Fiction | ‘The Faber House’ by Peter Alterman

Allison stared at the screen of her cell phone, black letters on gray background. Buddy Faber dead? But she’d seen him only a few months ago. A reading from the new novel, Tock, at the Barnes & Noble in Holyoke. Then dinner along with the Chair of the English Department, her dissertation director and women from the bookstore. After that, just the two of them back to his hotel for a nightcap, sex and catching up.

He’d looked and sounded the same. Slight, sixty-ish, Southern. Still pounding back the Irish pretty good. And the sex was pretty good, too, a pleasant surprise after all the whiskey he’d put away. He’d said to her after their second time, stroking her inner thigh: “You know, when I was an undergraduate, gentlemen of a certain age weren’t allowed to entertain young women in their hotel rooms.” Not that she was, technically, a young woman any more. Not at 32.

Despite his hand’s promise she knew he was only a two shot man. So she slid his hand up to the warm place where she wanted it, guiding his fingers where she wanted them to go, do what she wanted them to do. “Then I’d say this is a real improvement,” she’d said.

Remembered: face flushed, pulse pounded.

In the morning he was up early packing, limo coming to drive him to Logan for an early flight to Atlanta. The next stop on his book tour. Still, he’d taken the time to make them both coffee from the in-suite machine. They’d sat on the edge of the bed together. “Come back to Richmond, stay with me this summer,” he’d said.

“Maybe I will,” she’d said.

And now this. Allison re-read the email from Buddy’s lawyer. He’d left her his house. The one on Strawberry Street next to the flower shop and across the street from Joe and Savannah’s bar. The lawyers could mail her the papers or meet with her after the funeral. Which was Tuesday. Of course she had to attend.

Why would he do that? What the hell did she need with his house?

It was almost summer and now she was going back to Richmond. But not to stay with Buddy. To bury him. It was cloudy and cold. The last of the dogwood blossoms blew in the air like reluctant snow. Allison looked at the mug in her hand and remembered the bitter K-pod coffee he’d made for her.

Buddy was gone. A spasm of grief filled her chest and overflowed in her eyes.

Her cell buzzed in her hand and she almost dropped it. It was her dissertation director. She answered.

“Allison, did you hear? Bud Faber—“

“Yes, I heard. It’s on—.”

“All the morning news shows,” he said. “Terrible. Only 63. He was just here flogging his latest. Got to read it. Soon as I finish the semester.”

The novel he was struggling to finish while they were together, summer before last. She said, “Listen. I’m going down to Richmond for his funeral now. I’ll be gone for a few days.”

After a moment’s hesitation, he said, “Not a problem. I know you two were, ah, friends. One of the TAs can cover your class if you need.”

“Thanks.” She tapped him off. His hesitations said it all. She could be flattered by his interest in her but she knew better. Her ex had been like that in the beginning.

Allison turned her attention to the practicalities. She called Savannah.

“Oh, it’s terrible, honey, it truly is.” Savannah sniffed.

“How did he die?” Allison said. “Where?”

“A cerebral aneurism. In the middle of giving a talk. In front of a roomful of people. Oh, awful. Just awful.” Savannah was crying.

“Oh. Oh, no,” Allison said. Savannah was right. Awful.

Savannah said, “I’m so glad you’re coming down. You’ll stay with us, of course.”

As always, her first impulse was wariness. Joe and Savannah had been like family to Buddy and she didn’t feel like part of that family. And yet, there was the house.

Savannah said, “Oh please, Ali. Stay with us. It’d be a comfort to me.”

Whether she thought of herself as part of Buddy’s family or not, Joe and Savannah and Buddy thought otherwise. “Sure,” she said. “I’ll be there before midnight.”

Within an hour she was packed, out of her condo and on her way south to Richmond. By the time her red Miata hit I-91 in Northampton she was already cruising at 90. About the time she picked up the Connecticut Turnpike the useless tears were dribbling out of her eyes again and snot leaking onto her upper lip.

