It was quiet in the house. The only sounds were the crackling of the logs in the fireplace. He had been working every spare minute to get the cottage ready so that he could move in before snow and the Christmas holiday came. He didn’t quite make it. The structure of the building had been repaired and it sported a new steel roof. The old, rotting wooden siding had been replaced with vinyl, and the porch was rebuilt with new wood. From the outside it was beautiful. On the inside, though, all seemed to be in a state of chaos. He had piled wood in the parlor and tools littered the living room. In the kitchen, new cherrywood kitchen cabinets were hanging over a black granite counter that was imbedded with gold metalflakes. The stove was an antique, an old kerosene range with a huge oven, that he’d found on Craigslist. It was old ivory, almost gold, with black trim. He had been working for a week to sand and refinish the hardwood floor leading from the kitchen into the dining room. Tonight he was cutting and installing the baseboards and trim. The kitchen looked pretty good now…., the rest of the house was a war zone.
Christmas had come and gone. The New Year was no longer new, Even Valentine’s Day had passed quietly with little notice. In all, though, the past two months had been a time of creative productivity. He’d completed refinishing all of the hardwood flooring, repaired and painted all of the interior walls, and installed a new bathroom, complete with a tiled shower and floor. The place was finally livable, except for the stairs and the upper level. He had scarcely touched them……, “out of sight, out of mind”. With all the commotion, dust, and dirt downstairs, Ghost had concluded that she was safer upstairs, away from the chaotic din down there. The lane had been completed. He’d gone into debt for that because he’d wanted something other than a gravel path. Thus, the gravel path became rolled, packed, and paved – 5 inches of asphalt…, a quarter mile long. He’d long since traded his nice car for a pickup with a snow plow on it as that seemed much more practical with his need to be hauling supplies and winter coming on.
In preparation for the winter, he’d cut and split about three cords of wood for the fireplace and set aside a lot of kindling for starting the fire. Good thing, as it was a frigid winter…, not so much snow, but cold, with an icy wind coming off the lake.
Tonight was “one of those nights”. He’d come home late from work, exhausted from hours of paperwork and phone calls. A quick dinner of a chicken pot pie and he sat back with the cat and listened to music on the stereo. He knew that he needed to get started on the stairs and the two bedrooms but his heart just wasn’t in it…, not tonight. Just too tired and his head drooped as he dozed off. Ghost, curled up in his lap, followed his lead and was soon sound asleep too.
“My, my, what a sweet scene.” The apparition drifted across the room, picking up a blanket that had been on a chair, and covered the two sleepers. “You’ve finally worn yourself out, haven’t you?”, she mused as she sat in the chair, quietly watching them sleep. She had watched all the while he’d rebuilt the fireplace and chimney, replaced the roof and siding and finished the downstairs of the cottage, never dreaming that it could ever look so grand as it did now. He’d been so driven, seemingly tireless as he went from one project to another over the weeks, months, but now was spent and finally had given himself permission to rest. She could tell that he’d fallen in love with the cottage, as had she when it had been originally built.
He woke in the wee hours of the morning, wondering how the blanked had appeared, how the fire had fresh logs, and the dishes in the sink had been cleaned. …….(she’s been here again, keeping tabs on me…, and the house)…. She hadn’t been there since before Christmas but there were telltale footprints in the sawdust on the floor. Did this little visit foretell something auspicious? He struggled up the steps, undressed, and was probably asleep again by the time his head hit the pillow. Ghost was quickly asleep by his side.
6:45…, the alarm went off and he rose to start his daily routine. Wait ! Today is Saturday !!! Oh, well, he thought. I’m awake now. Might as well do something. He dressed, fixed coffee, and made a list of things to buy at the lumberyard…, newels, risers, treads, and some carpeting to cover them, screws, nails, and few other miscellaneous items. He put Ghost’s food and water bowl at the top of the steps and was off.
He left his order at the lumberyard and went down to the café down the street for some breakfast. It was early and he was their only customer at the moment. About the time his order came to the table another customer drifted in. It was the clerk from the county tax office. She gave her order at the counter and came over to his table…
“Want some company?”
He nodded, “Sure, if you don’t mind being seen with someone as grubby looking as I must be this morning”.
She slipped into the booth and they were soon into a discussion about what was happening at the cottage. She’d heard that he was buying a lot of supplies, building materials, and appliances. Gossip spread quickly in a small town. He recounted what he’d done so far and that he was now starting on the stairway and the upstairs bedrooms and bathroom. She seemed surprised that there was a bathroom upstairs. He admitted that there hadn’t been but he was installing one.
“What do you have on tap for today?”, she asked.
“Stairway”, he replied, “new treads, risers, newels, and I’ll carpet them. Should look nice when I get finished.”
“What does a girl have to do to get an invitation to see this palace you’re building in the wilderness?”
“I think you just did it. I’m there most every weekday after 5 and almost every weekend. A lot to be done there yet, and when I finish the inside, there’s landscaping to be planned and planted and a garden. Just give me a call before you come out to be sure I’m there.” He wrote his phone number on a napkin and gave it to her.
“I have to confess, I saw you come over here and I wanted to talk with you about the property…, and its former owners. After you bought the property and left I started looking at the names on the documents again. After a little research with family members, it seems that I’m related to them. Marie Latimer was my grandmother’s sister. I never knew anything about any of this til yesterday evening. I took a chance that, being Saturday, you might come into town for supplies for the house. I’d really like to see it…, if I’m still invited, that is.”
He smiled, “Sure, I haven’t had any guests out there since I moved in. Hope you don’t mind ghosts. That’s my cat – Ghost.”
They finished their breakfasts and he went back to the lumberyard to pick up his order then headed back home.
Back at the cottage, he took up all the treads and risers from the steps and measured for the new ones which would be slightly deeper to make it more comfortable to go up and down. He cut, sanded, and stained the treads and risers an re-installed them on the stair. Next came the newels. Those were sanded and stained before replacing the old ones, which was a relatively easy job. He unrolled the carpeting, measuring, cutting, and fitting it to each tread so that it rolled over the front of the tread to the riser below and nailed it in place with large brass head nails…., all 10 steps. It gave the steps a “modern/rustic” look that was in keeping with the rest of the interior.
Ok, he thought to himself. Now for the bedrooms…, but they can wait til next week, I’m really tired. After a quick lunch, he stretched out on the sofa and dozed.
“I think you’re almost there…, finished with the house. I love everything that you have done…, and I love you. I’ll leave the upstairs to you…, and whomever you might share it with. Now it’s time for you. Time rebuild and put yourself in order like you have the cottage. Ghost is a wonderful companion, but you need something, someone more than a cat…., and she’s closer than you know.”
The dream ended and he woke, feeling like he’d just been lectured by his mother. About five minutes later the phone began to ring…