The House -13-

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It was late in the afternoon and I was still tossing from one side to the other trying to sleep a little bit. A 15 minute nap could make me as new, but finally I gave up. Somebody in the neighborhood was playing the ukulele. I opened the News app and read a few articles from “Reuter” and “The Guardian” to keep up with what was going on in Europe. Declining economy in the South, great effort to keep the Iranian deal, refugees … Old news.

The boxes and bags with my things were still there, and I decided to put them away a little later. For the moment I took a seat on the folding chair on the porch. Maybe I could see or hear something from the house next door.

A woman’s voice sounded in the alley. “Mary, did you let the cat out again?” Then I heard Phillip’s voice, “He comes in my garage all the time.” “I know,” the woman continued,” he wanders the whole street. That’s because Mary here doesn’t care. Right, Mary?” Mary didn’t answer.

That might be the cat that showed up at our door today.

It seemed weird to me to listen at this conversation, but that was how things were on the peninsula. While across the bridge the neighbors on our street were very private and showed up only to get in their cars, it was the opposite here. On weekends or after work, people spend time at the beach or on the patio. Neighbors from 2-3 houses gather together for a glass of wine in the evening and chat and listen to slow jazz or country music.

I bent over the fence to catch a glimpse of the lady who was upset with Mary, but I couldn’t see her. The angle was too narrow.

 

 

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The House -12-

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His words made me shiver. It was such a heaviness in his pain, and I didn’t know how to help. I just stood there with the earring in my hand, backing off tears.

Then the young man did something that took me by surprise. He came closer and placed his head on my shoulder, like a little child. “Sophie was mom’s name,” he mumbled. “I think you were sent here as a sign.”

I didn’t move and let the grieving man take his time to get comfort. When a car rolled into the alley, the neighbor composed himself and wiped off his tears. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to scare you, Sophie.” “You don’t scare me. And no need to apologize. I am so sorry for your loss.”

There was not so much to be said and I decided to go home. As I crossed the road the man waved at me. “If you ever have something to be repaired, tell me. I’m good at that.”

“Thank you!” I waved back. Before opening the gate to the courtyard, I looked and saw the young man sitting on the ground by his motorbike. His lips were moving and I thought he was talking to himself. Weird as it was, I didn’t know his name.

“What is your name?” I asked.

“Phillip.”

When I opened the gate, I heard his voice again.

“That house is empty since mom died. It was her house.”

The House -11-

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“I should go and see what that is,” I thought. My coming down the stairs called for more commotion from poor Pax. He growled and barked at me, even though I talked to him, trying to win his confidence. It didn’t work, and I heard Jacky calling him back in.

The street was empty. I passed the garage and moved away one of the three garbage bins to be able to see the shining object. It was an earring, the same exquisite kind I saw on the woman at the beach. She was wearing only one, and I was pretty sure the one in my hand was hers. How did it get there, behind the trash cans that were used by our three cottages and the house next door together?

The biker from the garage across the street came outside with a bag.

“Hi,” I greeted him. “Sorry for asking: Do you know who lives in this house? I found something by the trash and it might be theirs.”

The young man lifted his arm to his forehead to see me better. The sun was getting in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Ma’am. This house is empty.”

I crossed the road to speak with him privately.

“I don’t want to bother you, but it is strange.” I lowered my voice. “I heard some weird noise coming from the house a few minutes ago.”

The man placed his hand on his hip. I could see his tattoo by his armpit, one word, “mom.” “Weird noise?” “Yes, it was like somebody was grunting.” “A dog?” he asked. “I don’t know. I’m sorry to keep you. I just moved here. My name is Sophie.”

“Sophie?” The man gasped and pressed his chest. “My mom was Sophie. She just passed away. I miss her so much.”

*

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The House -10-

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“The house is not empty,” I said to myself while getting up the stairs. The steps squeaked under my weight and I had to get used with it. They would not break under me for sure. Adam carried all the furniture on these steps and it didn’t break.

One thought kept bothering me. How come a house by the beach was empty? Jacky didn’t say it was a rental, because when you rent out a cottage or something there may be times when nobody stays there. I should have asked her more details about the house, or maybe Adam had some.

My son called again.

“Did you find it?”

I opened the door and got inside in the heat. “I just got here. Give me a second.” The big fan in the corner of the room was a treat. I turned it on and sat on the edge of the couch to take in the cool air. The paper for my son was on top of his dresser. That was easy. I took a picture of it and sent it to him. His message came right away, “ty,” the shortcut for young people’s “thank you.”

