Keeping House

The problem was that Dave had died ahead of schedule – not that a death schedule was the way the investment counselor had described their financial plan.  However, their joint investments and incomes exactly balanced the household bills and mortgage payment. 

But then Dave up and got sick and then laid down and died.  Not quite so simple as that really, more like the tearing apart of the fabric of the universe.  A quiet rip.  One that frayed life into meaningless strands.  In the determined regathering of those drifting threads, Jan forgot the plan.  She scheduled a trip to visit her best friend from college, took Dave’s truck to be fixed, and hired professional painters to redo the whole outside of the house because the south wall was peeling and Dave would hate that.  She even called the water company about the leaking hydrant that had worn the gravel in their driveway to mud. 

In a brittle fog, she wrote checks, swiped her charge card and forgot the plan.  The bank did not.  One month, two, three months behind.  Phone calls.  Threatening letters.  And suddenly, when it was really too late, Jan became aware that the house, her home, had slipped into foreclosure. Jan jerked back into the world as though snapped by a rubber band.  She called the bank.

“Good afternoon, this is Ryan.  Am I speaking to Mrs. Bishop?  Good.  Good.  How can I help you today?”

“You are foreclosing on my home.  What can I do?” Ryan barely missed a beat before transferring her to another department.  In bewilderment, barely English-speaking Cindy transferred her again, and Vivian explained in nasal boredom that there was nothing to be done.

“What if I pay you?  Everything?  A fee?”  Desperately Jan figured out how to rack up the several thousand that must be owed.  She could do it.  Just.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but if you had acted responsibly, we could have helped you.” 

Jan explained, contained the quiver in her voice, asked for supervisors (all unavailable) made offers and wished she could meet Vivian in person in order to effect her death. Slowly.

“Well, there is an appeal process,” Vivian reluctantly admitted.  “But your house is already listed.  Thank you for calling Grabitall Bank and we hope we can serve you again.”  Click. 

Trying to think, Jan took a strawberry yogurt from the fridge and sat at the table with a spoonful wavering between cup and mouth.  In despair she clutched her hair, coating it with glops of yogurt.  And then the doorbell rang.  She dropped the spoon, splattered herself more thoroughly and answered the door.  An agent and a professional couple who fairly dripped money smiled at her.  Jan wailed and clutched her strawberry moussed hair.  The three took a step backwards.  Silence but for Jan’s wracking sobs.

“We…we’ll come back later,” the agent said.

“No we won’t!” hissed the woman, “I’m not buying from a crazy person.  The market is flooded with houses.”

In embarrassed triumph, Jan watched them leave.  Then she called her lawyer.  Time, he said.  She had to stall for time to get the appeal through.  And the real estate agents were required to make an appointment.  Forewarned is forearmed. 

Word must have spread because the next agent’s call did not come for 10 days.  Jan was really quite surprised at how quickly she had been able to acquire the 19 shelter cats she had agreed to foster.  Not all house trained sadly – they had said seven were feral but she hated to make them live in her garage.  Now they were one big caterwauling, litter-boxing family.

Jan opened the door to the agent and a man she sized up as an investor looking for a deal.

“Come in,” Jan smiled and sneezed again.  The man sneezed in response.

“My, what a lot of cats,” the agent said wide-eyed. 

“They are my life,” Jan said.  “The neighbors hate my little cat graveyard, but I like to honor them in death as well as life.”

“A cat graveyard?”  The man sneezed again.  “How many have you buried?”

Jan smiled sweetly.  “Too many to count now.”

“That’s not legal!” the agent accused.

“Really?” Jan murmured.  “Should I start digging them up?”

The next agent brought a family with three girls.  Jan stared at them silently for several beats before intoning.  “What sweet little girls.  Have you been saved?  My neighbors brought over pamphlets.  There are some in every room, and a little something to read in the bathroom.  Help yourself.  The neighbors will be over often…very, very often, to support you in your search for salvation.”  She smiled sadly.  “And watch your shoes; the cats pee on strangers.”

Two more weeks passed.  Almost there, the lawyer promised – with a refinance deal to lower her payments.  If there was enough time.  But suddenly, a flurry of agents called with serious buyers.  The bank had dropped the price.  A lot.

Jan sat at the table absently stroking Fantine and Jean Valjean.  She gazed out the window, wishing she could put up a barrier like they had in Les Mis.  A water company truck drove by and once again did not stop to fix the hydrant.  Jan’s hand stopped mid-stroke.

It was really shameful how in the middle of the night the hydrant had exploded. The street and Jan’s driveway ran with gurgling water.  Jan watched from her window as the water company struggled with the mess.  One of the men came to her door and while cats wove around his feet, apologized for the disaster.  “I’m so sorry ma’am.  It’s like someone hauled the whole thing out with a car and chain.  It will be a week before we can fix it.  You’ll get a settlement.”

“That’s okay,” Jan snuggled Cosette under her chin.  “We’ll be here, just keeping house.”