Tall Loblolly pines tower above the streets of Homeland, their shadows cast across the updated Colonial and Chateau revival homes hidden behind well maintained landscapes and a buffer of lawns.
“Well, let me know if you need help.” I speak into the Bluetooth, seeing the house number I am looking for.
“Oh, I’ll be ok, I’ll get it done. It’s just a wall of Raven’s jerseys.” Larry says and laughs.
The Tudor home sits back from the street, its stately drive reaching out to the road welcoming in guests. The garden overflows with soft violet ageratum that shiver in the light spring breeze.
“Of course. Wife with a wall of Warhol, husband with a basement of Ray Lewis.” I say, pulling the van up the empty round drive before the large brown and white house. Parking, I scan the motionless front of the large home but see nothing behind the windows divided into diamonds by the criss-cross of lead.
“Bad taste pays the bills.” Larry says his voice filling the gray cab of the Mercedes Sprinter.
“Larry, looks like no one is here man, am I on time?” I ask.
“Yeah, did you knock?”
“No. I’m still I the car.”
“Well, knock.” Larry says, hanging up.
I walk across the drive and up the slate steps to the old wooden door. The sun warms me in my walk, pushing aside the cold of the fall found in the shadows. I knock on the door and it opens from my knuckles.
“Hello,” I call into the house and hear nothing back. I poke my head inside and smell the rank air of the closed house. “Mrs. Buchanan?”
I push the door open wider and look into the home, a spectre of its former grand self, now lined with boxes stacked up the slate gray walls.
“Mrs. Buchanan, I am here with your delivery.” I wait, listening to the house creak.
“Yes, darling,” I turn to see her sashay down the white hallway her long black kimono flowing behind her.
“Oh hi, let me go get the delivery from the van ok?”
“Sweetheart,” she says, her voice dipping with gravity “Do what you have to do. Just make sure you remove your shoes on these floors. They’re original.”
I lift the large cardboard mirror box out of the van and carry it into the house with both hands. This time, as if my nose was reset, the home reeks of decaying sewage.
“Oh, thank you. How is Larry?” Mrs. Buchanan says to me waiting in the towering vestibule by the spiral staircase that carries away into the vast dark.
“He’s great, he’s with another client.” I say, walking in.
“Oh, shoes please.” Mrs. Buchanan says, sweeping her long slender fingers towards my feet. I smell a waft of her Chanel perfume come over me disguising the strong fecal aroma.
“Sorry.” I say. I set the box down and remove my shoes, placing them beside the door.
“What client is he with?” She asks, her hand on her hip. “Sorry for my utter lack of decorum.”
“No problem, the Poultney’s, I think.” I say, picking up the box and sliding my feet under the heavy cardboard on the cold tile.
“Are they related to Abigail Poultney?”
“I don’t know.” I say.
“Poultney’s. Very old family, did you know James Poultney?” She asks me, walking slowly down the corridor, beckoning me to follow.
“No, I can’t say I do.”
“Well when he was at Hopkins, did you go to Hopkins?” She stops and looks at me, inspecting me in the backlight as I stand in her dim hallway holding the mirror in a box ion the top of my feet.
“No. I went to an art school.” I say, feeling something underneath my socks. The smell is dank and combined with the musk of the unopened home reverberates through my nostrils.
“MICA? I love MICA, do you know Lazarus?” she asks, turning toward the opening of the corridor that opens into yet another unlit darkness. I step on something small and hard.
“Lazarus?” I ask, looking down at the old hardwood floor toeing the hardened lumps.
“The president of MICA.” She says, very matter-of-fact. “Certainly you know him.”
“No.” the solidified turds on the tile have time-stained to a pale white. “Ma’am—?”
“He was great, you know he made enrollment double.”
“Ma’am, could I put my shoes on?” I ask as she pauses before another staircase.
“What, why?” She asks leaning dramatically against the carved wooden handrail. “MICA is a great institution.”
“Just to protect my feet.”
“From what?” She says laying a hand on a stack of unpopened crates by the base of the stair.
“Do you have a dog?” I ask, seeing the floor and stairwell dotted with more hardened shits.
“A dog? That is a hoot! Did you know Jerry Leiber?”
“He wrote “Hound Dog”.”
“Like Elvis?” I ask. “I’m sorry, but wouldn’t he be dead?”
“Oh,” She stops on the stairs and looks at me, her eyes wide, “I guess so. He was such a cut-up.”
We stand silent at the base of the shit-pocked stairs.
“Is this going upstairs?” I ask, hoisting the mirror up and trying to dodge two blackened dumps under my socks.
“I once was at the Angelos’ home, it was a gorgeous estate.” She says, wandering up the dark staircase, seeming to float over the old blue carpet and avoiding the errant fecal deposits. “237 acres. Gorgeous.”
