My wife stopped weeping just before the real-estate agent met us. We were on our way to see another model home. It had become a Sunday afternoon ritual for us, and by this point we could probably recite to each other the details of it all as if it were the stuff of a recurrent dream: there would always be a gold or royal blue blazer for the slim, middle-aged woman with her hair in a perfect rinsed coif, spiked heels; there would always be a cushiony Town Car, though maybe a DeVille, and there would always be brass plaques on the dash for sales awards; there would always be the two of us, me in the front passenger’s seat, my wife in the back. The tires padded along.
“I don’t think we’ve been over here yet, to this development,” my wife lied outright.
My wife liked such new model homes better than the older homes that the agents usually tried to tell us had so much “character.” And, to be frank, I don’t think we had seen this pocket on the outskirts of our supposed City of the Future before. (I used to think it was Dallas, or possibly Houston, but I’m not so sure anymore.) Here the streets were so new the asphalt was like the black velvet of a cocktail dress, bone-white curbing trimming the winding lanes. There was no grass yet, just the reddish loam, and the newly planted crape myrtles and the mimosas had stick-thin trunks, taped lower down like the fragile legs of racehorses. I got out of the car, the agent opened the door for my wife in back. The agent brushed something off the front of her skin, adjusted the clipboard and big book with a vinyl cover under her arm, what told the complicated tale of financing and mortgage rates, loans from banks perpetually on the verge of being taken over by another more solvent out-of-state bank.
My wife looked around, and she said, “This is nice here.” She wasn’t lying this time. I knew she believed it.
The agent had some trouble with the key box, though it seemed the agent always had trouble with the key box. I always liked the idea of those contraptions: big like that, spray-painted silver to make them look like shiny padlocks, they seemed to be something exaggerated, maybe out of a fairy tale, and it was somewhat disappointing that there wasn’t a set of huge frilled keys to open the lock, but just the small key to open it and another key inside. (“Keys inside of keys,” my wife whispered in the 3:00 A.M. darkness of the bedroom at our own home the other night.) It took the agent some time, some fiddling, before the box finally fell open on its hinge like a split coconut.
“I’m never good with these things,” the frozen-coiffed woman said, smiling.
“I suppose they can get tricky,” I told her, part of the routine. I looked over to see how my wife was holding up, but she seemed okay. “At least it’s not a combination,” I said.
“Combination what?” the agent asked me. She had an awful lot of glossy scarlet lipstick, an awful lot of glittery blue eye-shadow.
“You know, the usual combination locks they sometimes have on these. All those numbers and spinning the dial.” She looked right at me. “I’ve never been any good at those things myself—” I knew she detected my nervousness, and I could have stammered “ — never any good since the padlock with the combination in junior high, you know, what you have on your hall locker, maybe on your gym locker too.” I was sweating. But maybe I read too much into her response, and she simply smiled. My breathing returned, easier.
There was afternoon sunlight printing parallelograms on the slate wall-to-wall carpeting in the enormous living room. In the kitchen there was a white island for the white stove and cooking counter, there were miles of white cabinets; the kiln-tile floor was very red, and everything in there smelled as new as the inside of a car you bought the day before. The agent told us there was a unit for the air-conditioning/heating big enough to allow for several additions to the house, and there were dozens of closets and dual-paned insulating glass in all the windows.
She talked about the local school district.