The Hawkins Placebythornapple©
by Philip Johnson
I had lived in the Midwest for all of my thirty-seven years, and a good number of those years were shared with Pat. We never married but we had been inseparable. Now, all of a sudden the Midwest and Pat seemed out to get me.
It started with me coming home from work one day to find a note from Pat saying goodbye. It seemed she had a sudden need for California sun. Were there warning signs? Probably. Did I see them? Apparently not. Her leaving caused a big hole in my life. She also left a big hole in the house, taking all that was hers and half of my things. All of that left me pretty lost all winter.
Friday night about six months later, the boss stopped me and said they were closing my section and I would be out of a job in thirty days. I only have a two-year degree in business and I wasn't high up the ladder, so there was no severance package to speak of. It took me most of those thirty days to get my act together and plan my future.
I had inherited a very nice house some years ago, and I had done a lot of remodeling over the last few years. By selling that I would have the cash needed to help me along. I had a lot of skills, but no licenses in the trades, and like I said, only a two-year degree so my next job would likely be a pretty humble one.
I had developed a pretty bad taste in my mouth for the Midwest to say the least, so I threw a couple of suitcases in the pickup and headed out. I had no destination in mind but I did have a general direction. I headed south. If I had to move I was going far enough to leave all the memories behind and if I got away from heavy snow, so much the better.
I avoided the larger cities hoping to keep my living expenses to a minimum. That was about the extent of my planning. I would spend a couple of days in an area and then move on figuring I'd know when I was where I needed to be. I got as far as Murphy, North Carolina before the alternator died in my truck. It was Friday so I was stuck until some time Monday at the earliest. While sitting in my motel room I had the strangest feeling come over me like this town would be where I would settle. It wasn't a good feeling or a bad one, just a fact. I had to wonder if the recent stress was making me lose my mind.
I rented a compact car, which was never designed for somebody over six feet tall and two hundred pounds, but it was cheap. I drove to a small restaurant for dinner, and for entertainment I read a local real estate magazine over coffee. I had to admit the prices seemed pretty decent for such a pretty area.
The restaurant wasn't busy so I took my time, had blackberry cobbler and read some more. Deep in thought I didn't see her coming. "Hi, looking for anything in particular?"
I almost spilled my coffee.
"You just cost me a half cup of coffee and two years of my life."
"I'm sorry. I saw you reading that magazine and I was wondering if you were looking for anything in particular or just window shopping." I'd like to say she was a vision of loveliness, but in truth she was just your average woman of about thirty or so with medium brown hair, a pleasant face, not at all fat and great legs. She had a wonderful smile and perfect teeth too.
I told her my tale of woe without getting too deep or depressing and said, "I was curious about real estate prices in the area. I might be interested in buying assuming that one, I can get a job, two I can afford a house of some kind, and three only if you will join me for coffee."
"I'd love to. My names Mava and I have to warn you I sell real estate. That was why your choice of reading material caught my eye."
"So it wasn't my chiseled good looks, my mysterious aura or my wavy hair that did it then?"
"You don't have wavy hair."
Reaching up to my hair I said, "I don't?" Mava smiled and sat down. "You have nice hair but something must have taken the wave out of it."
"It must have happened when I saw you're beauty."
"Oh brother and I thought I was the one in sales. So tell me what you would like. In the way of a house I mean, if you could find a job."
"It has to be something cheap since I'm not working. Speaking of which, what's it like finding a job here?"
"Tough unless maybe you have a particular skill or you're a tradesman."
"I'm skilled in the trades but not licensed."
"You might find something, but it won't pay a whole lot. Lowe's just opened here not long ago and they are always looking for good people, plus some of the contractors might be interested."
"I'm forgetting my manners, would you like a cup of coffee or some of this wonderful cobbler?"
"It's the cobbler I came in for. It's the best in town." I got the waitress and ordered Mava a cobbler and coffee.
"So you are a realtor. How is the market here?"
"You will not likely ever hear a realtor admit the market is down, but in this area it really is up and likely to stay that way. We are slowly being discovered. Maybe we could get together. I mean I could show you a few houses."
