The International Writers Magazine: Life Decisions
Buying the House
Tim Holcomb opened his eyes, saw sunlight slanting through the blinds and knew what he’d be doing that Saturday. It was the 1960’s and down in Berkeley students were busy taking over the university as they rioted against the evil establishment. But up here in staid Sacramento he and his wife Amy, along with other young marrieds, would be searching for their first house in the suburbs.
Tim looked over at his wife, sleeping with her mouth slightly open, her round face with no make-up looking child-like. They’d met in San Francisco three years ago and after six months had married. Tim worked for the State, an analyst, and after a year they’d moved to Sacramento, where almost all the State agencies were headquartered, so he could get a promotion. Amy was a nurse and she’d had no trouble getting a job in the county hospital. Their move was not only so Tim could be promoted; they also wanted to buy a house, and houses in Sacramento were much more affordable than those in San Francisco. Buying a house, as Tim knew, was a prelude to starting a family. And that was what scared him.
Amy stirred and opened her eyes. “What time is it?” she asked.
Tim told her it was almost nine.
“Already? We better get going.” She jumped out of bed. Tim also got out of bed, much more slowly. The Sunday routine had begun. While they had breakfast, Amy pored over the real estate section of the Sacramento Bee. Sunday was when open houses were listed. Amy finished marking ads and said, “I think three or four are good possibilities. They’re all in Carmichael, in that area we liked.”
She passed the paper over to Tim, who looked at the marked ads. “They look okay,” he said, knowing he didn’t sound too enthusiastic. They’d spent the last six Sundays looking at open houses, except for one weekend when Tim had insisted they take a time out and they went to San Francisco to visit their old haunts. During that time, Amy had seen several houses she liked, but each time Tim had found some fault with them. One was inexpensive but would have needed a lot of repair work and he was no handyman. One house was okay but the back yard was small and if, as they would, have kids there’d be no room for them to play. One house was fine but Tim wasn’t sure they could afford the mortgage.
Tim was aware that he was putting up a rearguard fight; he justified his actions by telling himself, and Amy, that a house would be their most important investment and they shouldn’t rush into anything. He knew the real reason was that he was afraid of what would come after buying a house: the kids, the lawns to be mowed, the crabgrass, the furniture to be bought, the leaking faucets, the broken pipes, the kids, the end of life as he knew it. He’d enjoyed being married, the late weekend mornings, the easy sex, the outings with friends, the trips back to San Francisco or up to Tahoe whenever they wanted to. What was wrong with him wanting to continue that a little while longer?
The first two houses they went to were busts; even Amy hadn’t liked them. The saying is that the third time is the charm and Tim had a feeling, even before they entered the house, that this might be the one. It was an older house and the rooms were on the small side, but they could see that it had been kept up. The kitchen appliances were new. The rugs were new. It had been recently painted. Even the air-conditioner, a must in Sacramento, was less than five years old. The real estate lady, a Ms. Sims, led them through the house and Amy was already placing furniture, which they’d have to buy, in each one. The bed would go there, the dresser there. In the living room, that would be the perfect place for the TV. There was a family room off the living room, fine for the kids. The back yard wasn’t that big; still, there was room for kids to play.
The only catch, Tim thought, would be the price. The current owners, Ms. Sims said, were in their sixties and were moving to Colorado to be with their children and grandchildren. Their asking price was very reasonable. Tim did the math in his head. Yes, they could get a 30-year mortgage and could meet the monthly payments. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to say “Yes.” It was too much of a life-changing decision. Let’s sleep on it tonight, he told Amy, and then decide. Ms. Sims pointed out that someone else might put in an offer before then. Real estate agents always said that; besides, they could always make a higher offer. Amy finally agreed. Ms. Sims gave them her card. “It has my office and my home number,” she told them. “You can call me at any time.”
A real go-getter, thought Tim. “We’ll call you,” said Amy. “No later than tomorrow.”
* * *
What was he doing here? Tim asked himself? Here was a bar in downtown Sacramento. Of course first thing that morning Amy had wanted to talk about the house. He’d put her off, saying he’d miss his bus and that he’d call her at work. All day long he stewed about what to do. It had seemed a good idea, after all that agonizing, to go out for a drink after work with a couple of the younger analysts, just one drink. Then he’d get the bus back. Somehow he’d had more than one drink and he’d heard himself telling the young guys, both unmarried, to have a good time while they could. A couple of girls had come over to their table but now they were gone. Tim knew he was drunk, just slightly, and that he’d missed his bus. God, what was Amy thinking. One of the guys said he’d drive Tim back home; he lived not far away. “Thanks,” said Tim. “I have to make a phone call first, okay.”
On the drive back, Tim dozed a little. He felt fairly sober now. He knew he’d been an idiot. He’d been acting as irresponsibly as those kids down in Berkeley. It was time to grow up. He was dropped off and as soon as he got through the door, sure enough, Amy pounced on him. “Where have you been? I was worried sick.”
“We had to work late, special project .”
“Why didn’t you call me?”
“I was going to. The time slipped away.”
“You smell of alcohol.”
“One of the guys wanted to go out for a drink. To celebrate finishing the project. After, he drove me home.”
“You were supposed to call me about the house. Now it’s probably already been sold.”
“No it wasn’t. I called Ms. Sims. It’s okay. We bought the house. She’s coming over tomorrow night with the papers. She’s a real go-getter.”
“We bought the house?”
“Yes, I just told you.”
She rushed over and crushed him in a hug, then she sniffed. “I think you had more than just one beer.”
“Maybe. I guess I was celebrating the house, too.”
“Come on. Sit down and I’ll heat up your supper. We have a lot to talk about.”
“I know,” said Tim sighing. Buying the furniture, mowing the lawns, the crabgrass, the house repairs, the kids, the end of life as he knew it.
© Martin Green November 2011
Next morning a stunning girl who was in my lit class stopped me on the way out and asked, “Are you the one who hit somebody at a party yesterday?”
On the way back to my office from the so-called oral exam, which I knew I’d flunked brilliantly, I stopped at the State Building Number 8 cafeteria for a cup of coffee. It was, I thought, the least I could do for myself.
In recent weeks I’d been thinking a lot about my secretary Jane Harper and now here she was. “Mind if I join you?” she asked.
Paul Lerner opened his eyes, awakened by a bad dream in which something, he couldn’t remember what, was coming after him. He automatically reached his hand over to the other side of the bed although he knew nobody would be there.
The Teen Years
It was after midnight. Bill Parker was in bed with his wife Amy. The phone rang. Parker picked it up and, still half asleep, mumbled, “Hello.”