Heidi wondered if the shocked expression the woman wore was her natural look or truly surprise. She had, after all, knocked on Heidi’s door with intent for Heidi to open it, hadn’t she?
“Hello.” Heidi said waving the hand that wasn’t holding the paintbrush.
“Hello.” The lady responded hesitantly.
“The paint fumes must be ghastly, I’m so sorry. I have been breathing them so long, I can’t even smell them anymore.” Heidi offered.
“So you’ve… “ the lady said haltingly.
“Its appalling, isn’t it?” Heidi said looking at the paintbrush in her right hand. “I must have been possessed to buy it. It looks like Barbie held her prom in there.”
The lady gave a weak smile.
“Can I get you a glass of water?” Heidi asked. “Come on in. I have every window in the house open, so it freezing, but I swear it smells worse out here than in there.” She led the lady into her living room.
Returning with a glass of water, Heidi shivered. “I cannot believe how cold this summer is. I wonder if it is always like this this time of year?”
“No, this is unseasonably cold. It happens from time to time.” The lady answered, her expression fully composed now. Heidi looked about her room; these bright rose-colored walls would never stay. “So, what do you think? Hideous or just blinding?”
“Hmm.” The lady said taking another drink of water.
Heidi looked the lady over, “I’m sorry, and you are?”
“Right, of course - I am Jeannette Peterson. I am in the first house at the bottom of the hill; the white cinderblock with the large flagpole in the front yard.”
“My first neighbor! So lovely to meet you. I would offer you something but I don’t really have anything worth offering. Wait – I can make tea – do you like tea? I have only just acquired a taste for it myself.”
“Yes. Thank you. That would be nice.”
The ladies drank their tea in the kitchen since the fumes seemed to double in the small time they had been inside.
“You looked a bit stunned when I opened the door – do I look that good?”
“No, it’s… I was expecting the relator. I didn’t know you were back.”
“Back?” Heidi asked.
“Moved in, sorry. How are you settling in?” Jeanette asked.
“Fine, I suppose. I’ve hit a few speed bumps.”
“There are a lot of quirks to these old places.” Jeanette said.
Heidi laughed, “That’s funny! That line is in this book I read last night. I remember it because I thought how right they were.”
“Hmm. What are you reading?”
“I don’t remember the name of it. I am not sure its any good; I don’t read much. But I can’t seem to get my cable to work. It comes in for like an hour at a time, or some such nonsense.”
“Hmm.” Jeanette said again. “At least you have something to read.” She said reassuringly.
For a first visit, it went quite well. Heidi was happy to know at least one person in the area, even if she was an odd bird. The woman who lived next door to her father’s house had been constantly looking in on them when she was growing up – always looking around the house, as if something was suppose to be there that wasn’t. Still, Heidi was having enough problems with her renovations and having someone who had lived near the house most of her life might help answer some questions. Maybe the former owners had had some of the same issues; although they sounded as odd as Jeanette: they being a bitter, old widow with a superiority complex and a free-spirited photographer with terrible mood swings. Heidi tried the TV again after her supper only to find it still just snow; that idiot from the cable company had been unable to find the problem during the service call. She grabbed one of the books she had been given but never read off her shelf and started for bed, exhausted; the clock read 9:00. When had she turned into an old maid?
Heidi chose the northern facing room for her bedroom so she could look out over her new community. She had spent much of her life living on the outskirts of community; she finally found one that would keep her. She lived in her father’s house for as long as the state required. She never understood if he was incapable of affection or had given everything to her sister to keep her alive after her accident; it had all happened so long ago, it was more theory than memory. The revolving door of replacement mothers never filled the spot vacated by the mother Heidi never knew so as soon as it was legal for her to do, Heidi left for good; her past little more than a bad dream. She fought ever part of where she came from to be who she was now. She thought Rick would be her future but he proved who he was soon enough. He had lauded her beauty, her vivaciousness but when she returned his affection it was too much, too soon. After she gave up her apartment and moved in, he acted as if it was all her idea, as if he hadn’t asked her. She couldn’t have loved him any more but the more she loved him, the less he loved her. It wasn’t until he stopped coming home that she found out her name had never been on the lease. When she found this place, she knew her optimism had finally paid off; it seemed like her whole life she was heading on the road to get here. This was her future, her world.
She just wished her world had better insulation, at present.
Heidi had the foresight to take a few weeks to work from home after she moved in. This proved beneficial, as her house project was much more tiring than any client’s house had ever been. She blamed, in part, her eagerness to pull the house together all at once. Her actions were in direct contrast to her methodical nature as a designer. She constantly advised clients to let their choices settle in before tackling the next big change and yet here she was, changing everything she could at once. And everything cost more than she had. The strangest part was that none of her choices were the ones she set out to make. Heidi’s tastes ran towards modern -clean, simple lines. The basic structure of the house lent well to that. The previous owners were either Victorians or had severe cataracts, as there were patterns everywhere. Every space Heidi sanded in preparation produced some ancient layer of paper or paint that made Heidi wince. She longed for her monochromatic wonderland she had been designing her whole adult life.
