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Chapter 2: The Tour
The wide staircase bisected the junk-filled basement. Matt edged his way past a pile of rusted tools and circled two large wooden barrels filled with dusty coal on his way to the furnace and hot water heater. “Hmmm,” he thought. “The heating unit is gas and newish and the hot water heat is new. Not bad.”
Donna half-smiled when she saw the old soapstone slop sink; she loved old things, vintage things, useful things with character. “This would be a real show piece in a new laundry room,” she thought.
Donna stopped short, “Did you know the drain is clogged?” Donna asked the old lady as she eyed the scummy water in the sink.
Hazy eyes met brown, ”I’ve been meaning to get to that.”
The old woman shuffled over to a splintered wooden door half off its hinges in the far corner of the dim basement “Here’s the half bath,” she said.
Donna peered into the narrow room, lit by a single overhead bulb. “Half bath?” She asked. “It’s missing a sink. Does the toilet work?”
“Yes,” the old lady said, walking away. “It works fine.”
Matt peered over Donna’s shoulder and said, “The electrical panel is in here too. Just above the toilet.”
“Just think, we can flip the circuit breaker every time we flush,” Donna said with a grin, picturing the scene in her mind. Matt gave her a quick hug and edged past her to examine the electrical box, circa 1969, according to a black magic marker notation.
“The main systems, heating, hot water and electrical, all seem to be newer and in good shape. Does the basement flood?” Matt asked as he sniffed the air.
“Not when the sump pump works,” the old woman replied.
Back upstairs Donna edged her way back past the refrigerator that partially blocked the rear entrance to the kitchen and stared at the room. “This could be a really pretty kitchen,” she thought with growing interest, “But the cabinets are a wreck, all three of them. Still, it does have potential.”
“Um. The kitchen sink is clogged too?” Donna asked looking beyond the piles of food crusted plates and pots in the shallow sink.
“I’ve been meaning to get to that,” the old woman replied.
“Donna, what do you think of the kitchen?” Matt asked absently. He trusted Donna to assess the kitchen while he mentally wrangled with the concept of a sump pump.
The kitchen was outfitted in 1960s mod bright orange, lime green and yellow vinyl wallpaper. Donna’s fingers itched to rip it off right then, but she could see mold, blackish mold, growing in a split seam. “It’s charming,” she replied smiling at the old woman. “Yes. Charming.”
The old woman almost smiled back.
Matt recognized Donna’s mild sarcasm, but he also heard growing interest in her tone. “Okay,” he thought. “We are on the same page!”
Through a swinging door into the dining room, across the hall and into the living room, they trailed the old lady: scratched but unpainted chestnut woodwork, stained but attractive brick fireplace, scuffed hardwood floors peeking through the torn carpeting; they saw it all. In the small sunroom off the living room a child had crayoned the walls as far up as their young fingers could reach, but the chestnut woodwork, dusty and worn, was untouched.
Matt and Donna’s eyes met; they smiled.
“You like this house too, don’t you?” Matt whispered as he squeezed Donna’s hand. She squeezed back.
“Come. I’ll take you upstairs. See the bedrooms,” the old woman said.
They heard footsteps.
A young boy in well-worn pjs appeared on the staircase landing. A youngish woman in an oversized food-stained sweatsuit was close behind him.
“Who the hell are you?” the woman yelled looking at Matt and Donna, then her head swiveled, “Who are they mother?”
“Get out! Get out!” she screamed without waiting for a reply.
“Ethyl, they are looking at the house,” the old woman said.
“NOOO! You will NOT sell this house. I am going to kill you if you sell this house!” Ethyl screamed, lunging down the staircase toward the old woman. “You have no right to sell this house. It’s mine!”
Matt and Donna looked at the old woman, who was moving backwards toward the front door. Quickly, the trio slipped outside and closed the door.
“My daughter doesn’t want me to sell the house,” the old woman said.
“Is the house in your name or hers?” Matt asked, glancing apprehensively toward the closed door.
“Mine. Do you want to come back tomorrow night to see the rest of it? It’s not a good idea for me to show you the rest right now,” the old woman said. “Ethyl will just get angrier.”
“Angrier? Than that?” Donna asked amazed.
“Yes,” the old woman said quietly. “Do you want to come back?”
Matt and Donna eagerly nodded “yes.”
“Come at 7 pm then. No earlier,” the old woman said.
Suddenly, the front door wrenched open.
“You bastards. Get away from here and don’t come back. This house is mine! Mine!” Ethyl screamed.
Moving quickly down the sidewalk, Matt and Donna slid into their car and locked the doors. As Matt pulled away from the curb Donna watched Ethyl, arms raised mouth wide open, run down the sidewalk toward the car, “What the heck do you think she is all about?” Donna asked.