The man and the boy pulled up to the curb next to the sign that said “For Sale/Open House Today” at the end of a long lawn that rolled down to the street. The house was large, but older than those on either side of it. It was probably owned by “empty-nesters,” the man thought; people whose children were now grown, who wanted to scale back.
“C’mon—let’s go take a look,” he said to the boy, who got out of the car by himself, a bit awkwardly, and waited for his father to take his hand.
He was a big boy, apparently in his early teens, but he retained the mannerisms and wide-eyed look of child much younger. His mouth hung open with a smile, his tongue hanging down like that of a happy puppy as they made their way up the long walk to the front porch.
The realtor greeted them at the door with a cheerful smile that faltered a bit as she saw the boy lumber clumsily up the front steps; she hoped that he wouldn’t break anything, that the father would keep him under control. She wondered where the mother was.
“Are you . . . new to town?” she asked after the father had signed the guest list.
“We live in Boston now,” the man said. “He’s, uh, special needs, and we’re having a hard time with the schools there.”
“The schools here are excellent!” the realtor chirped. She had a vested interest in saying so since it meant higher commissions for her, and she had no basis other than reputation for making the claim. “How many bedrooms are you looking for?”
“Three,” the man said. “One for me, one for Danny, and one for his au pair.”
“The set-up here is a perfect then,” she said. “There are two bedrooms that the current owners’ children used, and a master.”
“That’s good,” the man said as he looked up the stairs.
The realtor did her best to resist the urge to pry; she knew it could turn a prospect off and she’d been trained to maintain a bland friendliness and not ask personal questions. She looked at the man’s left hand and saw no wedding ring. He was older but handsome, with the chiseled look of an actor. His son had distorted features typical of a genetic defect whose name the broker couldn’t remember. Perhaps the boy had been the child of a later marriage; she knew that women were supposed to be tested after they reached a certain age. She felt pressure building up inside her, like a steam kettle.
“And your wife?” she heard herself ask, and immediately regretted it, saying “Why did I do that?” to herself.
But the man didn’t seem at all troubled by the question. “She passed away a few years ago.”
“I’m so sorry,” the realtor gushed, and she was, in a way; she was glad she knew more about the man, though. She had several divorced girlfriends who might be interested in him.
“Do you mind if I leave Danny downstairs with you while I look around?” the man asked.
“Oh, not at all!” she said. In fact, she was greatly relieved that the boy wouldn’t be banging around in the heavily-decorated master bedroom, although she didn’t say that.
“Thanks. I won’t be long, but he can be a bit, clumsy.”
“I understand. Why don’t you sit down right here?” she said to the boy as she patted the cushion of a chair just inside the front door.
The boy didn’t seem to want to, but his father said “Danny—do what the lady told you” in a stern voice and so the boy sat down and folded his hands in his lap. “I won’t be long—I can usually get a sense of whether I’m interested in a place pretty quickly.”
“Take your time,” the realtor said airily, happy to have the boy where she could watch him.
The man walked upstairs and left down the hallway, then looked into the two smaller bedrooms. “So each has its own bathroom?” he called down to the realtor.
“That’s good,” the man said. “The au pair needs her own.” The man walked down the hall to the right and into the master bedroom.
The realtor smiled at the boy. He seemed to be able to follow orders—maybe he would be able to hold a job when he grew up. “Are you excited to be moving to a new town?” she asked him.
“There’s lots of grass out here.”
“Could I have a puppy?”
“That’s up to your father,” she said with a cautious smile. “There are lots of friendly dogs in the neighborhood you can play with if he says no.”
The boy was silent, staring straight ahead, then looking around at the furnishings—a grandfather clock that made a loud ticking noise in particular. The woman didn’t know what to say to a retarded child. “What grade are you in?” she asked.
“I go to school.”
“Oh. What do you like to do?”
“I go down the slide headfirst.”
“That sounds dangerous.”
“I get in trouble,” the boy said, smiling broadly.
“Well, I’m sure you’re a good boy,” the woman said.
The boy continued to smile, but retreated into his thoughts, perhaps contemplating his act of mischief and the uproar it must have caused. He probably misunderstood it all, the woman thought. He was the center of attention for once, and so felt more important.
“What else do you like—that doesn’t get you in trouble?” she asked, with an indulgent smile.
“I’ll bet,” the woman said. “Shiny things are pretty to look at, aren’t they?”
The man was coming downstairs now, a business-like look on his face, but not one that signaled a lack of interest in the house.
“Do you know if they still have the original septic?” he asked.
“It is, but they just got the results of their test and it’s fine.”
“Okay. Do you know how soon they could be out?”
“They’re flexible,” she said. “They were shooting for August.”
“That would be okay. I need to get Danny settled in the school system.”
“I can talk to them. I’m sure for the right buyer . . .” Her voice trailed off, leaving her implication hanging for the man to pick up on.
“I think it’s fairly priced,” he said. “I’m going to think it over, we’ve got one more place to look at.”
“Take a brochure, my card’s inside. I’m in the office tomorrow or you can call my cell.”
“Okay. Thanks very much, and thanks for watching Danny.”
“My pleasure—he was a perfect gentleman!”
The man and the boy walked out the door, holding hands as before. Midway down the path they stopped as the boy saw a squirrel run up a tree, and ran over to watch it climb.
“C’mon, Dan, we’ve gotta go.”
The boy stared up into the branches but, when his father called a second time, he re-joined him on the walkway and went to the car.
“Shiny things?” the boy asked after as father buckled him into his seat.
“Just a second,” the man said as he closed the door, then walked around the car and got in the driver’s side. He buckled himself in, then reached in his pockets and pulled out a pearl necklace and a diamond bracelet. “Here are some shiny things,” he said as he handed them to the boy. “I think we’ll get a lot of money for them.”