Jessica Ryan rested her head on the dash, taking several deep breaths as she practiced. “Calm, calm, calm. I am calm.” She chanted. The Hammersmiths were something of a mystery to the town. Jeffery Hammersmith was hired as the funeral director of the town by the Mayor. He was bright-eyed and handsome, which was odd for such a macabre profession. From rumors, he was also married and with two kids. Two little girls, actually. And they had a live-in maid, one of them had to be loaded. Jessica adjusted her hair, patted both cheeks, then slipped out of her car, heading up the little hill to their house.
The house of a funeral director should be normal especially in her experience. Houses were houses, the people who occupied them were the weird ones. But when she arrived at the top of the hill, looking at the house she just sold, she then realized she was wrong. The house had been painted into a deep charcoal grey, the windows were painted like a church, the lawn had been ripped up and replaced with a garden. An array of flowers, a section of vegetables, and an apple tree. ‘How did they manage to do this in a week?’ Jessica thought to herself, feeling complete bewilderment. A behemoth of a woman arrived from beside the house, holding a pile of wood as easily as a bundle of grapes. She spotted the petite blonde still looking around from her own shock. The giant barked, literally barked, stirring Jessica’s attention. “Uh..” Jessica began. “Are you Mrs. Hammersmith?”
The woman laughed, soundlessly, shaking her head. She turned her head, showing a hearing aid, and nodded to the doors.
Jessica nodded, “I’ll…..follow you?”
The woman walked up the house’s steps, tapping on the door with her foot, and was ushered inside by Jeffery. He looked completely normal: wearing a sweater vest with his clean white shirt, plain trousers, he wore a pair of glasses on a chain for God’s sake! His hair was light brown and had grey starting at his temples.
“Oh hello,” His voice was a fair baritone, lovely to the ears when it touched them. “How can I help you?”
“I’m Jessica Ryan, I’m the realtor for this house,” She began. “I also head the welcoming committee?”
“Oh, how lovely,” He leaned against the door, smiling warmly. Jessica felt a little fluttery from that expression. “Please, come in. Jackie and the girls are in the dining room.”
‘Jackie? That’s got to be his wife. Of course, all the good ones are married.’
“I see you’ve met Lizzie. She is our nanny, but we consider her a second aunt to the girls. Elizabeth and Maret.” Jeffery continued, he politely stopped her. “Would you mind removing your shoes? Jackie is a little particular about these things.”
“Oh, well…” She looked at her heels.
“Here you are, wear these,” He removed his slippers and extended them to her. “No reason to ruin perfectly lovely stockings.”
Jessica was starting to melt by his charm, hastily trying to relax. She removed her heels by the door, replacing the slippers, entering the house at last. The inside was just as confusing as the outside. It looked like a combination of a museum and a house: mismatched paintings all over the walls, sculptures, and art pieces tucked in the corners. An unfinished painting was beside the open windows, tarp on the floor to not ruin the hardwood. But the rugs were soft, pictures were on the walls of two cute babies, toys were all the way up the stairs. Children’s drawings were given the same attention, framed on the walls right next to a Judith and Holofernes and Rosa Bonheur.
“Jackie!” Jeffery called, leading her to the dining room. “We have a guest!”
The dining room was crowded with Lizzie, now drinking her coffee at the end of the table. Both girls sitting directly next to the other, muttering in their own secret language of Latin, Pig Latin, and subtle Nadsat. Jack stood up from the head of the table, looking over at his husband, beaming. “Good morning.”
“Jackie,” Jessica’s mind connected the dots. “You’re a….”
“Yes, the new local historian.” He answered, extending his hand to shake. She managed to do it, still a little confused. “I’m Jack Hammersmith, how wonderful to have you in our home. These are our daughters, Elizabeth and Maret.” Maret was dressed like a Jane Eyre character minus the bonnet, her hair was pinned up like Princess Leia’s buns. Elizabeth, despite her long pretty smoky black hair, was wearing a hoodie and shorts hidden by how big her top was. She seemed more masculine but perfectly content with that. They greeted her, going back to their mush.
“Would you like some coffee Ms. Ryan?” Jack asked her.
“Sure,” She slowly sat down. Jack signed to Lizzie, and she went into the kitchen to find coffee. “So...you’ve lived here about a week, how’s that going?”
“Very well I’d say,” Jeffery began warmly. “Everyone seems so nervous though. When we greeted the postman he seemed to rush away. Almost as though we would eat him. I know my name is Jeffery, but surely people don’t think about such vile things.”
A coffee tray was slammed onto the table, shocking the realtor. “Um, thank you.” She replied taking the coffee, taking a small sip. It was the best coffee she had ever had in her entire life. “Well, I see you feel very at home here.”
“No reason not to settle in immediately,” said Jack. “The girls need stability after all.” The doorbell rang, leaving the tune of The Thieving Magpie in the air. “Oh, that’s either Mr. Morgan or my collection of letters.” Jack got up first, followed closely by Jeffery straight to the door.
The girls looked at the woman, smiling warmly. “So, what grade are you two in?”
“9th,” declared Maret, a voice low and with a certain ring in it.
“How….how old are you two?”
“12,” Elizabeth joined. Her voice was higher, sounding a little sugary.
“Oh my, how intelligent you two must be! I skipped a grade when I was in the 6th grade.”
“I don’t really believe intelligence can be quantified or measured,” Elizabeth began. “Intelligence is more of a state of mind. We should be able to think of intelligence more freely.”
Jack and Jeffery returned, finding a small collection of papers. “What lovely penmanship.” Jack declared as he studied the first one.
“Papa, Dad, can Maret and I go out to play?”
“Did you finish your mush?”
“Yes.” They both answered.
“Alright, go on, play something delicate and lovely.” They escaped from the table, dashing to the other room, giggling. “Aren’t they wonderful?”
“They’re quite colorful.” Jessica agreed. “So, do you think you’ll stay for the long haul?”
“Oh, I hope so,” Jeffery replied. “Death is such a flourishing business,” Jack hadn’t looked up from his spot, murmuring softly to himself. A Bass instrument and the piano began to play from the other room. “I certainly hope our community will be kind, at least at the start. Who knows what will happen later.”
She finished her coffee, feeling a certain level of unsettled. “Welp…...good bye!” She went to the front door, grabbing her heels. ‘Who are these people?’
“Oh allow me, Ms. Ryan,” Jeffery extended his hand, seeing her struggle to put them back on. “We can walk you to your car if you’d like?”
“No, thank you, feel free to call if you have any questions.”
“Of course,” Jack agreed.
Jessica fled, opening her phone for the background check she had her assistant do. They watched her go, looking slightly bewildered. “What an odd woman. She seems nice enough though.” Jack offered. They shrugged, shutting the doors and going back to their daughter’s playing.