Approaching Port Chester she thought about the weekend in New York she’d spent with him when he was there to give a talk at the 92nd Street Y. About Obituaries and Other Lies? What she remembered was the omakase at the sushi bar, just the two of them sitting hip to hip. Breakfast in bed at the Carlyle reading the Sunday New York Times, him the Opinion section, her the Arts. Only the sound of broadsheets rustling as they turned pages disturbed the quiet of their room.

She stopped for gas at the Walt Whitman service area on the New Jersey Turnpike. It reminded her of the panel at MLA where the professor from Tulane insisted on comparing Buddy unfavorably to Walker Percy. As a writer and as a Southerner. She’d held her temper in check during the session but afterwards she practically screamed her anger to Buddy in the speakers’ room.
He talked her down, hands on her shoulders, eye to eye. “His kind don’t bother me,” he’d said. “Us Virginians ain’t Southern enough for some. And we Episcopalians ain’t haunted enough, either.” She thought that was pretty funny.

On I-95 below the Washington Beltway, she remembered the last thing he’d ever said to her, trailing the words over his shoulder as he walked out of the hotel room in Holyoke: “In a way, Tock turned out to be a love song to you, Allison.”

The book’s dedication was to her: “For Auburn hair everywhere, with love.” Damn. Her eyes were wet again. What did she owe him for that? The speedo of her Miata read 95.“Fuuuucccckkk!” she screamed into the windshield.

Should she have stayed with him instead of coming back to Amherst? And what if she had stayed? What would she have done? Settle into a domestic routine, learn to knit and cook, subscribe to Southern Living? Join him at Joe and Savannah’s place across the street for morning whiskey and eggs, go to the farmers’ markets with his sisters, maybe even bear a brace of little Fabers?

She’d liked Buddy. Really liked him. Admired and respected him. Maybe loved him. But making a home for a man wasn’t what she’d planned for her life. That’s what it always came down to for a woman, wasn’t it? Mother taught her that. And yet, without being aware it was happening, Buddy had burrowed a place into her heart though she wasn’t aware of missing him between their occasional get-togethers.

More than anything she didn’t want to feel torn between resentment and sadness. But she was.
Allison cruised into the Fan District in darkness and parked her car under the familiar maple trees in front of Buddy’s white colonial. The windows were dark. No porch light glowed. It looked frozen in anticipation. Like a dog waiting at the door for its dead master.

She shook her head. Merely a symptom of low blood sugar. A house is a house, empty or full. The rest is just chemistry.

Joe and Savannah’s place across the street was closed on account of Buddy’s death. She called to say she was out front and was instructed to come around the side. Allison pulled her rollaway out of the Miata’s tiny trunk, dragged it across the street and down the narrow walkway on the side of the bar.
Savannah was waiting for her with the old wooden screen door open. They hugged for a long minute, both of then sniffing back tears. “C’mon in honey,” Savannah said. The door banged shut behind them and they climbed the stairs.

Joe and Savannah owned the building that housed their tavern on Strawberry Street and lived upstairs. “Buddy bought the building with proceeds from ICUCMe,” Joe told her two summers ago, “And gave it to us outright. Gave it to Savannah, really, when he saw how we were together.”

She surrendered herself to their hospitality. A vat of Joe’s chili simmered on the range. A cooler under the table was filled with bottles of local lager. Savannah filled their bowls. Joe popped the caps off bottles and passed them out. They sat around the Formica kitchen table long into the night reciting well-worn Buddy stories. That’s what Allison called them, Buddy stories, many new to her. It was the best kind of wake. The wake he deserved.

Savannah put her feet up on Joe’s thigh and wiggled her toes. “Did he ever tell you about the time Aunt Elizabeth kidnapped him from his crib and had him baptized in the creek before his mother could rescue him?”

“No!” Allison said. “Really?”

Joe laughed, massaging Savannah’s feet. “Yup. His Aunt Elizabeth was dunking him in the water like a donut in coffee. He came down with pneumonia and almost died.”

