House Hunting, Toronto, 1982 (Three Stops)

The first house was empty of things. The living-room was wide and sunken, off the new kitchen. The agent said, "The fire was only in the basement and part of the kitchen." She said, "This house is priced to sell." She said, "I don't think the odor will last."

- - -

The next house was a Victorian on a promising street, the houses separate and maintained. Faded, unblemished brick houses. Gabled houses with scrolled ornate trim painted in blacks and greens and shiny reds. A neighbor was pushing his reel mower, set to its shortest cut, over a lawn that needed no trim.

Inside we found oak woodwork in the front room, a parlor. A living-room had been turned into a large bedroom with small mattresses filling it. There was a tall coffee can with water and cigarette butts in the middle of the room. Upstairs original walls had been replaced with cheap walls making small rooms with stapled-on molding. Each room had a light bulb hanging and a mattress on the floor. A rooming house. None of the rooms had much in them but the beds and some garbage bags. There was one bathroom at the end of the hall. The kitchen smelled of curry. There was a burlap sack of rice next to the fridge. Just off the kitchen was another bathroom with shower. A shower curtain acted as a door, and, to get to the toilet, you stepped through the shower stall.

The agent said, "Sorry" and moved us out and to the next place.

- - -

I liked the look of the outside. I liked the way it was set back--its deep placement on the grounds. I liked the tall hardwoods. My wife agreed.

The agent took us down into the basement--high ceiling, dry floor, painted walls. I said, "Very nice."

"Very nice," my wife said. "So much light. So clean."

The old lady said, "Thank you."

Along the back wall was a line of huge, clear bottles filled with clouded yellow liquid. Swelled-up yellow raisins floated in the bottles nearest us.

"My husband made wine," the old lady said.

It was easy to see what we would do with the living-room. A dark carved mantel covered with old photos in ornate gold-colored frames. More large tinted photos, displayed on lace covered end tables, and covering the walls. We lifted drapes aside to study the condition of the windows. Heavy furniture was looked under.

I asked the old lady, "Do you mind if we move these two chairs so we can take a look at the floor under the rug?"

She said, "No, go right ahead." She said, "You folks will have to excuse me."

After she left, he agent said, "I think we're her first people."

We studied the second floor on our own, talking openly about pros and cons as we went. The house had charm, room to grow, value-for-money, light.

The agent called to the old lady, "Is the tenant in?"

She said, "He knows people are coming. He's there."

We climbed to the third floor.

The agent tapped at the door. With no answer, the agent knocked loudly, then opened the door.

"Sorry," the agent said to the man sitting at the table just a few feet in front of us. "I'm showing the house." The agent placed a business card on the table and pushed it within the man's reach.

The man did not look up from the soup in front of him. He did not move or speak. His hands were resting on the table, spoon in the bowl. A man of about 50 in a clean white shirt and gray trousers.

"Well," the agent said, "we'll just take a quick look around."

My wife and I followed to the center of the large kitchen. The unspeaking man stayed put. His breathing was heavy and loud. He rocked back a bit with each breath in and dropped down a notch with each breath out. He was breathing out sighs.

My wife said, "Please excuse us."

"Yes," I said. "Sorry to bother you."

The agent called us to the window: "What a lovely nice view of the backyard."

The drying platform on the sink had dishes for one. No cabinets. One shelf with cans. No ornamentation in the clean bright kitchen. The fridge was streamlined like an old car. We noted only two outlets in the room and paced out dimensions.

In the bathroom, the agent whispered to us: "This guy obviously doesn't do much entertaining."

The bathroom was old-fashioned, clean, and spare. A shaving brush in a cup, an old safety razor. A whiskerless sink. A tub with feet.

The agent opened the closet. Two pairs of evenly hung gray pants, another white shirt, an empty hanger, an overcoat. The agent turned on the light. The closest was white, large, and empty to its corners.

While we were in the unadorned bedroom, the man entered, without looking at us, and passed between us to the far side of his bed. He sat stooped, on the far edge of his saggy, metal bed, his hands in his lap. He stared into the green leaves glowing from the sunlight. The breeze stirred the leaves and the light.

About the author:

Lynn Kozlowski has a collection of short fiction forthcoming from elimae books. He has published fiction in The Quarterly, Pif, The Malahat Review, Blue Moon Review, Linnaean Street, elimae, and Pig Iron Malt.