Over happy hour wine at the Lebanese restaurant, they tell me the first thing to do is change the locks. One of these men I have known for two decades. The other, barely half a year. Astride stools on either side of me at the bar, they hold me in the safe grip of their mirth. One says that he paid an antiquated locksmith neighbor do a crap job he had to replace as soon as the guy divorced and moved off the street. The other tells of nervously checking and re-checking doors during the early weeks. They are eons ahead of me. They have mice in the compost and weeds overtaking their lawns.
Mine is balcony looking west over I-66. Picnic tables, neighbors, noise, light. Plenty of sun for a zinnia. Maybe too much for basil.
My phone is on the bar next to a glass of pinot grigio. Every so often, it pings with another text from the realtor. Someone needs a letter signed. Funds must be wired to an address in Falls Church. We close in on a date.
I hug the old friend goodbye. He is heading back north in a day or two. My new fella and I walk to his car holding hands and bubbling with residual laughter. We pass a building that was not there a year ago. It is now a glinting, black-rimmed fixture on the landscape. Under our feet rumble trains on the orange line. New stairwells shoulder their way up from platforms that had no room for such change. Someone writes over the old blueprints in red pencil. The adaptation becomes a concept and eventually, a given.
Tonight, the to-do list has not kept pace with the fading light. Thunder bowls in dusk’s outermost lane. A strike, a muffled cheer. The second floor of the house where I live with my parents is just a degree shy of stifling. My bed is scattered with the folded remains of a trip to Florida. A suitcase gapes open, its zippers hanging limp and hungry. A heap of clothes is tossing around in the dryer. I wait for them to be finished before I decide. The choices are paralyzing. Some will be put away but some will go back into the suitcase. We just returned yesterday. Tomorrow, one carload goes to the new place. My son’s swimsuit still smells of salt. I shake sand from the perfect coral whorl of a conch shell.
Papers in stacks all around the bedroom floor need staples, folders, labels. I dig up one blank spiral notebook with pockets. It is no match for the task ahead but it will do for tomorrow. I tuck it into a bag with my checkbook and ID.
Now, the wine on my bedside table is cut with sparkling juice. I call it sangria and remember the last day in our Clearwater Beach hotel when I drank a better version while parked at a computer digging copies of old cancelled checks from 2012 accounts and squinting at the lines of a HUD-1 approval. My son was teaching himself to swim outside, arms flailing and neck bent too far above the surface as he huffed and puffed the width of the pool. My mother kept an eye on him so I could take care of landing us a home. Our own home.
Later, as we ate fried shrimp and grouper at Crabby Bill’s, I picked up a red ping on the phone and grinned quietly to myself. A few covert keystrokes sent first word skimming across miles to the man who had asked me to let him know the second I knew. Then, a slug of ice water. I looked at my mother and son over the ship-deck décor, its fish nets and battered wood. “Final approval just came through. We’re closing Thursday.”
Bug considered this news. “What does that mean?”
“It means the bank finally said okay. On Thursday, I’ll sign all the papers and buy the house.”
His face shined open into a huge grin. “Can I stay there with you?”
I laughed. “Of course, Buddy! It’ll be our house. We’ll live there together.”
“When can I see?” He asked.
“Yeah,” echoed my mother. “When can I see?”
“Friday. As soon as I pick Bug up from day camp on Friday, we’ll go straight over.”
As for the first day? That one is mine.
Now, I roll up a blanket, a candle, a coffee mug, a plate. The dryer downstairs is finishing up with a couple of spare towels. The car is stuffed and Home Depot closes in an hour. I need to buy new locks tonight before I go punch the heavy bag with the man who keeps his porch light on for me.
Closing is at 10:00 tomorrow morning. Electricity will be on mid-day. By the time dusk arrives, I’ll be dancing in the lowering western sun behind a door whose keys are in my hands alone.