Laughing, Allison said, “If it were my kid I’d’ve killed the woman.”

“Buddy’s Ma did throw her out of the house,” Savannah said. “And to this day Aunt Elizabeth lives in the same shack by the river at the edge of the family estate. An eyesore the Country Club next door hates.”

“’Cause of the outdoor privies,” Joe said. Savannah laughed.

“No!” Allison said.

“Course not. It’s just a ramshackle cottage,” Joe said. “You know why the U awarded him an honorary doctorate but refused to grant him his bachelor’s degree, don’t you?”

“No. I’ve seen the fancy proclamation in his office,” Allison said. “How could he not graduate?”

“Failed to complete a no-credit phys ed requirement,” Joe said. “Tennis, wasn’t it?” he asked Savannah. She nodded.

“Why didn’t he finish?”

Joe said, “Because he had to go to Vanderbilt to accept a short story award. Five hundred bucks. The coach was a douche and wouldn’t excuse him or let him make up the classes. So he said fuck it and went anyway.”

Allison raised her bottle. “That was Buddy,” she said. They clinked bottles and emptied them.

Savannah put her feet on the floor. Joe collected empties and dropped them in a paper sack beside his chair. He said, “Honey, grab the bottle of Irish.” When they all had full shot glasses they raised them. Joe said, “Here’s to Buddy.”

Allison and Savannah echoed him. “Here’s to Buddy.”

Allison downed the whiskey, hardly tasting it. Her throat clamped shut and her face turned red. She coughed and gasped. They waited patiently for her to catch her breath, then Joe handed out refills of beer and whiskey.

“He told you why he never cooked at home, didn’t he?” Savannah said.

Allison nodded her head, “Oh, yes. He was kind of, I don’t know, proud of it.” Though she knew that they knew the story better than she did, it was her turn to tell a Buddy story so she continued, “He said he was frying bacon in a skillet for breakfast and stepped away, got distracted by something. Next thing he knew flames were erupting from the skillet. So he grabbed it and threw it in the sink and turned on the water. Exactly the wrong thing to do, because greasy black smoke filled the whole apartment. Turned the walls black and gray. Billowed out the open windows. The fire department came. He had to pay ServiceMaster to clean it all up, then the landlord kicked him out.”

“Supposed to use a dry chemical extinguisher on grease fires, not water,” Joe said.

Savannah said, “You’re a cook. You know that. Bet he didn’t even have a fire extinguisher in the apartment.” After a heartbeat she said, “’Course he didn’t. How would he know? His mama didn’t cook.”

“Mine didn’t, either,” Allison said. “So I never learned.”

“Really? You don’t cook? Some of my best memories are being in a warm kitchen with my mama,” Savannah said.

Allison looked down. “I don’t have any best memories of my mother. She left when I was eight.” Savannah reached out and touched Allison’s shoulder. Allison smiled at her. “But we did make tea in the mornings, Buddy and me. Then he’d come over to your place. He insisted on eating whatever you made.”

“And you’d wander over eventually to drag him back to work,” Savannah said.

“Men expect that of us, don’t they?” Allison said. They laughed. It was a joke. But it wasn’t, really. Not to her.

There were more stories. Buddy’s life was a collection of stories. But then, everyone’s life was a collection of stories. This was one of her good ones, now.

In the morning Allison woke on the living room sofa with a crushing headache and a case of corpse mouth. Standing in front of the bathroom mirror with sunlight glinting off her auburn hair she said, “What do I need his house for?” She didn’t have an answer.

She dressed and went downstairs to the bar for coffee. Joe and Savannah opened every morning at six for the breakfast trade. When he was in town Buddy was almost always their only early morning customer and of course that was reason enough to open. After 10 things got busy with kids from VCU and locals on morning beer break.

Allison stopped in the open doorway. From behind her, perfect golden-yellow morning light flowed in, adding an oiled glow to every color, mahogany paneling, oak floor, shiny brass fittings, gleaming glassware, maroon booths. She was transported back to the summer she’d lived with Buddy.

