Harris Prince sat in his car in front of a dilapidated albatross of a house, resenting that he had to wait around to meet his new real estate agent to tell her this is not what he wanted in his retirement.
He was startled by a tap on his driver’s window. He stepped out to meet a small elf of a girl in sweat shirt and pants, but she was already ahead of him to the house.
“Let me open it up.” She bounded up the worn steps to punch in the code for the lockbox.
Harris waited by his car for her return, but she didn’t come back. He made a big show of looking at the time, but there was no one to witness this, so he gave up, and went inside.
Inside was badly lit, and the front foyer had a creaky floor.
She returned, sipping bottle water. “I wanted to get a run in this morning, and then I didn’t want to be late, and then I really had to pee, and were not supposed to use the bathrooms in the houses we show, but I decided to cheat today.” She gave him a winning smile, and looked away, happily distracted, before Harris could grimace his disapproval.
“My name is Harris.” He extended his hand formally.
She did not shake his hand, rather she touched his arm, almost pinching his bicep through his corduroy blazer. “I know, we spoke on the phone. I’m Rita.” She made a sweeping motion to the floral pattern wallpapered living room. “Isn’t this classic?”
“The paper is yellowed.”
“We have contractors who can strip and paint that before you move in.”
“What about the smell?” Harry asked.
“Tear out the carpets, bleach the boards, replace the floor with vinyl. That usually does it. Let’s go upstairs.” And she was already moving. “It has three bedrooms. One to sleep in, one for an office, and one for a future hobby, or den sort of thing. They all have large closets. Hardwood floors.”
It was a circular stair case to the second floor. Harry disliked navigating pie-shape steps. The railing was wood and too wide for his small chubby hand to grip safely if he started slipping. The closer he held the railing the closer his feet fell on the short ends the steps. He stretched his arm out to stay in the middle wider parts but then his grip and balance weakened. As he reached the top lack of breath was making if hard to distinguish one step from another.
“The steps are dangerous.”
“Oh, that’s the hardwood. Isn’t it beautiful? It’s the polish. You can get clear stick-on stair treads, they’re really cheap. Come on, you got to see the bathroom up here.”
“Can I just catch my breath?”
“You better, because you’re going to lose it again when you see the size of the closets for these bedrooms.”
“Why is the hallway so narrow?”
“Well, you won’t be living in the hallway, you’ll be living in the rooms. This bathroom is four-piece, so you got your shower stall, and your tub, separate.”
“I don’t use a tub. And that’s a claw tub. If I fell in that I wouldn’t get up.”
“Well, you don’t use it, so you don’t have to worry about falling in it.”
“But I don’t need it. I don’t need all these rooms.”
“These are the original windows, but they can be updated with vinyl. Come downstairs and see the kitchen.”
Harris worked his way back down the stairs.
“You saw the living room, dining room. The fireplace is wood, so you have to check the flu from time to time. Keep it clean. Kitchen, the fridge, stove, microwave, are all included. And the washer and dryer in the back bathroom. I didn’t see smoke detectors. You want to get smoke detectors when you move in.”
The washer and dryer are in the bathroom?”
“Main floor bathroom, like you wanted.”
“But my clothes and bedroom are on the second floor.”
“Yeah, you got to make compromises when you buy a house.”
“I’m not buying this house.”
“Have a look backyard.”
“I saw the backyard from the drive waiting for you to show up. That garage needs to be condemned and torn down and taken away. The back deck is dry and crack, and falling apart, and I don’t think it could bear my weight.”
“Okay, I need you to think outside the box.”
“I’m not thinking outside the box. I want a box I can live in. I think I need a different agent.”
“You signed an agreement.”
“I’m not saying a different agency, I’m saying a different agent.”
“What’s you’re problem with me?”
“We’re just too different.”
Rita sat down at the display table in the kitchen. “Mr. Harris, I’ve never sold a house before.”
“It’s not Mr. Harris, I’m Mr. Prince. My first name is Harris. Please, call me Mr. Prince.”
“What am I doing wrong?”
“I am not saying you did anything wrong. We are… we are not well met.”
“What does that mean?”
“Alright, I’m saying the house is wrong.”
“No, the house is right.”
“Alright, then fine, I’m saying you’ve done everything wrong.”
“What? What, what? Are you a duck?! There, is what I mean. You have no manners. You arrived late - ”
“I told you why.”
“It isn’t a matter of telling me why. You’re obligated to apologize.”
“I’m sorry for living.”
“Don’t talk to me that way, I’m not your father.”
“I know you’re not, my father loves me.”
“You have not listened to me since you arrived. You pay no attention when I indicate my dissatisfaction. You’re unable to read the temperature of the room. Why do you think I would care about this house? Why, in your wild, inexperienced imagination, do you see me occupying this home?”
“Because you’re retired. You need something to care about. You need to keep busy. What do you think you want? A little bungalow? Buy it and sit in the dark until you die? You need a place that you can buy cheap and it will keep you busy. You need a project. All sorts of projects. And with the money you save buying this steal, you’ll be to hire contractors, and go shopping. And you can tell them about their manners. And you can be judgy, judgy with all those people. Because I can see you like to do that.”
They sat in silence for while staring at the kitchen wall.
Harris spoke first. “Why don’t you show me the basement?”