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It's A House, Not Yet A Home - AN ARTSY JOURNEY #4

Posted on September 24, 2015 by Kate Moynihan | 0 comments
Out in the mid-day chill of thirty-seven degrees in the almost-April air of Bismarck, I took a deep breath … but it didn’t begin to fill the hollow place in my chest.
  This was The Moment – not the baby step break-up of an on-again, off-again romance. No, this was the no-turning-back end of a relationship. Robert was 1,744 away, so I could no longer stay in denial thinking we’d reunite the next day. Or week. Or month.
      I trudged up the steps to the front entrance of the three-story house as I went through the motions of having to move into a new apartment. I rang the bell, standing on the small stoop in a city neighborhood of houses packed side by side, feeling the wind whip as fiercely as it did out of town, on the open Dakota plains. It stung my face … and I wondered if spring would ever arrive.
   The solid wood door opened, creaking either from the cold or age, I couldn’t tell. There stood a lady almost as tall as my 5'8" height. Her curly, graying hair had a short sensible cut and she was dressed in a simple sensible shirt and pants. She wore flat sensible shoes, too. 
   “I’m here about the apartment,” I said, almost choking on the words.
   “Come in, come in,” she said.
   Toasty warm air swallowed me up as I stepped inside. But the warmth didn’t last long. An enormous jungle cat arched his back and thrust his tail straight into the air. He drew back his lips exposing wicked-looking teeth and spat at me.
   “That’s Butterscotch, my precious,” she said. “Don’t mind him. It takes Precious time to warm up to new folks.”
   I nodded and looked around the room. It was filled with over-stuffed furniture crowned with lace doilies.
   “Sit down, sit down,” the woman said. “My name is Marge, Marge Witt.”
   I perched on the edge of one of the chairs, trying not to disturb the dollies or the cat which was now making disturbing howling noises deep in his throat.
   Marge sat across from me in a matching chair and patted one of the frilly, armrest dollies. “My mother crocheted them right up til her passing.” She fondled the lace for a moment, seemingly lost in thought about her mom.
   “I’ve cleaned out Mother’s apartment downstairs, and I’m ready to rent, but I can’t seem to part with a few of her things, such as lace,” Marge said.
   Oh. A little chill rose up my spine as I realized I was asking to live in a dead lady’s apartment.
   “Mother taught me to crochet,” Marge continued, her eyes tearing up as she reflected on the memories.
   I nodded, unable to form words as my mind was still focused on viewing a deceased lady’s apartment.
   “Oh, my,” Marge said a moment later. “I do tend to carry on, don’t I? Now, about Mother’s apartment. Let me take a closer look at you.” She scooted up next to me, and her dark eyes met mine.
   I held my breath.
   “Mmmm. Mm-hmm,” she muttered, her silverish curly hair bobbed as she nodded at me. “You’ll do just fine. I have a way of knowing these things.”
   Then, seemingly from nowhere, she had a key in her warm hand and pressed it into my palm, gently folding my fingers around it. She patted my hand softly, cradling it in a comforting way. “You just make yourself at home.”
   The clenched feeling in my chest relaxed a little at her kind words and tender touch.
   “You’ll find my tenants become my family,” Marge said. “Just ask Nora, who lives upstairs. She’s like a daughter to me.”
   Marge’s kindred spirit radiated around me like a halo, making me feel safe.
   “Now, let’s take a tour of that splendid apartment. My late husband, Fred, did all the handiwork down there,” Marge said.
    Oh boy. My heart rate rose to my throat. Her mother and her husband were both … dead.
   “Focus, Kate. Focus,” I told myself as Marge’s words whirled around me and she escorted me through her living room.
    “I’m taking you downstairs by the way of the side entrance, but your main entrance is private, through the back of the house,” she said.
   I didn’t really catch a word of what she was saying. On our way down a rough wooden staircase to the basement apartment, all I comprehended was the bare, lonely light bulb high above my head. We descend first into a dimly lit utility room with exposed rafters and unfinished stud walls. My feet shuffled across a cold cement floor, passing the furnace and hot water heater. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it all. Is this how I’d enter my new home? How would I ever bring art clients here for a meeting?
   Marge marched ahead of me. She prattled on and on, but it was all a blur. Stiff-like, I followed her path as she opened a door. We stepped into a kitchen the size of a coffin. Small narrow windows high above my head reminded me I was in the basement of this old house. Only a scant light shone from the outside.
   I trailed behind as Marge scurried along with Butterscotch strutting at her side. The monstrous-size cat stood knee-high to Marge. As he pranced his bristled tail pointed high in the air, waving his backside at me.
   By now Marge was standing in a larger room featuring a crazy orange carpet. She swung her arms wide and twirled.          
 “Come down this way,” she said, motioning me to follow as she moved into a bedroom separated by double-wide French glass doors.
   I inched my way forward, shuffling into a welcome ray of sun making the small beveled glass panes sparkle. Pleasantly, the windows were larger here in the side-by-side rooms. A short distance ahead, Marge swung another door open, letting in a chilly breeze from outside. This time her words sunk in.
   “This is your private entrance,” she said while standing in a long, narrow foyer with big, bright windows wrapping around her.
   Suddenly, Butterscotch, a bundle of flying fur, leaped into my arms, nuzzled, and purred. His body heat seeped into my skin and the sunny back entrance began to warm me up inside.
   “I’ll leave you to unpack,” Marge said, assuming I would take the apartment.
   How could I not? It was the only apartment I could find in the entire city that fit my budget. I was lucky she had set the rent so low.
   About my only other choice would have been to humble myself and ask my parents for moving money. From the beginning of my departure from Michigan, they were firm I shouldn’t leave family. Just thinking about them, embarrassment and shame washed over me.
   Mom had been right. I had made a foolish mistake moving a thousand miles to North Dakota. My cheeks pricked with heat. I was too humiliated to go back.
   Besides, I had a marketing job, and it paid enough to be able to visit my family and maybe save a bit so I could move soon. I would finish the St. Alexius project I had started.
   Hauling boxes out of the jam-packed Chevette, I lugged them to the back entrance and hunkered down to unpacking into the wee hours of the night listening to eerie creaks and strange thumps of the big old house. All houses had their own kind of hum, but I wondered if this one came with the ghost of Marge’s late mother or husband. I pushed the eerie thought aside, along with the dread of living alone. Sure the apartment was filled with my stuff, but when the only sound I heard was my own footsteps, loneliness clung to me. Luckily, exhaustion from the moving day pushed me to sleep.
   The next morning, as I shrugged on my coat, a robin chirped on the window sill, its bright red breast blazed against the gray morning.
   My first robin of spring. I made a wish. I didn’t know it would take a while for it to come true.
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