His absence was an empty hole in the room. Behind the bar, Joe looked up. Their eyes met. He gestured to a stool in front of him and turned to pour a mug of coffee for her. He took down a bottle of Jameson’s and poured a generous shot into the coffee.

“In honor of Buddy,” he said. Buddy had started every day with Irish in his coffee.

“Of course.” Despite her hangover she smiled and drank.

Savannah came out around the end of the bar carrying two plates of toast and eggs in her hands and a copy of the morning’s Times-Dispatch stuck tucked beneath one armpit. When she saw Allison she said to Joe, “I’ll make you a plate in a bit.” He nodded. The women sat at the bar shoulder to shoulder and ate.

“You had no idea he was giving you his house?” Savannah said.

Allison shook her head. “It was only really that one summer. That and a few weekends here and there.”

“That’s all it takes sometimes,” Savannah said.

Savannah and Joe she could see. But her and Buddy? “God damn,” she said. And then, “God damn! What did he have to go and do that for? Did he expect me to drop my whole life and come down here to live and take care of his house for him? What the fuck?”

She pushed herself away from the bar and stormed out. Morning sun was heating up the cracked asphalt on Strawberry Street. Allison stood on the sidewalk just beyond the doorway and looked at Buddy’s house. “God damn,” she whispered. Tears filled her eyes. Something had been there. With him. With Buddy.

Savannah came up and put her arm around Allison’s shoulders. “Sucks he’s gone,” she said.
Allison leaned her head against Savannah’s. “I don’t know what to do.” They stood that way for a few moments.

“Want to go over and check it out?” Savannah said. “I got a key.”

Of course they had a key. She sniffed and wiped her wet cheeks with her palms. “Sure, why not.”

The air in the house was still, dust motes floating weightless in thick shafts of sunlight. The faintest hint of mildew rising from the basement, mixing with disinfectant from the powder room. Piles of books and papers covering every horizontal surface in the dining room and the parlor, even on chairs and sofa cushions. Bookcases on either side of the picture window were crammed with books and papers. His National Book Award lay on its side, abandoned atop one of the bookcases.

The silence pressed against Allison’s eardrums, a physical discomfort. She was listening for Buddy: his tread on the floor upstairs, the creak of the old wooden chair in his front bedroom office.

They walked through the house room by room. Evidence of Buddy’s unexpected death was everywhere, from the half-finished Times-Dispatch crossword puzzle on the kitchen counter to the towel on the floor in his bathroom to the unmade bed that Allison knew so well. And that Savannah knew well, too, before Joe. That made Allison smile. Ah, Buddy.

The doorbell chimed. Allison hurried down the stairs and opened the door. An old woman stood there ramrod straight, rail-thin, bony shouldered and white-haired, with a sharp nose and prominent cheekbones under reddened skin. She wore a shapeless ankle-length brown cotton dress that hung like a sack on her. Her eye sockets were deep and dark. Her lips were thin and cracked. There was something of Buddy in her face.

“Come in, Aunt Elizabeth,” Allison said, standing back. Savannah watched from the bottom of the stairs.

Aunt Elizabeth shook her head. She handed a set of keys to Allison. Through tightened lips she said, “It’s your house now.” Then she turned and walked away, stiff little bird steps, dress barely shifting.

“Whoa, she’s not happy with you,” Savannah said.

“I didn’t ask him for this goddamn house.”

“If I was you, I’d change the locks.”

Allison shook her head. “Nah. She’s a Christian woman. She wouldn’t break a commandment if her life depended on it.”

Buddy’s funeral was scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday. Joe and Savannah closed the bar and walked with Allison to St. Paul’s Church in the center of town. The street in front of it was crowded with all kinds of people, Allison recognized a coming-together of Buddy’s disparate families, the blood relatives, the literati, the press, the locals who knew him, the neighbors who lived around him, the friends he made family. Reporters crowded the concrete steps of the church trolling for celebrities both artistic and political, making it difficult for them to pass inside. Joe pushed his way through the mob, Savannah and Allison trailing in his wake. The vestibule was even more crowded.

