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I try very hard.  I work hard at it.  It isn’t an easy job.  People think, “oh, there’s nothing to that, just sitting home, taking people’s money,” but they are wrong.  It’s hard.  I’m never at ease, never.  And certainly not since this one moved in.

She’s hard to read.  That makes it so much worse.  When she came to look over the cottage, she was wearing grey slacks and a black turtleneck.  Nice shiny shoes.  Very businesslike.  Well, not like the hi-tech business, more subtle, definitely not off-the-rack.  Like she might be an executive somewhere.  Her hair was pinned back, all slick and neat, at the back of her neck.  Just at the nape.  My grandma taught me that word, nape.

Well, I just asked her who the designer was, and she let me read the tag: Miyake, which had to be Japanese.   I noted that style and I set right in to work.  She signed that same afternoon, and I had only ten days to get it all ready.  So, out came the camel carpet and the traditional blinds I’d had done for Mr. Harvey, who left, and all the colonial furniture, and in went those tatami mats, and the white rice paper windows.  Of course, I did leave the glass windows in place, only these were just in front, like blinds, and then I stripped out every little thing that might clutter it up.  I even put in a little rock garden by the front door, with a little rake.  It was lovely.

Do you know that when that woman showed up she looked completely different?  She was wearing some sort of orange pantsuit thing, with a huge wig of frizzy-up afro hair, and those gold earrings, looked like hula-hoops.  Looked like a prison movie.  I was in shock.  She showed up in this get-up, and I was going to throw open the door, all proud, like I love to do, but I was so confused.  She walked in and can you believe it, she took ME to task!  “Oh Mrs. Syttle!” she said, “This is so different to what I expected!”  “Oh Mrs. Syttle, where’s the lamp?  Where will I put my books?” and “Where ever did the table go?”  Made me so angry.  I have to say.  Tenants are so difficult.  Of course it didn’t suit her, I could see that, but then, how was I to know?  She might have been a different person.  Sometimes I think she was a different person, like a sister or what-not, only using the same car.  A sister who was separated from her in her early infancy, and then raised by gypsies, and then went to a different church.  That would account for it.

Well of course I apologized.  She would never fit in the shape that place was now.  For a minute or two, I was even thinking of that oriental couple who came to see the cottage, but I just showed them inside-outside-there’s-the-door, ’cause I know how it smells when they cook, and I just could not abide that, not the way it lingers.  They would have liked the floors, though.  And the little iron fountain.  And the screen.  Rosewood screen with dragons and mums on it.

She said, “Oh Mrs. Syttle, please don’t bother.  I’m sure I’ll make do,” and so of course I knew it was impossible to leave it like that.  “I’ll make do,” and you know they are calling all their girlfriends and telling them what a horrid old thing you are and how you use them and take their money and don’t care a bit for the house, and then on top of that, of course, they’ll just destroy it.  If I’ve learned one thing in this business it’s this: If you don’t take care of a place, they won’t either.  It’s your only hope, good decorating.

So the next morning she stayed a bit late, unloading things from her car and setting boxes all around the living room floor.  It wasn’t until after noon that I got in to see what she had.  At that time, I didn’t think it was too bad.  Of course, the Japanese style was so bare, I’d already emptied the place out, and so I could just put whatever I wanted in there, no trouble at all.  So I looked through her things.

She didn’t have much, or at least, she hadn’t moved much in with her yet.  Books.  Plenty of those.  There was a red backpack, some kind of nylon, with a little monkey hanging off the handle, like a toy.  That was Australian.  There was a good many cd records and a player for them.  I was ready to check through her clothes and see what style they were in, but of course she started to come back.  I thought she’d gone off to work, but she had something tricky in mind.  She came in with another carload from her old place.  Of course I just said I was checking after the plumbing.  She gave me such a funny look.  Quite suspicious.  I should have known then.

I had to wait two more days.  Two more days.  I could see her taking a shower – putting up some kind of shower curtain, but I couldn’t see exactly what.  I could see her lining small things all around the living room – edged around the floor.  But I couldn’t see what.    I was so distracted, I missed my stories.  Well, I didn’t miss them, but I missed listening like I should.

When I finally got inside of there you will never believe what I found.  You will not.  . . .   Troll dolls.  Hundreds of little troll dolls, with their ugly faces and their shaggy crayola hair.    Unkempt.  That’s another of grandma’s words.  Unkempt naked troll dolls.  I nearly let loose.

But I did know what to do.  It’s hard work, much harder than people imagine.  I went out to that big blue store – the IKEA, or IDEA, something – and I found every last thing to be bright enough to match those trolls, and that wretched red purse.  They had bean bag chairs, and a bright plastic bedstead, and a steel and plastic dinette.  It was wonderful.  I never was so proud.  I left the tatami down, but with loud shaggy throw rugs over the top, and I put up bright new curtains, and of course I trimmed down the hair on those ridiculous little dolls.  Took me more than an hour, crawling along the floor.  Crawl, snip, crawl, snip.  And that’s all.

As you can see, I have done nothing but what I am supposed to do.  I maintain a comfortable and attractive atmosphere, as well as ‘maintaining  the property in fully functional condition, including all mechanical aspects…”  whatever it is it says in the lease.  So there is just no accounting for it, and she can say what she likes, but she is just indefensible.  In De Fencible.  She walked right out of that house in her cream colored business suit, right up to me where I was in the garden, waiting to see how she liked it.  Popped me one right in the jaw, and cost me a tooth.  And it’s coming out of her deposit, I can tell you.


Leslie Ingham is a founding member of the Portuguese Artists Colony.  She is currently at work on a novel.

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