She Wants a Check…Today
That woman there on her knees is about as close to having an audience with the pope as she will ever get. As sure as there is no place like Rome for the holidays, we will not be there any time soon. We are not poor but a trip abroad is a bit beyond our reach. Still, we have managed to keep some kind of roof over our heads for a few decades now. The woman in the picture is my wife praying in the living room of the house we rented - prayers alone will never fix it.
I am sitting exactly where I was when the phone rang last Wednesday. I did not recognize the number but I did the voice on the other end. It was her…the landlady. Her tone was beyond annoyed. So annoyed was her tone that I got annoyed as well. I could hear it in my own voice, as I attempted to respond to her shrill accusation that we had put a stop payment on the rent check.
We had overlooked the condition of the place, rented as furnished. The carpet was shot and filthy and the cheap furniture had been glued together too many times to count, as layers of excess epoxy flowed like lava over each other on chair legs and couch backs that made one long for a frat house – at least college boys knew how to glue together broken furniture.
We had no choice really, because we have a dog, and were three thousand miles away from home. We knew right away the landlady was different; the septuagenarian was quite animated and in a hurry to make us her tenants. She was on her way to Burning Man. We moved our few belongings into the place the next day and did the best we could to clean it.
It was pretty much downhill from that moment on; aside from the ocean view there was nothing about this house that was worth salvaging, and each week afforded us a new terror as we discovered slowly what we had rented, and from who. The neighbors were open about their dislike for her, yes, but over time they seemed not much better than she, stoned and talking about each other and us, and not to each other, including two widows, one whose husband had committed suicide and another who called the police constantly. It seems the landlady and the neighbors had fought for decades over tenants and plans to double the size of the structure that they defeated.
The landlady now threatened to call the district attorney if I did not have a check for her that very moment. I was sure my wife would never have stopped payment on a rent check, look at her up there on her knees…would she have done such a thing? It would not have been so difficult to wrap my brain around the situation if we had not moved out eight months earlier.
Yes, I was talking to the landlady of the house we had moved out late last spring, who was demanding three thousand dollars from us, from me today almost a year later, or else. The same landlady who the gas, garbage, water, and cable companies almost continually threatened to cut service for nonpayment could hold a three thousand dollar check for eight months before discovering there was a stop payment on it? How could that be? It was like a horror film where the dead guy in the bath tub is never dead. Would it ever stop? Just when you thought it safe to go back in the ocean!
We did not have to fight for our deposit eight months ago, because I made my wife deduct it from the last month’s rent. We believed our neighbors who told us we would never see it. And we had seen the camera that they had told us she used to beat previous tenants out of deposits, I had even taken her photo as she was photographing the row of garbage cans I had filled with flammables that she had promised to remove from the garage months earlier. The place was firetrap! So when we moved out we thought that was the end of it. But the dead man in the tub is never dead, and two months later began the phone calls and finally a letter wanting money from us for a list of things that was baloney. We owed her nothing but my wife sent her three hundred dollars anyway.
All was calm when we went to the last farmers market of the fall down the street from where we are living, not renting now. It was a wonderful late afternoon and we were easing into it at the bar while a dreadlocked man murdered Marley. All was well until we spied the landlady dancing by herself as the sun began to set; just when you thought it safe to go back in the ocean.
And so I recovered during last Wednesday's phone call and remembered that my wife had stopped payment on a check, because the landlady had said she never got the April check we had mailed, and could not wait another moment for it. While I was remembering this, my wife was putting the same on the landlady’s voice mail, after listening to the same threats I had been on hers.
We both were sucked back into that place that prayers seemed not to help, owned by a woman who may only now be finally out of our lives. The landlady was skeptical at first when I told her what the situation was. She ended our call only after demanding that I prove what I had said was true. I am sure that would have been far easier for us than her as it was hours later when she called to say she had discovered a deposit that matched the amount and date that my wife had tersely provided for her via voice mail.
I think we are safe now, even though my wife had requested the landlady not call us months ago when she sent the three hundred dollars; email only, my wife had plainly stated. I think we are safe because the landlady explained that the check she had found in a pile of unopened mail was a godsend, and that she had deposited it and written checks against it right away, and now those checks were not clearing. I could see for the first time that the house was the web that had drawn us into her madness, and how close we came to the edge of the world that our landlady still lives in. I heard in her voice that we were free of her, once and for all.