Lucy whipped her VW into a parallel space and killed the engine, but left the radio on to hear the last of a Mamas and Papas standard she loved; she didn’t see the realtor anywhere and the building was still dark inside, so she unbuckled herself, and wrapping her arms around the steering wheel, craned her neck and looked up through the windshield to take in the brick façade on this forsaken old building. The cornice on the street elevation appeared sculpted in bas-relief, but Lucy couldn’t make out its details from her vantage point down below. The lentils on the store windows were also fashioned in decorative masonry, concrete, she guessed, but maybe limestone. The front door was recessed, like so many from that building era. On the ground in front of it mosaic tiles spelled out Park Appliance in red, and beneath them, 1909; the surrounding tiles were white mainly, with black ones arranged artfully here and there to form the petals of perfectly symmetrical flowers. Lucy imagined the skill required to lay in letters and tilework designs must have exceeded modern building standards by a mile; she thought about the mosaic tiles you could buy nowadays to make over your bathroom floor, the kind that came in one-foot-square sheets, where each tiny octagon was held fast to the ones around it by some kind of fibrous webbing that would disappear under the grout—cheater tiles, she concluded.
Now a shiny black Mercedes sedan slowed alongside Lucy’s car, and its driver leaned forward to peer at her; she imagined it must be the realtor and waved at him, hopping up onto the sidewalk while he pulled into the space in front of hers. The man was young but already balding; he smoothed his tie and adjusted his trousers at the waist, stepping up to shake Lucy’s hand, with a tad too much exuberance, she thought. She could not see his eyes for his fancy aviator sunglasses, but his cloying, musky perfume assaulted her like a blunt instrument.
“Jack Anderson!” he chirped through bleached white teeth. “I haven’t opened up this one in a while, not sure what kind of shape it’s in. Let’s go have a look-see.”
“Is there power?” Lucy asked.
“About to find out.” He fumbled with a wad of keys on a fob that looked too small to hold them all. “A-ha—there we go!” Lucy heard the lock assembly yield with a metallic thud. “After you, watch your step—it’s a mess.”
It took a moment for Lucy’s eyes to adjust to the darkness. While Jack Anderson moved around trying switches, she took in the dank feel and smell of the place, a smell like the one that greeted her the day she first opened up Bran’s cottage, a familiar essence of mildew and rotted rodents, but in this setting tainted by occasional wisps of realtor cologne. Suddenly a pair of fluorescent tubes flickered on overhead, baring the filth coating every surface, and the insect carcasses everywhere.
Lucy glanced up at the stained ceiling tiles and saw a few were missing; she walked over and stood under one of them, staring into the black nothing above it. Jack kept his distance, with both hands shoved into his trouser pockets, and rocked back and forth on his heels impatiently. Lucy caught him checking himself in the broken mirror behind what she assumed was once the store’s main counter, and then saw one of his pocketed hands emerged to smoothe down what remained of the hair upon his head, which he now tilted in a preening way. She regretted witnessing what should have been a private moment, and found it revolting. Now she felt herself growing irritated.
“Do you have a flashlight?” The question caught Jack Anderson off guard and brought him back to the moment and his purpose here.
“I might have one in the glove box.” He disappeared through the front door, relieved to be excused, Lucy imagined. She looked out to the sunny street through the painted Philco-Your-Better-Buy letters, now spelled out backwards. With the toe of one sneakered foot, she traced the letters of her name in the dust on the floor:
L-U-C-Y W-A-S H-E-R-E
Jack burst through the front door wielding a small flashlight. “Found it!” he announced triumphantly.
She snapped it from his hand unceremoniously and shone it through a hole in the ceiling, squinting, giving her brain a moment to transcribe what her eyes strained to tell it: Here is a masonry wall and above it, an exquisite pressed tin ceiling. She could hear the sound of commerce echoing off the tin tiles and felt this sensorial epiphany pulsing through neurological pathways in her head with so much clamor that the ruined sheetrock walls around her became liquid and flowed from the masonry, carrying away the dust, and the dead insects, and Jack Anderson, and finally disappearing from her sight like quicksilver, until promise was all that remained.