"I don't know. It only took you a second to cause me to lose the wave in my hair. What would happen if I spent several hours with you?" Mava didn't know if I was serious about a house or not.
Smiling, Mava said, "I think you're safe with me for now." Mava gave me her card and said, "If you have a general idea what you would like to look at, I could take you around either this afternoon yet or tomorrow."
"The house has to be cheap, waterproof, no doublewides, and be at least structurally sound."
"How many bedrooms?"
"Since it's just me it isn't important."
"I have several properties that you might want to consider."
We finished our cobbler and coffee and made small talk, and then I told her, "Let's go look at a couple of your houses."
"Let's go." Mava led me to her Jeep and we got in. Real estate sales must be pretty good for her to have a new Jeep. We looked at several houses, but either they were too rundown, too expensive for what they were or I just didn't like them.
I said, "Let's try again tomorrow."
Saturday morning, Mava picked me up at the motel and we tried our luck again. It would help if I had some clue what I thought I would settle for. Having lived in a very nice house for so many years made it hard to lower my standards so much, but with my future so uncertain I had to be very conservative.
Mava showed me several two-story homes that might work and I had her keep them on a short list for me to consider. A smaller ranch style made more sense to me, but what I was seeing was either too expensive or a double wide. Doublewides, what used to be called trailers, presented a whole set of problems all their own. I finally saw a ranch style that had potential. There was even a workshop in the back. That went to the top of the short list.
Mava finally said, "That's probably enough to show you right now Nate. Think about those and if you decide against all of them we'll try again. The more you look at them more you'll know what you want. It just takes time."
"Thanks for your patience Mava. I'm going to stick around the area for a while and feel it out. Maybe we could get together for dinner or something."
"I'd like that Nate, thanks."
Sunday I was kind of at a loss for what to do. I drove down sixty-four and noticed all the businesses. Most of them seemed almost new including a Bealls department store. For such a small town it seemed to have a lot. Every time I saw a side road I drove down it to see what was there. I got turned around more than a few times, but never really got lost. The town just wasn't big enough. That was enough. I needed more cobbler and coffee.
Once seated at the restaurant I decided I'd better have dinner but I ordered light to make sure I had room for dessert. Just as I finished dinner, who should come in but Mava with a friend. As I stood up Mava said, "Hi Nate, getting into the cobbler again I see."
"Yeah, it's addictive. Would you two like to join me?"
"Oh, I'm sorry Nate, this is Sheila, a friend of mine and yes we'd love to, " and a minute later Mava and Sheila ordered their cobbler and coffee.
"So what have you been up to today Nate?"
"Just wandering the neighborhood, driving every road I can find."
I should pause here and say that Mava, though not pretty, was easy to look at and I was having a little trouble keeping my mind on business. Sheila was very easy to look at. I'm not prone to being tongue-tied, but she caused me to pause more than once. She did strike me as being a little high maintenance with several rings on her hands, nice clothes, perfect makeup and hair...and a little aloof. None of the rings were a wedding band that I could tell and there was something a little off about her.
We made small talk for a while, and Sheila asked me how I came to be in Murphy and why I was staying. It was good to know that Mava wasn't prone to tell all to her friend. I told her of Pat pulling out after so many years and almost cleaning me out. I owed Pat no loyalty that was for sure. After Sheila and Mava left I paid my bill and headed back toward the motel. I saw another side road so I decided to check one more road before the boring motel room. I went past it and didn't give it a second look, but on the way back I noticed the realtor sign said Mava Wilcox. I stopped and looked at it just out of curiosity. I had more time than anything at the moment. It was huge. The roof seemed new but the rest of the house looked in awful shape. Like so many of the homes in this area, this one seemed to come with a lot of property. Unlike a lot of the homes I had looked at, this one sat closer to the street. I had nothing better to do so I sat there looking at it and wondering what its story could be. The front porch was very large, reaching almost from one end of the once grand house to the other, and covered, with steps that had to be twelve or more feet wide. The house was three stories with large stonework across the front and a huge stone chimney promising at least one fireplace. The home was a monster and it was in awful shape. It was hard to find any paint left to see what color it used to be. Some of the siding was missing and where there was stonework, some of the mortar was missing. Two of the windows on the top floor were broken, the front porch posts were rotting and the porch roof was at risk of falling. Why did they pay all that money to put a roof on it, and then let the rest of it go to hell? The more I looked at it the more curious I became. In its day, that had to be a beautiful place. When I pulled away I felt an urge to go back. At the first stop sign I just sat there for a minute. Why would I need to go back to that house? What was there for me?
