by Michael Onofrey

Doorbell.

Odd. She listens, chimes concluding. She’s not expecting anyone. Leaves kitchen. Arrives in living room.

Peeking out a window, she sees a woman on the porch—cream-colored blouse, black skirt to the knees, low-heeled black pumps, dark brown shoulder bag. Her hair is short and black, complexion light brown, lipstick conservative. Why not answer the door?

Face to face, but for the screen of a screen door, they look at one another. They share similar eyewear, slim and rectangular. They also share the same expression: smiling. It almost seems they know each other, for they are of a similar ilk: mid-thirties and reasonable.

Door-to-door does not come to this neighborhood. Too plush, too standoffish. Wrought iron fences, electronic gates, same for garage doors, lawns with security company signs, cameras here and there. But there is the coming-and-going of gardeners, pool service people and housekeepers.

‘Good afternoon. The gate was unlocked.’

‘Yes. What can I do for you?’

‘Actually: What can I do for you?’

They share composed grins.

‘Let me explain.’

‘Please do.’

‘I am a salesperson.’

‘Yes.’

‘So: What can I do for you? What would you like to buy?’

‘What are you selling?’

‘Whatever you’d like to buy, as long as it’s within the limits of the law, is what I’m selling.’

‘That simple, huh?’

‘Yes.’

They share silence. But somewhere in the neighborhood someone is operating a power mower, noise audible but not distracting. If anything, it’s comforting, for it’s a reminder that things are what they should be in this neighborhood at one-thirty in the afternoon, a weekday.

‘Let me put it another way.’

‘Okay.’

‘What do you need? What do you want?’

Again silence, but for the sound of an unobtrusive power mower.

‘So you’re selling whatever I might want or need?’

‘That is correct.’

‘What if I don’t want or need anything?’

‘That’s impossible.’

They renew their grins.

‘I’m in the middle of . . . making coffee.’ She gestures with a hand. ‘In the kitchen.’

‘Oh, I’d love a cup.’

‘Trying to get your foot in the door, are you?’

‘Actually, a little more than my foot.’

‘Okay. Come in.’

The screen door is unlocked and held open.

‘Have a seat.’ A sofa is indicated.

One woman sits down, the other goes to the kitchen. Coffee is poured from a coffee pot that sits in a coffee maker. Two cups, a tray, a pint of milk, a sugar bowl, and a couple of spoons.

So then it’s two women on a peach-colored sofa, coffee cups in hand, coffee table before their knees.

‘You have a very nice house.’

‘Thank you.’

They sip their coffees, sipping not audible.

‘That’s an interesting painting.’ She motions.

‘Oh? Do you like it?’

‘Yes.’

‘It’s for sale.’

‘For sale?’

‘Yes. Would you care to buy it?’

‘Well . . . not really, but I’m surprised it’s for sale.’

‘Why?’

‘Because it’s in your house.’

‘That’s not a problem.’

The guest chuckles. The homeowner chuckles.

‘Everything you see,’ says the homeowner and sweeps the air with an arm, ‘is for sale.’

The guest, whose teeth are white and well cared for, smiles hesitatingly. She looks around.

‘But I’m the one,’ says the guest, ‘who’s selling.’

‘Yes, I understand that, and the reason I understand that so well is because I’m also selling.’

They sip their coffees. Their fingernails are manicured, very healthy looking, a little pinkish, no fingernail polish.

‘You mentioned the house. Would you care to buy it?’

‘You mean, your house is for sale?’

‘Why not? Everything is for sale.’

‘I didn’t see a for-sale sign out front.’

‘Incidental. After all, there’s not a for-sale sign on the painting, either. But rest assured, it’s for sale. If you like, we can discuss a price. The same goes for everything else in this room, or in this house, and of course the house itself and the property it sits on.’

The guest sips her coffee.

‘How about that? Is that for sale, too?’

‘You mean the Italian cabinet?’

‘No. I mean the framed family portrait on the cabinet.’

‘You want to buy a photograph of my husband and daughter and me?’

‘Is it for sale?’

‘Well, we’re not playing games, are we? If you’d like to buy it, I can name a price. But if you’re insinuating . . .’

‘I have five dollars in my wallet. Would you take five dollars for it?’

‘Of course not. That’s unreasonable.’

‘What would be reasonable?’

‘Five hundred dollars.’

‘I don’t have five hundred dollars on me.’

‘I could say you could write a check, but . . . how about if you go to the bank and return with five hundred dollars?’

‘I was only asking.’

‘That’s what I thought. Please—no games, okay?’

‘Okay. But I’m not playing a game when I say I can arrange to sell you whatever you may want or need.’

‘I understand that, and I didn’t say anything to test you out, like a little game, did I?’

‘No, you’ve been very . . . Well, is there something you’d like to buy? An automobile for example, or maybe an evening dress? I have my iPad in my bag, and together we can begin looking for whatever you may need or want.’

‘I don’t need or want anything.’

‘Everyone wants something.’

The homeowner looks at the guest. The guest sips her coffee.

‘Would you mind if I put my hand on your knee?’ the homeowner asks.

The guest looks at the homeowner.

‘Within the law, so we’re not discussing commerce,’ says the homeowner.

They sit for a moment.

‘I hadn’t thought of . . .’ the guest trails off.

‘I hadn’t either, until . . .’

‘Until?’

‘Just now.’

‘So it’s . . . impulsive.’

‘Yes. Do you ever have impulses?’

‘Of course. Everyone does. But still . . .’

‘I understand. Yes, it’s a little . . . unusual to express them under such circumstances.’

‘Exactly.’

‘Do you ever,’ says the homeowner, ‘wonder about . . . the twists and turns of life?’

‘Sometimes, but not often.’

‘Why?’

‘Because I’m too busy, and . . .’

‘And yet we all have . . . There’s more to us than selling and buying, isn’t there?’

‘Of course.’

They sip their coffees.

‘Okay,’ the guest says and looks at the homeowner.

The homeowner scoots over a bit and puts her hand, the left hand, the hand without the coffee cup, on the knee of her guest, which is a bare knee, for upon sitting down the lower hem of the guest’s skirt rose to above her knee.

Both the homeowner and the guest look at that hand, with its manicured fingernails.

‘Is this common? Have you done this before?’ asks the guest.

‘I don’t think we want to talk about the past,’ says the homeowner. ‘Nor the future, for that matter.’

The fingers of the hand move, a massaging motion.

‘We have these moments . . .’ intones the homeowner.

The sound of the lawnmower from somewhere in the neighborhood ceases, and with this there is silence.

‘And to think I was bored before you arrived.’

Michael Onofrey grew up in Los Angeles. Currently he lives in Japan. His stories have appeared in Cottonwood, Evansville Review, Kestrel, Natural Bridge, This Zine Will Change Your Life, and Weber – The Contemporary West, as well as in other fine places. A novel, “Bewilderment,” was published by Tailwinds Press in 2017.

Link: http://www.tailwindspress.com/bewilderment.html