The door knocker banged three times, and my mother came unglued: laid the skillet back on the stove, rubbed her hands together, fluffed her hair, looked around wildly, then hurried out of the kitchen, unlocked and opened the front door. I heard, “Oh yes. Please come in,” and recognized The Woman Realtor’s answering “Hello.” Then an additional woman and a man edged in onto my side of the entryway so that I was stuck in my pajamas at the dining table, unable to go upstairs and dress with them blocking the stairs.
The Realtor explained to the couple that Mom had kindly agreed to this early visit to meet their schedule today, that our family was moving in two weeks. Then one of those dumb conversations developed: where are you moving, what kind of house, how big’s your family, etc. Boring. Then how do you like this place? Is the traffic on Route 48 very noisy? Are the neighbors nice? I had to sit there waiting them out.
The four walked into the dining room, so I was still stuck. I looked down, a spoon in my right hand. As if I were invisible, they ignored me. The Realtor began pushing the place, talking about how much light came in through the south-facing windows.
That was good enough to rev up Mom’s engines. “It’d be beautiful in here with the right curtains. I put these blinds up because we were just staying until we found a place in town.” Big deal.
They passed behind me, bumped my chair twice without apology, and entered the kitchen. I would have left right then, but the Realtor said, “May we see the bathroom?”
“Certainly,” Mom said.
Uh oh. I waited to see what would happen.
As Mom lifted a pan off the stove, I smelled eggs burning in butter and watched The Realtor cross the kitchen, throw open the door next to the mud room, and voila! There was Dad. His head jerked away from the mirror toward her, his eyes and mouth wide open, his cheeks lathered, a razor poised mid-stroke. He was a reverse minstrel in white face rather than black, or a clown wearing red polka dot undershorts and a white, sleeveless undershirt.
“I’m so sorry,” The Realtor said, reaching for the doorknob again.
Dad’s mouth twisted into a funny smile. “It’s all right. I’m almost finished.”
“Take your time.” The Woman closed the door.
Mom leaned back against the stove with her free hand over her mouth.
The visitors hurried past me out of the kitchen and upstairs. To where John was in bed, and Joan was primping in her room. I imagined a similar scene developing up there and stood, intending to go watch.
But Dad came into the kitchen so I sat again. “Ruth, that’s a damn fine way to start my day.”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I forgot you were in there.”
His right hand pointed at the ceiling. “You never told me people were coming.”
She touched Dad’s arm. “I forgot that too.”
This was better than “I Love Lucy.” I was all ears. Meanwhile, the three strangers had clomped upstairs and were already returning. Something had happened up there and I’d missed it.
The Realtor yelled, “We’re coming down.”
Dad said in a loud, overly friendly voice, “It’s all clear now. The bathroom’s free.”
Shaking his head, holding a towel around his hips, he listened for which way the visitors would go, then hearing them start down the hallway on his left, he came into the living room, heading toward the stairs past me at the table. He pointed at my brimming bowl. “Eat your cereal.” I still hadn’t taken a bite.
I turned in my seat, looked up at him, and laughed.
He stared down at me, then grinned and raised an index finger across his lips so my laughter went silent. He squeezed my shoulder and bent to my ear, “Boy, was that embarrassing.”
This was five years before he died, but I pictured it almost every night for a long time after he was buried.
Bill Vernon served in the United States Marine Corps, studied English literature,and then taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folkdances. His poems, stories and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and Five Star Mysteries published his novel OLD TOWN in 2005. He lives in Dayton, Ohio.
You can see William Vernon's story "Twins" in Issue 1.2