and it’s this ugly blue. I felt like something was looking at us when we pulled up.

“We walked through the house and I liked the kitchen. Coming from [previous house], the kitchen where you could barely turn elbow-to-elbow to a kitchen that had so many cabinets and a huge wooden cabinet for dishes and I was overwhelmed. It was like amazing. A basement, which none of our houses at the time before that had and a garage, which opened up possibilities for Sal.”

– Mom

“Where is it?”

“It’s right up here. Would you be patient?”

“You said it was ‘right up here’ ten minutes ago, Paul.”

“And you’ve been antsy since we left your house.” He had the nerve to extend his hand along Deborah’s thigh. She pried his fingers off and flicked them back into his own lap. “Ah, come on. Don’t be a stiff. The turn is coming up.”

Deborah tuned out the moron her sister had set her up on a blind date with a year ago. Paul had been shadowing Deborah since that night at the Boat, finding various little projects to invite himself into her personal life. It had been an air conditioner six months ago, and now it was a potential house for rent.

Five bedroom, two-and-a-half baths, a garage, basement, two driveways, a deck, a loft.

“…’cuz I mean, if it’s cheap, why not?”

“Uh-huh.” Deborah had groaned this response twelve times since getting in this yellow work van with this rambling, cheap idiot. She couldn’t focus on what he was saying long enough to conjure a real response because the whole time, she could only think about how this car ride felt like she were playing an arcade driving game. The one where the road never ends. And this sense of dread washed over her when she realized that this wealthy business owner driving had enough quarters in his pocket to keep the ride going as long as he wanted.

Deborah shook the thought from her mind. She focused outside the car, hoping that the changes in the neighborhood around her would convince her she was actually getting somewhere in this forsaken car. On one side, there was forest for miles and across the street from it were houses on double lot divisions that put the neighborhood in an upper class perspective. It was Wrong Turn meets Desperate Housewives.

“Uh-huh.” She was zoning out of her own body, putting herself back at her little quaint house with her four children and her growing granddaughter. Then Paul finally turned just past an island.

“It’s right up here,” he said again.

Deborah wanted to shove those remedial words down his throat. He turned right into an all-residential-no-woods neighborhood. The houses were of middle class grade, all with their own human imperfections. The yellow work van climbed the steep hill and turned into a driveway of a bluish-gray house.

Ew. That paint’s gotta go, was Deborah’s first impression. Such a hideously dull color.

The house was at the top of the hill. That was another detail that grabbed Deborah’s attention. How would the children play ball on a street like this? Then she got to examining the other houses more closely. What if there were no other children on this street for her kids to play with? The houses all looked like they belonged to retired folk or middle-aged men who drank one too many.

“What do you think?” Paul said.

Deborah came around the van to size up the house from the center of the slanted front yard. The house wasn’t so bad beneath the color. There were two bedroom windows perched above the garage on the right side and a large open window on the left adjacent to the second driveway. There was also a wheelchair accessible ramp attached to the left side of the house. It didn’t look like home, but home is where you make it, not where you find it.

“Have a look inside.”

Paul was already in the front door when Deborah was making it up the two short steps to the large, square cement slab of a porch. She passed through the front door, quick to notice there was no screen door. There always had to be a screen door. It was always her belief that if you open your front door not knowing who’s knocking, there should be that screen door to protect you until you found out who it was and what their business on your property was. She took that down as a mental note: Paint the house, install screen door, replace dirty, gray carpet in front room.

The carpet beneath her feet wasn’t even carpet. It was a half-inch thick blanket covering the hardwood floor that was probably flawed with stains. Worst part was it didn’t stop in the living room, it continued up the five stairs toward the first three bedrooms. She was surprised it stopped before the top landing.

“Three bedrooms up here,” Paul hurriedly escorted her through each of them.

The first bedroom on the right would suit Danny or Sara. The bedroom next to it would suit whoever didn’t want the first one. The master bedroom was at the end of the hall on the left. It featured a walk-in closet, a half bath and a view of the spacious deck below and the acres of land behind the privacy fence that didn’t belong to this house.

The upstairs bathroom was nothing out of the ordinary. There was a hall closet with storage for towels, bathroom accessories and the like. Deborah admired the antique mirror hanging above the sink. It was ovular and gold-rimmed. She wasn’t sure rather to keep it or toss it. If she moved in, that is.

Paul hurried her downstairs and through the kitchen. Deborah restrained her excitement regarding the spacious kitchen. Coming from a house where the kitchen was also the dining room and the laundry room, she could use the counter and cabinet space this house had to offer.

“This is the second living room.”

Paul pushed her into it. Deborah nearly missed the step down onto a step that apparently wasn’t attached to the wall or floor. It was just a heavy piece of wood wrapped in gray shag carpet that didn’t quite match the thin, tan carpet of the room.

