“She won’t leave!” David inhaled fiercely on the last of his cigarette and plunged the stub into the top of a half-eaten croissant. A young couple seated nearby gave him a wary look and began to gather their belongings. David pulled up his collar against the chill as paper napkins fluttered across the café’s outdoor courtyard. He leaned across the table and fixed his eyes on Kate. “Help me!” he pleaded. I’ve got to get out of there!”
Kate glanced at the smoking pastry with mild alarm. “David, I’m a real estate agent. I sell houses. I don’t have the expertise to handle a problem like this.”
David dragged a hand through his hair and sat back with a wild, desperate look. “She nearly tore the house apart when you nailed up the FOR SALE sign again. I got home that evening and it was in splinters on the lawn! The front window was smashed and all the porch railings were broken and snapped.”
“I’ll send over Guy Harland. He can fix the damage.”
“A handyman? That’s your answer?” David snorted and shook his head in disbelief. “Forget it, Kate. Besides, Guy won’t come near the place. He’s heard the word about the crazy lady on Fair Oaks Avenue.”
Kate’s phone buzzed, demanding her attention. “I have to go,” she said, standing up and brushing muffin crumbs from her blue woolen jacket. “Sunday, ok?” She reached over to pat David’s thin hand. “Let’s try an open house. She’s usually gone during the day.”
“Yeah, ok.” David sighed and reached for another cigarette. Kate looked in distain at the torrid Camel lampooned in phyllo on the glass tabletop.
“You should really try to quit! Nobody wants to buy a house that smells like smoke!” she called over her shoulder, exiting the courtyard.
David watched as Kate hurried to the car park, shiny curls bouncing down her back. She was smart and capable and kind. He wanted to ask her to dinner and tell her how wonderful she was…how utterly grateful he was that she was brave enough to help him with his problem.
Instead, he spent time meeting Kate at a wobbly cafe table, discussing an unsellable Victorian mansion over bad coffee and dried out pastry. By no means would Kate become involved with him, especially not with the seemingly unsolvable problem of a house… and a woman…he couldn’t seem to get rid of.
That evening, David sat alone in bed, staring at the cracks in the ceiling. For three years, he and Eleanor had been having the same argument. David wanted to sell the old Victorian on 115 Fair Oaks Avenue and put an end to their increasingly malignant relationship. Eleanor wanted to stay on the property and stay on with David.
When David Brown and Eleanor Crane had first met and taken up residence together, she had been benevolent and sweet in a muted, almost secretive way. In fact, he had tried to coax her out of her soft-pedalled shell and in time David became a balm to the solitude that had pervaded her life.
In the beginning, he wasn’t attracted to her; they were merely roommates. Admittedly, she was more of a curiosity, a project, someone to fill a gap in his life even if she wasn’t the right piece to the puzzle. And for her, it was a question of having someone to fight off the loneliness.
In time, the terms of their coexistence changed. David would wake up to find her sliding into his bed during the cold, dark hours of night. Her modest ways had become more brazen and he never stopped to think about the consequences. It was an unlikely affair; David, Eleanor and the quaint assemblage of Victorian architecture were soon enmeshed like spiders and flies in a web.
As the years passed, Eleanor became more assertive, more demanding…more violent. If David stayed out late or went to a party he would return to find the house in utter disarray; his clothes would be in shreds, dishes smashed, the curtains torn from their rods. He tried to persuade her to leave the old pile of Victorian bones and explore a new realm of existence but, she wouldn’t…she couldn’t.
It wasn’t her fault. Nothing David tried had ever made a difference; and he had tried everything! He read books and spoke to experts and experimented with different methods but Eleanor had to want to forge ahead if she intended to free herself from a life of isolation. But Eleanor had no desire to change and now David was the one who needed to escape.
For three years, 115 Fair Oaks Avenue had been on the real estate market. Whenever Kate nailed the FOR SALE sign to the post on the lawn, David would come home to find it broken or smashed or thrown onto the porch roof. There was always some sort of violent destruction waiting for him inside…floor boards pulled up, wallpaper torn, furniture knocked over. He would make repairs, beg Eleanor to see reason and plead with her to stop chasing away potential buyers with her destructive rampages.
Kate and David continued to re-post the sign each time Eleanor vandalized the advertisement. It was an ongoing, relentless battle that had been waged for years.
David’s thoughts drifted to Kate…her soft face, her bright eyes. He had fallen in love with her not long after she had hesitantly taken him on as a client. After all, David and the reputation of his Victorian problem preceded him and Kate was cautious and wary of the fiery woman lurking on Fair Oaks Avenue. She had been patient and brave in the face of taking on a difficult situation. She cared about helping David but, she kept their relationship professional. Kate may be courageous be she knew Eleanor had powers beyond her grasp.
At one time, David had cared for Eleanor. She had once looked ethereal and light and was playful and fun. Now she was disheveled and gaunt and hollowed out; in fact, she scared him. Now, he knew that it had been wrong to become involved with matters he did not understand. Eleanor had never been corporeal and authentic, balanced or within reach, such as a real woman like Kate.
It was stormy that night and David could hear the incessant drips of water coming through the leaky roof. And there was another sound…footsteps. She was coming up the stairs. Slow, deliberate creaks on wooden treads sounded softly against the backdrop of pattering rain and rumbling thunder.
David held his breath, praying she would pass his door. He couldn’t face another argument. He wanted to scream, “Leave me alone! Go away!” But, he knew better than to provoke her ghastly anger.
