The Peacemaker's Patch - Preview

My name is Mona Lisa Brown. Yes, that’s my actual name. A cruel joke my late parents played on me when I was born–likely trying to spice up our lackluster last name. Instead, it has caused me no end of problems in grade school and aggravation whenever my full name is required. As if the name Mona isn’t bad enough, they had to layer on ‘Lisa,’ eternally connecting me with a 16th-century oil painting that, frankly, isn’t that impressive. That pretty much sums me up–not that impressive. Five-foot-four inches tall, brown hair, brown eyes, one hundred and thirty-five pounds, give or take the week; average build, average intelligence. I blend in everywhere; nothing notable about me. And worse still, I can’t stand conflict, so it’s not like I am known for anything at all because I never have the courage to take a risk. It’s far easier to change direction. This is me–nothing remarkable about my life. At least, this was true until I arrived in Buckley Brook, heralded as the home of Charles Theodore Baker Buckley, founder of the prestigious Buckley University in 1893. Buckley Brook, where my ordinary life became extraordinary.


                 I rushed down the sidewalk, scanning for the house numbers on the brick century homes that lined the street. This would be the eighteenth apartment I had viewed over the last four days. They blurred together in my mind. This had to work out, but showing up late would not help my chances. “Where is this place?” I muttered, adjusting my backpack, still damp from the torrential rain the day before. My shoes were also damp. For half the day yesterday, they made a splorching noise with each step. I’m sure showing up like a drowned rat in the rain with splorching shoes didn’t help my chances of renting any of those apartments. “Rent me the apartment. Of course, I have enough money to pay the rent. I do dry up nicely.” I took a big breath and sighed. “Thank goodness it stopped raining. It’s a fresh start.”

                Finally, I saw number 26. The house was a red brick heritage home with an addition on the right side, making it very large. “I wonder how many apartments are in this house?” As I stared up at the large building, a round face popped up out of the garden into my view, a bit too close for my liking.    

“Five to be exact, well, four–plus ours at the back. You must be Mona. I’m Ethyl Findler,” she said, all business. She dusted the earth from gardening off her hands by clapping them together and stuck a chubby hand out at me in greeting. We shook hello. She was certainly stronger than she appeared to be, a short, compact woman, stocky in stature, about five feet tall. Ethyl looked like a short version of one of those shot-put throwers you see every four years in the Olympics on TV, surprisingly limber for their size. Her feet were small, like her hands and covered in black ankle boots that zipped up the middle, and she had a well-worn brown leather bag slung across her left shoulder.

                “Alright then, you’re late, so let’s get to it.”

                “Yes, I’m sorry. It…” I explained, but she was determined to keep things moving.

                “As I said, this is a five-unit house. We’re looking at the main floor unit today. A lovely unit. Just lovely. Shall we?”

While listening to Ethyl, I noticed her piercing green eyes. They were striking, next to her straight black hair, cut chin-length. I followed her along a stone path through the garden toward the front door. A beautiful, wide staircase of six steps extended down from the front porch that extended across the entire exterior of the house. Wow! I imagined sitting on the porch on a sunny day.

“What a magnificent spot. It expands the size of the apartment having this outdoor area.”

                Ethyl ascended the stairs faster than I expected her to move in her floral dress. I hurried to keep up with her, but realized as she stopped on the stairs that I hadn’t been listening to the conversation. I paused daydreaming and snapped back to the present, trying to catch up and not look foolish. “We have owned this house for 38 years now. Many people have lived here, some real characters. I don’t have time for funny business, you know, so you better not be bringing any funny business.” She looked at me over the top of her glasses. “What brings you to Buckley Brook?”

                I considered my answer. Buckley Brook…Buckley Brook. Is Mona Lisa actually going to move to Buckley Brook? If 28 years of being Mona Lisa Brown don’t get you, just add ‘of Buckley Brook’ to the mix.

It took me a moment to respond to Ethyl’s question. “I’m tired of the pace of the city. My aunt used to live here, and I would visit when I was young. It’ll be a nice change of pace, I think. I’m a bookkeeper. I believe this town could give me the added option to continue my education part-time at the university.”

                She turned down her mouth and gave me a skeptical look. “And how are you funding this move from the city?” she asked.

