Issue 170, Summer 2004
It was cold out, and I was early. The door was locked, so I sat on the front steps of the church, listening to the woman who took her piano lesson before me. She was good, better than I was, and the music she played was complicated, flourished.
I thought of my teacher and where he was while the woman played—leaning back in his chair near the windows, or sitting next to her on the bench with his hand covering her face? I wondered where Mrs. Spence was—probably at home, rattling around in the kitchen, waiting for me to get back.
My parents had found her ad in the local newspaper offering her services as a house sitter, and had hired her to stay with me while they were away.
I had tried to tell them that a house sitter normally takes care of an empty house. But they told me that a single individual— especially a fourteen year old—staying alone in a large house like ours actually makes the house seem emptier than with no one there at all.
"It's an issue of scale," said my father, who was an architect, and was delighted to find, once again, how his profession informed almost every conversation.
"And perspective," said my mother, who was a medical researcher, but had always loved the arts.
A week later, Mrs. Spence arrived carrying an old-looking suitcase and a hat box.
"Isn't that funny?" my mother whispered to me in the froht hall, handing me Mrs. Spence's coat to hang up.
"What?" I said.
"The hatbox," she smiled. "It's so antiquated. Do you think there's actually a hat in there?"
Mrs. Spence stayed in the second-floor guest bedroom. It had a large bathroom with velvet wallpaper and a tin soak tub. My room was on the third floor, but I could hear her through the air vents scuffing about, running the taps, singing under her breath. She had been hired to stay a month. Otherwise, I found out, she lived in Oak Village, a retirement community made up of mustard-colored condos, about ten minutes away, just off the interstate.