A young, pretty girl found an ad in the classifieds about a room for rent and decided to inquire. She wasn’t necessarily erratic, but she was almost entirely guided by her impulses. She dialed the telephone number provided in the listing. A woman with the voice of a lifelong chain smoker picked up. She was peculiarly sweet considering her speech carried the inflection of an ex-marine who takes himself, and everything else, far too seriously. The girl was fascinated by this. She kind of hoped the woman was a lesbian. The ad did say “female looking to rent room to female.” The girl wasn’t exactly gay, but she thrived off sexual tension of any sort. As the lady was describing herself and her home, the girl tuned her out. She imagined herself walking around the house in a skimpy towel. The lady would shut her bedroom door quickly and lamentably to avoid site of young flesh…
“So what time would you like to drop by tomorrow?”
The lady cleared her unclearable throat and repeated herself.
“What time would you like to come by tomorrow?”
(The girl had no plans all day.)
“Would three work?”
“Sounds wonderful. See you then. Are you sure you can find the place?”
The girl was terribly prone to getting lost and refused to buy a GPS out of an obstinate hatred for getting lost, which only made sense to her.
“I’ll figure it out.”
“Okay. Just telephone if you have any trouble.”
The girl planned on packing the four or five cardboard boxes of her things into her car before leaving for the tour of the house. She hadn’t unpacked them in the six-months she’d stayed at the current location, and six months was her restless point anyhow.
She arrived at the house a little early the next day. She was never early for anything, but she was anxious to check out her potential new home. The exterior of the house was far from well-maintained. It was a split-level home probably built in the seventies. Several of the shutters were either missing, or crooked or missing several horizontal panes. The grass was way overgrown and there was an absurd amount of concrete statues in the front yard. Everything from St. Francis of Assisi to a chimpanzee sporting a firefighter’s uniform. She loved it all. Everything just looked right. The girl went up to the front stoop and rang the doorbell, which seemed pretty broken, so she proceeded to knock.
The woman yelled “Coming!” four or five times and eventually made it to the door. It sounded like she unlatched around six different locks and then invited the girl in. The woman’s hair was completely flattened on one side of her head and the other side was a crazy Einsteinian mess. She was wearing a giant moo-moo. It had a crowned frog on it. Below the frog there was a phrase that read “You have to kiss a lot of toads to find your prince.” The night gown had little cigarette burns all over it, some of which were connected, thus making larger holes which revealed some of her leathery girth. She looked old as dirt, but with her obvious smoking habits in mind, it was hard for the girl to determine the approximate age of this woman.
They greeted each other with goofy formality. The foyer had one of those retro looking walls made entirely of glass cubes. The girl heard sounds of cartoons blasting from a television in the next room. The woman led her into that room, which appeared to be the den or the living room. There was a teapot still steaming beside two sets of antique looking cups and saucers on one of those collapsible t.v. dinner tray tables.
“I made tea.”
“Oh great! I love tea.”
“It’s anti-constipation green tea I found at the Asian Market. S’posed to make ya skinny…Well you already are, but it’s all I had.”
“Oh that’s just fine. I tend to be a little stopped up anyhow.”
The girl decided to take a seat in the chair farthest from the tray table, seeing as the lady had already plodded towards it to serve the tea.
The couch was already occupied by four or so cats and a freckled red-headed boy around the age of seven who looked just like Opi from The Andy Griffith Show. He announced to the girl, who hadn’t made it known that she was aware of his presence, that his name was Batman and that he lived in the shed out back. The lady interjected:
“This is the neighbor’s child Batman. He stays with me in the afternoon until his mother gets home from work.”
Then she partially cupped her hand and placed it, palm-inward, on the side of her face closest in sight to the boy, with the purpose of concealing from him her next statement (which was impossible with that froggy voice of hers.)
“His momma let him name himself when he was just a toddler. The poor dear went nameless before that and was addicted to c-r-a-c-k when he exited the womb too. It’s all very, very sad. God bless his sweet, sweet soul.”
“I’m seven and three quarters. I know what crack is dummie.”
“Lord this new millennium. It’s scary what kids know.”
“Yeah.” The girl uttered with sad eyes belonging to someone far older.
They simultaneously took huge gulps of their tea and they both tried to make it appear as though they were taking small sips.
“Well let me show you the room I’ve cleaned up for a tenant. It’s not completely cleared out. You responded very quickly to my ad.”
“Oh that’s no problem.”
The girl was hoping it would still have some of the lady’s things in it. (She was one of those people that couldn’t help but pick up and rub other people’s trinkets when she visited their home.)
The lady led the girl down the split half of the staircase which led to the partially underground part of the house. The carpet was faded navy blue shag. There was a den type room filled nearly to the low ceiling with boxes which overflowed with ships in bottles and bent up harlequin romance paperbacks and crazy old dolls. There was also a huge pile of bamboo just lying on the floor.
“What’s the bamboo for?”
“Oh this and that…ya know…when it’s raining out.”
The lady opened the door to another room and entered it. The girl followed behind, but with her head turned behind her in continued fascination with the hoarder lady’s stuff. The girl had the neck of a crane. It was a bit freakish how far she could twist it behind her.
“Well this would be your room.”
It was a tiny room with a single bed, a dilapidated desk and a window placed high on the wall since the room was mostly in the dirt. There was a painting hanging above the desk of a dweeby looking teenage boy sporting prescription athletic goggles and a wrestling singlet from a different era. He had small shoulders and a narrow, concave chest. He was scrawny but somehow still had a little pudge under his chin. His hairline formed a widow’s peak and his face had hints of acne pocks which the artist rendered as if he or she didn’t want to paint the blemishes but didn’t know how to avoid them either. The girl thought that the artist was probably a guilt-riddenly honest person. She felt a little disturbed when she looked at the painting because the person it depicted looked almost identical to a boy she’d gone through over a decade of Catholic school with.
He was the suspected “jerk-off dialer” of her class. Rumor had it that he would go through the school directory and call up all the females in the book, including the nuns, and masturbate and just mumble in this sexual, weird way. He’d managed to make the number private, and the school never reported it (because it was attached to the Church and all.) He called this girl most of all, but she was too embarrassed and enthralled to tell her parents.
The lady caught her starring at the painting.
“You can obviously take that down when you move in. That was my son thirty years ago.”
“Oh I don’t really know how long I’ll stay...Did you paint that?”
“So you’re an artist?”
“Oh no dear. I wouldn’t say that.”
“Well did you paint it?”
“Well did you paint it?”
There was a moment of silence.
“I’ll take the room. I like it. I think I’ll be very happy here.”