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The Bookmark

August 14, 2009

The small square letter addressed to Aunt Bev and Uncle Steve — Don uses it as a bookmark. The house is 28 years old and looks new inside. Don, Lori and their girls live there now.

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When Steve decided to rip up the carpet, upstairs and down, he didn’t ask Bev. He just did it. An engineer by trade, Steve was precise and it took him nine months of weekends to lay 2,100 square feet of hard maple flooring. Bev spent a lot of time outdoors, weary of the mess.

When Don and Lori and the girls came over with their real estate agent to meet the Stovers, Steve worshiped his gorgeous hardwood floors and bragged endlessly on the wood-slat shades in the study. Here, let me show you, he said to Don. You just pull ‘em down by the bottom and it stays. They don’t make ‘em anymore. You can’t buy these anymore. The girls raced through the house.

The central vacuum was less than five years old, same as the hardwood floors. Steve loved the central vacuum. He showed Lori how to insert the hose in the wall and a quiet but massive suction followed. Bev slipped in and out of the house. The girls argued over the bedroom with the pink carpet.

Steve made sure that Don noticed the new roof, just about five years old he said. They were composite shingles, applied according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The roofers take shortcuts, he said. The composite shingles, he pointed to the roof, see how they lay, how they kind of look like they’re slightly lifted, that’s texture he said, shows they were nailed down right. Bev carried picture frames to a Volvo station wagon.

You guys have any kids? asked Don. Steve laughed and said, Nope.

Sara, the oldest, convinced Patty to take the room with the blue carpet. It had a better view and a bigger closet. Bev frowned. She’d thought that herself for years.

The sun was bright that day, but a cold wind made standing outside looking at the roof less fun than it should have been. And then Steve launched into a rapture about the vinyl siding. Don didn’t care for vinyl siding and wondered what was hiding underneath. But it looked good — probably the tightest, nicest looking siding job he had ever seen. Steve assured them the siding was top grade, overkill he said, and like the relatively new garage doors, hurricane proof.

Bev put a black clock radio in the backseat of the Volvo and walked up behind Steve. He ignored her, talking up the brass doorknobs in the house, how they were solid brass, how he hated to leave them because they were so nice.

Back inside to see the custom lights in the living room, Sara pushed Patty across the bare floor on a wooden barstool. Steve and Bev went blank.

We’re sorry, said Lori.

by Russell Helms

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