I smile. “It’s the only bike I’ve ever had. I guess I’m used to it.”
Ernestine, Chris’s wife, becomes my friend and recommends I apply for her position as proofreader at a local publishing firm while she’s on maternity leave. After months of struggling through Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition with my students as a permanent sub, I am more than prepared to be a proofreader and thrilled to graduate from junior high into publishing.
From the first, I am trained to stay on after Ernestine returns. Besides proofreading, I gather research, and write storyboards for future booklets. That’s what they publish, booklets on: Everything You Wanted to Know About—fill in the blank. There’s always cool stuff to learn. My favorite topics are medical: asthma, diabetes, sleep disorders, psoriasis, etc. My least favorites are industrial safety which usually boil down to wear your hard hat and stay out of the way.
I like the people I work with too. Joe is my boss. He assigns me storyboards. Then there’s Aaron who is a middle manager for the art department. His wife is also pregnant—with twins. At editorial meetings, we all sit around the conference table with Leah. She’s from the promotion department instead of creative services. I never dreamed a job could be so much fun. Maybe this is how John feels at his job where his mechanical design gifts are useful in a like-minded community. Is this what it feels like when you find where you fit? And the company is so close to home, I can ride my bike.
I do a lot of riding by myself. When I want to cool off on a hot summer evening, I peddle through shady neighborhoods at the end of Main Street to make my own breeze. Then coast down to Highland Pond, through the woods to Highland Ave. and back to home sweet apartment on Congress Street. I love to go out Saturday mornings when everything is quiet, and the dew is still glistening on the grass. I like the speed of a bicycle, slow enough to carefully observe, but faster than walking, so you’re not part of the picture you’re looking at.
John likes to canoe. It’s kind of like biking on water. The same speed. Floating by a peaceful, green world, off the beaten path, sequestered by woods, even in the city, a secret world of bird song and burbling brook. When we lived in West Springfield, John and I tubed down a local portion of the Westfield River. Lovely, even when we drifted by a steep bank where people had shoved broken stoves and washing machines into the stream. The rusted carcasses, filled with muck and fallen branches, created a quiet eddy for a growing family of ducks.
Now that we both have good jobs, John takes me to buy a real canoe big enough for two. Our maiden voyage, we strap the green fiberglass hull to the roof of our Vega and put into the Deerfield by Stillwater Bridge. I paddle and John steers past the Williams Farm, past Deerfield Academy’s playing fields, and into the forest. Sometimes the water is narrow and deep. Sometimes we have to step out of the wooden ribs and wade a wide, pebbly shoal until there’s enough flow to float again.
One Sunday afternoon, I ride down High Street towards the hospital and see a For Sale sign in front of a big brown shingled house on the corner of Madison Circle. There’s a magnetic strip over the main sign that reads: Open house today. On a whim, I park my bike on the long walkway and ring the doorbell.
A stout old man in a brown suit answers the door. “Hello, I’m Mr. Tubb. Have you come to see the house?”
“I guess.” I look through the large foyer to the empty living room with original Craftsman trim and a corner fireplace. “I thought there would be other people here.”
“No problem.” Mr. Tubb leads the way up a gorgeous switchback stairway with a large window on the landing. “Let’s start with the master. Notice the bay of windows facing south.”
He leads me down the hall towards another spacious bedroom. “There are two more rooms the previous owners redecorated for their kids.”
One is wallpapered in sky blue with yellow flowers and a sky-blue carpet. Another is painted adobe with a geometric wall to wall. Not my taste, nor the style of this vintage home.
Mr. Tubb points towards the bathroom. “There’s nothing like these ball and claw tubs for a comfy soak.”
I gesture towards the fire-engine-red tub. “Did the previous owners paint this?”
“Kind of fun isn’t it?”
I raise my eyebrows.
“Let me show you the walk-up attic. Plenty of room for a growing family. Are you married?”
“Yes,” I mumble, still marveling at my newlywed status.
“It has three dormers, so it could be a legal bedroom, a study, or perhaps a playroom. Do you have children?”
“No.” Children are nowhere on my radar. Then why can I see a toy box and a cozy rug where there are only cobwebs and dust?
I follow Mr. Tubb to the dining room with a built-in china cupboard painted pumpkin. “They’ve redecorated in here too. You like it?”
I bite my lip, mentally stripping both the cupboard and the wallpaper which is orange and chartreuse stripes flocked with intermittent brown velvet that reminds me of wooly bear caterpillars.
Mr. Tubb saves the kitchen for last. “The previous owners were called to Texas for a new job before they were able to finish the remodel, but I’m sure you can see the potential.”
There’s nothing but a scratched porcelain sink on one wall. No cabinets. Window and door trim are newly painted a yellow somewhere between canary and urine.
“I think they tore out the wall behind the chimney to install a wood stove.” He lifts his hand towards a gaping hole in the brick. “Looks ready to go.”
In my mind’s eye, I find myself sitting in a rocker enjoying its warmth. The hideous paint has been replaced with a soothing blue. The empty walls are filled with cabinets.
Mr. Tubb leads me through an adjacent doorway to a pantry with original beadboard cupboards. Through another is a mudroom I can already see lined with little red boots and parkas.
When Mr. Tubb opens the back door, I step onto a porch, its middle post entwined by a flowering vine. In the center of the yard is a giant oak hung with a wooden swing.
I turn to Mr. Tubb. “How long will you be here? I’d like to bring my husband to see the house.”
He smiles. “I can wait until you get back.”
“Okay.” Mr. Tubb escorts me to the front door. It’s a five-minute spin to the apartment where I gather my husband, and we return in the Vega.
Neither of us had been searching for a house, yet we make an offer that’s accepted that day.
Looking back, it was the swing that made the sale. I could see myself suspended above the earth, pumping higher and higher, floating skyward. Like biking on air. Making my own breeze. The home of my dreams ever before me. In the shade of the great oak, I saw none of its fixer-upper flaws: the ruinous renovations, the leaky roof, the ancient furnace, the cracks in the ceilings and walls, only the concept of home, a place where I could be part of the picture I was looking at.