by Tony Noland
The old house creaked and moaned. For fifty-two years, ever since the previous owner had built it with his own hands, it had been a solid, quiet house. Now, after half a year of being cold and empty, the house seemed to protest every move the new owner made. Doors stuck in their hinges, heavy old light switches resisted her fingers, floors noisily protested her every step. She'd begun her inspection with the upstairs; she knew that to make it livable for a single woman with a modern lifestyle, she'd have to tear out a lot of the stuff the previous owner had so painstakingly installed so many years ago.
Downstairs, in the kitchen, a long chef's knife lay on the dusty counter. Within a week after the funeral, workers hired by the lawyer for the estate efficiently cleaned the place out, disposing of everything the old man had ever owned. The handle of the knife was scarred and burnt. It was as old as the house itself and the old man had kept it sharp. Since there was a big chip in the blade, the cleaners decided it was worthless and had intended to put this knife out with the garbage, but it had been left behind.
Upstairs, the bedroom floorboards groaned as the woman inspected the closets, using a flashlight to peer into every corner and cupboard.
The knife twitched on the counter. Slowly, it turned, its blade making a soft skittering sound as it scraped on the worn linoleum. Then, as the woman's footsteps creaked through the upstairs hallway, the knife inched forward along the counter, worming back and forth.
The stairs began their individual protests as the woman came down. The knife moved more quickly. As she reached the first floor landing, her footsteps were muffled by the threadbare carpeting. She turned and headed toward the kitchen, wanting to see just how bad it was, if there was anything that could be saved or if it would have to be gutted entirely. The knife turned as well, orienting itself until the tip was in line with the doorway from the dining room.
The knife waited, as though gathering its strength as the woman stopped to look at something in the dining room. What little sunlight that came in through the single, grimy window glinted dully on the keen edge of the heavy carbon steel.
Step, step, step, turn and she appeared in the doorway. Her hand flicked on the overhead bulb and the old knife launched itself forward into the air. The woman fell back, screaming.
"Yep, look at that, completely rotten. The kitchen subflooring is bad, even the joists under the kitchen are bad. With nobody in the place to use the water heater, one of those old pipes must have sprung a leak last winter. It's a lucky thing you didn't try to go into the kitchen or you'd have ended up down here in the basement, maybe with a broken neck. I'll tell you, Miss Waters, your grandpa built this place to last, but a house has to be lived in, y'know? Cared for, if y'know what I mean."
The woman looked up at the rotted flooring, the crumbling beams riddled with insect holes and fungal growths. "Can you fix it?" she said.
"Oh, sure. We'll jack it up around the perimeter, tear all this stuff out and put in new joists. Actually, that'll make it a lot easier to redo the kitchen, if that's what you want. Save you a lot of money to do it all at once. I mean, if you still want to live in this old place. Just 'cause your grandpa left it to you, doesn't mean you have to live here."
She stepped forward and pointed her flashlight at the spot in the floor where her grandpa's favorite knife had plunged downward in front of her just as she started to enter the kitchen.
"Yes," she said, "I still want to live here."
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