She paused on the landing. The glass knob began to turn but the door was locked; not that a locked door mattered against the fury and wrath of Eleanor Crane. A large gust of wind sent creaks and shivers through the moldering eaves. The tempest itself seemed to satisfy Eleanor’s rage and her steps receded into the gloomy corridors. David breathed a sigh of relief. At least for tonight, he would have some peace.
Two days passed and David had not interacted with Eleanor. He knew she was there, as he heard her languid footsteps and melancholy sighs wafting down from the upper floors. When Sunday morning arrived, he hoped she had accepted it was time to let him move on. The night before, he had left a note on the mantle, explaining about the Open House and begging her not to cause any trouble. The mansion was quiet and clean and orderly.
Kate arrived, looking fresh and smart in her black pumps and cashmere sweater. David had made sure to dispose of all ashtrays, air out the house and light some scented candles. He knew a bit of lingering cigarette smoke was the least of his worries but he also didn’t want to repulse Kate with his bad habit. If this house ever sold, he would quit smoking and ask her on a date.
At 11:30am a red sedan pulled up the tree lined drive. A middle-aged couple stepped out onto the pavement and made their way to the front steps. Kate watched them approach and silently prayed they would be able to view the home without interference from Eleanor. The FOR SALE sign swung gently in the breeze.
“Hi there!” said Kate cheerily and extended her hand to the prospective buyers. “My name is Kate Lovely. I’m the real estate agent. And, this is the homeowner, David Brown.” The couple introduced themselves as Fred and Martha Collins. Martha looked at David and furrowed her brow.
“I didn’t think it was customary for the seller to be present during an open house,” said Martha.
David smiled nervously and popped a piece of Nicorette gum into his mouth.
“This house comes with some very unique qualities,” Kate quickly explained. “I thought it would help to have David here to answer any unusual questions.”
Kate briefly closed her eyes. “Or, fend off the other crazy occupant,” she thought.
“Alright,” said Martha. “Where should we start?”
Kate and David walked Mr. and Mrs. Collins through the parlor and the kitchen and up the beautiful staircase where sunbeams cast colored confetti onto carpeted landings from the stained glass windows above. They loved the nooks and window seats and creaking floors. They loved the bedrooms and woodwork and built-in cabinets. In fact, they wanted to make an offer.
“Great!” Kate exclaimed. “I can draw up the paperwork this afternoon.” She glanced at David who was furiously chewing gum and darting his eyes into every corner, expecting Eleanor to emerge from the shadows in a monstrous tirade.
“Yes, that’s wonderful,” said David. He laughed nervously. “Really wonderful!”
Kate was alarmed. “He’s starting to look like her,” she thought. “He’s starting to look wasted and frail and desperate just like Eleanor. The stress is killing him! I’ve got to sell this house.”
She ushered Mr. and Mrs. Collins outside, took their details and set up a time to meet and collect their deposit.
David was waiting in the sitting room when Kate came in, breathless and excited that finally a sale was on the horizon.
“I should charge you double the commission if this actually goes through!” she laughed.
“No arguments from me,” grinned David. He poured himself a whiskey from the decanter on the sideboard. “Drink?” he asked Kate, holding up a glass.
But, Kate had gone pale. She was looking over his shoulder and when David turned he was face to face with Eleanor Crane. She held the heavy crystal whiskey decanter high above her head and moved to bring it crashing down on David’s skull.
In an instant, Kate grabbed an iron poker from the fireplace behind her. “Duck!” she screamed and swung the rod with all her might as David dove to the floor. The poker connected with Eleanor who shrieked and howled and suddenly disappeared in a gust of vapor.
Silence ensued. Sunlight streamed through the window pane showcasing frenzied whirls of dust motes, the sole remaining evidence of the ghostly occurrence.
Kate tossed the poker aside with a clatter and reached down to help David off the floor. David adjusted his glasses while Kate caught her breath.
“I’ll have that drink now,” Kate whispered and David shakily poured out a glass. She drank it down in one swallow and the roses returned to her cheeks. She faced David, placing her hands on her hips. “What about an exorcism? A priest? Have you tried that?”
David shook his head. “Father Sean performed the rights but it only made things worse.”
“Sage? Smudging? I know that sounds a bit witchy, but...”
“I’ve tried it!” David pushed his hands through his hair. “I’ve tried it all! Eleanor is not going to let me sell this house! She will never let me leave! She’ll kill me first!”
Kate pressed her fingers to her forehead. “How on earth,” she thought, “had she ever become involved in a mess like this?” She looked at David and swallowed hard. He looked weary and ragged and hopeless. For three years she had tried to help him unravel from the inextricable Eleanor Crane and the Victorian Mansion on 115 Fair Oaks Avenue. Kate had to finally admit that David was saddled with a problem and there were no good solutions.
He could simply walk away but, then he would have no money. He could burn the place down with one of his filthy cigarettes but then he’d risk going to jail. He could try and continue to live with Eleanor but Kate felt that David would end up raving mad…or worse. This was, literally, a dead end.
“I, um…I think I need to move on from this listing.” Kate gathered her belongings and buttoned up her coat. “I’m sorry, David. We’ve tried everything. I just don’t know what else to do.”
Kate looked apprehensively over her shoulder, hoping that Eleanor’s ghost had retreated to a far-away cranny of the rambling mansion.
David nodded. His rumpled sweater hung limply on his thin frame as he picked up the iron poker and placed it back on the hearth. He walked Kate outside and watched her car roll slowly down the tree lined driveway.
Pulling out a cigarette, David felt for a lighter in his pocket. Starting to make his way back up the lawn, he noticed the FOR SALE sign was again, pulled from the post and lying in pieces on the ground. This time, he didn’t bother trying to put it back up.