A TREASURE IN PARK SLOPE

By Justus E. Taylor

4,744 Words

Copyright 1989 by Justus E. Taylor

spaceMaking love hadn't helped. It was two-thirty a.m. and Agnes and Bill continued to twist and stretch, draw their bodies up and ball-up pillows and throw off the blanket and put it back and wish the other person would stop moving around so that one could fall asleep. The next day was the closing. Even though they had made the lengthy check list and reviewed it many times, their minds insisted on believing that nothing was written down, and everything had to be remembered by repeating it over and over. Most importantly, they wanted to remember to check the house again first thing in the morning, to be sure that the several pieces of antique furniture they had purchased from the executrix were still in the house, and they had to remember to forget about the grotesque wallpaper in the master bedroom. That room would be done over as a first priority.

space"Hon, are you awake?"

space"As a very wise man once said, 'I am now,' Agnes, dear."

space"You know you weren't sleeping anyway. You're just trying to give me a guilt trip."

space"Maybe, but so?...I guess you're going to tell me I didn't satisfy you...that too much is never enough...that for the past four years you've been going and not coming, so to speak?"

space"Oh Bill I can't believe you're so nervous that after four long years you're questioning our most fundamental certainty, or where do you get off questioning our getting it on? You know that's always been smokin'!"

space"Just kidding, only kidding. But we might as well give up trying to sleep. What did you want anyhow?"

space"I was thinking. Maybe we're being stupid, buying in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where we know everything is way over priced. You know that's what your father said. He remembered when a house like the one we're buying was only fifteen thousand, not two-fifty."

space"It doesn't matter as long as the 'way over pricing' continues after we buy!"

space"Fine, but what goes up, must come down," they both chorused, with Agnes forcing laughter into her voice.

spaceThe first tentative rays of morning sun in early April fell across her nightgown and his pajamas as the occupants lay snoring quietly, never having known when they stopped talking.

spaceThe closing justified the worrying, but not for the reasons they had imagined. Finally, however, after they had been forced to run back to the bank to get a substitute certified check, in the name of the executrix, (no double-endorsed checks allowed) the keys to the new house were handed over. Bill gave the title insurance man the customary tip for his cooperation. Agnes gave their lawyer a check for the balance of his fee. Bill gave the executrix a separate check for the antiques, and Agnes gave the insurance broker a check for the initial premium on the homeowner's policy. Then they both cursed under their breath. It was already three in the afternoon and they were starved. The closing had started at eleven a.m.. Agnes made the hollow, but still comforting, gesture of treating for lunch out of the paltry balance of their mutually depleted funds.

spaceMoving day turned out to be moving afternoon, evening and night, since the van refused to arrive until after numerous telephoned threats of cancellation. They had started making the calls at ten a.m., which was two hours after the appointed arrival time. Joe, the Super of their apartment building, kept climbing over moving men to visit them with supposed concern for whether they were getting enough heat, and to deliver some year old junk mail that he had forgotten somewhere in his apartment. In the course of the visits he made casual comments about the little nail holes in the walls where pictures had hung,, the probable amount of accumulated dust behind the kitchen refrigerator, the lease provisions requiring vacating tenants to remove their wall-to-wall carpeting, and most of all how he could relieve them of any furniture they wanted to leave behind. A whispered conference between Bill and Agnes produced a fifty dollar tip that immediately caused Joe to make light of all existing and possible future problems. Joe then insisted that Agnes not worry about any sweeping or refrigerator or sink cleaning. He even gratuitously marched to the bathroom and unnecessarily flushed the toilet several times, and then touched up the little nail holes with dabs of spit on his index finger as he exited the foyer and then the front door.

spaceThe single-family house they had purchased, on Eighth Street, close to Seventh Avenue, had eight rooms plus a generous basement. When the moving men had collected their check and the van was finally pulling away from the curb, it was ten p.m.. Bill had been standing on the stoop most of the evening, keeping a watchful eye on those items which had been taken off the truck but not yet taken into the house. He was feeling the often surprising chill of April nightfalls as he closed the outer and inner doors of the entrance, then he called out to Agnes, "Hey, thirty-year-old landlord?

