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House of Words
Chocolate brown shingles clung loosely to the top of the house as if dangling for their life so they wouldn’t plummet to death and break against the steaming black pavement. The outside walls had a yellowed tint to them, proving that the home did not only have the appearance of character, but an actual story behind it as well. It was clearly a home that housed many families in the past, and I couldn’t agree more why they would want to live here. The shutters swung freely from the upstairs’ windows, rocking to the ocean breeze coming from the beach down the road. The door had a cookie-cutter look about it that just added to the quaintness of the home.
Adorning each past-due-for-repair window was a flowerbox that contained overgrown blossoms that were not meant to be kept in a box at all. The flowers hung over the edge of the container as if reaching for the ground so they wouldn’t suffocate any longer in such a cramped space. The smell of burning firewood filled my nostrils and I instantly remembered growing up in my country home as a young girl. It lifted my spirit almost, as if I could still hear the younger me complaining about gathering wood for the fireplace with my brother.
I glanced up and smiled when I saw a crooked chimney spouting out puffs of smoke. Mr. Babbel must have been here earlier to warm the home for me. I let out a childish giggle and skipped among the shiny cobblestone path to the door trailing my fingers along the ragged wood that made up the fence surrounding it. I could just feel that the home was right. I knew as soon as it brought back my childhood that I belonged there, in a home just as old and beaten up as I was. Well, maybe thirty isn’t that old, but to me it seemed like the end of the world. I wanted to find a new beginning.
I turned to the agent staring at me in obvious confusion, still standing near his car fumbling with a large chain of keys. “I’ll take it,” I said without a doubt in the world.
The man’s face turned ghost white, and I smiled at him as if to encourage him to speak the words on his mind. “But miss, Clara? That was your name was it not?”
He was one of the first people to ever pronounce my name correctly in America. The natives here kept wanting to pronounce it as “Cl-air-uh.” It was so typically American to consistently change the obvious pronunciation to something that was easier for their accent to handle. Yet, the agent said it just right – “Clar-uh.” “You aren’t from America, are you Mr. Babbel?”
“No, I am from Austria. However, don’t you want to at least see the inside first?” I gave him a look that showed that no matter what the home held inside, it wouldn’t change my decision. “Very well, but I’m sure you are at least curious.” When I didn’t reply he just simply shook his head, and paraded along the path shoving the key ferociously into the slot.
Beating him to the chase, I pushed against the door releasing a cloud of dust into the air. I could hear Mr. Babbel cough behind me, but I seemed immune to the toxic lung-clogging matter filling my surroundings. In fact, the dust didn’t seem to bother me at all, though it was everywhere. I began to run around the main room touching every object in my path, taking in the ancient smell each item possessed. I felt like I was just a child today, awaiting to be scolded by her mother not to touch, but I could. There was no “break it or buy it” warning here – it would soon be all mine. I just had to sign the papers in Mr. Babbel’s hands and it was to be my home.
I watched him take a handkerchief out of his back-pocket and cover his mouth. “As you can see, the house is in need of some major repairs. I’m sure after a few . . . days of touching up you can restore it to its former glory. I will warn you that houses with these types of roofs generally tend to leak.” I ignored his warnings and stared up at the window at the tip-top of the staircase. I slowly turned clockwise in a circle basking in the light being projected into the room.
“Where do I sign?” I said matter-of-factly.
After what felt like years and a good waste of time at that, I stared at the bronze key in my hand, tossing and turning it in my palm. The key to the home, my home. I glided my feet against the wooden floors listening to them creak in protest. I traced the outlines of the wood with my foot, completely absorbed in the markings. I even failed to notice the fact that I walked straight into a door. I guess even though I had a new home I would always be clumsy Clara. After tenderly rubbing the area of my head that I hit, I turned my attention to the door that so warmly welcomed me.
Curiosity got to the better of me, and I pushed against the wood hearing it scratch against the floors. My hazel eyes instantly began to scan the room for details, interesting details. Anything to spark imagination in me, and then there it was. I walked slowly and carefully to the area I knew I would spend more than necessary amounts of time at. I knelt down next to a tarp covering an object, although I knew in my heart what it was. I ripped off the once-white blanket to uncover an old window seat. I absorbed the heat radiating onto it coming from the bay window it was located beneath and closed my eyes. I could almost feel the creativity spilling from the window and onto this very bench. I stroked the threadbare material coating the seat, and carefully sat on it. I could feel millions upon millions of ideas spilling through me so quickly I just couldn’t keep track of them all. Feeling overwhelmed, I leaned back against the windows dirt stricken glass, and fell asleep.
Within a week that I moved there, my lovely new town of Carmel produced multiple stories about me, which I have to admit were almost all true.
“Clara Riley, that female author from England, is living in the old Comstock house. She was the 29 year old who went completely berserk when her newlywed husband died in that bookstore fire in London. Wonder what she’s doing here?”
In truth, I didn’t always know why I came to America. The cities were rowdy, the leaders were idiotic, and the citizens all seemed to think they had a brain, yet didn’t show any proof that they used them. I just knew that there was something in America that England didn’t have. America had a rising amount of published females, England did not.
I spent most of my time writing, really. My eyes saw colorful pictures that could only compare to a blank canvass. My brain developed the words that would become the outline of the drawing, and my pen was the splatters of paint coating the canvass in an array of colors and designs. All I needed was the right scene, and I could write a million words about it. The home was new scenery, and being located in America, I saw it with fresh eyes. It was exactly one year after my husband, Mattias, had passed, and I needed a new escape which was to be this home. The perfect plan, except at that time I didn’t have a clue as to what a certain Austrian realtor would do to make my very dreams come to life before my eyes with no reason other than wanting to get my words be heard and read amongst everyone. Maybe then, I would have focused a tad bit more on him if I had known what he would do for a widow as myself.
