by Jennifer Pane
The realtor-man immediately shook my hand as we walked up the driveway of my estranged dead father’s home. They always shake my hand first. It is like they learn in realtor-man school to always shake the husband’s hand first; if no male present, decipher who is more in charge, who is more masculine, or which one would look ugliest in a dress. Soon enough, he will inquire about our occupations and it will quickly become apparent that she is the money, he will divert more attention to her, but for now, his attention is solely mine and I’m a terrible liar. We’ve come armed with easily forgotten names. He is some Mike Johnson, or Bob Williams. Some easily forgotten realtor-man name. Assuming we are investors, he goes on and on about the ease of mowing such a tiny yard. I smile politely; nodding, as I do, when words crack apart in the back of my throat.
Entering the back door, he leads us into my step-mother’s kitchen. Her blue and white kitchen knick-knacks are still strewn across the counter-tops. They are still gaudy. There is a butter knife resting in the sink with remnants of dried jam on its blunt edges, like she had just eaten toast yesterday, moments before the ambulance took her away to hospice.
“The sellers’ mother recently passed away and they are looking to sell quick. They are open to all offers. The home has been maintained well, and there is certainly a great value to be had.”
I nod, remembering Dad’s half-assed electrical job, and non-permitted attached garage. Mike/Bob’s phone rang before I was forced to fain an interest in buying. As he excused himself to outside, I entered each of the bedrooms one by one. Everything of value had been cleared out of the house by her relatives, only their personal affects remained. I opened the bedroom closet they once shared, finding his old white dress shirts still neatly hanging on one side. His entire adult life was spent on the summertime blacktops of car dealership lots, it was no surprise all that was left of him was pit stained whites. I place my head deep in the closet, inhaling for the slightest scent of his Brut aftershave.
When I turn into the bathroom, my partner-in-crime begins to get nervous and fidgety, “you promised not to steal anything.” Afraid to get caught she stands in the hallway waiting for realtor-man’s return. Of course, four years after his death, there isn’t any Brut lying out. I quietly open the medicine cabinet. Stacks of their prescriptions line the shelves. I quickly begin to search for answers. I look for all the big antidepressant names: Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, and Lexapro. Nothing, no answers and none of his Brut to pocket either. I hear a cough from the hallway, and close the cabinet door moments before realtor-man pops his head in apologizing for taking the call.
“Looks like you got familiar with the house while I was gone!” All smiles from the realtor-man.
“Yes… It’s… large. I would like to see the basement though. It is the door off the kitchen, yes?”
His face drops, “Sure, of course. It is unfinished…” His voice trails off before I respond.
“Can’t buy a house without first seeing the basement, am I right?” Trying to stay composed.
He opens the basement door ahead of us, placing his hand on the small of my then-fiancé’s back. Chivalrous, that realtor-man. I do a quick look-around before focusing on the corner workshop. Heat rushes to my cheeks, my jowls tremble. It has newer wood than I remember, and a freshly painted ceiling and stark-white rafters. He responds that they tried to freshen up and that it’s a new workbench. Another polite nod, knowing it is nothing new – only covered with new wood. Touching the old leg supports with my palms, I pretend to examine its size. Instead, I search the floor for any sign of my father. Hoping for blood splatter, or a shell case perhaps. The realtor-man is shifting his weight uncomfortably now. As I gaze up at the rafters searching for the trajectory of my father’s end, my accomplice asks about the furnace and electrical box. Guiding him to the furnace, I hear her ask in her sweetest voice if he believes the house is sturdy. I frantically search the rafters for any indication of bullet fragments, skull fragments, something. It is sturdy enough to hide it all. I inhale deeply once again, searching for the slightest scent of Brut, or death, him, but all my nose can muster is the musk of a hundred year old basement.
Jennifer Pane was raised in south Omaha, came of age in Philadelphia, and currently calls Omaha’s Gifford Park neighborhood home. This is her first literary publication. When she is not preparing her infant daughter for revolt against the gender binary, Jennifer enjoys long walks in the Loess Hills, and singing classic rock ballads out of tune with her partner.