I went back to my room and tried to watch television. They were calling for rain within twenty-four hours was about all I got before shutting it off. I read for a while then went to the lobby and read the paper and drank their coffee. I finally gave up and went back to my room. I tried to sleep but I kept thinking of that huge old house. What would I ever do with something like that? Remodel it and sell it? My God that would be a massive undertaking. I finally fell asleep.
Monday morning after a leisurely breakfast I went over to Mava's office, and we spent a good part of the day either looking at or talking about real estate. We were rapidly becoming friends, especially after dinner and about one too many drinks. Tuesday I had to wait until Mava was free late in the morning I asked her about the huge weather worn place on Pine Creek road. "You must mean the old Hawkins place. It's been on the market forever. It's huge all right. I think it has twelve or fourteen rooms and something like three or four bathrooms. The top floor is only a very large bedroom and a bathroom. It was a beautiful place in its day I guess."
"Just out of curiosity, what they asking for it?"
"One sixty nine is all."
"That's enough from what I see. Is it sound?"
"I believe it is very sound except for the front porch. It just needs tons of work. They put a roof on it in hopes of restoring it but either the money or the desire just wasn't there for them or they realized it was futile."
"Could I see it?"
"No, if it isn't too much bother. I'm probably kidding myself and wasting your time but I would like to take a look at it."
"Sure. That's no problem. You want to go now?"
"If you have time that would be great."
"I'll get the keys."
When we pulled in the drive, I noticed for the first time how much work the yard needed just to get rid of the brush that had grown up, let alone any landscaping. I had a tape measure, pad and pencil with me for notes just in case. I had no idea how I could make this work out, but I guess I was indulging myself at Mava's expense. Besides I got to look at Mava that much more.
The front door was in awful shape as were the window frames. The door opened into a large foyer area that was only partially divided from a huge living room. As we walked through the living room I said, "Did you say something Mava?"
"I didn't say anything Nate."
"Oh, I could have sworn you said something like buy it."
"As much as I'd love to sell you a house, I can't tell you what to buy. I just show the houses."
"I know, I just thought I heard something. I guess I'm being distracted by you."
"That was a very nice thing to say, but I doubt it." I continued to look and didn't give it anymore thought. The ceilings were nine feet high and seemed solid but showed water spots, probably from before the roof had been replaced. The floors were all hardwood and looked good but needed sanding and varnishing. There was a huge fireplace with beautiful ornate woodcarvings up the corner posts to the marble mantle. The front of the fireplace had some kind of inlay, but was painted so much I couldn't tell what it was. To the right of the fireplace was a large archway to the dining room with huge crown molding, and a wonderful chandelier that needed cleaning at the very least. On the far side of the living room was a stately and impressively wide staircase going up to the second floor. It seemed in very good shape, but it had been painted more than once and the paint was now chipped and discolored. To the right, off the living room through a large archway was an anteroom, and turning left off the anteroom put you in a large bathroom with antique fixtures. Straight ahead from the living room off the anteroom was a large library with a lot of wood paneling that needed refinishing. We walked back to a butler's kitchen. Everything needed to be stripped and refinished or replaced. Off the kitchen was an enclosed porch that had to measure fifteen by thirty or more. Again, it was sound, but cried out for paint and cleaning at the least. To the right from the kitchen was what I assumed to be a maid's room, but may have just been a storage room.