Feeling awkward about Buddy’s bequest, Allison hoped to avoid his family altogether. But there they were, a receiving line, standing in front of the bronze double doors that opened to the sanctuary. There was no avoiding them. She walked the line, shaking hands and murmuring condolences: Buddy’s sisters Fern and Lily, who smelled a little of bourbon; Fern’s husband Mike and their two sons.

Allison smiled, seeing Aunt Elizabeth looking uncomfortable inside an Episcopal church with polished oak pews and plush red cushions, a massive pipe organ and gorgeous stained glass windows that spewed bright colors across the room. A church that could easily be mistaken for Catholic but for the absence of Jesus tortured and dying on the cross. Aunt Elizabeth offered a limp hand. Allison took it cautiously.

Once inside they settled themselves in a pew near the back. Hands waved to each other across the sanctuary. Many locals were there. Allison recognized two women wearing black whose flower shop was next door to Buddy’s house. She overheard a woman in the pew behind them whispering to her neighbor the details of Buddy’s death. Hearing it this time she could see it as if she’d been there, see Buddy standing at the podium talking, see the instant of surprise in his eyes, seeing him crumple, dead before his body hit the floor. The image drew a rush of grief that rose from her chest up her throat and splashed into her face. Tears traced lines down her cheeks.

She remembered the last words she’d said to him: “Maybe I will.” How cold that sounded. Allison sniffed and wiped her face with a handkerchief. She could be so unthinking.

The urn with Buddy’s ashes stood on a white and gold granite pedestal in front of the first row. So much gold: on the urn enclosing Buddy’s ashes; adorning the priest’s robes; the altar railing; the twin candlesticks that were lit during the service. Which was long. And hot. They stood. They sat. They sang together. They chanted responsively. Many around her lined up in the aisles waiting to take communion.

After the offering of the Host came the eulogy. The priest went on about Buddy’s contributions to American literature, his love of family and Virginia. No word about his drinking, a family trait, or his women—Allison and Savannah among them. The Mayor spoke of Buddy’s contribution to Richmond’s storied history. The President of the University thanked Buddy for the gift of his letters and the stipend he donated to fund a fellowship in his name.

Though Allison knew what to expect, she was still depressed by it all. It was so not-Buddy. But the funeral was for Fern and Lily and Aunt Elizabeth. For his readers and admirers and friends. For the reporters outside on the steps of the church. For his future biographers.

When the service was over they joined the line of people shuffling out. As they were about to exit the sanctuary there was a tap on Allison’s shoulder. It was Fern, standing behind her.

“Ms. Stone,” Fern said.

She felt Joe moved closer to her for protection. Allison smiled him away. “Mrs. Marshall?”

“Yes.” Fern smiled. “Do you have a few minutes to spare for us now? The family would like to discuss the estate.”

Savannah said, “We’ve already heard from the family, Mrs. Marshall.”

Fern sighed. “I’m sorry about Aunt Eliza. But please, over here. Just a few minutes of your time.”

Family business. Allison had put family business behind her years ago. But these people had just lost their brother. She should take time for them. “Of course.”

“We’ll wait for you right here,” Joe said. Savannah nodded agreement. They slid into the rear pew and sat, watching.

At the front of the sanctuary the priest shook hands with the family. Then he put a hand on the urn holding Buddy’s ashes, his priestly farewell. He turned and left through a side door. Fern led Allison to the family. Aunt Elizabeth and the boys stood apart. Handshakes again with Lily and Mike.

“It’s nice to meet you properly,” Lily said.

“You meant a lot to Bud,” Fern said. “He told us.”

A moment too slow Allison said, “He meant a lot to me, too.”

“He mentioned he’d seen you recently,” Lily said. “A few months ago?”

Allison nodded. “March. In Amherst. It was good to see him again. I had no idea.”

Lily said, “None of us did.” She shook her head. “Our big brother. Only 63. Would have been 64 next month.”