spaceAgnes had collapsed on a pile of boxes in the ugly-papered master bedroom, mumbling to herself about the possibly two-thousand trips she had made up and down the stairs while directing the heavy-laden moving men. She feigned an excess of energy as she playfully skipped to the head of the stairs while answering seductively, "Yes, darling. Of course, darling. What is it, sweetness? "

space"Come down here a minute, please?"

space"Of course, pumpkin. Whatever you say, pumpkin," she purred softly while almost losing her balance on totally fatigued legs and clinging to the banister.

spaceAs she reached the bottom step Bill suddenly grasped her hand and led her through the vestibule and out to the front stoop. There he swept her up in his arms and re-entered the house, while managing a halting rendition of "Here comes the Bride." But his gallantry faltered at the door-step of the inner door, where his exhausted left leg failed to clear that obstacle and they plunged unsteadily into the living room, landing partly on some of the boxes and partly on the unarranged sofa. They punctuated the landing with a synchronized explosion of gas, built up from the day's missed meals. They looked at each other in embarrassed laughter and Bill captured their feelings by clasping his hands religiously and chanting, "Thank god it was both of us," as he gazed reverently at the ceiling.

spaceBy the end of three weeks they had regained their old routines, except of course that everything was always farther away than it had been in the old apartment. Simply to make a point to themselves they had altered d the unpacking priorities enough to allow time to strip the wallpaper from one of the four walls in the master bedroom.

spaceAt their tenth dinner of Chinese food since moving, they finally found the courage to discuss the subject which had been insecurely held in the backs of their minds since the day of the closing: Where was the tin box? One of their fondest fantasies about buying a house was the whimsical idea that someone, of the many previous owners, had been in the habit of keeping their life's savings in a little tin box hidden somewhere on the premises, and had died ever telling anyone about it. Their second secret fantasy, much more realistic, but not being discussed this evening, was being at last able to own a dog. They found their imaginations especially stimulated by the fact that the owner immediately prior to them had, in fact, died and the house had been sold to them by his sister, as his executrix.

space"Where do you think we should start the search?" Agnes ventured impishly. "I have a vision of the box being tucked up in the front of the fireplace, and we'll simply have to reach up there and get it. Like this!" She leaped from her seat at the dining table and raced to the livingroom fireplace. Dropping quickly to her knees, she deftly reached inside and up. After a few moments of groping she withdrew a hand fully covered with soot, and she frowned her displeasure. "It's one thing for it not to be where it's clearly supposed to be, but damn, I didn't need this handful of crap!"

space"What did you expect Sherlock?" Bill teased from his seat at the table, "You could have gotten a handful of dead mouse or dead bird you know."

space"Then I would have thrown it at you," she threatened, since you're so happy I failed. When I find the box, you're only getting ten percent, since you're not a true believer."

space"I believe! I believe!" Bill yelled, "Lord knows I believe! It's merely that you have failed to apply scientific reasoning to your quest. Now, a scientific person, like the new CPA that I am, would immediately realize that a miser could never stand to have his hoard in any close proximity to fire! You must be thinking about ancient history when wealth was kept in gold pieces which could easily withstand the heat at the top of a fireplace. But paper money? Never!"

space"No, dummy, I was thinking of gold jewelry and precious stones. Who says the tin box has to have currency in it? No, like the high-fashion model that I am, I know that a person with any style would keep the secret cache in a place that could withstand the total destruction of the rest of the house...like the basement!" Simultaneously with uttering the last word of the sentence Agnes took off for the basement steps and bounded down them with athletic dexterity. She shrieked, however., as she reached the last step because of a mouse that she had surprised and sent scurrying to a distant corner. Retracing her steps nearly as fast as she had descended, she found Bill still seated at the table, nursing a smug little smile.

space"Now," he pouted, "if I may be allowed to continue...sound reasoning dictates that a true miser would secrete his (or her, to be completely scientific about the matter) hoard somewhere where it would be close at hand most of the time, where it could be watched over. Like in the mattress he slept on! But he would consider that too obvious since I was reading just the other day that of the four-hundred-and-seven million dollars found by superintendents in recently vacated low-income apartments, fully four-hundred-and-six million of it would have been found in mattresses, if indeed the tenants could have afforded to leave their mattresses behind when they moved."

space"Ah ha!" Agnes exclaimed, "useful information like that in porno magazines these days, but I bet they just use it as a come-on, right?"

