Pay Me No Mind

by Nancy Corbett


Natie lived on Phinney Street for almost 3 months before she decided that the gray house across the street stood empty. At first, she thought someone lived there because she had seen lights in the upstairs windows at night. Then she realized that she was seeing through the house from front and out back windows, showing the glow of a light on the street behind.

An old house on a street of new houses, the blank windows stared back at her, revealing nothing. The house was probably close to a hundred years old, maybe late Victorian. Her own house was the only other house on the block from the same period. Somehow these two houses, one across from the other, had dodged the developers' demolition crews. The house across the street obviously had a different floor plan from hers, but she did not doubt that upstairs rooms would hold the same intrigue of an older house.  The angles would be dramatic, old windowpanes would lie hidden behind plastered-over walls and crawl spaces would hint at unimaginable treasures in dark corners.

During that first summer, Natie spent a great deal of time in the yard trying to figure out whether or not she was a gardener. From her front lawn, the only thing between her and the neighboring house a bucket full of weeds, she often caught herself staring at the gray house. She gazed at it the way she would absently look at her image in the mirror while brushing her hair.

Natie never really looked at herself anymore. Everything was just maintenance, part of the routine of making presentable something which had lost its loveliness while she was paying attention to other things. She'd given up wearing makeup long ago. So she stood in front of the mirror to brush her teeth and hair with the same enthusiasm she might use to mix a salad.

She had bought the house on Phinney Street in her mid-forties. It was the first house she'd ever bought and she was enjoying the experience. She enjoyed the freedom of painting her bedroom yellow and her office the color of strong coffee with cream. She enjoyed having a big kitchen with French doors looking out onto a wooden deck. The house suited her perfectly. She didn't mind the monster house payment or the occasional dreams she had begun having about mice and flooding and trees falling on rooftops. She wondered what it would have been like to have all this in her younger years. But then, she supposed, she wouldn't be able to enjoy it as a reward for a lifetime of work.

The neighborhood was quiet, sprinkled with the laughter of children in a town of about 10,000. The two houses must have been here when the town was born. Natie could imagine her street before it was paved, the percussion of horses' hooves dancing along the street.


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