The House Sitter

The House Sitter


     “Come on,” Christina hissed, fidgeting with the front door key.  “Open, damn it!”

     Frequently, as a house sitter, she had difficulty unlocking front doors the first few times but, eventually, she got the hang of it and opened the doors with relative ease.

     As usual, after entering the house, the first room she visited was the master bedroom.  There, she believed, she could learn a great deal about the owners of the house.  Right away, she sat down on the side of the king-sized bed and looked around the room which was three times the size of the bedroom in her apartment.  A clock ticked on the dresser and beside it was an ashtray full of quarters and half dollars.  On the vanity were several bottles of perfume and a pair of silk scarves and draped across the back of the velvet armchair were two monogramed robes.  A shaded brass study lamp sat on the nightstand surrounded by more loose change.  The polished hardwood floor was so bright she was surprised she couldn't see her reflection in it and the apricot-colored walls were almost as bright.  The only thing displayed on them was a framed photograph of a man and a woman holding hands under a striped umbrella.

     She suspected the owners had to be very well-off to afford to spend an entire week in Sun Valley which was where they were and the furnishings in the room only confirmed her suspicion.

     Abruptly she flopped back on the bed which was as firm as an ironing board then got up and explored the rest of the hundred-year-old Victorian house.  All the rooms were pretty spacious which made her think the house was likely built for a fairly large family.  But the people who lived there now, the Raffertys, didn't appear to have anyone else residing in the house because the two other bedrooms she visited had become little more than storage rooms with rugs and towels and lamps and tables and chairs and all kinds of roadside signs.

     An enormous television covered an entire wall in the den but she couldn't find the remote control so she wasn't able to turn it on which didn't bother her that much because she seldom watched the small portable set in her apartment.  She was more inclined to read a romance novel.  She had the cell phone number of Mrs. Rafferty and knew she could call and ask her where the remote was but she didn't want to bother her with such a trivial matter.

     "Don't become a nuisance," Sadie, a friend of hers since they shared a locker their sophomore year in high school, cautioned her before she sat at her first house.  "The clients will complain to management, and if you get too many complaints, you won't be getting any more jobs."

     Sadie, who was an executive assistant with a property management agency that hired house sitters, recommended Christina for a position, figuring the elementary school teacher might like to earn some extra money during her long summer break.


     After making a cup of instant coffee, Christina returned to the den and sat down in the leather easy chair in front of the blank television screen.  She didn't become a house sitter because she needed the money for she was a pretty frugal person who, except for certain necessities, seldom made any large purchases.  Nearly all of what she earned from teaching was deposited directly into the savings account where she banked.  Still, she was grateful to Sadie for recommending her for the job.  One reason was because she was bored sitting in the living room of her apartment night after night staring at the same four walls.  Another reason was Jeremy.  He was a substitute teacher who occasionally substituted at the school where she taught.  One day at lunch he invited her to have dinner with him and, though she barely knew him, she accepted and was pleased she did, and before long they were going out together two and three times a week.  But after a couple of months, she decided to end the relationship.  Although sweet and considerate, he became more and more controlling.  He called and texted her numerous times a day, eager to know what she was doing and what her plans were for the evening.  Soon she was overwhelmed by all the attention, felt smothered by his involvement in her life.

     "I don't understand," he said, clearly stunned and hurt, when she suggested they should take a break and see other people.

     "I think it's best for both of us."

     "I don't, Tina, but if that's what you want."

     "It is, Jeremy."

     She thought he understood it was over between them but he still found excuses to call her so she was compelled to block his number.  Then he started to come over to her apartment in the evening, not often but often enough, knocking so loudly she thought the door might spring off its hinges.  And, as a consequence, she was forced to read her romance novels by flashlight in her bedroom.  Her lease expired at the end of the summer and she had already made arrangements to move into another apartment on the other side of town.  Then she would be able to turn on the lights again, just as she did now in some perfect stranger's house.  All she wanted was to be at ease and whenever anyone got too close to her that sense of comfort was disturbed and instinctively she backed away as she did with Jeremy.

     Sitting back in the easy chair, sipping her coffee, she wished the agency she worked for could find her a place to housesit every day of the week.


     She awoke to the sound of someone knocking on the front door and, right away, assumed it was Jeremy until she realized she wasn't in her apartment but in the den of another person's home.  She must have dozed off she figured and looked at her watch.  It was almost dinnertime.  She couldn't believe it and, with her knees creaking, got out of the easy chair and made her way to the front door.

     "Good evening, ma'am," a portly man with rumpled blond hair greeted her after she opened the door.