space"You'd better wash your mouth out with lye soap, you hussy," Bill chided, as he also stroked her thighs beneath the table. You won't be able to talk filth that way once we have a puppy in the house! I was close to a brilliant insight when you jealously tried to distract me with thoughts of the nasty, but I will not let myself be polluted. Since our previous owner didn't leave any mattress either, we have to take second best and check the bedroom closets. And don't go running off ahead of me, or you'll jinx the whole operation."

space"Suit yourself, dahlink," Agnes yawned with fake boredom, "I think your idea is hair-brained anyway."

spaceNevertheless, a few moments later Agnes was trailing Bill up the stairs to the master bedroom, where they began opening the doors of the several closets and scrutinizing the interiors. When they reached the only remaining possibility, they slowed down and became very deliberate. In spite of their searching the closet with great care, it appeared to be completely empty, However, about to close the door and give up, Bill showed Agnes what appeared to be a loose board on the closet floor. On closer examination they saw that the board had once been carefully sawed through so that it could be picked up and replaced at will.

space"Whoa, look here," Bill panted, "I think I was right. Looks like we got something here. Hold the flashlight while I get this board up." Standing behind Bill and holding the flashlight, Agnes's forehead almost dripped perspiration on his neck, as she leaned forward to peer over his shoulder. "Fifty-fifty," she whispered and nudged him in the backside with her knee, while also managing to giggle.

spaceBill lifted the board out of its space and carefully laid it aside, The sub-flooring was thickly covered with dust and right in the center of the area the board had covered there was the outline-of a rectangular object that had measured about seven inches by ten inches. Bill drew back dejectedly as he provided Agnes with an unobstructed view of the mark in the dust, and he lamented: "It certainly was here at one time but it's gone now. We're too late. Maybe the sister figured the same thing out and got here first. Oh well, we can't miss what we never had, but I bet it was a bundle."

spaceAgnes sat down, propping herself against the closet door. "My, oh my, what a thrill and disappointment. Perhaps we should buy another house, and quickly." She hugged Bill around his neck as he pulled them both up from the floor. "Let's see, Agnes mused, if the box had held five-hundred, one-thousand dollar bills (that's a reasonable assumption isn't it) that would have been enough for two more houses, and if each of those had tin boxes with five-hundred, one-thousand dollar bills ...and so on...wow!" As they snuggled together in bed that night, while Agnes once again fantasized about the missing tin box, Bill was devising a plan of how he would sneak the tell-tale piece of seven-by-ten inch dusty cardboard out of the house in his briefcase the next day, and sometime later present it to Agnes; maybe on April fools day? His second thought was that he had better not wait that long.

spaceSeveral weeks later, while Agnes was enduring a dry spell in modeling calls, she decided that she would re-finish an antique dresser that had been one of the pieces purchased from the executrix. While removing the drawers she found that the problem of an ill-fitting bottom drawer was caused by a packet of old letters, stuck at the back of the last dust cover. While reaching in and pulling out the letters she experienced a nervous excitement at some expected voyeurism. She had visions of romantic and sexy prose, perhaps even seasoned with important secrets of family skeletons, or possibly even real crimes! The letters were addressed to "Mr. Arthur Liveright," and she recognized the name as that of the deceased previous owner.

spaceThey were postmarked, "Saugerties, N.Y." and when she opened the first one she noted -that it was dated five years earlier. Her spirits fell and disenchantment clouded her face as soon as she read the salutation.

spaceMy Dear brother Arthur: How are you doing? I hope you are managing to keep yourself safe and in one piece in that jungle called New York City. I know I keep nagging you, but I'm going to say it again. You should got out of that hell-hole with all the crime and pollution and discourtesy and distrust. Come on up here with me! You don't have to live in the same town, there are a lot of good places close by. Everything is cleaner, and the countryside is so pretty, and you know everything is much cheaper. You've got to admit, from your last visit up here, people are much friendlier, even though everybody still minds his own business, except when I'm not around.

