The Gem

 By Andrea Watson-Canning

“This is the last one, I promise.” 

I groaned. We had been touring open houses all morning, bouncing from one sterile neighborhood to the next like pinballs pinging around playfield bumpers. My stomach rumbled. 

Mellie parked the car across the street from a house with a grubby “For Sale” sign perched on a rickety post. The house was a mid-century split level—brown low-slung roof, pop-out living room window framed in dark wood, rough-hewn stone facade. The lawn was bedraggled and weedy. I could already tell the ceilings would be be low, the flooring linoleum and shag. A gut reno.

A pit in my stomach opened. I knew I shouldn’t pick a fight. “I don’t know what’s wrong with our place. It’s exactly where we want to be.” I sullenly heaved my body out of the car. 

Mellie pointedly looked at my belly. “We need more space with the baby coming. Why won’t you just consider it?” Her tone softened. “Just a quick peek and then a bite at Chuck’s.” Mellie took my hand and smiled in truce. 

“Ok—this last house and then lunch.” My stomach gurgled.

“And try not to make a scene this time.”

I opened my mouth but shut it abruptly. She was right. 

We followed the scrubby pathway to the front door and pushed it open. Just as I suspected, the small entry was lined with linoleum. Looking into the house, a murky sea of green shag. Dust motes floated in the dim sun seeping through full-length curtains. The pit in my stomach dropped to my feet.

Suddenly, a plastic accordion door slapped open, and a man stepped through. Dark hair with sideburns and a mustache. A navy blazer over a light blue shirt. Gray slacks. Suede loafers. His nametag read “Steve.” 

“Glad you could make it to the open house! I’m the listing agent, Steve. And you are?”

Mellie held out her hand which Steve shook vigorously. “Melinda, nice to meet you.” She gestured to me. “And this is Jaymie.” Steve grabbed my hand and pumped. 

“Let me grab you a flyer! This house has everything you’re looking for!” He disappeared behind the accordion doors. I stepped onto the shag carpet. My head suddenly snapped around.

“What IS that smell?” 

I wrinkled my nose in distaste. Top notes of garlic. Followed by onion, maybe? Then ending with…cumin? My stomach churned and I felt weak-kneed. “I can’t breathe.” I turned toward the front door. 

“Jay! We haven’t even seen this house—you promised!” Mellie was sharp, but I didn’t care. I turned the knob just as Steve sprang from behind the accordion door. 

“Already finished? You haven’t seen the kitchen. A gem! Here’s the flyer.” He handed me a leaflet. 

“Sorry,” I was mouth breathing. “I just got a whiff of something, and I’m sensitive to odors and…”

Steve plowed ahead. “Don’t you just love open concept? You haven’t even seen the bedrooms—four and all good size! Plenty of room for a new family!” He winked and took me by the elbow, steering me deeper into the house. The smell was overpowering.

“Ooh—I like that fireplace. The stone? Honey? There’s a lot of space! I like the flow…” Mellie’s running commentary followed behind.

Steve’s grip was a vise. “Let’s look at the backyard!” He guided me across the shag, past a lemon and avocado kitchen, towards a grimy slider. Clicking the door unlocked, he heaved it open. “That’s a quality door—solid!” 

We stepped into the yard. The air was fresher, but the funk from the house lingered. I desperately gulped air.

“This yard is a gem—plenty of room for entertaining. And look at the hot tub! Can’t you just see a nice long soak with friends?” Steve sighed contentedly. “Let’s go back inside.”

The smell was stronger. I gagged and leaned on the kitchen counter under stained yellow cupboards. Sweat prickled my skin. I looked at the scratched and cigarette-stained counters. I prodded a loose edge of the floor. I looked at Mellie, desperate. “Can’t you smell it?!?” I blanched green and headed towards the front door, abandoning her in the kitchen. 

Steve stepped between me and the door. “I know the house may need some work, but I promise there’s no lead paint, no radon, no asbestos insulation. Our schools are A+ rated. There’s a tennis and swim club. This house is rough, but a real gem.” 

My face was a sick shade of green. “Please…” I managed before vomiting over Steve’s suede shoes. I burst out the door and down the cracked walkway. 

Mellie came out ten minutes later. She stared at me as I leaned on the car catching my breath. “I helped Steve clean up.”

“Thank you.”

Mellie sighed in exasperation. “I don’t get it. We need the space.” 

I thought about sunlight streaming through Mellie’s hair as she read in our bed. I thought about the holiday dinners we made in our tiny kitchen for our friends—our family. How we crowded around the overfilled table and spilled onto the balcony. I reached for her hand. “I just want more time.” Mellie let me pull her closer to me.

I leaned in to kiss her, but Mellie pulled away. “Oof, Jay! Your breath!” She unlocked the car and moved to the driver’s side. “Let’s get you a water. We’ll go home and you can put your feet up.”

I angled myself gently into the car and closed the door. As Mellie pulled away, I looked back at the house. The For Sale sign creaked slowly in the breeze. The pit in my stomach began to ease.

                                                                 *   *   *

Andrea Watson-Canning received her MFA in Dramaturgy from UC San Diego, worked in the theater for a while, and then somehow became a teacher. Her work has been published in The Dillydoun Review and Capsule Stories. She lives in Florida with her partner Bill, daughter Fiona, and some dogs and cats to keep it interesting.

Leave a Reply