"I'm Sexton Beecher," the handsome face dissected by grillwork said. At the next window, Mrs. Yates was listening intently.
Honora nodded. There was a man behind him now. Harry Knox, in his overalls, holding his passbook. Growing impatient.
Sexton put his hat back on. "I sell typewriters," he said, answering a question that hadn't yet been asked. "The courthouse is one of my accounts. I need a car in my job. I used to borrow my boss's Ford, but the engine went. They said it would cost more to fix it than to buy a new one. Don't ever buy a Ford."
It seemed unlikely she would ever buy a Ford.
The courthouse employed at least half of the adults in town. Taft was the county seat, and all the cases went to trial there.
"Enjoy the car," Honora said.
The man seemed reluctant to turn away. But there was Harry Knox stepping up to the grille, and that was that. Through the window at the side of the bank, Honora caught a glimpse of Sexton Beecher buttoning his coat as he walked away.
Sexton tries the switch on the wall, even though they both know there is no electricity yet. He opens doors off the hallway so that light can enter from other rooms with windows. The floorboards of the hall are cloudy with dust, and on the walls a paper patterned in green coaches and liveried servants is peeling away at the seams. A radiator, once cream colored, is brown now, with dirt collected in the crevices. At the end of the hall is a stairway with an expansive landing halfway up, a wooden crate filled with a fabric that might once have been curtains. The ceilings, pressed tin, are nearly as high as those in public buildings. Honora can see the mildew on the walls then, a pattern competing with the carriages and footmen. The house smells of mold and something else: other people lived here.
She enters a room that seems to be a kitchen. She walks to a shuttered window and lifts the hook with her finger. The shutters open to panes of glass coated with a year or two of salt. A filmy light, like that through blocks of frosted glass, lights up an iron stove, its surface dotted with animal droppings. She twists a lever, and the oven door slams open with a screech and a bang that startle her.
She bends and looks inside. Something dead and gray is in the corner.
She walks around the kitchen, touching the surfaces of shelves, the grime of years in the brush strokes of the paint. A dirty sink, cavernous and porcelain, is stained with rust. She gives the tap a try. She could budge it if she leaned her weight against the sink, but her suit is still on loan from Bette's Second Time Around. The butter yellow jacket with its long lapels narrows in nicely at the waist and makes a slender silhouette, a change from a decade of boyish dresses with no waists. She shivers in the chill and wraps her arms around herself, careful not to touch the suit with her hands. There are blankets in the car, but she cannot mention them so soon. She hears footsteps on the stairs and moves into the hallway just as Sexton emerges from the cellar, wiping his hands on a handkerchief.
"Found the furnace," he says. "In the fall, we'll have to get some coal."
She nods and gestures with her hand to the kitchen. He trails his knuckles along her arm as he passes her.
"What a mess," he says.
"Not so bad," she says, already loyal to what will be their home.
In April, the typewriter salesman returned to the bank. He came through the door so fast that Honora thought at first he might be a robber. The wings of his coat spread wide around his trousers as he made his way to her station. She resisted the urge to touch her hair, which she hadn't washed in days.
"Want to go for a ride?" he asked. "You bought the car." "It's a honey." "I can't." "When do you get off work?" "Four o'clock." "Banker's hours."
Copyright © 2002 by Anita Shreve
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