spaceBut anyway, the more important news is that Rosemary will be sixty-two next month and she'll be retiring. The whole cement plant is going to miss her, not just me. But of course I'll still see her at home every night, like always. I'm going to wait three more years, till I'm sixtyfive., so I can get the full amount of all my benefits. When we're both retired is when it's going to be perfect! Just sitting and taking it easy, out on the deck in the summer time. One big piece of bad news though. Girlie died two weeks ago. It must have been old age because we had just had her over to the Vet the week before and he said she was as fine as any old dog could be. Anyway, we had a nice service for her and the Rev. Drummond stopped by to say a few words and to comfort Rosemary, and me too I guess. We put her in right by the driveway, as you come up the hill. We got a headstone that says how much we loved her. Things have been very quiet without her. We hardly have much to talk about now. I think we'll be going over to the Humane Society next week to see if they've got a puppy that might look like her.

spaceGive my best to Sarah and please think about moving up here so we can see a lot more of each other. Love, your brother Palmer.

spaceAgnes found the letter both interesting and dull. She could sense an outlook on life that was much different from her own, and she was tantalized by the notion of going to live in a rural area where things would be much slower, and much safer. Finding herself happy that the letter which had stimulated her curiosity had been the first in the packet and not the last, she began to quickly open the next envelope. She was interrupted by the chimes of the front door. Bill was home from the office.

spaceShe hastily removed her blouse and her brassiere and ran swiftly through the bathroom where she snatched a plunger from the under-sink cabinet. After sprinkling her forehead and breasts with water to resemble sweat, she raced downstairs to the vestibule. As she opened the front door, Bill was already in the midst of a complaint: " What took you so...yipes!" He recoiled from the sight and almost slipped off the top step of the stoop. Without seeming to notice his surprise, Agnes related in a monotone that, "The plumber has been here for an hour, but we can't seem to get the drain open. Maybe you can help him now while I finish getting dressed."

spaceDropping his briefcase just inside the door, Bill seized her around the waist and dragged her back into the living room, while screaming in the high pitch of seeming rage, "I'll kill you! I'll kill you! Then, suddenly switching to tenderness, he kissed her breasts repeatedly while murmuring, "I really would...you know...really would!"

space At dinner Agnes told Bill about the packet of letters, and also revealed the contents of the one that she had read. She was pleased that he was also intrigued by the first letter and wanted to read the rest of them right after they finished eating, However, he remembered that he had promised himself that he would clear the floor drain in the basement (without the help of a plumber) as soon as possible since almost an inch of water had collected there during the last heavy rain. The weather forecast for that evening encouraged him to keep his promise, so the letters weren't brought out until almost ten o'clock.

spaceBill opened the second letter and read aloud: My Dear Brother Arthur: How are you doing? I got your last letter almost a year ago, but I've been pretty busy. Ever since Rosemary retired two years ago she's just about refused to do anything around the house, or the shopping, or the snow or any of the other work. She says she's retired. She takes that to mean that she can just sit down. About all my wife does is watch television. Of course the shakes bothers her some. They say it's Parkinson's and she's very embarrassed about it. She asked me the other day if our friends knew that she shook, and I just had to tell her that, yes, they all knew about it. The doctor says there's no cure and that it's going to get worse instead of better. Rosemary knows that.

spaceOne very good thing is that our new dog, Peaches, is simply perfect. She's about three years old and the most loving creature you'd ever want to see. I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have her to talk to--and she just loves to kiss me.

spaceDon't forget to keep thinking about moving out of the City. Life is really the best up here. And we could see each other every day. Give my best to Sarah. Love., you brother Palmer.

space"I guess their dog comes in handy, in a way," Agnes broke their mutual contemplative silence that followed the end of the letter. "But I think it's a close question whether the influence is good or bad, but it's not the dog's fault in any case," she pondered aloud. Bill nodded in agreement and they both reached for the packet of letters again, with Agnes picking them up first. "I know we both want to read on, to the next letter, but you have to get up for work tomorrow morning don't you? I promise not to do any more reading until after dinner tomorrow when we can do it together, O.K.,?" Bill agreed.

spaceFor dinner the following evening Agnes had prepared chef salad bowls which she attributed to her having received some modeling calls during the afternoon, and also because of their collective tendency to put on weight. But not surprisingly, they ate in a hurry and brought out the letters immediately after their last morsels. Agnes volunteered that it was her turn to read aloud. The letter was dated a year later than the one before it and Arthur had obviously written to Palmer in the meantime.

