Lucy didn’t drive her ailing little car up the steep driveway so much as encourage it up; the mossy asphalt was riddled with potholes and threatened to throw the wheels out of alignment and shake her teeth right out of her head. But when she finally reached the summit, there was Bran’s plucky little cottage, straight ahead. It was still standing, even if it needed grooming; the English ivy her grandmother so loved had found a convenient host in the house, which now evoked some Tolkien villain that could stir from its slumber at any moment. Lucy rolled slowly to a stop and pulled up the brake; the unmistakable perfume of boxwood hedge made its way through her cracked driver’s window, reaching her on a wisp of steamy air. An earlier gully washer had made way for sunshine, now streaming through breaks in the puffy clouds overhead. The cloying humidity hugged her like a shroud when she climbed out of the car and carefully trod down what was left of the pathway to Bran’s front door; she had forgotten about the humidity. Nobody had mown the lawn for some time—years, from the looks of it—to suggest it was overgrown would be a euphemism. She swatted at cobwebs to reach the storm door, where all manner of flying and crawling creatures had sought refuge, now disturbed by this human interloper. Bran had never objected to the bugs or rodents, or even the occasional reptile who kept company with her high up on this river bluff.
The front door yielded without a fight. Inside, the power was still off; having the service restarted was near the top of her list, but Lucy had other sleeping arrangements for a few days, so there was no urgency just yet. She needed to make an inventory inside, evaluate the state of things, figure out which wheels squeaked loudest. She imagined a snippet from Oliver!, the scene where Fagin sings slowly and shrewdly, “I am reVIEWing…the situAtion….” Funny, she thought, the little things that pop into your head out of the blue at certain moments in your life.
The house smelled of must and neglect. There was still plenty of day left, so Lucy had natural light to lead her on this house tour. The carpet felt wet and it smelled, there was no mistaking that, and stains that had spread on the ceiling suggested the outside had tried to come in at some point—maybe even during this afternoon’s deluge. Lucy pushed opened a pair of French doors and stepped through them into the river room: she could see new puddles still gathering on the floor, reflecting the afternoon sunlight that spilled through the north-facing windows. Water dripped slowly from several spots above; the disquieting notion of a new roof insinuated itself into her thoughts. But the view from here! It made Lucy’s breath catch in her throat, as it had every person who had occasion to stand in this spot.
She surveyed the bend in the river down below, spied a singular heron flying low over the water like some prehistoric creature, following the contours of the channel. Lucy could see the steep incline that was Bran’s back yard was in worse shape still than the approach to the house. Need heavy equipment, she added to her mental checklist: this job was more than a mower could handle. She lingered a while longer, and then turned on her heel and navigated back through the house and around a corner to Bran’s bedroom. Funny, she thought, it looked almost as if Bran had stepped out for a moment and would soon return: the bed was made, and everything looked as it should, save the dust that clung to every surface. Lucy weighed her options: sleep in this four-poster bed in a room that felt a tad too confined for her liking, or pull out the sleeper sofa in the river room and wake up to that exquisite view (there were the leaks to consider). There would be plenty of time for this and other decisions. She threw open the closet doors and found Bran’s elegant clothing hanging there, so many beautiful things, some with tags still attached to the sleeves. She buried her nose in a fur coat and breathed in deeply, trying to find her grandmother in it somehow.
Stepping through the bathroom door to the linen closet, Lucy surveyed the shelves, and swept towels and sheets off two of them and directly onto the floor; mouse droppings scattered everywhere. She returned to Bran’s bedroom, where she stripped off the bedding, dragging the ancient chenille bedspread into the living room. Then she gathered up the rest of the linens and deposited them into the middle of it. She tied up the four corners of the bedspread to make a bundle, and then squeezed it through the front door and out to her car. Tonight she would lean on the generosity of friends for a place to wash all these linens and to rest her head.