In the outlet mall Natalie bought two blazers, one black and one navy. The navy she wore for the first open house of her first ever listing: a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath in a winding development. Standing in the powder room downstairs, she pulled the blazer snug around her waist. She adjusted the soaps and flowers on the countertop. She opened the blinds in the breakfast nook so her guests would be drawn to the view of the fields. “Every time I’m here I fall more in love with this house,” she said.
A couple came in. Even without experience Natalie had a good feeling about them. The reticence they walked in with melted in the living room, and once they were upstairs, they were assigning bedrooms to their children. “Oh, are they here?” said Natalie. But the children were home, states away.
She didn’t bother the pair very much. Some rooms she let them walk through on their own; some rooms she went into just so she could tell them about the schools or the bike path. Whatever she did must have worked because hours after they left they called with an offer.
Superstitious, Natalie kept close to her routine the next few weeks. She didn’t tell her dad anything about starting to pay his loan back. Closing day came on a Tuesday. Natalie hugged everyone at the table, and the minute she was alone she screamed into her hands and texted her friends to get drinks.
It was just that there had been so many months confessing doubts. Natalie wondered what she would tell her therapist. Driving to the bar, she passed a strip mall recessed a little from the street, with a Subway still there and a tattoo parlor. She turned.
Inside she followed her eyes from the paintings on the walls to the flash beneath the counter. When she realized she was mostly pretending to look, she laid one of the extra open house fliers on the glass and tapped the photograph of the house.
“Where were you thinking?” said the artist.
She pointed to her neck with one hand and to the small of her back with the other.
While the artist drew on his tablet Natalie talked about her dogs. Her phone vibrated in her bag as her friends called to ask where she was, but the machine soon drowned it out. Whenever she felt pain, she distracted herself by imagining those parts of the house that the artist must have been working on. She felt the gun at the small of her back and imagined the shimmering, glass double doors. The needle went up her spine, and she imagined the Palladian window and the gabled roofs on the dormers.
She worked from home the next day, updating her website with news about the house. At night, when she was supposed to, she lifted the plastic starting at the chimney and blotted away the ink and that sort of yogurt water that had seeped out during the day.
To keep her sheets clean Natalie forced herself to sleep on her stomach, but she would wake up on her sides again anyway. She imagined wandering around that side of the house that had touched the mattress: the parlor with the wet bar if she had been on her right, the second staircase from the kitchen if she had been on her left. It hurt to remember the house when what she wanted was to see it.
Every night she stood between the mirror on her toilet and the mirror on the bathroom wall, checking the tattoo. The lines were still blurry. Her skin was blotchy and red. Returning to work, she didn’t take off her blazers. She didn’t lean into a chair or stand in the middle of a room. When friends asked if she was going to brunch, she didn’t respond. She switched her phone to silent.
One day the office manager asked about the weathervane above her collar.
“It’s just a new little thing,” said Natalie.
“Oh, let’s see,” said the woman.
Natalie pulled her blazer down a little, but she could tell the office manager wasn’t judging. There were no calls coming in. She lifted her shirt to her neck.
“Yes, I recognize it,” said the office manager.
It wasn’t long after that that Natalie’s skin regained its fair complexion. The lines of her tattoo became dark and distinct by contrast, and Natalie could even see the shading now. The artist had captured the shadow over the three-car garage.
Then Natalie didn’t wear her blazers to work. She wore boat neck sweaters and strapless blouses. In the grocery store she swung her cart aisle to aisle, her posture poised and untaxed. She went to yoga, and she didn’t invite her friends. They kept different hours than she did anyway, tending bar or walking dogs. They all had jobs like that.
Natalie brought her yoga mat to the front of the studio and meditated for a few minutes before class began. With her back perfectly straight, only her sports bra interrupting her tattoo, her head seemed to float from her shoulders and her shoulders to part from one another, as if the house were assuming its own scale.
It had been a hectic week, with two new listings and one closing. On a cloudy day Natalie laid out at the beach. She awoke late in the afternoon when a boy tapped on her back. His goggles were on. He had tiger stripes painted on his cheeks.
“That’s my house,” he said.
Natalie propped herself up on her elbows. “You must be Christopher,” she said, smiling.
He shook his head no.
“Nicholas then. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
Nicholas was the younger child; she was sure she remembered. How old was Christopher? She looked across the beach for the other boy.
“That’s my dad’s den,” said Nicholas, pointing to the window then distorted by her shoulder blade. “That’s our dining room. That’s my room. Did you get it at the face painting?”
“Your room’s very cozy, isn’t it?”
The boy looked over the different sections of the house. “The last house was better.”
“You’ll come to love this one.”
“It’ll wash away in the water.”
“Well, I don’t know if the water would do it.”
“You can swim.” Nicholas stepped back, giving her room.
Confused, Natalie said, “Do you want me to swim?”
“It’s my house,” he said. “It has to wash away.”
“But your house is very important to me.”
“It isn’t yours.”
“I’ll get some water if you don’t want to swim.” He picked up an empty pail at his feet and started off to the waves.
“Nicholas,” she said. She turned to her side. She saw the first twenty yards of water dotted with arms and necks and shoulders. Beyond the buoys a line of darker, dropping clouds advanced to the beach. “It’s just about to rain, and then it will all come off.”
“It will? When?”
“I probably won’t even make it to the parking lot.”
He let the pail fall and came back to her chair. He stood behind her. “I have to see it wash away.”
My friends just called, she considered saying, I have to go. But she stayed where she was, lying on her side, allowing the boy to see the house.