Real Estate

as published in APPALACHIA

"Don't get me wrong," one of them said to the other. "I wouldn't normally do this. I wouldn't think of it," she said. "It isn't about what you think," she said. The other one smiled and looked around more, looked into the cupboards and the refrigerator, pulled down the dishwasher door and stuck her head inside. "There's water in there," she said, taking her head out. "The appliances are old, that's true," the first one, Junie, said. "I've had them fixed but I wouldn't guarantee anything. As is," she said. "Uh huh," the other one, Lornay, said, running her hand over the counter but looking up as if she was checking for structure or ceiling flaw like she knew something about it. "What's that?" she said, and they both walked under the beam where she was pointing. "Crack, I guess," Junie said. "But how could it break, being held up there and there? It's woven, practically, supported all over the place." She pointed to different sections. "Laid like mesh,' she said. "I don't know. Don't take it," she said. Lornay looked at her. "I'd like to walk down to the river another time," she said.

They both crossed their arms against the heat of the day, and walked down the path, looking the same from the back as if the house and area suited the same type of person, the ad in the newspaper stating how it was ‘solid feeling', and ‘down to earth'. They descended, looking the same size and body make-up, swaying in the same easy rhythm, stepping in the same steady manner, bracing their heels against rocks, stepping over ant holes and lizards.

"It needs stairs," Junie said, Lornay stumbling behind her and grabbing onto a branch. "Don't stand too long," Junie said. "If one of those ants gets on your thigh, he'll bring up a welt." Lornay looked around her feet and moved forward.

Down at the river, the red sand sank beneath them, soft, as if it was powdered, like it could be mixed with water and become moldable, or brushed dry over forehead and arms and produce a bronze suntanned appearance.

"This is where the worst of the flood you might have read about came," Junie said, where trees were overturned and uprooted and lying broad, making the two women look small. "You can see how it took everything with it, chairs and tires and whole porches. No telling what you'd find; fences, horse trailers, bicycles, you name it. It went where it wanted to, but that's been the only one."

Lornay took off her shoes, and waded into the water. "This is what I like best," she said. "This is why I would do it. This and a house like that is all I've ever wanted. To have it mine."

"How long have you and him been together?" Junie asked.

"Two years." Lornay answered. "It works, it doesn't look like it but there's something about it that has worked. It's OK, I guess," she said then. "I guess I just need to move on, is all."

"He's beautiful," Junie said.

Lornay walked out into the middle and up against the flow of the river.

Junie walked alongside on the shore. "I might have another offer," she said, "Not really," she said, after awhile.

"You know I would love it," Lornay said. "You know I would take care of it. You could come back if you wanted to."

Junie stopped. "What does he say?" she asked.

Lornay continued on, the river flowing around her. "The rocks look like they've come from different families," she said, "red and white, and some with holes, some like hearts, like body organs," She laughed, and picked one up. "Look at this one," she said, and they both laughed.

"I've known some," Junie said.

Lightning was in the sky, and debris hung like moss from limbs and roots by the river's banks. Bamboo grew tall, and young cottonwood trees were spindly, but straight; old ones, caught and held down by what the flood had tangled them with, bent awkwardly, growing as best they could.

"He would do what I wanted. He knows how bad I want it" Lornay said. "I wouldn't give any guarantees either, though. As is," she said and came out of the river to put her shoes on to go back up.

When they reached the top, she looked around at the horizon and at the rim of the plateau on which the house stood.

Junie looked around, also, at what was hers, the house and barn and fences, the willow tree damaged by some kind of blight, its branches bare and broken at the point where they once swept along the ground. "It has needed someone to take care of it," she said. "I haven't had a mind to. It's not the way I usually am," she hurried to add.

"Why don't we go in?" Lornay said, "sit down."

"Where is he?" Junie asked, looking up the driveway past where Lornay's car was.

"No telling," Lornay said. "He likes finding things, picking things up. He might've gone anywhere. He'll make something out of what he's found."

"I saw his hands," Junie said.

Lornay smiled. "Yes,' she said, "Really."

They went in and sat in front of the windows, and Lornay took a paper out of her pocket. "We went into town and I wrote this out on a napkin. I don't know if you can read it." She unfolded the paper and laid it on the floor, smoothing it.

"I don't know," Junie said, "I don't know." She shook her head. "Let me think more about it," she said, getting up. "It's rushed," she said.

"It's been on the market three years, you said. You haven't been able to do anything."

