Wednesday, November 4, 2015

3 - Boomtown


              The house was quiet, just the soft creak of her clients upstairs. These were nice people, the Kellys, she had gone to school with Ben Kelly’s sister, Jill, and Ben had been a nice kid who had grown into a decent young man, and his wife Angie was lovely, gentle, soft-spoken, but there was no way they could afford this place. Twenty years ago, this place would have gone for ninety, maybe a hundred. She’d sell it this week for half a million without even trying. Some Californian, arms loaded with cash, fleeing to the last safe place on Earth.

              The town was flooding with crazy. It was brimming with terrible people, shallow terrible people, because shallow terrible people are usually the ones with the money, and you needed money now to live in Owego. This little town, this little nothing of a town, this place she had loved and hated, where she had been loved and learned to hate, her perfect sleepy little nothing of a town was a circus, and if it was still her home, it was hers barely, hers by the tips of her nails.

              See the good. She had done and tried to do, she looked for good everywhere, under rocks and is dusty old cupboards, in the eyes of the people she increasingly didn’t know as she passed them on the street, transplants who looked at her like a charming native plant on their way to the swim-up bar. This place was her home and she was losing it to an ocean of money and fake tans and faker smiles.

              She found the good, twice a day. The good woke her in the morning and let her tuck them in every night. If this was the last safe place on Earth, and she prayed to God it was, she wasn’t leaving. Come money or the devil himself, she would stand her ground for them, she would do what she had to do. Even if she had to sell the rest of the town out from under everyone else she knew and ever loved, she would hold one piece, that piece, for them.

              The Kellys came downstairs, Ben and Angie, and they looked back up behind them, half-smiling, not smiling at all, really, but pretending to. They weren’t here to buy. They were here to wish, to picture the life that might have unrolled for them, nothing much, a little home in their hometown, someplace their kids could grow up with the kids of the people they’d been kids with. Ten years ago, people she knew were scrambling to get out of Owego, eager to hit the coasts and find themselves. Now the coasts were flooding back in.

              “What do you think?”

              “It’s nice.”

              “There’s another place across town, near OES. I can show you?”

              “Don’t you have another appointment?”

              “I can be late.”

              She shouldn’t have offered. She wasn’t offering for them. She was offering for herself, and she felt sick with guilt when she realized it. Ben stepped forward while Angie pretended to admire the wainscoting.

              “I just don’t think we can, Terri. Is there anything, y’know, less?”

              There wasn’t. There wouldn’t be. Even the apartments in town were converting to condos, and those places were double what people like Ben and Angie could afford.

              “I’ll keep an eye open for you guys, okay?”

              Ben nodded and looked away. They’d start looking outside of town, she knew, maybe out to Binghamton or Johnson City. Close enough to be familiar, close enough to hold on to the illusion that whatever was keeping Owego safe would maybe bleed over a little toward them. But Binghamton had been hit just as much as anywhere else, so had Johnson City, or Vestal, Horseheads. Every place but here was fair game.

              Ben nodded again at nothing, and he went to Angie, and he put his hand on her belly, and Terri realized for the first time that they were expecting. She excused herself to go upstairs and turn off the lights, and she ducked into the bathroom and threw up as quietly as she could.

              She cleaned herself up and stared herself down in the mirror. The town was dying, and she had a hand on the knife.

              Her phone buzzed. She let it, it went to voicemail with a chirp. She headed down the stairs and it buzzed again. She pulled it out, checked the number, and swallowed down another wave of nausea.

              “Everything okay?” Ben looked up the stairs at her. She nodded.

              “I need to take this. You two okay letting yourselves out?”

              Ben shrugged, and they did, and the phone buzzed in her hand. She answered it like she didn’t know who was calling.

              “Terri Dyers.”

              “Terri. It’s Cathy Jaeger.”

              “Oh, hi Cathy,” she lied brightly, “How are you?”

              “Pretty good. Except I’m dying is all.”

              Terri sat on the stairs.

              “Oh my God.”

              “Yeah. So, anyway, could you sell my house?”