The buyer has had enough of this morbid shrine to those who are no longer here.
“Is there a basement?”
The realtor pauses, thinking about it.
“I should have read the file on this place,” he thinks, dismissing it almost as quick. The commission wouldn’t be worth the extra time.
He thinks fast. Do the other houses in the area from the same period have basements? As far as he remembers some do, some don’t. Some have only a crawl space or a partial basement, an area dug out just large enough for the furnace and hot water tank.
He has about a seventy-thirty chance it has at least a partial basement.
“I think so. Yes, it does.”
If he is wrong, it won’t matter after the auction if this guy bites. If he bites.
“You never did say if you are married, have a family. Do you have any kids? There’s a school not far from here. Playground too.
It’s an older neighbourhood, but things circle around, as they say. You know, circle of life and that sort of thing. New neighbourhood, young families move in and have kids, fill up the neighbourhood with kids.
The kids grow up and move out, have their own kids. The neighbourhood gets old, fills with grandparents and empty nesters, no more kids around. The school gets empty. But eventually people move out, go into nursing homes, and new families move in.
You get a new cycle of young families moving in and having kids. Lots of kids around again. Circle of life. This neighbourhood is in a rejuvenation phase, lots of new younger families moving in.”
“That’s not what they mean.”
“Circle of life. That’s not what it means.”
The realtor is a little annoyed at being corrected. He pushes past it, just wanting to get out of there.
He finds the house a bit unsettling. He has better things to do too. The game is on this afternoon and he could be sitting on the couch with a beer watching it.
“You know, if you want this house you could probably skip the auction. The thing is, with an auction, there’s the risk someone will outbid you.
Whatever you are planning to bid, just make an offer now. I think I could convince them at the municipal office to take the offer. We can go draw up the paperwork right now.”
If this buyer has spent this much time walking around, checking the place out, and hasn’t made any disgusted faces or disparaging remarks, there has to be some interest.
If he can pin him down now with a formal offer, he won’t have the time between now and the auction to change his mind.
He makes his move, leading the buyer out of that grisly bedroom with its appalling bedding and towards the door.
They reach the living room, so close, only steps away from the exit.
“So, where’s the basement?”
The realtor falters. “The basement?”
“I’d like to see it.”
“Damn,” the realtor thinks, “more time wasted.” He fights the urge to glance at his watch. Looking at the time makes a buyer feel rushed, as if they aren’t as important a something else. It doesn’t matter what else. It can lose the sale. He loses, glancing at his watch and hoping the buyer doesn’t notice.
He looks around. He has no idea where the basement is. It’s not a large house, so the options are limited. He remembers seeing a closed door in the hallway and another in the kitchen. Halls have closets, kitchens have pantries, and kitchen broom closets were not uncommon for houses built when this house was. It’s fifty-fifty.
He turns to the hallway. The buyer follows.
The realtor opens the closed door they had walked by earlier.
“Linen closet.” He nods as if he meant to show him the closet, doubling back to lead the way to the kitchen. The buyer dutifully follows, letting the realtor be in charge despite his lack of usefulness.
They enter the kitchen and the realtor looks around. The buyer spots the door immediately, but it seems to take the realtor minutes of checking the kitchen out.
The buyer looks at the door, but makes no move to touch it. In the time they have spent in the house, he has touched only one thing, the comic book.
He just stands there staring at the closed door, waiting for the realtor to notice it, as if he somehow is loath to touch the house.
Finally seeing the buyer staring at the door, the realtor realizes it is there and pounces. He opens it with a small flourish. “The basement.”
The buyer peers down into the darkness swallowing the bottom of the old wooden stairs.
The realtor looks at the buyer, hesitates, and then leads the way down.
The stairs creak under their weight. They can feel the slight sag of the wood with each step. For a moment, the realtor imagines the rotting wood giving way and falling to be injured below. He grabs the railing, but it proves to be less stable than the stairs.
They reach the bottom of the stairs and the realtor is more than happy to get off the rotting wood steps. They look around.
The basement is not in complete blackness. There is no electricity to the home, so there are no lights to turn on. The small grimy basement windows allow some light into the gloomy basement. It’s the typical lower middle-income family home basement.
Crude cement walls and floor, cracking where the years of weather shifting the home caused weak spots to split, are dull and adorned only with shelves and items hung for storage. The unfinished basement is storage for old things the family chose for whatever reason to sentence to the basement rather than throw away.
It is infused with a vague eeriness as basements, particularly unfinished ones, will be.
The buyer steps forward, his shoe making a dull scraping sound on the concrete floor. He shows more interest inspecting the basement than he did the rest of the house.
“He’s looking for something.” The thought flashes through the realtor’s mind. He pushes it away. Silly nonsense.
The realtor moves forward, roaming the basement and pointing out the obvious, trying to make conversation in the too quiet cellar.
“Furnace, hot water tank. They look old, but I’m sure they’re serviceable enough. There’s no rust or water stains on the concrete around the hot water tank, so it looks solid. Probably hasn’t leaked. It has been thirty years though, so you might want to drain it and flush it out a few times before using water from it.
He pictures the sludge that is probably filling the tank right now. Black and slimy with long dead algae that bloomed and ran out of oxygen and died. Putrid and rotted to nothing but oozing black slime. The stench will be foul.
“The basement floor is a bit heaved up, but not too bad considering the house has sat abandoned for thirty years. Check the foundations and the weeping tiles. With proper drainage it might just settle down flat again. You could fix up this basement, finish it, and double your living space.”
“I’ve seen enough.” The buyer heads for the stairs, leaving the realtor to tag behind, taking the lead for once.
“Are you ready to make an offer?” The realtor asks hopefully. “Like I said before, you can make an offer now, skip the auction, and scoop this place up before anyone else can. You aren’t the only one I’m showing this place to. I have someone else coming to look at it later too.”
The lie rings hollow, both on his lips and in the buyer’s ears.
“I’ll let you know,” the buyer says, dismissing the realtor as he heads out the door. He pauses on the way to his car to take one last look towards the backyard where the yard meets the woods.