After I left Tom, I rented a house next to a cemetery. My mother offered to help me move. Standing in the gravel lot where I parked my car, she regarded the one-story clapboard partially hidden in ... [+]
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“The baseboards can always be painted over.”
The sentence played over and over again in Margaret’s head. The real estate agent had muttered it innocently under her breath, but it stuck with her, echoing continously in Margaret's ears. Now this sunny September afternoon seemed sticky and cloying, like end-of-season grapes that leave a lingering taste of sugar on your finger tips and tongue.
Why did she have to comment on the baseboards?
Her car passed through the gate. Margaret sat down on the top step under the porch awning and went over the afternoon in her head: the real estate agent had admired the furnishings, complimented the layout, made her little remarks and estimated the price range.
She decided to check the baseboards herself, going from one room to another on the second floor. It was true that in some places the wood had some ugly scuff marks. A sharp contrast with the new upholstery and recently-repainted walls. How could she have neglected this detail? It now seemed so obvious and could even risk lowering the sale price.
Widowed for three years, she found it hard to part with the family home in Charleston. She loved it dearly but could no longer afford to maintain it. Her salary paid the rent on her apartment in Atlanta and, although this seaside house was a wonderful weekend getaway, it had become a money pit. She’s not sure what changed her mind. She must have thought the time was right, with the real estate market picking up.
Letting go of these thoughts, she focused on finding a carpenter to replace all the baseboards as soon as possible. After several dead ends, she finally got lucky and managed to set up a time with someone named Peter Anderson for the next day.
The following morning, Margaret was sipping a cup of coffee at the little table under the shade tree, enjoying the hot sun on her skin. Suddenly, she was startled by the sound of a man clearing his throat. She jumped out of her chair, embarrassed, her cheeks burning.
They introduced themselves, and she showed Peter the house and the work to be done. She explained that she had two more weeks of vacation and offered him a cup of coffee on the porch. He listened, observed, and then told her he could begin day after tomorrow. After they said goodbye, he turned down the garden path and she stared, admiring the way he walked.
The work took one week. Peter shared lunch and dinner with Margaret almost every day, sitting on the porch looking at the sea. The garden had not echoed with laughter in a long time. Once or twice, the light from the candles on the little table burned late into the night.
The “For Sale” sign disappeared from the yard.