Friday, January 22, 2010

Alice Redux

A re-post of my most recent contribution to our writing blog Conscious Particles. Check it out to read some really good stuff.
I was inspired by the writing prompt we all worked from (first sentence) and a poster I saw of Johnny Depp on my walk - my, oh my.

Alice tried to remember who had given her the key. Perhaps someone at the realty group weekly meeting could shed some light. She had shown several houses the day before for one of her associates so maybe that was the answer. As she hurried down the hall toward the conference room, late as usual, she turned the key over in her hand but it simply did not look familiar.

Entering the room, Alice poured a cup of coffee and took the only empty seat at the glass topped table that was littered with papers and photos of houses. She took a large gulp of coffee and felt as though she was shrinking under the glare of her co-workers for arriving after the discussion had started.

Each person in the room, by turn, described their recent listings, contracts and closings. Alice took copious notes of any new information. She was new at this and still trying to understand what was important and what didn’t really matter. She reached for a cookie from the tray on the table and as she took a bite, she heard her name called. Swallowing quickly, she talked proudly about her new project and felt herself regaining stature in the room. Alice described the housing development she had been contracted to represent. She would be showing properties throughout the next week in a series of open houses. Queen of Hearts Estates it was called and she hoped her associates would drop in for a look around.

The British investors in “the Queen” as they liked to call it had done a remarkable job studying the market and understanding the buying and selling habits of suburban Americans. The houses were spacious and sat on large lots. Yet, each had a bit of whimsy about it – a cupola, a widows walk, a two story conservatory. One particularly lovely design had a broad roof that seemed to wrap around the house with one large bay window jutting through it in the front. It looked like a story book cottage on steroids.

The streets, laid out in a maze, were lined with manicured hedges and flower gardens so well-groomed that they appeared to have been growing for years. Alice made a note to get the name of the landscape designer. Streets branched off as soon as you entered the large wrought iron gates giving a sense that each house was almost its own estate. Brilliant. That alone would raise the prices for the homes by 10%. While many were struggling to buy and keep homes in a dreadful real estate market, the potential buyers for these properties were well-heeled with no problem making the purchase. They would relish the sense of eliteness exuded by the neighborhood design. Even the street names played into the plan, Ace of Spades Street, King of Clubs Circle, Jack of Diamonds Drive. Discreetly built just to the right of the gates was a row of smaller sized examples of each home model built exactly to scale, like a street of large dollhouses.

Alice drove through the area to get a feel for the very best way to tour potential buyers She got lost at nearly every turn and had to re-think her direction. Most of the lots were still empty but each had a lovely painted sign like a large playing card showing the best house model for that particular parcel. The houses under construction were in various stages of completion, from just sprouting up from the foundation, to that wonderful state where the new owner could choose all the little details themselves. A few were completely finished and ready for someone to just turn the key and move in.

The key. Alice reached for it in her blazer pocket where she had put it before leaving her condo. When she looked up she was directly in front of the model home/office and made a quick, dangerous swerve to pull in the driveway, almost hitting a rabbit that was scampering across the street. She’d seen that rabbit before a few houses away munching on the flowers. As she stopped her car, she made a note to mention to her management contact that something needed to be done about animal pests. Her clients liked the idea of living in the woods but would not want to deal with hyperactive rabbits running all around and eating their plants.

The management had left detailed instructions and all the needed supplies for her little tea parties as they referred to them. There was a lovely tea service and silver spoons. In the kitchen she found an electric kettle, various sorts of tea in a wooden caddy and nice cookies on a tray. The note indicated there were lawn games out back for the children. Alice laughed out loud when she looked through the kitchen window and saw croquet wickets set up. She wondered if the American children would even know what the game was. Note: teach a local teenager to play croquet and pay $8. an hour for her to hang out back on Saturday and Sunday and entertain the kiddies. Be sure she wears all white. Keeping up the image of the place would be good and the game’s large set up gave a good sense of the huge expanse of the back garden as she had been instructed to refer to it.

Alice filled and turned on the tea kettle, picked up the tray of cookies and returned to the drawing room, its name another affectation of the Brits. She straightened the stack of linen napkins and set a few cups on saucers. It was almost time for her first group of associates to come through. It was important that they want to bring their clients back.

Alice took a compact from her bag and looked in the mirror as she applied fresh lipstick. Reflected through the front window behind her she could see a large cat perched on the porch railing. Quite fluffy and an interesting shade of orange with darker stripes, he was busy grooming himself. As Alice turned to look at him directly, he lazily raised his head and stared back as if to say, “Who are you?” Perfect Alice thought, finishing her touch-up, a smart-ass cat. When she turned back around he was gone.

The first realtor to arrive was the last one Alice wanted to see. Frederick March was a thorn in her side. Always jumping on her leads to get listings, sometimes stealing clients from her, it seemed she often did the work for his rewards. He had been with the agency for years and was well known and respected in the community. March lived in a large house he inherited from his wealthy parents and threw lavish parties that kept him well-connected. Despite his prominent social position he needed to bring in additional money to support his lifestyle. And he hated to work.

Fortunately, March was followed by Sadie Madder, as always wearing one of her signature hats. Alice envied Sadie’s sense of style and self-confidence. Madder and March made quite a pair. Alice poured tea as they glanced through brochures and made notes. Remembering the key, Alice pulled it from her pocket and asked if it looked familiar to either of them. It did not.

The remainder of the day was a blur of activity. At one point a large group of realtors she had never met stopped by and Alice felt very pleased that she had led a car tour of the Queen’s Estates without getting lost. When they returned to the row of models she passed out keys that allowed the realtors to explore some of the finished properties on their own. There were even some potential buyers on this first day – a rather nervous and obviously newly wealthy couple that Alice joked to herself appeared to be looking for where to invest the recent lottery winnings or for a way to launder stolen cash and an older couple moving out of the city for retirement.

Near the end of the day a well-dressed woman came up the drive with two children, one holding each hand. When Alice opened the door for them she realized that the children matched. Exactly. Not only were they dressed alike but they looked, spoke and walked the same. Alice thought of directing them to the backyard but they occupied themselves going from display to display and talking to themselves while their mother made an appointment to come back with her husband later in the week. Alice laughed as the twins bounded across the front garden toward their mother’s car, matching stride for stride.

Exhausted and ready to call it a day, Alice glanced around the room to see what she needed to tidy up. In the mirror over the mantle she could see that the orange cat was back on the porch staring in at her. But when she turned around , once again, he had vanished. She made a note to ask if he belonged to anyone in the area. If he was a stray she might just try to take him home. His inquisitive nature had enamored her.

Having put away the remnants of the tea party, it wasn’t yet dark as Alice closed and locked the front door of the office. Looking down the row of home models being built for display she decided to take a quick look into each. As she stepped off the porch, a rabbit hurried past. It couldn’t possibly be the same one she thought. These nasty nibblers as her gardening friend called them could be a problem.

At each front door, Alice turned her massive ring of keys around until she found the one with the number matching the lock. She felt a bit like a princess as she walked through the houses and pretended she would ever be able to afford such luxury for herself. The first two houses were fairly well completed but as she moved from one to the next she encountered more and more construction. When she reached the last house on the lane she remembered; The site manager had given her the key just days before. She reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out the key. The numbers engraved on it matched those on the lock. As she inserted the key and opened the door she was startled as a rabbit ran out past her. I wonder how long he has been locked in there she thought as her eyes followed his quick exit. Still looking over her shoulder she stepped inside onto an unfinished floor which collapsed beneath her. She fell into a black abyss and the rabbit hopped in after her.

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