The room itself was beyond all expectations of spacious, though. From the front of the house, you would never guess there was a whole other half of the house attached to the rear. It was as if someone simply took two houses and hitched them together with cement and voilà, this property was born.

The walls of this second living room were wood paneling. Not an extravagant type of wood that was polished and would shine in the sunlight of dawn. No, this wood looked like it came straight off a tree out in the backyard, was cut and sanded and then hung up on the walls with nails and studs.

The walls of this second living room were wood paneling. Not an extravagant type of wood that was polished and would shine in the sunlight of dawn. No, this wood looked like it came straight off a tree out in the backyard, was cut and sanded and then hung up on the walls with nails and studs.

“Are the walls insulated?”

“Yeah, of course,” Paul said with a shrug.

The ceiling had to be at least fourteen feet high, and attached to this room was the second bathroom. It had a standing shower with a glass door and a small window next to the sink.

“There are more bedrooms back here.”

As Deborah came out of the bathroom, she set her eyes on the bay window that overlooked the deck. Here, she could see how grand it was. Nothing like a Martha Stewart catalog, but it was spacious and something they had never really had before.

Deborah followed Paul into the back hall. There was a large bedroom on the left with no ceiling. It just expanded up and over what appeared to be a loft. She found a covering where the loft extended into the hall and over another, smaller bedroom closer to the back door.

Sal and Brandy would do just fine back here. There was plenty of space in this left room for Brandy and Ari—who was now six—and all their accessories.

“The backyard is this way.”

Paul led her out to the deck. On the right side, it was open. The left was dominated by a tree that the deck had been built around. The trunk extended straight up from a storage space, though there were no boards around the base where the tree and deck floor intersected. Ari could fall down there easy.

Build a box around the tree.

Deborah followed Paul down into the yard. There was more yard space than she had thought, which was good considering the front yard and street were of no use. The only way down into the yard, however, was by use of another ramp.

“The previous owner moved his handicapped mother in. They had the whole rear end of the house built for her, including the two ramps.”

The yard wound around the house in a U shape, and in the center was plenty of space for a pool. She could picture it now. The slip-n-slides, the pool, maybe even an in-ground one eventually. All the games the kids could play down here, all the decorations for the deck. The whole mapping out of the house was already building a foundation of a home here.

“What’s underneath the deck?” Deborah said as she rounded the left side of it. There was a door hinge there that spiked her curiosity.

“Junk. Trash from the previous owner.”

“You’re gonna clean it out, right?”

“I’ll get to it. Let’s look at the garage.”

Deborah huffed. “I’ll get to it” meant it was a on list he never intended to look at again.

The garage was a garage. The flooring was uneven cement, there was a washer and dryer hook up by the bottom landing of the stairs. Then there was the black doorway leading to the sub-basement. Deborah’s gut warned her not to go in there. Something she didn’t want to see was lurking for her in that darkness.

But it was daytime. Deborah realized that, and suddenly she could see the steps manifesting before her eyes. There were five cement stairs to go down. As soon as she counted to the last one, it hit her. The stench of death. She clogged her nose, searching the floor for some sort of dead something.

“Oh. That’s gross.”

Paul was staring at the small window embedded in the cement wall. She came to stand next to him to see what he found so repulsive. It was a cat. A dead cat. It was gray and white just lying there at the windowsill lifelessly.

“How did it die?” she said.

Paul took a pen from his work shirt to move the cat about. “There’s no blood. Doesn’t look like it’s been dead long. Didn’t starve to death, that’s for sure.” He tapped the belly of it to indicate the ribs weren’t showing.

“What’s on the other side of that window?”

“Crawlspace.”

Deborah got all kinds of goosebumps hearing that. Goosebumps of the past, goosebumps that whatever happened to this cat wasn’t solely linked to the space beneath the house. She could feel it around her. Not an evil energy, just energy that stood the hairs on the back of her neck straight up.

“So what do you think?” Paul said as they came back upstairs into the kitchen.

Deborah knew the house had the space she wanted for her family. But do you really wanna get tied up in this with him as the landlord? Deborah reluctantly acknowledged that the possibilities of the house undoubtedly outweighed her resentment for the landlord.

“How soon can we move in?”

“End of the week. I got the guys coming in to paint some of the rooms, do a little cleaning. Unless you want to do it. I can knock off half of first month’s rent to pay you to do it instead.”

Deborah wouldn’t mind cleaning the house her way before she moved her kids in. “That’ll be fine.”

“Let’s discuss details over lunch. You hungry? I’m feeling like Chinese.”

Deborah didn’t want to go eat with this man, but she knew she needed to know things about the house: it’s history, what repairs needed to be done, general details. And the last thing she wanted was to bring this man home to her children to discuss them.

“Chinese is fine.”

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