"It's a lonely house," Junie said. "I should tell you that. The darkness is different here, it seems like there's something out there, but there isn't necessarily, of course, it just seems like it, pigs or something, but I've never seen tracks; coyotes, maybe, or deer; something sniffs around, I know that. There are different cries from the river. Maybe it's because I was alone. Maybe you wouldn't mind, or maybe you wouldn't want it now," she said. "There are crawling things, too, I think it's only right to tell you, every kind of thing. There's one under the washing machine a mile long."

"What else?" Lornay said, laughing.

Junie sat down again.

"You have to let go," Lornay said. "Maybe that's why it hasn't sold."

"I know it," Junie said. "I guess I have. But you should know everything. Disclosure," she said.

"He's wonderful," Lornay said. "His hands are the way they look. Warm and strong. He knows a lot. You should see what he makes," she said. "He'll make something out of nothing. Before you know it, he'll have made a cross or a bird or an animal or something twice the size of a person, made from nothing, metal or wood he finds that you or I would walk over. He's a true artist."

Junie was silent, considering it.

"He doesn't talk sometimes," Lornay said. "I guess that's what's wrong with him. He can go for days without talking. If you want him to, he won't. Some-times he'll go away for a few days without saying anything, then be back. He always comes back. I like it. It's like the wind going around."

"What else?" Junie said, and they both laughed again.

They pressed out the paper and looked at it.

"There would be an option period," Lornay said, looking over what she had written. "Three weeks, say, or four, less if you want; just to see."

"It's taking my breath away," Junie said. "I don't know why you would do it," she said, "but I know I want it," she said, and then closed her mind off to think about him, imagining his hands on her face, the way they had looked so strong, imagining the touch of his hands, his fingers. She took down his hair, in her mind, from the way he had had it tied, sitting across from her when he and Lornay had come to look at the house. She let it fall down by his face and she put her own on his shoulder. "Oh," she said, and Lornay looked at her. "You have no idea what it's been like, being here alone," Junie said. "At first you think it's something you can do. I'm warning you, I guess. You think it will be all right, you look at the red in the sky and you listen for the thunder, and look out all the windows, upstairs and down, when the sound begins to roll over you; you think anyone would be crazy not to be here in this house, by the river, not to be standing where you are, under the stars, later, and the milky way, and you lie down feeling lucky, lie down under the falling stars and the constellations."

"You can't go out, where I am," Lornay said, when they had been silent for a moment. "You can't go out at all without worrying about getting shot at or something, without a million people being everywhere, you can't turn around without bumping into somebody. You can't go out at all."

"But you've had him," Junie said. "Him to protect you. How could any of that matter?"

"Of course," Lornay said, "Of course. You're right. "It's just me," she said. "Just the way I am. He could make everything else not matter," she said, because she was thinking about where she would put their things, her bookcases, tables, how they would repair the fences that were falling down, replace the dead iris and Mexican primrose, the dying willow; plant cactus in terra-cotta pots, buy Indian bowls and rugs; thinking where they would put his workshop, lay his tools, hang his aprons. How they would watch the stars and constellations together, when he came back from wherever she thought she was taking him. "Yes," she said, "He could make it all not matter."

Junie sat back as if she had been tensed up.

"Do you want to sign this?" Lornay asked. "It would be binding, serve as a contract between us." She took out a pen from her purse. "He liked you," she said, when Junie didn't move. "I knew it right away, he didn't have to say anything."

"The river would never touch you up here," Junie said. "It was a fluke thing, the flood. You saw how high it came. It couldn't go any higher."

"But you do have that frontage of the river?" Lornay asked. "There's no mistaking that? It would be all mine, cottonwood to cottonwood?"

"Definitely," Junie said, thinking about how the river had whipped and snapped and gotten away from her property side when it began shrinking back to its normal size this last time, after it had come down like some kind of open mouth consuming everything in its way, tearing away at everything, pulling away after that, as if it had an aversion to itself, to its own greed, recoiling to the other side, finally, to repent along the green meadowlands where the neighbor's white horses were; recoiling from her banks as if she had come down too many times and it didn't like the scrutiny. "Definitely," she said, thinking about how it wasn't hers anymore, the river, how it was moving further and further away, how only the wide, mushy banks were, the reeds and roots and the wreckage left behind; thinking about the foundation and dirt under her house sliding inch by inch into the deepening, cavernous arroyo because of the change in the river, what it had been carrying away, leaching away; the roof creaking and whining, and the snaking crack under the carpet, like it could all, house, porch, barn, buckle and slide right into the arroyo. "Cottonwood to cottonwood," she said. "Absolutely."

