I slid the gear shift into park and double checked the number on the mailbox. 7527 was clearly marked in white on the side of the weathered black mailbox with a red flag tucked right underneath the numbers. The lawn was overgrown with dandelions, clover, and a few small trees were pushing their way up towards the sky underneath the towering palm tree that shaded the front yard and deep porch that was reminiscent of a southern style house. I double checked the portion of the will that described what I was supposed to inherit.
To my nephew James I leave my house in at 7257 Front Street, Key West Fl. He always said he thought I should spend more time there and always said he wanted to come visit me there, but sadly I never got to make this happen. I regret not spending more time there. It was the birthplace of my professional career as a writer. I used to think about Hemingway drinking a few blocks over at the bars when I couldn’t write and it’s where I finished my first three books. I never liked the slow pace of Key West and I preferred the hustle of Manhattan. James, I hope you can take care of where I started and I won’t care if you decide to sell it.
I folded the will back up and put it in my jacket pocket and opened the door of the car. The oppressive heat rolled in immediately and banished the comfort that comes from hours spent in air conditioning while wearing a suit. Getting out of the car and stretching made me realize that I was overdressed for the weather. I left the jacket in the car, but held on to the keys to the house.
I had only ever seen pictures of the house when Aunt Linda was living there and when I was kid growing up in New York it looked like paradise with the palm trees, white picket fence, and the beaches being a few blocks away. I could go to the beach in Brooklyn down by Coney Island, but we all knew that getting in the water back then was akin to wading out into used cold bathwater mixed with the runoff of the city. The house was where Aunt Linda wrote her claim to fame. The Dust and Diamonds trilogy was a best seller that got optioned for a trilogy of movies when I was sixteen that rivaled Star Wars for a lot of people. When people see my last name the first thing they ask is if I am related to Linda Pershingham.
The house looked the same from the photos, but the details were worn away from the sun and the time spent in the elements without any upkeep. Aunt Linda moved back to New York when my grandmother got sick and continued to write books that her fans loved, but critics always called echoes of her earlier work and that she would never reach the same heights again.
I opened the latch on the picket fence that was clinging to the idea that it used to be white. The paint was drooping down in the summer sun as if it had performed its duty well past the agreed upon time and now it was time to rest on the sidewalk. I had to put some effort into making the rusted hinge work and it yielded slowly shedding rust from its joints and swinging fully open with an onerous groan.
The short flagstone walkway to the front porch had grass fighting through fissures and cracks. The white paint of the steps was in better condition than the fence, but it too had seen enough and was slowly peeling into retirement. The wood was still sound as I climbed up to the brown off kilter wooden door set into the white concrete wall. Aunt Linda used to say that the house was unique because it was made from poured concrete that absorbed the cool air in the night and kept the heat of the day away until the late afternoon. She said late afternoons were her favorite time to head to the beach and watch the sun go down and drink a beer.
The big padlock on the door looked a little worn for how long it had been there, but the tumblers still popped open when I turned the key like it was brand new. I hooked the lock on the door frame, turned the knob, and pushed the door open. The hinges of the door squealed in protest to be in use after twenty years without a touch of oil.
The high summer sun was peeking through the closed wooden blinds on the exterior of the house and illuminated the small interior with an ethereal glow. A black heavy typewriter sat on a small wooden desk next to the far window with a half written page jutting out and a worn leather chair pushed underneath the small desk. White sheets were thrown over the furniture and the kitchen was covered in a layer of grime that looked like Aunt Linda hadn’t bothered to clean up too much before she left.
I pulled the white sheets of the furniture to reveal a 70s era sofa with matching pillows. A stout wooden table covered in papers with hand written notes, typed paragraphs, and copies of The New Yorker and The Paris Review. The bookshelves were pristine and filled to capacity with her favorite authors and her own manuscripts stacked on top of each other. A narrow stairwell behind the bookshelf led to the small second floor of the house.
A queen sized bed with neatly folded sheets was hidden underneath bags of old clothes and blankets. The closet was empty except for a few mismatched shoes that had lost their partners and a sad bent metal hanger. The bathroom was once a white tiled marvel, but had since been covered in dust and would need to be scrubbed before it could be usable. The clawfoot bathtub was firmly planted in the middle of the bathroom as if saying that showers were not welcome in this house. The small window showed that an ocean view was possible if the wind blew the palm trees in the right direction.
I sighed and went back down to the first floor. This was going to be a long clean up I thought as I sat down in the leather chair. The page that was left in the type writer had faded with exposure to the sun, but it was still readable.
To Whomever Reads Me,
I did my best writing here and it is where I came up with the idea about a young man with a great group of friends trying to accomplish what they saw as impossible. I have to go back to New York now for my own impossible quest. My mother has been diagnosed with cancer and my sister and her family cannot handle it on their own. I hope that I’ll eventually get to return here and resume my writing on this desk, but I know that I never will. Please feel free to throw away what you want and keep what looks interesting. If you want to try and publish some of my old manuscripts, good luck because I was never able to get them published. This house most likely needs someone to care for it as it cared for me when I was young. Please take care of it and don’t let it down because it knows when its being treated fairly.
I took the letter off the type writer and laid it gently on the desk. It was at that moment I decided to live there even if only for a year. My aunt lived there when no one knew who she was. She was writing for years while teaching English at the local high school. I felt that if I lived there too even if only for a year and read through her work that maybe I could also find out more about my aunt.
But I had just driven eight hours and was in desperate need of a shower, a shave, and a bacon cheeseburger. I locked the house back up and saw her walking down the sidewalk towards me. She was about my age, maybe older, with sun bleached hair and the look of someone who spent a lifetime in and next to the ocean.
“Do you know of a close by hotel, a good cleaning company, and who the utility company is around here?”
“Why, you fixing up that dilapidated old house down the street?”
“Actually, yes I was going to do that.”
“So you must be her inheritor. I run the L’Habitation Guest House over on Whitehead. We have a few rooms open so you should get checked in and I’ll take you on a tour of the neighborhood. That is if you have decided to become a local. You know Linda Pershingham was like our modern Hemingway down here. She taught my mom English all through high school.”
“Oh wow, I would love to get a chance to talk to her if she is around.”
“You’ll find her at the check-in counter. Just be prepared because she will talk your ear off and then when you think you’ve heard enough stories she will lecture you about how our education system is broken and how the influx of foreign money is turning Key West into a Zoo.”
“Thank you — I didn’t get your name.”
“Alexa, but everyone just calls me Alex. I need to pick up some tomatoes from the store for tonight’s salad, but I should be back by six.”
“Thanks Alexa, my name is James. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise James and I look forward to you joining us townies down here. We could use some more normal people here year round you know.”
Alex flashed me a bright smile and kept walking down the sidewalk. I could hear gulls in the distance and I smelled a mix of sea salt and grilling hotdogs in the wind. I could get used to this.