They call it an “estate sale” in real estate lingo. In layman’s terms it is nothing more than a house with a deceased owner and an unpaid mortgage. No family willing or able to make a claim or settle the books. A faceless bank with no need for a house.
I accompany my favorite realtor, the Redhead, to show this house at the end of an isolated country road. I am the protector on rural properties, well-armed and well-schooled in matters of country dangers.
A potential buyer is to arrive in 30 minutes, allowing my charge just enough time to open doors and conduct a quick inspection.
I stroll the grounds. A small lawn with woods alongside. Well-tended once, southern standards now fading away from neglect: knockout rose, dogwood, camellia, and crepe myrtle. A bird-feeder in the likeness of a covered bridge hangs precariously from a frayed string on a maple limb. A stone walkway from front door to back, now crooked and askew.
No sign of the customer, so I wander inside. The rooms are mostly ransacked, an overturned chair here, a broken end-table there. A large stack of old VHS tapes on a table catches my eye. Handwritten labels: “Aus Bitburg In Der Eifel” and “Lustige Musikanten.” A few titles in English: “A Journey from the Alps to the North Sea.” Even some American films in the pile (if you consider “Robocop” a film), but the German tapes predominate.
A closet holds other surprises: a faded envelope with a postmark that reads “Deutsche Post.” A brightly colored pint-size paper box in the shape of a cottage. Two children on one side, a grotesque witch on the other. I turn it over: it is a container for lebkuchen, a kind of gingerbread Christmas treat.
A black car pulls-up in the drive, but it is not the overdue customer. It is the Law around these parts. Muscular, heavy-set Black man, the kind that would not have to say “get down on the ground” twice.
Convinced that we are not robbers, introductions are made. The Redhead offers a tour, but he says he has been here before.
I must ask: “Did you know this lady?”
“Oh yes, I stopped by to check on her whenever I was in the neighborhood.”
“Did she have family? Friends?”
“No, she didn’t have nobody as far as I know. Didn’t even know who I was down toward the end.”
We talk more. I ask about the German angle. He says there are lots of people of German descent in the area.
“Do you know of any others around here that are completely alone like she was? Someone who might need some company? Some help?”
“Yes I can think of about ten off the top of my head. You want some names and addresses?
“Yeah, I think I do.”
“Stop by the station next week and I’ll have you a list.”
He drives away. The customer finally arrives 30 minutes later, now over an hour late. His name is Jesus, but he is not my Saviour. I stay outside and keep my mouth shut. I am just the guard dog. I do not bark or bite unless commanded. Good boy.
Jesus’s pick-up truck is a tricked-out lowrider. Big money in that ride. I notice four soldered-over bullet holes in the radiator.
A few minutes later agent and customer emerge. Agent provide information about sources of financing, but Jesus always pays cash if he decides to buy.
The Bible says you should tell people about Jesus if you know him. I might mention him to my new friend when I stop by the station to get the list of loneliness.
Later that night I sit on my porch and have a vision of Ursula in that little house at the end of the road. She sits alone, illumined only by the light of a television, remembering happier days at Zuhause.