“Never even made it to Medicare, not that he needed government money,” Mike said. The women looked at him.

Lily turned to Allison. “So. We don’t want to keep you.”

“Yes,” Fern said. “We know Bud left you his house. The lawyers have been in touch. And, well, we’re sorry about the other day with Aunt Eliza.”

Fern said. “You see, before he’d changed his will in your favor he’d promised the house to Aunt Eliza.” Aunt Elizabeth glared at Allison from ten feet away.

“Oh. I see,” Allison said.

“Not a problem,” Lily said. “After all, it was Bud’s home and he had every right to do with it what he wanted.”

“But we’d like to know—,” Mike said.

Lily silenced him with a slash of her hand. “We were wondering if you’ve thought about what you want to do with it.”

“Do you plan on living in the house? Moving here?” Fern said.

Allison shook her head. How could she know? “I only just found out about the house,” she said, “and it’s come as a shock. So. I’m not sure. Maybe after? I don’t know.”

Mike spoke up again. “Bud left his literary stuff to the University library.”

Fern said, “Yes, there is that. All his papers, documents, awards, all that.”

Suppressing an impulse to resist, Allison instead said, “Of course. And heirlooms, too, they should go to the family.”

“That’s very kind of you,” Lily said. “We should agree on a time for us to go through the house with you.”

“So you don’t think we’re stealing anything,” Mike said.

“Mike,” Lily said sharply.

“I just mean–”

“Mike. Please.”

He frowned.

Misunderstood again. Allison imagined being married to a Faber woman could be difficult. Was she like them? A difficult woman? Was that why Buddy had loved her? Brandon-the-ex had said as much about her. But Brandon was an asshole.

Lily said, “How long will you be staying? When would be convenient for us to come over?”

She’d been hoping to return home after the funeral but the business with the house complicated things. She could set up her laptop in the kitchen and get work done. She had a bunch of essays to read.

“Well, I’ve got—okay, how about tomorrow morning at 9?”

Fern said, “That would suit me just fine.”

Lily nodded. “Thank you so much, Ms. Stone.”

“Allison.”

“Allison. Thank you.”

“And you,” Allison said. “My condolences.”

“Thank you.”

Another round of hand shaking, this time with the sisters only, and Allison escaped to Savannah and Joe waiting for her at the back of the church. They put their heads together.

“Well?” said Savannah.

“Could have gone worse,” Allison said. “Turns out Buddy promised the house to Aunt Elizabeth before he changed his will.”

Savannah giggled. “That explains it.”

Outside on the top step of the church they paused to look around. It was summer-warm and Virginia-humid in the heart of Richmond. The reporters were gone. The last of the funeral attendees were crossing the street to the Capitol’s park. Unheeding traffic crawled past.

Allison took a deep breath, blew it out, and said, “I need a drink.”

Joe said, “Amen, sister.”

Next morning at nine sharp Allison unlocked the front door of the house. She went through it, upstairs and down, opening shades and windows to let in morning light and morning air, then started water for tea.

She made a mental note to buy a Nespresso machine for the kitchen. Maybe replace the pine cabinets with cherry, put in a granite countertop, stainless steel refrigerator and oven. Allison stopped her racing thoughts. What was she thinking? There was a knock on the front door. She’d have to put in a video doorbell, one with Internet connectivity. Allison shook her head, frustrated with herself.

It was the estate lawyer. “Thanks so much for coming,” Allison said.

“After you explained what was happening this morning I felt it was necessary to supervise,” the lawyer said. “I also let the University know. They’ll probably show up, too.”

“Good. Thanks.” The kettle whistled from the kitchen. She led the lawyer into the kitchen. There was a knock at the back door. The Faber women.

“Come in, come in,” Allison said, unlocking the back door and standing back to let them in.

Fern, Lily and Aunt Elizabeth entered carrying canvas bags and cardboard boxes. Shifting them around, Fern and Lily shook hands, murmured morning pleasantries. Aunt Elizabeth sidled in and avoided looking at Allison. “See you got the lawyer here,” she said.

