Voices in the front yard alerted us to the arrivees. My heart quickened. I checked that the feature wall was intact, rearranged the papers on the table and headed for the front door.
There were two broad inquisitive faces on the second step of the front porch. Both were blonde, one much younger than the other and both sporting broad smiles displaying Sunday teeth and hungry eyes. At the same time male voices boomed from the driveway, then from under the house. It was a pincer attack. The women were at the front door, the men circling around to take us unexpectedly from the back.
I had a moment of resentment. How dare they presume to go under the house without my permission or me as an escort. The comments of an older voice were sharply critical, fault finding. He was already building his armoury of negotiating points.
He’d found the front stump which stood unattached to the house. He observed that the driveway, with its concrete strips leading down from the front gate, kinked at the last moment before it found its way under the house. There were concrete gaps beside the concrete stumps. Gaps never repaired after the old timber stumps had been replaced. I hadn’t yet sighted him, but already I didn’t like him.
The hungry eyes and smiles full of teeth stepped towards the sun room reaching out hands as if they were old friends. I extended my hand, clasped theirs, one then the other, and smiled with my mouth. Behind my eyes, wariness whispered stories to me of caution - beware of blustering blondes.
I was acutely aware of the fact that the last time, to my knowledge, that the timber veneer walls of the room had been French polished was in the mid sixties by Uncle Phil, who was not my uncle, but a relative of my fathers and as I recall not his uncle either. The smell of linseed oil and a fog of toxic fumes leapfrogged over more relevant thoughts into the front of my consciousness. Luckily the fumes had dissipated after forty odd years.
The louvres, which had a habit of rasping and sticking at the half open stage, had been preset to avoid the need to demonstrate their finer points. The sun streamed into this aptly named room and I began to relax.
Joyce, the older blonde, had eyes like a hawk and the nose of a spaniel. Everything visible and invisible was captured on her radar. Yes, the two fat, flame shaped chandeliers were indeed original, and yes the plaster wall had been recently repaired. I breathed a sigh of relief as all six bulbs came to life as she flicked the light switch at each end of the room – testing testing testing!
The lounge room looked good. The recently added wooden blinds framed the old casement windows nicely and the room, which had a north-easterly aspect, felt clear and light and cool. The afternoon sea breeze had kicked in, having arrived after its journey from Moreton Bay, up the river, and then slipping over and around the gentle hills of Murarrie and Cannon Hill. The atmosphere was thawing.
I began to shift my attention back to the task at hand. Get a sale. Get a good price. Split the money with my brother. Retire early.
Motivation returned. The younger woman, the daughter, Jackie, was the prospective buyer. She was married to one of the male invaders. He was lurking below us somewhere, but in some convoluted way she was intending to invest independently in, extend, and live in a cottage very similar to this. Perhaps even this very one. Her husband, ‘invader the younger’s’ story remained a mystery.
I was tempted to share the image of my mother on her knees waxing the floorboards each week by hand, her skirt tucked high into her large nylon undies, showing off her jelly thighs, but decided to relegate that story to the vault with Uncle Phil.
Today the floor gleamed, all thanks to a coat of two part epoxy, a bucket of water and a dash of methylated spirits. My mother would be turning in her grave. Twenty years on her hands and knees polishing, followed by twenty years of carpet to avoid polishing and now we’d gone and ripped up the carpet and returned to the beginning – minus the wax.
The male war party was now at the bottom of the back stairs engrossed in talk of structures, bearers, beams and concrete cancer. They’d discovered the concrete stump which had chosen this year to start to pop and fart.
We’d begun to win the war upstairs but we hadn’t even begun the battle below.