My landlord Ted left for work at 8:00, looking a bit sleepy and rumpled, his to-go cup of coffee perfuming the air between us as he looked down at me, huddled under a blanket in one of his deck chairs. “Warm up your cup—there’s plenty in the pot,” he’d offered.
I had free reign over Ted’s porch and yard and in exchange, I pruned his dead mother’s rose bushes and kept his Bougainvillea in check. We shared coffee and leftovers and the occasional sunset, using the intercom he’d had installed when his mom was sick, to communicate below and above stairs. I knew I had it made, and flatly ignored Rich’s complaints about Ted’s lack of sensitivity to our privacy when we spent time in my apartment.
Fresh cup of coffee in hand, I twist myself further into the seat and stare at the glowing screen in my lap. I wiggle my fingers over the keys. I blink three times and then let my eyes glaze over, induce my body to go limp; will my feelings to surge over the scene in my mind so I can grasp those elusive first words.
I let out a sigh, glance at the empty street before me and wish for the distraction of joggers and dog walkers and even some late morning traffic. Where were they when I needed them?
I will myself to repeat the process all over again and stare at my laptop screen transfixed, waiting for a message from the other side.
My first hour as a novelist is a total and complete sham.
When my phone goes off (of course I’d subconsciously left it on), I practically leap out of my chair with joy and relief. “Hello?” I say, not even caring to see who is calling first. “What’s up?”
“Oh...well, I suppose I’ll go down to the diner to have some lunch soon?”
“Grandma!” I say, laughing. “I was so happy to hear from someone, anyone, that I didn’t look to see who was calling. I’m super glad it’s you, though.”
Therese laughs quietly, and I think I hear the creak of the porch swing. I knew she preferred to sit on the upright wicker chairs—better for her back—but in the mornings she sometimes sat on the swing, where she and grandfather had often shared their morning cup of coffee. “It’s just after 9:00 there isn’t it, Livy? Everything alright?”
I pace up and down the porch in my sandals, letting the light blanket fall around me like a shawl. “I thought I’d try to write something new this morning...but it turns out that I have no imagination.”
She laughs again. “Now that’s impossible. Anything I can say to help?”
“Grandfather didn’t happen to leave me a brilliantly written, unfinished novel, did he?”
Therese seems to think this through seriously for a moment. “I haven’t made it back to that old fishing shed on the back of the property yet, so, there’s still hope?”
I giggle, thinking about what Therese would find if she were to take a walk back there.
Grandfather had never paved a formal trail through their 50 acres—he’d said it was too much work and destroyed too much beauty. But years of wandering similar paths had eroded the land naturally, and now there were two main “trails,” one of them leading to a shed about a mile away from the house where grandfather had occasionally fished and always smoked his tobacco pipe.
When I was little, he’d told me that the shack had been built by Native Americans who used to live on the land. “I still see them once in a great while,” he’d say, eyes shining. “I invite them over to fish with me, but I think they prefer solitude.”
The house itself, he’d say, his brows furrowed with mystery, was built over ancient Indian graves. My eyes widened as I listened to the stories--and he’d made up quite a few--to tell me.
The tomahawk mounted in grandfather's study was found when they broke ground on the house. “We found much more than that of course when we started excavating,” he’d intoned, “but those items are hardly appropriate to hang up like art. We left them undisturbed out of respect.”
My grandfather’s stories had prevented me from wandering down to the basement on my own for years.
“I know what your grandfather did back there,” Therese says, bringing me back to the present with a jolt. “He thought the walk was long enough to get the smoke out of his clothes, but he wasn't ever much of a fisherman. Fishing twice a week from that pond in the dead of winter? Please.”
I burst into laughter, imagining the look on Therese’s face as she comes clean about knowning our little secret.
“He loved to antagonize me, and you did your share to help.”
“You were an easy target,” I tease. And then, “You’re going to town for lunch?”
“I’m meeting Jake and his architect friend at the diner in a few minutes. Oh, Livy, you can feel a difference in the air now that Jake is here. Everything feels new. I went down there on Saturday, and I could swear all of the windows up and down Main Street had been cleaned—practically gleaming, as though they were ready for an inspection.”
“Wow,” I mumble, “that’s surprising.”
“Not as surprising as the number of calls I’ve already had from all of my bridge gals, asking about Jake and his tragically handsome friend.”
I grin. I wasn’t surprised in the least. How often did men like Jake Hurst and Parker Cross materialize in the middle of nowhere with intentions to stay for a bit? “Maybe you should warn them, grandma.”
“I will. I’ve already told them it’s no use inviting their granddaughters home for Thanksgiving. ‘They’re here to work’, I said. ‘They didn’t come out here to find wives’.”
“I mean, you should warn Jake and Parker,” I say, laughing. “Tell them invites to dinner around there come with many strings attached.”
“I will do that at lunch. And Livy angel, I do need to rush off now, but I wanted to ask you about something first.”
I have a sudden sense that I know what she’s after. “I’d like to lease the cottage to Jake...”
By the time the words are out of her mouth I’ve already envisioned Jake putting his feet up on the ottoman, wiggling his toes in front of the small fireplace, a glass of scotch resting on the arm of his chair at the end of a difficult day. “He’d take wonderful care of the house,” I say by way of a ‘yes.’
“I thought you’d feel that way. But you’d said something about using it as a writing cottage someday and now that you might want one...”
I shake my head vehemently as though Therese can see me and look up at the palm trees making cutouts in the perfect blue sky.
“It would be super indulgent of me to fly all that way to write. Besides,” I laugh ruefully. “I possess the perfect conditions for creating now, and not a single idea has come to me. What need do I have for an entire house?”
Therese promises to call back later in the day, and I wonder if taking off my sweat pants and putting on some real clothes might be more enticing to wings of inspiration looking for a place to land.