At the top of the stairs I stop to search for a pathway between the crates and boxes down the hallway.
“Oh, Larry’s boy, this way.” Mrs. Buchanan shouts to me from down the dim hallway. I slink through the openings of old crates, shedding wooden splinters. Trudging through the floor laden in the stick of old urine and layers of coprolite.
“Mrs. Buchanan, did you want to hang this somewhere?” I say, trying to hold my breath. I arrive at a double door that opens into a space of shadow.
“No, no, no, I don’t know.” She says placing her pale hand to her forehead as if it is too much to decide. Crates are stacked to the ceiling, the passage is thin.
“Well, where would you like the mirror?” I ask resting it on the tops of my feet.
“Did you know that I almost married Glenn Monagahn?” She asks me. The name means nothing to me.
“No, I did not.” I say.
“I did. I did. Almost, my mother met his mother, Grace, through the Blue Book and since we were children we were supposed to be together. He used to live in Guilford.” She looks at me, her dark eyes trembling in the wide face that seems to seep life towards it center. “I suppose he’s dead now too.”
“I could leave it here?” I say finding a spot and sliding the box in against another tall box.
“So many things have happened–yet. Oh, that’s fine,” she says and turns toward the old canopy bed.
“Would you like me to hang the piece?”
“No, just there is fine, just up against the rest.”
“Ok,” I say and secure it against another stack of boxes. The walls are bare. “If here is good then it’s good.”
She turns and walks out of the room, I follow her out towards the front stairwell.
“Please tell Larry thank you.”
“I will.” I say, feeling the hardened dog turds on my feet across the hardened carpet. I am trying to ignore their disgusting texture and make my way down the spiral staircase.
“I very much appreciate it. I met Larry through James van der Meer, do you know him?” she asks, gliding across the dirty floor.
“He was a client of my dear, dear Hugh, just a dear soul. But that was ages ago. Hugh rescued me from that foul, foul Glenn. He was, as they say, my knight in shining armor. Did you ever go to the club?”
“No ma’am, what club is that?” I stand there at the bottom of the stairs.
“James, he knew Zelda. Zelda Fitzgerald lived in this house once. Or, maybe she went to a party here.” She says, her hands pressed into the black kimono.
“Really?” I ask, picking up my shoes.
“Or dined here, maybe. Do you know F. Scott Fitzgerald?”
“I read his books—”
“I loved him, and that’s the beginning and end of everything.” She says, more to herself than to me. Then unlatches the large dark wooden door in the unlit foyer. “We tried to restore at least the exterior of the home.”
“It’s very nice,” I say.
“Thank you, thank you so much. It was our way to give back to the neighborhood, people want a legacy to be maintained.”
“Of course. Have a good day,” I say, forcing myself out to the fresh air.
“Then Hugh passed before we could get the woodwork trimmed–Oh!” she exclaims, “Your tip. I almost forgot.”
“No, no, no, no, no. I insist.” She searches her gown for something, “Drat. I’ll be right back. I simply cannot have people not get tipped. It would ruin me.”
She runs between some boxes to a side room and I remove my black socks, not looking at the calcified fecal matter now stuck to the weave. I put on my shoes and look out to the van outside.
I stand on the wide slate stairs for a while listening to her rummage around the house. The sounds fade and the cars on Northern Parkway and birds fill my ears.
“Mrs. Buchanan?” I call into the house but receive no reply. I check my phone. I go back to the van, breathe deep the fresh spring air, and place the soiled socks in my trash bin. I wait.
After another twenty minutes, after cleaning the inside of the Sprinter van, I go back to the open door.
“Mrs. Buchanan,” I shout inside and hear nothing. I tiptoe around the hardened dog shits. “Mrs. Buchanan? I’m going to go now.” I say and receive no response. I press the brass handle and open a side door into a room of even more unopened crates and boxes that stifle the room from the floor to the ceiling.
“Mrs. Buchanan?” I say quietly, almost reverently. I hear nothing. At the end of the shadowed corridor of crates from Christie’s a small dark dog stands staring back at me ringed by a mound of solidified defecation.
“Hey, buddy,” I say, but the terrier doesn’t move. I wave my hand and it stands motionless. I walk to it, dodging the crap, its glassed eyes fixed on me.
“Mrs. Buchanan, I found your dog.” It doesn’t move, it doesn’t growl. I bend to pet it, and it doesn’t even twitch. I place my hand on its head and feel the excelsior below the taxidermy.
The dog is motionless in time. I run my hand over its somber grey head, dust blooms from the statuesque dome in the silent cold room.
I close the door behind me and listen to the robins stirring in the trees. I feel the life of spring and, closing the door, seal Mrs. Buchanan within her exquisite crypt of unopened art, unboxed mirrors, dead memories, and fossilized dog shit.