     "Good evening."

     He held a flashlight in his right hand and in his left a bottle of mineral water and wore a bright yellow reflective vest.  "Are the Raffertys at home?"

     She shook her head.  "They're gone for the week," she answered.  "I'm looking after their house for them."

     "Oh, I see."

     "Is there something you'd like me to tell them?"

     "Yes, yes," he stuttered, tapping a thumb against the handle of the flashlight.  "I don't know if you're aware of the rash of car thefts we've had in town the past couple of months."

     "I am.  A person I work with had her car stolen not quite a month ago."

     "Is that so?"

     "She was parked in a parking lot and some kid knocked on her window and said she had a leak from her radiator and she got out to look and he hopped in and took off."

     The neighbor nodded.  "That's a typical ploy these thieves use all right."

     "As I said, that was almost a month ago and she's still so rattled by what happened she hasn't driven since."

     "So she got the car back?"

     "She did but she almost wished she didn't.  It brings back such a bad memory."

     "That's a shame."

     "It is."

     "Well, I am sorry to say that one of our neighbors had his car stolen earlier today so I and some of the others in the neighborhood thought we'd alert as many people as we could so they make sure their car doors are locked."

     She smiled, brushing some loose strands of hair from her forehead.  "I'm afraid I don't own a car."

     "The Raffertys so, though," he replied, glancing at the Volvo station wagon parked in the driveway.  "You should make sure it's locked up."

     "I'll do that first thing."


     "Also, there have been reports of car tires being slashed so you should be on the lookout for any strangers in the area."

     I'm as much of a stranger as anyone in the neighborhood, she thought, but she didn't say anything and just bowed her head.

     "You have a pleasant evening now."

     "I'll try."

     "Oh, if you do notice anything suspicious, just let us know.  We'll be out canvassing the neighborhood for another hour or so."

     "I'll do that."

     The doors of the Volvo were locked, as she expected they would be, and also the trunk.  She then went back inside the house and, so any possible thief would know someone was there, switched on a light in every room on the main floor.  In the kitchen she turned on two lights, heated a can of tomato soup for dinner along with a stale Kaiser roll, then returned to the den to read one of the three novels she packed in her suitcase.

     Toward the end of the eighth chapter, she thought she heard a rattling sound out on the back porch and set the novel on the floor.  Listening intently, she cupped a hand behind her right ear but didn't hear anything further and dismissed it as the wind brushing against the outside blinds.  Last month, sitting at another house, she thought she heard a similar sound in the basement and went down at once and discovered a slimy brown rat behind the washing machine.  She screamed and the rat scurried across her sandals and she screamed even louder.  She didn't try to look for it because she didn't want to risk being bit by it and hurried back upstairs and barricaded the basement door with the kitchen table.  After considerable thought, she decided not to tell the homeowners about the rodent, figuring if she did they would be upset with her for not getting rid of it.

     Let them deal with it, she reckoned.  It's their house.

     Shortly before it was time to go to bed, she again heard something rattling on the back porch and, reluctantly, she got out of the easy chair to find out what was making the noise.  As soon as she switched on the overhead light, she saw a loose ironing cord brushing against the side of the work bench.  She picked it up and wound it around the iron.  Then, as she turned to switch off the light, she noticed a tall wooden cabinet in a corner of the porch.  It was similar to the one her stepfather had in their basement.  Curious, she walked over to it and opened the door and was surprised to see that it was empty except for some dust rags on the floor.  Without hesitation, she stepped inside the cabinet and squatted down on the rags and shut the door.

     Sometimes, when she was little, she would go into the basement and hide in her stepfather's cabinet when her parents started to argue.  She didn't think either of them would hurt her, not at all; she just wanted to find a place where she didn't have to listen to them.  But that was really impossible.  She still heard their angry voices, if only faintly, even when she plugged her ears with balls of cotton.

     After a moment, she closed her eyes, and though she couldn't hear her parents arguing any longer, she could still recall the tension they caused.  Her hands trembled as if they were ice cold and her heart pounded inside her chest.  Back then she never wanted to leave the cabinet because she was sure she would feel even worse if she did and so she stayed there until one of her parents pulled her out like a bundle of laundry.

     Tonight, as she sat there, she wondered if she would have to wait for someone to pull her out or would she be able to get out on her own.  She thought about it long and hard until she fell asleep inside the musty cabinet.


Thomas Healy


Thomas Healy was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and recent stories of his have appeared in "Freshwater Review," "A Thin Slice of Anxiety," and "Wise Owl."   

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