                Before I could answer, the storm door flew open and a massive man stumbled out of the door with a thud, winded by whatever he had been doing. He was tall and lanky, well over six feet, wearing gray pants, a brown leather belt, and a collared plaid shirt. I could see a bit of white undershirt peeking out of his button-up. I noticed his extremely large brown loafers, size 14 at least. When he noticed me, he adjusted his disheveled clothing and greeted me with a wide smile.

“Well, hello, you must be here to view the unit. She’s all fixed up and ready to go. This apartment has seen a lot of miles. I remember when we first bought this place…”

                “Now, now, Randy, let’s not get sentimental,” Ethyl cut in, giving him a look that conveyed she would take it from here. As we passed on the stairs, Randy gave me a mischievous smile and a wink. My eyes followed him down the stairs, lumbering along the path. I couldn’t resist smiling. I faced Ethyl and took notice of the garden. It was still early spring, but I could see little plants peeking through the ground. “I can see your garden is coming to life. I bet this is quite something to see in full bloom.”

                Ethyl smiled at me for the first time. “Yes, I love this time of year. This is my pride and joy. I spend hours here planting, weeding, and moving things around.”

“My Aunt Audry had a beautiful garden. That’s my best memory of Buckley Brook as a kid. We used to spend hours in the garden with Aunt Audry when we would visit.”

                Ethyl’s grin widened and her demeanor shifted. It’s like her guard came down just a little. “You’re Audry’s niece? She was a dear friend of mine. She owned a property up on Morgan’s Way. We spent hours and hours playing cards and drinking her homemade lemonade in that garden. Oh, those lemons were so sour, but somehow Audry worked magic with them to make her famous lemonade. Do you know she started them from tiny plants inside in her solarium? What a labor of love! She fussed over those things, pruning and fertilizing. They weren’t suitable for our climate, but she was a miracle gardener. I was so sad when she had to sell that place and move away.”

                As fast as it had come, the smile faded from Ethyl’s face, and she returned to the present task at hand. “All right then, let’s look at this apartment.” She reverted to the all business tone of voice she had met me with earlier.

I admired the covered porch that spanned the width of the house. This alone topped my shoebox apartment with no balcony in the city. The large front door was impressive. This must have been the front entrance to the house at one time before they segmented it into apartments. What a house this must have been. Inside, the light struck me, pouring in through the large windows, the tall ceilings, gorgeous wood floors and ornate wood trim still preserved after so many years. The house had a feeling of comfort and warmth, so different from my place in the city.

Positioned on the right of the front entrance was a very comfortable-looking sitting room with an enormous window overlooking the porch. I could imagine spending a lot of time in this room, especially when winter arrived, and the porch area was less inviting. The kitchen was on the far side of the room and its modern layout surprised me in this older home. All the other apartments I had looked at in older homes were a series of small rooms. I could envision myself preparing dinner at the counter facing the sitting area and looking out into the garden. It would be a wonderful view while cooking. Maybe the surroundings would help my cooking abilities. Doubtful, but at least I could wreck food in style.

                Along the hall were two large bedrooms with a bathroom, which looked freshly renovated. There was a one-piece acrylic tub and shower on the outside wall. Since the ceilings in the house were so high, above it was a long, narrow frosted window, which lit up the bathroom. The vanity looked new too and had great storage, with shelves inside and three stacked drawers.

                At the end of the hall on the right was the door to the main bedroom. Its size amazed me because it was large enough to accommodate a small sofa. The entire apartment felt huge compared to those in the city. “The house is in beautiful condition.”

                “Yes, it’s all, Randy. He’s a stickler for detail. Loves the old wood,” she said, shaking her head.

                “I can see myself living here. It’s a wonderful apartment.”

                We spent the next few minutes talking about details about the apartment—heat, water, electricity, and all the costs per month. “I didn’t notice the parking. Where do residents and visitors park?” I asked.

Ethyl didn’t miss a beat. “Adjacent to the house is a narrow driveway leading to a large parking lot.” There’s plenty of parking there for everyone. Randy and I park there, too. Our entrance door is at the back. Shall we take a walk over there? Do you have a vehicle? I noticed you arrived on foot today.”

