The House that Wouldn’t Sell
I stood at the rim of the tidal basin as mist played hide-and-seek with trees in the far distance. Circular patterns dimpled the water, and rain slid over my skin. It was English rain: soft and delicate with a soothing, hypnotic scent. I’m so glad I came here, I mused, smiling. This place is good for the soul. Ducks meandered around some driftwood and disappeared into the slate grey. Were they whispering to me? I felt drawn to them, magnetised, as if I were part of their flotilla. Sighing, I wiped my damp cheeks and pulled my hood higher. It’s all in my imagination.
Bush Plum Point was an enchanting little village perched on St George’s Basin with a tendency for flooding. As such, backyards were long and lean, and many of the houses sat on stilts. I’d been commissioned to write real estate copy for a home that had recently been done up for sale and had decided to travel down to see it in person. There were new bathrooms, a simple carport and all the walls had been freshly painted. Richard, the real estate agent, had even spruced up the windows by sewing fabric onto the old block-out blinds, which had been recommended by an interior designer.
The problem was, the house had been on the market for six months, and no matter how much money the owner poured in, it wouldn’t sell. It had a wrap-around deck, corrugated iron roof and wisteria, which clung to the trellises in clusters of fairy’s skirts. Just like in the magazines, I had thought. As a last resort, Richard had hired a feng shui consultant who had installed a water feature on the front lawn, placed ferns above all the cabinets and sprayed the door hinges with olive oil. Mrs Greene had charged top dollar and promised to refund the money if her cleansing strategies didn’t work, but he never heard from her again.
Jasmine, the owner, was an artist with wild hair and deep-set eyes. Her excess seascapes were sardined into her closet, and I marvelled at their ominous beauty. Tortured waves lashed the coast and bold lightening streaked the skies. In many of them, a lone figure stood bent against the wind, clutching a tattered coat. I wonder if Jasmine has any secrets, I pondered. Does she have a guilty conscience? I’d seen her at the markets, and she peddled her paintings for a pittance. Was she punishing herself?
‘Are you sure you want to sell? I mean, this place is so lovely,’ I’d said the first time I met her.
‘Yeah, I’m sure. I’ve been having these terrible dreams, you see. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s as if I’m in some kind of peril.’
‘Yes. And I feel chronically hungover, but whenever I leave the house, the malaise lifts.’
‘Really? How strange. Would you like to stay in the area or move somewhere completely different?’
‘I don’t know. My mother lives up in Mittagong, so perhaps I’ll look around there. Although, the prices are so high I don’t know whether I’ll be able to afford it.’
Jasmine’s predicament had elicited strong emotions, and I, too, sensed a claustrophobic, cloying pall. A family friend suggested hiring an exorcist or getting his church to pray for a quick sale, but none of his strategies had born fruit. For some reason, this brightly coloured cabin was repelling all and sundry. Strangely enough, as soon as I’d arrived in Bush Plum Point, a heaviness had settled into my very bones, which made me feel as if I was wading through sludge. Could houses talk?
That afternoon, Richard, the real estate agent, invited me to join him for coffee at a local café. The sun was shining and the heaviness had all but dissipated.
‘What do you think’s wrong with the house?’ Richard asked.
‘I don’t know. Come to think of it, I’m not sure your interior designer’s quite as savvy as she thinks, but who am I to judge?’
‘Well, I hired her because I was desperate. I was a little shocked at her choice of fuchsia for the blinds, but she assured me it would lift the house’s energy.’
‘Mmm. She sounds like Mrs Greene. How did you find her?’ I enquired.
‘Oh, on a freelancing website. She’s based in Melbourne and had great reviews, so I figured why not? Anyway, I’m a one-man band, so I thought a woman’s perspective might help.’
‘Has she ever come up and seen it?’
‘No, but we Zoom once a week, and I give her virtual tours.’
‘Well, I have to say the tint is a little odd paired with Jasmine’s sombre oils, but I guess she knows what she’s doing,’ I said, scratching a rough spot on my elbow. My eczema had been playing up lately and was driving me nuts.
‘Oh, I put those up later. The walls were all bare when I gave the interior designer the virtual tour.’
Was Richard out of his mind? Perhaps there was a reason nobody wanted to work with him.
‘Would you like to come to an afternoon showing?’ Richard asked.
‘Why not? I could bring some cookies for the kids, if you’d like.’
‘Better yet, why don’t you bake them in the house and the aroma will make it seem all homely and welcoming.’
‘You’re a genius,’ I said. Maybe Richard wasn’t so half-witted after all.
As I was taking the cookies out of the oven, a family of five arrived. Their collie yapped constantly and ran around in circles in the backyard. The mother was apologetic and kept offering him Schmackos, but he growled whenever she came near. Other would-be buyers covered their ears, and Richard pursed his lips. Conversely, the family’s toddler simply stared at the floorboards and pointed. Was there something hidden beneath? A wasp’s nest or stolen goods? I suggested contacting the pest inspector, but Richard had already done so, along with a surveyor and an architect to make sure the house was structurally sound.
