Charlie was in her favourite place: her front garden. School was out for the summer and her grade 3 students would be moving on to grade 4 next year. She had spent the first week of her vacation cleaning and organizing her classroom and now she had the next two months to spend outside in the sun for some relaxing TLC and catching up with her friends and family.
She was on her knees digging up the weeds that had crept into the flowerbeds that lined the front of the house.
“Excuse me?” a voice said, loudly from behind her. She whirled around and tore her headphones out of her ears. Standing just behind her was a silhouette of a man. She couldn’t see his face because the sun was directly behind him. She sat back on her heels squinting her eyes and tried to block the sun with her hand.
“Hi,” she said.
“Do you own this house?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered, unsure where his line of questioning was going.
“I don’t mean to bother you, but I used to live here when I was kid. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind if I took a peak inside?”
She stood up to get a better look at him, feeling a bit uneasy about a strange man coming into her house. He looked like he was about mid to late thirties, tall, and lean. He was slightly hunched, as though he grew too fast as a kid and overcompensated for his height by slouching and hunching forward.
“Um, sure. I guess that would be okay.” Charlie took off her gloves and dropped them on the grass. “What was your name?” she asked as they walked inside.
“Mark,” he said. He used the toes of his shoes to pull the heels down, off his feet and left his shoes by the front door. Charlie was already barefoot since she hadn’t bothered putting on shoes when she went into the yard earlier.
“What did you want to see first?” she asked, twisting her fingers nervously as she talked. Mark was busy looking around and didn’t notice the question.
Now that they were in the confines of her house, her could smell his cologne. It was a strong artificial woodsy smell that slightly burned her nostrils as she breathed it in.
“You changed the living room,” he said. “It used to be carpeted.”
“Oh, it was like that when I moved in,” she said, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot.
“How long have you lived here?” he asked, stepping further into the living room and looking around. He wasn’t just studying the room, but also looking at her pictures and knickknacks.
“About two years,” she said, watching him carefully. “When did you live here?”
“Let’s see.” He turned around to face her again. “We moved here just after I turned 6 and then I was just a couple of months away from finishing grade 6 when we moved away, so that would have been,” he paused as he did the math. “I guess it would have been 1988 to 1994?”
They walked back out of the living room and into the hall before wandering through to the kitchen. Mark noted that the cupboards and flooring had all been redone. “It’s so bizarre. I mean, I can tell that it used to be my house, but everything looks so different.”
He stood at the back door in the kitchen and stared out the window at the porch and back yard. “I remember playing out there for hours. There used to be a huge tree on the righthand side of the yard. I don’t remember what kind it was, but my dad built a tree house in it. It was my favourite place to hid out and read my comic books. Then one year, in the fifth grade, we had a huge wind storm and the whole thing blew down.”
As he spoke, Charlie slipped back into the hall and went to the basement door. She slid her hand through the crack of space between the door and frame, pushed and turned the lock on the handle before silently shutting the door. When she got back to the kitchen, he was still standing by the back door reminiscing about the tree house.
After a few moments, he stepped away from the door. “Do you mind if I take a look upstairs? I’d love to see my old room?”
“Sure,” she said. When they reached the first room, he switched on the light and walked straight to the closet and opened the door.
“Um,” she started to say. She didn’t have anything private in there, but she didn’t feel comfortable with the fact that he’d just opened it without asking.
“Oh, sorry,” he said, his face blushing. He backed away. “I wasn’t going to go through your stuff. My parents used to keep track of our heights on the closet door frame. My sister’s height was recorded in the same place in her room.”
“For sure. It’s okay, go ahead. But, I’ve never noticed anything before.”
He opened the closet the rest of the way and ran his hand down part of the frame, but his face fell. “It was a long time ago. I should have known it would painted over by now.”
They continued through to her office or what he called his sister’s room. He noted that the bright neon pink walls were gone. “Our mom let us paint whatever colour we wanted. To my mom’s horror, she chose the brightest colour of pink she could find. I like the colour you choose,” he smiled at her.
She felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She tried to smile back as she redirected them back downstairs. Instead of going to the front door however, he went back into the hall and reached for the basement door handle.
“Actually, I’d prefer if we didn’t go down there,” she said, quickly. It’s not finished and there are boxes and furniture all over the place.
He looked disappointed but didn’t press her. “It was just an unfinished basement when I lived here. Did anyone every do anything with it.”
Charlie shook her head. “Nope, it’s just storage right now.”
They walked back outside and Mark slipped his shoes back on. “Thanks so much for letting me walk through your house. It means a lot to me.” He shifted his eyes down at his feet. “Things haven’t been so great lately and it was just nice to go back in time for a moment.” He scuffed his toe against the concrete step.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” she said.
“Yeah, well, that’s life I guess. Anyway, thanks again.” He stepped off the porch and started walking back to his car. As he drove away, Charlie hoped that was the last she’d seen of him.