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Callaloo 25.3 (2002) 744-752
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The Last Tenant
I. Bennett Capers
"The last tenant," the agent was saying, but Mrs. Kimble had already stopped listening. What was the point, after all, when the agent was speaking in codes, codes Mrs. Kimble was tired of deciphering? Earlier, the agent, who was half Mrs. Kimble's age and blonde—two strikes against her in Mrs. Kimble's book—had described the house as a charming Victorian with a thriving garden. This, after they had stepped out of the agent's car and started along the cobblestone walkway and Mrs. Kimble could see for herself that charming was code for small and in need of paint, and that thriving, apparently, was short for thriving and overrun with crab grass and dandelion and other unsightly weeds. Once inside the "charming Victorian," the agent had praised the "lived-in feel of the place." A little too lived in, dear, Mrs. Kimble thought to herself. Cupboards stacked with junk and rubbish. The foyer closet teeming with clothes. If it weren't for the thick layer of dust that covered everything, the house would seem lived in still even now. "Of course, you're probably more interested in the kitchen," the agent continued. "You simply won't believe how cozy and comfy it is." Indeed, seconds later, Mrs. Kimble had to agree: she did not believe it, unless cozy and comfy was code for "too small for more than one person to fit in at a time." It was while they were in the kitchen that Mrs. Kimble decided to stop listening to the agent, and the agent decided to talk about the last tenant. As such, they had not yet made it to the stairway, where two spokes were missing from the banister, or, a fortiori, to upstairs, where mouse droppings dotted the bedspread. They were in the kitchen, and Mrs. Kimble was wondering why the table there was still set for one, and was looking to see if there were any dishes in the sink, when she heard the word "disappeared."
Mrs. Kimble turned away from the sink—at least the sink was clean—and begged the woman's pardon. "Did I hear you say—"
"Well, disappeared might not be the right word; it's just what me and the other agents say back at the agency. The official version, I think, is that she was in arrears so the agency took possession again, but just between you and me"—here, the agent leaned forward slightly, and Mrs. Kimble leaned a little more than slightly away—"we didn't have any notice or anything. Three whole months went by and she didn't send checks or anything, so somebody came by and found the place like this. I mean, I think those are her clothes we saw in the closets back there."
"And disappeared doesn't sound like the right word to you?" Mrs. Kimble studied the woman for the first time. The woman wore her hair in a bob and had a round face that made her look more than a little bit dim.
"Anyway," the agent continued, "that's how come the house is available." [End Page 744]
This was the fifth house Mrs. Kimble had seen, and by no means the best. Still, there was something to be said about the neighborhood. There was a purity here that had been lost in the other neighborhoods where she'd looked. "I suppose it wouldn't be that expensive to have somebody give this place a thorough cleaning. You will have someone give it a thorough cleaning, won't you?"
The agent looked at Mrs. Kimble as if Mrs. Kimble had just asked her to name the capital of Uganda.
"How much?" asked Mrs. Kimble. Certainly the agent would know the rent. Just as certainly there was no use climbing the stairs if the rent was too high.
The agent told her.
"Let me see upstairs."
* * *
Later, after the movers were gone and Mrs. Kimble was left standing alone in a circle of boxes in the musty living room, she...