‘In all good conscience, I’ve done everything I can,’ Richard said as people streamed out through the front gate. ‘The difficulty is, I have a business to run, and I can’t keep wasting my time if this sweet old girl won’t sell.’
I commiserated with him and watched as Jasmine’s face went from pale to translucent when he told her that nobody was willing to make an offer.
‘I can write some more copy free of charge,’ I said, reflux rising.
‘No, no, it’s OK. I think I’ll just stay put. The doctor’s given me some Valium, so that might help me to calm down. He thinks I’m just stressed,’ Jasmine reassured me.
‘Well, anybody would be anxious in your situation, so I hope it helps,’ I said, patting her arm.
That night I tossed and turned, determined to solve the riddle. What on earth was wrong with the house? Perhaps a crime had been committed there, like a murder or some other illicit activity. Or was there a ghost haunting the place that only animals and sensitives could pick up on? Although, it must have been a pretty fearsome ghost if it were capable of developing its own force field. I decided then and there to do a little detective work. I’d interview the neighbours and see if they knew anything about the house’s provenance or whether somebody was sabotaging the sale.
The next morning, I put on an all-weather coat and combed the streets. Neighbours Terry and Vivienne took me on a tour of their lush garden, which sported satyrs playing flutes.
‘You know, Jasmine’s got a nasty ex,’ Vivienne said, stepping towards me.
‘He destroyed some of her paintings a while back and tried to steal one that had just been purchased. He broke in through the woman’s bedroom window, and she almost had a stroke!’
‘How awful! I hope he’s not still on the prowl. I don’t think the locks on my hotel room door are very sturdy,’ I commented, my palms clammy.
‘Don’t worry. I’m pretty sure he’s moved on, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d changed his appearance so he could spy on her when she’s out and about. A cap, a goatee and a prosthetic nose can get you a long way these days!’ Terry said, giving me a wink.
I shrank back, wondering whether Terry was a peeping Tom himself. Vivienne pretended not to notice, and I wondered how many other women he’d come on to. Before I left, he squeezed my backside, and I froze in shock. Would his wife scold him later or did she condone his vile behaviour? Perhaps they had a vendetta against Jasmine and resented the fact that I was trying to help her. Grinding my teeth, I resumed my quest. I was treated to cups of cocoa and cuddles with wild and woolly cats, and copped a nasty bite from a pet turtle, but nothing of note came up. Maybe I should have done a body language course, I thought. Or pretended to be someone else.
The next day, I apologised to Richard for my crappy sleuthing and made the two-hour trek back home. Sometimes, I checked to see whether her house had come back onto the market, but it never appeared on any listings. The peculiar thing was, I began having nightmares. At first, I dreamt that I was being chased by a masked bandit, and then I was falling down a ravine. Weeks later, I was trapped in a giant whirlpool and woke up screaming. After days of warring with myself, I went to my GP and requested a full check-up. Perhaps my iron was low, or maybe I’d developed rabies from the turtle bite. Sadly, nothing was amiss. She seemed to think it was all in my head, but I knew it wasn’t.
Weeks later, I was walking through the plaza when a headline grabbed me: ‘Home is swallowed by sinkhole.’ Plucking the newspaper from the rack, I began to read. It had occurred in the middle of the night, and nobody had heard a thing, other than a couple of stray dogs that couldn’t stop barking. Terry and Viv were hovering over the gaping crater, mouths wide. Where’s Jasmine? I wondered. Is she OK? I called Richard, and he said that thankfully the house had been vacant when it sank into the mud. Jasmine was up in Mittagong, having cleared out the month before, and Richard had decided to follow suit. Apparently, he was sick of Bush Plum Point and was hoping business would be better in Sydney.
When things had settled down, Richard, Jasmine and I had brunch in Mittagong. As we were biting into our burgers, a woman across from us began making wild gestures.
‘It’s really odd,’ she said. ‘I had this creepy feeling, like somebody was watching me, and the air went hot and cold.’
‘Really?’ her friend replied, leaning forward.
‘Yep. We’ve been house-hunting for ages, but there’s always something we don’t like. The thing is, this one ticks all the boxes, but I’m just not sure.’
Without hesitation, Richard turned around and hissed, ‘Don’t buy it; listen to your instincts!’
The lady’s lips became prunes, and Jasmine and I chuckled. In some ways, her little cottage had done us all a favour. Richard’s kids were settling into their new school, and Jasmine had bought a Japanese Spitz who was loving and comical and maddeningly cute. She was planning an exhibition, and there was lots of local interest, which was a far cry from the reception in Bush Plum Point. I was on the verge of publishing a book of poems, and my eczema had completely resolved. The woman smiled at Richard, and after she had left, we held hands, closed our eyes and wished each other peace, protection and prosperity.
If you would like some creative writing prompts (including writing about a house that won’t sell), check out my 100 Creative Writing Prompts with pictures on Teachers Pay Teachers.