How To Sell a House
when everything's a mystery
by Joanna ES Campbell
You marry the man who sent you a Facebook message late one evening, two years after he buried his wife. You accept his coffee invitation to discuss your writing.
You remember, on your first date, you watched this man studying your face and noticed that he noticed your earrings.
You remember that you proposed marriage on the third date, and he said, “You wanna marry me?” And you said, “Hell, yes.”
You over-packed your luggage with Christmas themed paper plates and napkins your mother gave you, so you could entertain for the holidays in your new home, which happened to be a rectory.
You never used the paper plates and napkins because you suddenly had to sit in the front seat of an ambulance, turn your head, and watch a paramedic administer life-saving measures on your husband-to-be.
You watched and waited for a month, and you learned new rhythms of prayer shaped by beeping IVs and the white noise of a respirator.
You wore a silk dress on your wedding day, and your fiancé wore a Jerry Garcia tie, which you thought odd because his Sunday best is normally a black shirt with a stiff, white collar.
You each took bites of the butter cream wedding cake the Episcopal Church Women provided.
When all the guests leave, when the house is empty, you bring oysters home from Mutual Fish Company. The oysters are the size of your fist. You watch your new husband as he pries the shells open. His sleeves are rolled up, and he finds the place in the shell that loosens the seal.
You marry the man who said, “Send me more of your stories. I want to read more.”
You and your husband spend your first year in Seattle going to the movies in the afternoons. You discover hipster dive bars that serve vegan food. You learn there is even a vegan biker bar in the neighborhood by the tracks. You wonder if the bikers wear pleather chaps.
When you return to Arkansas for seasonal visits, you drop your husband off at his old house, the house he still owns, where he told his four children that their mother’s surgery revealed the cancer had spread.
You offer your husband a decongestant to ease the allergic reaction brought on by the accumulated house dust. You find safe places in your childhood home to store your husband’s books, photographs, and ordination certificates.
You mail the bone china plates to Seattle. They were his wife’s. “She would be delighted to know we are using them,” your husband says.
In your second year of marriage, you learn a better balance for making cornbread. You realize that while Rotel may be tasty in Kraft cheese dip, you prefer the simpler recipe. You can’t wait for the crunchy outer layer followed by the steamy center of ground corn. It tastes like it could be from the earth, you think.
In your third year of marriage, you visit Arkansas again, and this time you walk inside your husband’s old house. You help him make decisions about what to keep, to set aside, what to focus on for the next hour before you both meet your parents for dinner at Brave New Restaurant, where you will sink your fork into a seared scallop while your husband tries the duck confit.
You watch your husband consider the emails he receives from potential buyers, people who want to buy his house and flip it, turn it around, upgrade, and make a profit. “Houses are emotional,” you hear your husband say.
When the inquiring couple visits your husband’s former home, and they do not bat an eye at the kitchen bent out of shape or the rooms filled with painful reminders, you sit in silence, the two of you, and breathe together the possibility it may be time to sell.
You try to be a non-anxious presence when the workmen arrive with a giant dumpster the size of a shipping container, and they begin to fill the metal body, load by load. And then you see your husband is the one who is calm, and you wonder where this calm has descended from as his home is cleared by a stranger’s hand from the inside.
You and your husband return to Seattle and wait for the paperwork from the bank and title company, and then you quickly learn these exchanges are never easy. Yes, there is a loving couple ready to inhabit your husband’s former home, and you are grateful they see the beauty beneath. “It’s just what we’re looking for,” they say. But the waiting, the waiting for the red tape to finish uncurling between Seattle and Arkansas bears a new burden, and you wonder if your patience will break apart.
On the day you have forgotten about the house and red tape and the dust and the loving couple is the day you learn the sale is final. Your husband drives north and then west to Mukilteo where he crosses a windy strait by ferry and then finds you at your writing residency on Whidbey Island. He is waiting for you. You step outside your classroom, and a sea wind washes your face and hair.
You are both hungry. You find a place near the water. Your husband orders oysters. “Here,” he says, and reaches out, handing you a shell full of liquid porcelain, shallot and garlic. Through the scent of ocean and herbs is the taste of mystery.