We went to the basement next. What a dirty mess. There were things stored all over the place with dust and cobwebs everywhere. The only fairly clean area was the furnace room. It was an old out of date furnace, but at least it appeared it worked and had been maintained. What I could see overhead seemed very solid and well built.
We went to the second floor where there were four bedrooms. The largest bedroom was huge and had its own large bathroom. There was another fireplace, smaller than the one downstairs but no less ornate. "Mava, there's potential everywhere. Can't you see what this bedroom would be like?"
"I can see you in this bedroom that's for sure...I don't think that came out as I meant it." I had to smile. The third bathroom was down the hall and between two bedrooms with a door to each bedroom and the hall. This house seemed to go on forever. There were two more bedrooms with a smaller bathroom. All the bathroom fixtures seemed in good shape if they could be cleaned up. "What's past that door," I asked, indicating a fairly narrow door different than all the others.
"That goes into the unfinished area. I've never been back in there but it seems to go on and on."
All of the second floor seemed in pretty good shape except for the water spots on the ceiling, and like everything else needed to be totally refinished. We moved on to the last staircase going to the third floor. This staircase was a little narrower and steeper but was adequate. As we ascended my face was next to Mava's butt, and it was a very nice butt to say the least. The stairs opened into a large finished room that had the broken front windows I had noticed earlier, and there was a small bathroom. Surprisingly it was in pretty good shape. I didn't see the purpose of the room unless it was a private reading room or perhaps a sewing room for the maid. I was guessing at best.
All this time I was taking notes but hadn't measured anything. I said, "I'd like to go back down and look into that unfinished storage area."
"I'll need to get a flashlight from the car. It gets very dark in there."
"Okay. While you're getting the flashlight I'll take a few measurements." I was sure Mava thought I was nuts, or was just wasting her time, but she showed nothing but willingness to accommodate me. I still didn't have a clue where I was going with this, but the house was talking to me. It was pulling me into something. It felt like it was trying to tell me its secrets.
When Mava came back I was still taking measurements. I didn't want to measure everything, but by measuring a few rooms it might give me a feeling for the overall size. We took the flashlight and cautiously entered the storage area. As we entered the door eased shut. We had to knock down cobwebs at every turn, but Mava was right. It went on and on, and I had Mava point the flashlight up every few feet so I could check for rot, water damage or whatever. There were a lot of dusty dirty artifacts from previous owners but I didn't bother seeing what they were. It was more important to be looking for any signs of serious damage. When we finally reached the end there was a small window that would let in a little light if it were cleaned. Mava turned around and ran into me. I said, "Thank you. By the way you smell very nice."
"Thank you Nate." I let Mava by me and we worked our way back slowly. Just before we reached the door I tripped on something and fell forward against Mava.
I instinctively grabbed for something to break my fall and it happened to be her hips, and in the process tearing her slacks and knocking her down with me. We ended up in a dusty heap with me on top of her. I didn't move for a minute. I just looked down on her and said, "I'm sorry Mava, are you all right?"
"I think so Nate, but you need to work on your technique just a little."
"I was afraid if I just asked you, you'd say no."
"It's not that I don't enjoy having you on top of me Nate because I do, but I think we would do better if we untangled and stepped back into daylight."
"Give me a second." I could hardly see what I was doing, because Mava had lost the flashlight, so I was trying to be careful. In the process of trying to get up I got a handful of one of her breasts. "That was nice Nate, but aren't you being a little impatient?" This lady had poise. I got up and finally helped her to her feet. We were very close, with Mava's lips only a couple of inches from me, and I could feel her body heat. I guessed where her lips might be and I kissed her.
"I think I could learn to enjoy this a lot Mava."
In a soft voice Mava said, "I could too, but I think we better find some daylight." We finally made it to the hallway.
I said, "Let me brush some of the dust and cobwebs off you." I brushed my hands down her back and her legs then decided the hell with it and brushed her butt too. In the process I pulled her torn pants about half way down her hips showing her panties. "I guess I better let you finish that." I stepped back and looked at her. I had to laugh.