A Winter’s Tale


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A man was moving out of his English cottage, and I was walking by, and he invited me in, to see it before he left for good, on a Toluca Lake street (where I’ve set my next short story), into a home, emptied of content, yet still full of emotion; an ideal cottage in the low millions, outfitted with dark wood floors, marble bathrooms, and discreetly elegant paneling; electric sconces, French doors, and striped awnings hung on black spears. And a subtly vaulted living room where cool winter light streamed through little steel windows splashing in blue light a brown, stained, scuffed floor.

He had lived here for seven years, placed in Los Angeles by a now bankrupt mortgage company who had conceivably compensated him well enough, but left him to hang out to dry when they collapsed. He became that very tragic figure: the enviable executive who lives in a beautifully decorated house where Roman shades, silent burger alarms, wi-fi, and built-in cabinetry mask financial illness.

He showed me photos from a glossy real estate brochure, of symmetrical rooms where couches and chairs mingled politely and toilet tanks stood erect in upright, polished splendor. He spoke wistfully of his 84 months here, 2,555 days of certain sunshine and uncertain liquidity.

I wondered if he had contemplated suicide, as I had many times, up awake at 3am, convinced I would never find work, angry at myself and my life choices, in fear of not paying my mortgage or getting the money for property taxes, medical bills and AT&T. Did the lush aesthetics of this house, with its fountains and sunlit corners, soothe the frightened beast inside of us all, the frail human alone as his nation commits economic genocide? Did hunger ever enter the confines of the redone kitchen? Did tears pour out of his eyes as he stood near the pivoting water spigot over the chef’s stove?

I did not ask.

A Jaguar, packed with plastic mattress covers and suitcases, sat on the driveway, and the backyard was full of rose bushes and two lounge chairs set on the green lawn. We walked through cerebral, reserved, tranquilizing rooms painted in healing greens and mournful blues from those cursed years after 9/11.

Every corner was well crafted and exquisite, from the ornate iron registers to the crown molding, to the high hat recessed lights, to the 50-year slate/asphalt roof, copper gutters, matte celadon backsplash tile, stone patio, Tuscan fountain and hi-efficiency heating.

White haired and kind voiced, with an intonation I remembered from New York, the man spoke with optimism and hope about losing the house profitably. He would soon set up his life somewhere in Sherman Oaks, holding a wet finger into the wind on Beverly Glen, hoping that this sale might release another California dream to carry him into future love and security.

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