spaceMy dear brother Arthur: How are you? I don't need to tell you that I disagree with your reasons for staying in the City especially since you're divorced now. You've got to remember that you're five years older than I am and you probably need the fresh air up here even more than I do. Still, I have some more important news than that. About two months ago I came home from work one day and found the garage all sealed up. Rosemary was inside, in the oldest car. She had let the motor run and killed herself with the fumes. I was scared stiff since the garage is right under the kitchen and that's where Peaches always lies around. I ran upstairs right away but, thank god, she was all right. I called the State Police and they came and saw that it was a suicide. They asked me if she had said anything to me before she did that, and I said no. I don't think it would have made any difference if she had told me since once she had that idea in her head she was as good as gone anyway. I changed the sign in front of the house to say 'Palmer Liveright' instead of 'The Liverights' as it used to be because Rosemary isn't here any more. I'm going to start looking for a nice headstone for her, as soon as I get some time. Anyway, it was better because I've started seeing this woman who has the furniture store in the Village. It sure is strange how excited you can still get from kissing, even at sixty-four. She's nice but I don't know how much longer I want to keep seeing her since she likes to eat a lot in restaurants and that's expensive. I hope you haven't forgotten about moving up here. Love, from Peaches and your brother Palmer.

spaceAgnes's voice wavered and her eyes misted over as she finished the letter. Bill felt choked-up also, so they put the remaining two letters aside and made themselves their favorite cocktails. The balance of the evening was consumed by shared reassuring conversation that had a background of their favorite love songs, played many times over.

spaceThe next succeeding night was a Friday and they were forced out of the house by a going-away party for one of Agnes's modeling associates. They were partly pleased that they didn't get home until one in the morning, because they were reluctant to risk reading the last letter before getting a few more hours of mutual affection.

spaceSaturday morning's late sleeping had been promoted by love-making during the night so they felt well insulated by 11 a.m. as they agreed to finish the letters over morning coffee. They were only moderately surprised to see that the next letter didn't open with the usual plea by Palmer that Arthur join him in the country. It was also written only six months after his prior letter, which for Palmer seemed unusual. It read:

spaceI saw the furniture store woman for three months and we got to messing around in her bed on four different occasions. I liked her so much that when she asked to borrow five thousand dollars to get a new store inventory, I let her have the money. It was mostly Rosemary's insurance money anyway. But then in a couple of weeks she started always saying she was busy with the store, didn't have time to let me come by to see her, or even to go out. It got so bad that I was starved for sex, if you can believe that of a man my age. At last, I told her that she better keep on seeing me or she better pay me the five thousand back right away. That did it! She stopped seeing me altogether and hasn't paid back a cent. I'm not too worried even though I don't have anything in writing. People out here are not like City people, they usually pay back at least some of what they borrow. Even if it takes a while.

spaceI've been thinking about maybe moving to an area where there are more people, not to where you are, but to some place bigger than where I am now. Right now I'm probably just staying here because of Peaches. This country life is the only life she's ever known. She wouldn't be happy if she couldn't run around in the woods. It wouldn't be fair to her to leave this house. Well, I hope you're all right, Love, Peaches, and your brother Palmer.

spaceThe final letter was very brief and was written three months after the one that they had just finished. It opened:

spaceDear Arthur: I took the sign from in front of the house, I don't want that furniture store woman coming around here bothering me, since she's not going to pay me back my five thousand. Something really bad happened. Peaches ran onto the highway and was run over by a septic tank service truck. There wasn't even any sense in rushing her to the Vet--she was hurt that bad. I put her in right next to Girlie and I've ordered a stone for her too.

spaceThey retired me from the cement plant, two months ago. Not much I could do about it. It got very lonely out here right after Peaches died, but I found a way to deal with it. Some people think I'm peculiar but they mind their own business. I go for the paper every morning and then I go to visit Rosemary and I read the paper to her. Yesterday I ordered her a nice headstone. Reading the paper takes up most of the time until lunch and then I go to the diner and eat. Before I know it it's eight-thirty and so I can go to bed. I always take a couple of drinks before I lie down because it makes me sleep better. How are things in the City? Do you think I could find a place there? Something not too expensive? Love, your brother Palmer.

spaceAgnes and Bill cuddled together on the sofa and were silent for more than an hour. Agnes stirred first, and struggling to push the sadness out of her mind, she gazed at Bill while shaking her head from side to side and whispered, "No dog, right?" Bill answered quietly but quickly, "Right!" They then made a perfect duet as they loudly chimed, "And no getting married! Right? Right!"

space
END

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