The banging noise of the knocker against my wooden door woke me from my thoughts, and I stumbled down the creaky staircase to answer it. “Oh! Mr. Babbel, fancy seeing you back here.”
I stared at the ball on his nose, and his pudgy cheeks. Despite the fact that he had a mustache, it was hard to hide how much he resembled a boy in his youth. His cap was poorly patched and worn, but matched his suit perfectly. Mr. Babbel’s tie was obviously clip-on and it seemed out of place against the suit. The suit was something an adult ought to wear, and the tie looked like something a child would wear to church. “There has been quite a ruckus going on about you, Miss Riley!” He said with a laugh as he invited himself into my home.
“Oh, I know, but there isn’t anything I can do, is there?” I walked towards the kitchen, “tea Mr. Babbel?”
“Uhm, yes, yes that would be lovely.” He plopped himself onto my couch and began to shout out to me. “I don’t mean to be too bold, but what exactly did happen to you back in England?”
I returned with a faint smile and a steaming pot of tea that filled the air with soothing aromas. “I was a young child, when I met Mattias,” I started. “We loved to play in my mother’s garden for hours, never getting tired, hungry, or bored. He was four years older than I, but never bothered that he was spending his free-time with a six year old girl. Each day after we played for hours and hours, and the sun began to settle in the sky casting orange beams all around, he took me inside. In the living room there was a beautiful window seat that my Pa made for my mother. Mattias would sit in that chair each day and read me a story about love or adventure. I fell in love with books because of him.” I laughed lightly as I felt tears begin to well up in my eyes. I breathed deeply so they wouldn’t fall. “He read to me every day except the day of the fire. I was angry at him for not getting a proper job, and working at a small bookstore. We could hardly afford our expenses, and I began to look for small jobs here and there to help pay the bills. It wasn’t the life I wanted as a young girl, but oh how I loved him. When I turned twelve I began to write stories for him, and he would hug me and tell me how much he adored them and what I fine author I would make.” I couldn’t hold back my tears anymore and I began to sob.
Mr. Babbel handed me his handkerchief and smiled warmly at me. “Mattias was a wonderful man I’m sure, but what happened to you?”
“When he died I wasn’t home, I went to meet with Browns Publishing company. I was going to be an author! Then as I waited in the office, a radio broadcast brought me to my feet. I can still remember the words as clear as crystal. ‘We interrupt this channel to tell you of a fire located at Books Emporium. So far, firefighters have said that there was only one man inside, and he was pronounced dead exactly ten minutes ago due to smoke poisoning.’ I was lost. I couldn’t sleep, eat, drink, write – nothing. I became the Miss Havisham of 42nd street. I was an embarrassment to my self and others, so I came here.” I wiped away my tears and stared at Mr. Babbel coldly, “Would you like to pry some more information out of me, or will you tell me the real reason why you came here?”
“Oh no, Miss, I didn’t mean it like that. My apologies, I really didn’t wish to offend you. I just wanted to know if you would like some assistance with straightening up this home. It has to be a handful to do it all on your own.” The sincerity in his voice was touching.
I got up and began to walk towards the front door, opening it up for him. He tipped his hat at me and began to walk out. I went to turn away and then said, “Be here tomorrow, 8 o’ clock sharp.” Then, I slammed the door and carried on to my writings.
I wrote about birds, trees, and fond childhood memories as if I were still in the peak of my youth, experiencing everything for the first time. Written as if the world was shiny and new to me once again, but it was not. The world was harsh and cold, just like the empty voids in my heart from when Mattias died.
I didn’t sleep that night.
Early the next day, I went out to the garden with my newly written story and sat thinking about life how I knew it. Then, even though I wasn’t expecting him to come, Mr. Babbel arrived with a cheerful smile played upon his lips that I couldn’t resist smiling back at him. “Having a nice time in the garden, miss?”
“I suppose so. I won’t lie and say that I was expecting you to show up,” I said gazing into his honest brown eyes.
“I stay true to my word madam. May I ask what you are reading?” His voice rose when he asked me, as if he wanted to know more than he should.
“I wrote this, I’ll admit it is pretty bizarre. Just a recollection of childhood memories seen through new eyes,” I avoided his glance by looking at the surrounding garden, rocking slowly in the porch swing on the patio.
“My sister works in the publishing business, you know. If you let me read it, and I like it I could pass it to her. I’m sure she could get you an in. I know you’ve done the process before, but why not? As you said before, it is America.” I pretended to be oblivious to the fact that he was inching closer to me on the newly-cushioned porch swing, until he became so close that he sat down right next to me.
I watched his fingers slowly take the book from me, and I let him. I stared at the book for good long while thinking about what Mattias would have said and done, but I knew Mr. Babbel was an honest man and would help me with whatever I needed. I then readjusted my eyes to his face, and studied him. The only emotion I could read off of his face was care, and it wasn’t something I was used to. I wanted to be kinder to him, but all I really could mutter was a silent “Fine,” and return to the home silently closing the door behind me.
Approximately one month later, I tan colored envelope arrived that was sealed with wax and had small hints that the owner stored her stationary in a perfume drawer by the overpowering floral fragrance that came off of it. I opened it letting the envelope fall to the ground as I read how my book was to be published, and released that September. My dream was coming true, and I knew in my heart Mattias would be proud.
I may not see him, or hear him anymore like I used to be able to, but I could feel him then. I almost felt his embrace telling me how much he adored me and how far I would go, but this was just the beginning. 30 years old isn’t the end of my life, just a knew start.
I would make him proud.