Christmas morning did not exactly dawn. It may have been averaging 60-degrees for a month, but in Atlanta, when the weather changes, it changes. I woke to cold soupy drizzle that promised nothing but muddy shoes and frizzy hair.
It seemed idiotic to open the office, and I have to admit I took my time getting there, choosing to open my sister, Carolyn’s present first. She sent me a sweater in a scratchy goldenrod wool that would look perfect with my black herringbone gauchos. With black boots and a black Danskin turtleneck leotard I arrived at the model/office looking as if I could run the whole place.
To my surprise I actually showed three apartments before noon, one of them to a woman who had been here on the 23rd. She arrived with the application all filled out. “Did I give you this?” I asked, looking it over for the initials I’d begun marking on all of my applications.
“You sure did,” she said, reminding me that I’d showed her the three-bedroom flat by the pool. “Did your boss get to Big Canoe all right?” she asked reminding me that she had been there when Judith and her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Michael were loading their cars: hers with new clothes for a weekend in the mountains and his with presents and toys. Their little boy, Nick, looked anxiously between them.
“Yeah, I’m sure she has. I haven’t spoken to her since she left.” I took the money order Patty held out to me, thinking as I did so that I would be finding something in her application to reject. I wasn’t sure what. I wasn’t even sure why; I just knew I didn’t like her. The rule was to take all deposits and then, if you knew you didn’t want the person living on the property, find ways to kill the rental before a lease had been signed. Judith says there’s always something otherwise you wouldn’t have a bad feeling in the first place. It’s more in my nature to kill or abort a potential deal before taking the deposit, but Judith says it’s the deposits the bank wants to see, not the applications. In the list of rental priorities, my job is to secure deposits first.
“You will discover yourself here eventually,” she promised. “The people you find yourself renting to will represent parts of yourself. As you begin to fill the complex with your choices, it will become you.” I know she was trying to imbue me with ambition and power, but frankly, the idea of seeing aspects of my very unformed and random personality scared the hell out of me. Still, over the weeks, I’d rented to a lawyer, a university professor (assistant professor), a Jewish grandmother and a graphics designer at an ad agency, and, of course, Abigail, an airline stewardess. I’d tried to rent to a pair of Orly orphans, but their trustees cancelled the deposit checks. The Orly orphans, so named by Judith, because their wealthy parents had been on board an ill-fated art-buying expedition to Paris in 1961, had made a deep impression on me. Two girls about my age who were so well-tended they seemed much younger and hopelessly naïve. They had bland scrubbed faces, hair pulled back in plastic bands, identical beige dresses and attitudes of shy politeness. I thought I could convince them of anything, but the very next day a man identifying himself as their trustee told us who they were and where they would be living. It wasn’t on Biscayne Drive.
Patty wanted the Baker’s townhouse. “But you haven’t seen it,” I said.
“I’ve seen the townhouses here,” she said. “I was taken to a party here a few months ago. That’s how I heard about Arborgate.”
“I can show it to you now if you’d like,” I said. “The couple who live there are away for Christmas. But it’s a mess,” I warned her.
The Baker place was indeed a wreck and Patty’s enthusiasm visibly dampened.
“You’ll paint, of course,” she said. I nodded.
“I don’t suppose there’s an end unit available?”
“Not really,” I said.
“What does that mean?”
“Well, there will be one available next month. The tenant die---passed away recently and her family should be clearing it out soon, but it is paid up through January.” This was a lie. Abigail had not paid her rent but she had given me a month’s deposit and this could be used.
“Great!” she said, then looked guilty. “I’m sorry. I sound like I’m ready to jump in her grave.”
“It’s ok, I’m from New York. We read obituaries and real estate ads.”
“So can I see it?”