Bending into the brisk spring wind, nose running and eyes watering, Alison walked straight north on Pine Street, toward the university. Her mind played with the thought that she was heading for the library to continue her literature review, but at the intersection before campus, she turned right. She meandered through the neighborhood, noticing the houses that she’d never paid much attention to before.
Some were in the kind of rough condition that spoke of years of student rentals – “lawns” filled with patchy weeds that were mown down before the winter snows came, now starting to come to life again; peeling paint on the siding; old couches on the front porch beside tin cans filled to overflowing with cigarette butts. (Did young people still smoke? Alison wondered at this, having grown up on a steady diet of warnings of the health dangers of tobacco.)
A few houses appeared historically old, with details from the early part of the twentieth century, set far back from the street, facing broad lawns of real grass. Fewer of these were lovingly restored with brightly colored paint picking out details of porch railings, window sills, soffits, eaves, and doors. Some were “modernized” into sedate colors and styles that would appeal to nearly anyone.
Alison liked those the least. Her favorites were the shabby old houses waiting for restoration, as if waiting for a lover to come back from the romanticized adventures of war. As she walked she saw one with a For Sale sign leaning on a low front hedge. The sign looked faded but farther up the walk, a post held a plexiglass box with flyers. Alison took one and saw the photos of the inside of the house, a large living room, fireplace, four bedrooms, a smallish kitchen, all equally shabby and equally intriguing as the exterior.
Without knowing why, she folded the flyer and stuffed it in the pocket of her windbreaker. Alison turned toward her apartment and put the chilly breeze at her back. Her pace slowed and her mind wandered. She was surprised to realize the feeling of dread that usually made its home in the pit of her stomach was nearly gone, just a small pressure instead of a cement-block-like weight.
Coffee. That’s what I need, she mused, and headed toward the coffee shop in no particular hurry at all.