"I could never have come up with the money," Lornay said, breathing a sigh of relief, "in my whole life."

"Creative financing," Junie said. "There's always a way." The wind had started to blow outside, picking up the dust and gravel around the house. Screw beans and leaves went horizontal in it, and the tops of the cottonwoods shimmered violently. Rain began pouring on the meadow where the white horses were; lightning flashed, drops of rain shook the windows of the house.

"How would we do it, then?" Junie said, reaching for the paper.

"He would come to you," Lornay said, looking at a rainbow over part of the meadow where the downpour had stopped. "I could do it right now, no waiting."

"I could too," Junie said. "I could do it right now, you could have every-thing that's here. I don't want anything." She took up the pen, read the words on the paper and signed her name, wrote herself a copy and passed it to Lornay, who signed it. "It's done," she said, and stood up.

Lornay got to her feet, and they shook hands without saying anything, flushed and looking at each other as if they didn't know what to say, transaction on each of their minds, what each had acquired.

"Tomorrow, actually, if it would be all right," Junie said. "I could be out of here at noon," she said. "Will he be here?"

"He'll have to be," Lornay said, looking up the road for him.

"He will sign something, too. You'll have a promise. Something written."

Junie stood outside the door, Lornay down the steps, shielding her eyes from the rain. "I'd have to have that," Junie said, "a clause would be fine, an---- addendum."

"Noon, then," Lornay said, making a mental note of what would look good by the door, what kind of chairs they'd place on the porch, what kind of plants she'd hang.

She backed out of the driveway and turned her car around by the barn, then headed out toward the property line, imagining how everything would be by spring, fences repaired, and a new landscaping, a new coat of paint on the house. She drove past the ‘For Sale' sign, and up the road. She had gone about half a mile, when she came to him walking toward her dragging wood, wire, metal parts, machinery; him, tall and beautiful, his hands and pockets filled, things thrown over his shoulders, rope, tin, leather.

"Get in," she said. "Get the hell in."

"You do it?" he said, emptying his pockets and arms and hands and looking over what he had been carrying until she had to get out of the car to get his attention.

"Yes," she said, and started putting everything inside the car and getting in. "Tomorrow," she said, turning on the windshield wipers. "Can you do it? Like we said?"

"Why not?" he said, getting in beside her, his mind on what he had hauled, what he had pulled from bushes and woodpiles, holes and crevices, uncovered with his boots. His fingers were running over it, in his mind, shaping it, working it, his mind on where it had come from, whose lives, what it had seen, been, someone else's dreams, what he would make of it, where he would hang it, display it, his mind on this one and the one that had been on his mind day and night lately, the one he had dreamed of and was reminded of when they had driven into town to talk about how she could get the house, with the way the woman, Junie, was looking at him, how he had seen the sun up against the mountains in the distance with the storm coming up behind it, a splintering white ray of light; how he had thought, and was thinking again, about a figure of glass; a high, sleek, figure of glass, placed so a splintering white light would come through it; sunlight, moonlight, light from an ocean somewhere he was thinking looking out of the car window with Lornay talking about the house; or an amber light, or a furnace of light like in Mexico or South America, equatorial light,

Lornay drove onto the main road, the rain beginning to come down hard. "Imagine," she said, looking into the rearview mirror in the direction of the cottonwood trees and the river and the house. "Imagine what we can do with the house," she said. "You and me."

Inside the house, Junie was gathering up her belongings, lotion and creams, hair brushes, soaps, perfumes, clothing, thinking about where they would go together, her and him, how there was something between them, she had seen it in his eyes she was sure, such a faraway and wonderful look; how she knew he would be everything she imagined, everything she had been so long without, how he would never go away from her. She looked out at the sky, at the darkness which was beginning to cover like a window shade, a vast darkness coming up over the mountain range, lightning white, orange, gold in the sunset, the rain coming heavier and heavier, the clouds dense and terrible; all of it moving with a force that had behind it the same thing the other storm did, Junie was thinking, the one that came two months earlier, leaving the roof pouring and the ground moving, oozing; the house and barn giving way to it, sooner or later, she knew, the mouth of the river gaping and ravenous, taking everything in its path.