Which is why she still could not explain her rose-colored living room. She attributed her bizarre choices to her lack of sleep. The north bedroom was a bit smaller but it was much brighter, the morning sun seemed to find its way in even through cloud cover. The back bedroom faced the field behind the house, which might be the preferable choice for most, but it had an odd shape to it and Heidi thought it would make a better office; once the horrendous floral wallpaper was covered. Unfortunately, she’d discovered a draft in her bedroom that kept the temperature uncomfortably cold; at night it was almost unbearable. She could not find the source of air causing the flow of wind but every night, like clockwork, it was there. The towels on the sills had done little to help so she simply noted new windows on her “to do/buy” list and added more blankets to her bed; little could be done about the whistling, though.
Unpacking took Heidi twice as long as she had anticipated; nothing going smoothly but she refused to be let it get her down – she had come through far worse than this. She set up a makeshift workspace in the dining room until a broken water sprinkler soaked her worktable with all her plans on it. She rearranged the appliances in the kitchen, something she mapped out in careful detail prior to purchase, only to have the outlets short circuit, knocking out all her electricity. When the appliances were put back in their original placement, preparing a meal of any size would be arduous but the power styed on. The electrician suggested there must be some fluke current that only worked in one direction; that these old houses had all kinds of weird quirks like that. She spent as little time in her freezing bedroom as she could. Some mornings she found herself still on the couch in the living room. Spending that much time on her highly stylized furniture made her realize how uncomfortable it actually was. And that it really clashed with those ridiculous rose-colored walls.
Heidi was holding up new paint swatches when Jeanette appeared with deviled ham sandwiches. Heidi never liked deviled ham, a staple of her childhood, but since she had not shopped in some time, if she wanted to eat, this was her only option.
“Painting again?” Jeanette asked. “Why not go with paper, that’s what Alice did, plastered every bit of this place in paper.”
The tales of the house’s former occupants fascinated Heidi and Jeanette had plenty of them. Alice owned the house when Jeanette was just starting out in life. Alice moved in right after her daughter died. Apparently she never divorced her husband but he never came to the house. He died at some point, Alice discovering it in an obituary. Death of a child can do that to a couple, Heidi had heard. Jeanette was never fond of Alice. Alice was already living in the house when Jeanette was brought in to the white cinderblock house and Alice held no respect for the “young ones,” as she referred to them. Jeanette always resented being dismissed for being young when there was nothing she could have done about it.
“This color is the antithesis of me.” Heidi said, “I am convinced it is the source of all my problems.”
“You sound like Ada. She fought this color tooth and nail.”
“Ada had the same color? You’re joking? I thought Ada was all earth tones and nature?” Heidi said.
Jeanette had much more affection for Ada. Ada was raised by artists and lived hand to mouth most of her life. Everything changed for Ada when she met her girlfriend, a dancer in the city’s traveling company. Ada loved to photograph her girlfriend striking dance poses in the park near their home. Jeanette said she wished she known Ada back in those days; speaking of them practically transformed Ada. However, discussing her girlfriend inevitably brought Ada back to her tragic death, forcing Ada quiet for days at a time. Jeanette and Ada were about the same age; she had missed her terribly when Ada’s misery finally ended.
“The girlfriend painted their bedroom this color. I think Ada painted it during one of her depressions, trying to get a piece of her girlfriend back. Never could bring herself to paint over it.”
“Well, I have no such attachment and it goes as soon as I can afford more paint.” Heidi declared.
“Hmm.” Jeanette said.
Heidi went to bed that night resolved to begin turning the dining room into her ultimate entertaining space the next day. She would return to work soon and her time would be cut in half. Besides, the dining room was so antiquated; it depressed her to look at it. She had long given up on the TV and settled in bed, buried under a mound of blankets. Just as she began to drift off, she heard a whistle causing her to sit up. It wasn’t just any whistle; it was a person’s whistle. She remained perfectly still. After several minutes, another razor whip of air slashed her cheek and with it, a whistle; this time is was merely the wind’s whistle. Heidi sighed; it must have been a dream state. She reburied herself under the covers. The whistling came every ten minutes and sounded as though it came from between worlds. Heidi slept some, fitfully, throughout the night. She dreamed of her father, which she had not done in years.
Heidi’s concussion delayed the renovations further. She could not figure out how she had neglected to check that the light fixture in the dining room was secure before she took a sledgehammer to the half wall shared with the living room. She arranged for medical leave from work and spent much of her time being unproductive. She told herself those tugs on her psyche were fatigue and not despair. Jeanette stopped by with food and some new things to read. She made note of the new couch.
“Well, that’s… different.”