“I don’t have a need for a car in the city right now with public transit being so convenient and parking so terribly expensive, but I can see it would be very handy to have a vehicle in Buckley Brook.”

                We walked out of the unit and Ethyl pulled the door closed behind us. I paused on the garden path to let Ethyl lead the way around the building. We walked along a stone pathway that snaked around what I imagined would be a stunning spring garden in just a few weeks. As we rounded the corner, a man in his early thirties stopped to avoid crashing into us. He stepped off the path into the surrounding gravel to allow us to pass by. “Oh, hello, Mrs. Findler,” he said. “Hard at work renting that main floor apartment today?”

“Always hard at work, Max. That’s what keeps this place running, you know; hard work.”

“True enough!”

                “And I told you to call me Ethyl!”

                “Sure thing, Mrs. Findler, err… Ethyl.” Before he dashed off, he flashed a wide grin at me. “Welcome to the building!”

                “That’s Max,” Ethyl said. She continued down the path toward the parking area.

                I turned and followed Ethyl in a bit of a daze. “Where’s he heading off to so quickly?”

                “He’s a Ph.D. student, studying computer engineering at the university. Not just a pretty face, that one. Works hard, too,” Ethyl said. I sensed a deep respect for hard work with Ethyl and made a mental note of that.

A huge black and white Maine Coon cat bolted from the back toward us at breakneck speed. As it approached me, I could see an enormous fish in its mouth. Hot on its tail was Randy–screaming as he chased it. With his left hand waving in the air and the right holding what looked like a shotgun, he roared, “Thief! Get back here, you thief!”

                Randy’s long legs allowed him to close the distance in only a few strides. I took a step back toward the house to let the commotion through. But just as the huge sticky-pawed feline and its red-hot fish slid past, Ethyl stepped in front of Randy, and it forced him to end his pursuit.

                “Not today, Randy. As angry as that cat makes you, we don’t need more trouble from the city by-law officer for shooting cats with bean bags. Do you remember the last time?” I couldn’t help the stunned look that crossed my face. Randy, clearly annoyed and defeated, succumbed to Ethyl’s convincing argument and stomped through the parking area, gun in hand, head hung low. “Damn cats. Out to get me and my fish. No good. No good comes from a cat!” I heard him sputtering as he rounded the corner.

                “As you might have determined, this is a no-cat house,” Ethyl said.

                “That’s fine with me. I am very allergic to cats.

Where did that big cat come from? And what on earth does Randy do to the neighbors? This house is definitely shaping up to be far more interesting than my dull little apartment in the city.

The parking area in front of us was a large gravel lot at the edge of the house with ample room for residents and guests to park. Halfway along the side of the house was another entrance. At the top of five wide concrete steps sat a landing. This entrance had a large wooden door with a small glass window in it. The area looked different from the front side of the house. I assumed it was an addition to convert the house into separate apartments.

                As if reading my mind, Ethyl ambled up the stairs and opened the entrance door for us. “This is the entrance for three of the apartments. There is one unit in the basement where Max lives. Then there are two twin units upstairs. Inside this doorway are all the mailboxes for the house with a spot for large parcels, too.” I took a quick glance inside and noticed a set of stairs on the left heading downstairs and another larger set on the right leading upstairs with five keyed mailboxes inset into the wall just inside the door on our right.

                After she closed the door, we walked back toward the street. It certainly is a well-kept house both inside and outside. Besides their idiosyncrasies, the landlords seem to genuinely care about maintaining a nice place to live. This town has its quirks, but perhaps this is just what I need in my life right now.

                Lost in contemplation, I missed Ethyl’s question. I could feel her getting frustrated with me. “I’m sorry. I was deep in thought, processing the fabulous tour you just gave me. Can you repeat your question, please?”

                “I asked if you’re interested in taking the apartment,” she said.

                Without hesitating, I confirmed. “Yes, I am very interested in renting the apartment.”

                We discussed the details around the application process, and I wrote Ethyl a check to hold my spot. I agreed to email the application documents over to her later that evening. We parted ways, and I made my way back down the street with a newfound spring in my step. With the beginning of the next month rapidly approaching, I was relieved to have found an apartment. I started thinking about moving arrangements and a smile crossed my face for the first time in a long time. I actually felt a glimmer of excitement, eager to begin this new adventure.

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