By: Leslie Lindsay
I pass through the homes gentle as a breeze. I’ve been in your home and yours, too. On any given day, I can drive down the street and point to the four- square whose halls I’ve walked countless times, wearing a thin path in the already thread-bare runner. It will most definitely require a carpeting allowance the next time it appears on the MLS.
That house, the one set back from the road with a giant weeping willow in front, the one rumored to have an indoor basketball court in its heated garage might very well be haunted. No biggie, everyone loves a haunted house, right? And the basketball court—true. The previous owners had it built for their hoops star when he was just a high school freshman.
The shabby 1890 historic two-story rabbit’s warren with wrap-around porch has seen countless owners, turning over as quickly as a rental. It needs cosmetic work, but the mechanicals are good. It’s got a two-story detached garage that probably used to be a barn, but has been converted into an apartment. I know, because I lived there for a time—the apartment, that is—my client, former client occupied the home. I crouched in the above-garage apartment lifting a mustard-stained panel with my manicured hands, then peering from the dusted window where I had a straight shot of a lovely woman dressing and undressing each day. Once she left, between seven twenty and seven thirty-two each morning, I could begin my day, wearing a blazer, nubucks, and a plastic smile showing countless homes to eager buyers.
She didn’t know I lived above her garage—and I wouldn’t exactly call it living—because all I did was sleep there.
And watch her.
My belongings stayed at my real home, a townhouse on the other side of town, the new side where the anonymous thrived because the homes were constructed of beige vinyl siding and filled with wall-to-wall carpeting. It was a place to blend in, the very location I parked my car and paid utilities.
But on Water Street, it was different. There, I had a good sense of the comings and goings of town folk, felt I belonged—a feeling I’m sure I never had in my forty-seven years. It was on Water Street that I could raise my hand in a friendly hello, smile as clear as a blue-day sky, and walk a measly three blocks to the downtown offices of Home Again lined up like the pastel colored facades you might find in a New England fishing village.
Think about it: being a real estate agent is the perfect profession for a guy like me. Where else do we let down and do such intimate things as eating and s……. and f……? Where else can we truly be ourselves but in the shower or in front of the television, or dipping our bodies into a warm bath or a slipping under the cool, crisp sheets?
I never intended to become a real estate agent. How many little boys do you think have uttered those words? None. Instead, they are jamming toy cars together, mashing mud between their fingers, and running loose in a leafy green expanse, their sights set on the next worm race or diving headlong into the local swimming hole. Most young boys don’t think about selling houses to strangers, most if truth be told, don’t think about what they are going to do for a living anyway.
Everyone needs a place to live and so I figured a career in real estate would be perfectly functional. Maybe even lucrative. You hear all the time about property investments, those who made millions flipping houses, managing rental properties, dabbling in time-shares. Mostly, though the decision was born from an erotic fascination of what goes on behind closed doors, the red-tinged glare from a pair of closed curtains, the frenetic shards of light cast from a television in a darkened room. Maybe it was the illusion that everything behind closed doors and opened windows, the world was bright and warm and wonderful.
I did not grow up wanting to do what I do. My aspirations were none other than that of astronaut and fire fighter.
And so when Brian Neil’s house caught fire one April afternoon, I pedaled my bike to Pebblefield Terrace for a little rubbernecking. The whole neighborhood was there—mothers with strollers and kids on Big Wheels, retired couples in their tennis whites, and fathers in shirtsleeves and ties just arriving home from work. The street was clogged with the flashing carnival lights of the fire truck, an ambulance, and an army of police cars. My heart thundered in my chest, the dirtied air radiated and pulsed and my eyes burned from the smoke. I felt my palms slicken as I stared at the singed walls flare up and topple down, landing in a heap of the formerly lush front yard. Most striking, I found was the way the walls peeled away, leaving a perfectly normal cross-section of life: a closet filled with a rainbow of colors, a game shelf loaded with Sorry and Monopoly, the charred remains of a twin bed.
I never liked Brian Neil anyway. His house could burn for all I cared. The family had the house rebuilt so it was better than it was before, and I imagine all of Brian’s toys were replaced, but it was then that I gave up my dream of being a firefighter and instead chose to feast my eyes on the intricate lives of those around me.