“Oh, I know. I can only blame the concussion. Honestly Jeanette, I used to have nightmares of having to live with chintz and now I have invited it into my living room. I am only renting the set, though. Once I come back to my senses, I will have my minimalist’s dream.”
“Yes, there’s more. It’s coming later. You’ll know its here when you see I have gouged my eyes out.”
Jeanette’s Hmm’s were starting to work on Heidi’s nerves.
At day’s end, Heidi pulled herself up to her bedroom. She was so tired; she could barely peel back the covers. She fell on to her bed, not bothering to undress. Her eyes had barely closed before the first bang hit the wall. It must be the pipes again but the pounding would drive her mad. She grabbed all the blankets her strength allowed her and dragged them into the back bedroom. She fell to the floor amidst blankets, pillows and boxes and fell quickly asleep. It was the best nights sleep she had had since she moved in.
“It’s not as bad since I flipped the comforter.” Heidi told Jeanette over some fudge Jeanette brought. “I mean, I’ll move back into the north bedroom once I can find the source of that breeze but those windows cost me a fortune and I still have the same problem in there. I need to use what little time I have left on the upstairs bath, anyway. It is the reason I bought the house, after all.”
“Hmm.” Jeanette said.
The bathroom upstairs was a special project for Heidi. She always wanted a modern bath with a Japanese soaking tub and open shower with a full-length window looking out over a private yard. None of her clients would go for it. Her budget had been severely depleted by the unexpected problems but the contractors said the majority of the bath could still be completed. The permits were approved, all the materials purchased and the time quote fell within the remainder of her medical leave. Just for fun, Heidi asked if they could make the hole in the wall for the full-length window first and shove the horrible fiberglass shower through it; she felt it symbolic of something. The contractor laughed and said he’d love to.
The contractor would not need surgery; that was the good news. His ankle was broken but the doctors thought they could set it.
“Such a shame.” Jeanette said back that the kitchen table.
“None of it makes sense.” Heidi said sharply. “Why was he coming up the back steps anyway? What was he doing in the backyard? I told him everything could be stored in the front – who the hell is going to steal Italian marble in this town?”
“Had you mentioned the soft spot on the back porch to him?”
“No! Why would I need to? He wasn’t supposed to be there.”
“Heidi, you do see your part in this, don’t you? You have to assume some responsibility.”
“Why? What did I do? I told them to use the front. I can’t be blamed if he didn’t listen.”
“Then why did you have him park in back?” Jeanette asked.
A thunderous crash came from the basement. Heidi raced down the questionable stairs and saw a large piece of plaster crumbled on the floor, one that had used to be one the wall.
“Now what?! Is the foundation just crumbling beneath me? Perfect!”
Jeanette spoke calmly from the stairs, “Heidi, perhaps you should… “
“Perhaps you should just go, Jeanette!” Heidi barked.
Without a second sound, Jeanette left, as if following an order.
Jeanette hurried to the door, recognizing the knock she’d not heard before.
“Are you ready?” She asked.
Heidi walked in slowly and stood in the center of the room, refusing to take a seat. “I am not staying, Jeanette. I don’t care what… it’s not me. None of this was me.”
“You aren’t going anywhere, Heidi. You know that.”
Heidi gritted her teeth. “Yes I am. It’s not my fault.”
“You sound just like Alice. That woman went to her grave claiming her daughter just fell out the window when the child couldn’t even have worked the latch.”
“I didn’t do anything. I just wanted to get on with my life.”
“Ada at least admitted to killing her girlfriend. Had she not killed the lover as well, she might have gotten out of here. At least she felt remorse.”
Heidi stared at the wall.
“They almost sent you here for your sister. She did you a favor by lingering on life support for as long as she did.”
“How did I get here?”
“Rick, ultimately. They never could pin your father on you.”
“My father… he never… my sister...”
“You need to go back to your house now, Heidi. Turn the lights out and go to bed.”
“My father wanted me out. He had nothing for me.”
“He stood by you when he never should have. He’s the only reason they ruled your sister an accident. Go back to the house, Heidi. Light’s out. Bed.”
Heidi looked intently at Jeanette. “Goodbye, Jeanette.”
“Goodnight, Heidi. I’ll check on you tomorrow.”
“No you won’t.” Heidi said as she walked out the backdoor.
When the EMTs brought Heidi upstairs, they once again questioned her staying in the back bedroom. Jeanette assured them she could look after her. When the tubes had been placed in Heidi and machines plugged into the wall, the EMTs handed Jeanette the forms to sign. One young man looked back and sighed.
“Such a shame when they are this young.”
“It is.” Jeanette said automatically.
“You know, there are a lot of places for… “
Jeanette stopped him, “She is where she should be.”
“And you’re sure you can handle this? You know she’s never waking up.”
“I know how to look after them. That’s my job.” Jeanette said. “To look in on them.”