Allison ignored her and poured boiling water into two mugs. She dropped two tea bags into the mugs and gave one to the lawyer. Taking family heirlooms was fine, but she wasn’t going to let anyone claim the living room sofa was a family heirloom. Not that she wanted it, exactly.

When the university librarians showed up the lawyer went off with them. They sorted papers into careful piles, boxing them in labeled plastic bins, toting them out to a van waiting in the alley behind the house. The family gathered ceramic tchotchkes, photos in silver frames, paintings and prints off the walls. All day long people tromped through the house, their shoes clomping overhead and under foot, people shuffling in and out of rooms, climbing and descending stairs, doors banging as people went out carrying boxes and bags of Buddy’s things.

Allison sat at the kitchen table with her laptop open, unable to concentrate. Her hands rested unmoving on the pine tabletop. Seeing Buddy’s things carried away disturbed her but she couldn’t quite understand why. After all, she didn’t need what they were taking and God knew Buddy was beyond caring. But it was disquieting.

Around seven silence descended as everyone left. Allison went around the house closing windows and locking up. In every room there was evidence of pillage. The shelves in Buddy’s office were bereft of papers. His laptop was gone. His awards and trophies were gone. In his bedroom the walls were empty. The dresser top was bare. Even the open tube of toothpaste was gone from the bathroom sink: Aunt Elizabeth making a statement. Downstairs the parlor walls were empty. The papers that had been everywhere were gone. It was as if Buddy had been vacuumed out of his house, leaving merely a—house.

Trying to be considerate she’d offered the family Buddy’s things, not realizing the effect it would have on her. She wandered back to the kitchen and sat at the table in the chair where she’d spent many mornings drinking tea with him. Reading the paper with him. He’d do the crossword. She’d eat her yogurt and granola. And as he’d leave for Joe and Savannah’s he’d kiss the part on the top of her head.

Finally, in the emptiness he’d left she saw what she’d overlooked. An easy man to live with who asked nothing more of her than to be who she was. Men like that were myths, her mother had said, like unicorns. Only he had been real. A man who’d asked nothing of her, until he did, at the end.

Too late. Ah. What good was the house to her if Buddy wasn’t there? Maybe she’d just sell it. Take the money. Add it to the piles in her bank accounts.

There was a knock at the back door and Savannah came in. “Are you okay?”

Allison’s eyes were red and wet but she said, “Yes, of course. They took almost everything that was Buddy. Like a plague of locusts. So Biblical.” She sniffed. “God, I’m beginning to talk like Aunt Elizabeth.”

Savannah put a hand on Allison’s arm. She said, “With or without his stuff in it, this house will always be The Faber House.”

Allison laughed. “Sounds like a B&B”

Savannah said, “Hey! My mama runs a B&B in Charleston.”

Of course.

Of course.

Forget selling it. She said, “So how about turning this one into a B&B?”

“A great idea! And I’d love to,” Savannah said. “I worked in them growing up.” Her voice drooped. “We can’t afford it. We barely break even on the bar and that’s with owning the building.”

But Allison wasn’t going to overlook this opportunity as she’d overlooked Buddy. “I own the place free and clear,” she said, “And there’s something like ten thousand a year for maintenance and taxes. So what if I took out a mortgage and paid you and Joe to turn it into a B&B and run it? We can be partners. Fifty-fifty. I put in the money, you put in the labor.”

“If you’re serious,” Savannah said, “I’ll do it. We’ll do it.” She hugged Allison. “But I gotta talk to Joe.”

If Savannah wanted it, Joe would want it. They were that kind of couple. In the morning she’d call the lawyers. Family business.

Peter Alterman is a member of The Writer’s Center (Bethesda, MD) and has published science fiction literary fiction, popular fiction and literary criticism. Recent fiction publications include “They’re Playing Our Song” and “Perfect Time for Morning Coffee” in Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine #12, Spring/Summer 2020

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