A few minutes later I went down the stairs again and watered the only flower I brought there in a pot, white and blue Alyssum, the fragrance of my childhood. When I got back on our tiny porch, I stood there looking down to the long ally between the houses that was stretching on a few streets. It was a narrow path where people kept their garbage bins, surfboards and old stuff they didn’t get rid off. That was my view, if I don’t mention the wall with the window in front of me.

Right before getting inside, I saw something glittering on the dirt behind the trash cans, a few feet away. No, it couldn’t be. The object looked like a unique piece of jewelry I’ve seen minutes ago,  a golden sunflower, maybe a huge earring.

SEE one of my mystery stories HERE

 

The House -9-

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I took on the walkway between the garage and the fence in the courtyard. When I turned to the stairs, our young neighbors’ little dog stuck out his nose through the doggy door, barking.

That gave me a startle and I continued walking holding my purse towards the dog.

“Good boy, Pax,” I heard and the young woman came out to see me.

“I’m sorry,” she said with a big smile, “Pax is a good puppy, but still needs some training. I’m Jacky, by the way” and stretched her hand to meet mine.

“Don’t worry, Jacky. I hope I will be Pax’s friend. I’m Sophie, Adam’s mother.”

Her face brightened even more and nodded her head. “Adam mentioned something about you coming for a visit.”

“For a visit …” These words inside my head sounded funny. I wasn’t there for a visit, I was there to stay after the commotion with my husband, soon to be my ex.

The woman picked up Pax in her arms. “It’s so good for a boy to have his mother around, isn’t it, Pax?”

“Yes, it’s a two way road.” I sounded so tired.

“I let you go then. Very nice to meet you, Sophie.” She turned to get back in the house.

“I’m sorry, may I ask you something?” I continued.

“Sure.”

I lowered my voice. “Do you know who lives next door?”

Jacky raised her eyebrows. “Next door?”

“Yes, ” and I made a motion with my chin to the house by the stairs. “There.”

The woman waved her hand. “Oh, nobody. The house is empty.”

The House -8-

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I was walking to the street and still thinking what to do with the strange wallet. Maybe I should take it to the store and leave it at the register. With that plan in mind, I saw my feet. They were covered in sand, and it took a while to wipe it off.

My phone rang. It was Adam.

“Are you at home?’

“Not yet. Do you need something?”

He was in campus at UCI and needed the picture of a document. “Could you help, mom?”

“Of course. I’m a couple of minutes away.”

I rushed up to Balboa Blvd and crossed it to get on Lake St. In a split of a second I felt dizzy and almost blacked out. My back hit the wall of the house I was passing by and I froze there for a few moments. From across the street, a woman was watching me pretty worried. I took a deep breath and slowly got back on my feet. Since the heart disease I was dealing with got complicated a few years before, there were times when I had to stop when walking and hold to something not to fall. The doctor said sometimes my heart couldn’t pump enough blood to reach the brain. Exhaustion, stress, heat and dehydration were triggers for this irregularity.

When I turned the corner to our place, there was an unusual sound. In the beginning I thought it was a dog or some kind of animal crying. By the time I got to our gate, it seemed to me it was the sound of a person grunting. The noise was coming from the house next to ours.

 

 

The House -7-

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Big, with empty compartments, it looked like leather and had two silvery initials engraved in the middle, B.R. “This might not be it,” I thought picturing the young man who couldn’t find his wallet in the store. But, as much as I liked to trust my presumptions, it didn’t work all the time. Just because the wallet looked rich, maybe even old in a good way, that didn’t prove it didn’t belong to that man. Yes, he was young and modern, but the wallet might have been a gift from his grandfather.

As I got out of the water, I spotted a woman watching me. She was sitting on her towel, and had a large yellow scarf around her shoulders, to keep her from the sun.

I shook the wallet to get rid of the water and walked to the woman who turned her head, pretending she didn’t see me.

“Hi, is this yours, by any chance?” I asked showing her what I found in the ocean.

“Oh, no,” she answered, “not mine.”

I couldn’t ignore she was wearing one big earring only. A huge sunflower.

I caught more eyes watching me, a couple of red-hair ladies, twins maybe, and a guy in speedos. I felt I was putting up for a show, and it was OK. I lifted up the wallet. “Is this yours?” The man laughed, “What’s in it?”

“Nothing.”

“It’s not mine, then.”