Room To Let
By Beki Muchow
Ms. Muchow lives in the suburbs of Portland where she tries to do her fair share to keep everything weird.
Mitzi pulled up to the curb in front of a lovely old Victorian home.
"What's that they say? If it sounds too good to be true..." she muttered, reading the ad again, certain it was a misprint. But desperate times called for desperate measures. She had to check it out.
The gate complained and dried leaves scurried across her path as she entered the yard. As she paused on the wraparound porch trimmed with gingerbread to appreciate the old home, the front door opened. There stood a handsome woman, her attire classic, expensive, but old somehow.
"Oh!" Mitzi startled. "I was just going to ring."
The woman smiled. "I always hear the gate. Are you here about the ad?"
"I am. I was afraid it was a misprint."
"Oh? Why is that?"
"I haven't seen anything nearly so nice in my price range."
"I see. Would you like to come in and take a look?"
"Yes, please," Mitzi said, stepping in. She was sold with one look at the parquet floor in the foyer and the graceful winding staircase leading to the second floor.
"Have you been looking long?" the woman asked as she closed the door behind Mitzi.
"Several weeks. And I'm running out of time. They're tearing my building down."
"How awful for you. I'm Ruth, by the way."
"Very nice to meet you," Mitzi said, shaking the woman's cool hand.
Ruth showed Mitzi around the beautiful home, pointing out furniture pieces, family heirlooms in perfect condition. She explained the home had been in her family since its construction. By the time the tour was complete the women felt a connection. Ruth motioned Mitzi to a chair at the oak pedestal table in the kitchen as she set the kettle for tea.
"I have a list of references here somewhere," Mitzi said, digging in her bag.
"That won't be necessary," Ruth said. "I follow my instincts. You can move in anytime if the terms are agreeable. As part of your rent, I would like you to take care of the shopping and errands. My husband died in a car accident when we were on our honeymoon. I've never cared to drive after that and I've never replaced the car," she explained. "Will that be acceptable?"
"Perfectly," Mitzi said.
Over the winter the two women found they had much in common and friendship blossomed. Every time Mitzi pulled into the driveway she thanked her lucky stars for such a find, but felt a little sad for Ruth who, to Mitzi's knowledge, never left the house nor did she have visitors. The gray days of winter soon gave way to the glorious days of spring. As the large backyard garden burst into bloom, fresh flowers were distributed throughout the house regularly.
One Saturday morning Mitzi came downstairs where she found Ruth in the kitchen pouring morning tea.
"I'm going to a flower show today. Would you like to come along?"
"No, I don't think so, but thank you for asking," Ruth said politely. "You go and enjoy yourself. You can tell me all about it tonight."
Mitzi was not surprised. She had asked Ruth join her many times, always with the same response.
Summer passed far too quickly and autumn was soon upon them. Out for what may be the last good hiking trip of the season, Mitzi broke her ankle and was forced to take time off work. As much as she loved spending time in the old house, the confinement was starting to wear on her.
Mitzi had assumed the gardening was done while she was at work, but in the almost two weeks she had been home the garden remained beautiful and the bouquets in the house fresh. And yet, she never saw Ruth outside nor had she seen a gardener.
Boredom set in as the hottest days of the Indian summer crawled past. With time on her hands Mitzi puzzled more and more over her landlady's aversion to the outdoors. Each afternoon Ruth brought Mitzi a tall glass of fresh lemonade. Taking a small chair nearby she would sit and sip from her own glass as they chatted like the friends they had become.
It was one such afternoon when the sky suddenly darkened as a storm rolled in. A bright flash of lightning and a nearly simultaneous deafening crash of thunder knocked the power out. Mitzi noticed her landlady becoming increasingly agitated as the storm raged on.
"Are you alright, Ruth?" Mitzi asked as Ruth jumped up and started lighting candles around the room.
"Storms make me nervous. It was a day such as this when my husband died. We had been married less than a week. We were crossing the mountains and the storm seemed to come out of nowhere. I had never seen it was rain so hard. Another car had stalled on the road, but we didn't see it in time. We swerved..." Her voice trailed off. "I swerved. I was driving. I was only learning. Women didn't drive much in those days. I had badgered him, you see, to let me drive.
"As the storm got worse he suggested I pull over and let him take over. But I was so sure of myself. It was the closest thing to independence I had ever experienced.
"If I had just hit the brake...but I didn't want to be responsible for the first dent in his new car. I tried to go around. It was raining so hard, and there wasn't enough room. And then..."
Ruth stared out at the rain pouring on her garden. As Mitzi silently watched the woman she had come to care deeply about, it all became clear to her.
"You're dead, aren't you?"