brown house in the middle of green open field surrounded with trees during daytime

April story

The House at 412 Meadow Lane

By Carole Lynn Jones

“Are you sure your phone is working, babe?” John said to Diana, his new bride of one month. He reached over and rubbed his hand on her thigh, and then firmly gripped both hands on his steering wheel. The roads weren’t bad, but a light dusting of spring snow covered the grassy areas and he was on unfamiliar roads.

“Are you sure your phone is working, babe?” John said to Diana, his new bride of one month. He reached over and rubbed his hand on her thigh, and then firmly gripped both hands on his steering wheel. The roads weren’t bad, but a light dusting of spring snow covered the grassy areas and he was on unfamiliar roads.

“I’m not sure. I only had one bar about a mile back. Now nothing.” Diana rolled down the window and extended her right hand out as if her action would somehow make her phone pick up a cellphone tower signal. “Maybe we should stop for directions. I saw a house about a mile back.”

“It’s all part of living in the country,” John said. He turned the radio control knob. An old pop tune blasted from the speakers of his BMW Grand Coupe. “Hey, we got a radio signal. Maybe we are getting close to civilization and cell service.” He looked down the two-lane road they were traversing; a large hill loomed ahead like the dip in a roller coaster. “I bet on the other end of this there will be a highway. We probably took a wrong turn.”

“I hope there’s a restaurant, I’m hungry.” Diana pulled her hand back inside the car, leaned forward, and pressed her palms on the dashboard. The leather dash felt warm, smooth, and comforting.

When their car crested the hill, all that lay ahead of them was another hill.

“How much gas do we have?” she leaned over and laid her head on John’s shoulder.

“I still got about a quarter tank. Why don’t we drive on a little and if nothing, we’ll turn back and stop at that house you saw when you thought we were close? We haven’t made a turn since then, so I know I can find it again.” He kissed the top of her head.

“John, I know it’s going to be perfect. Our dream house.” Diana pulled the printed house picture out of her purse, unfolded it, and smoothed the crease marks out.

“I hope it hasn’t sold yet. The price and acreage is too good to believe. I can see us now, two country folks.” John laughed.

To his left, he came up on an unnamed dirt road. He turned in and did a quick loop back out.

“I guess we should have called the realtor first. Let’s head on back. Keep your eyes open for signs of life.”

“There it is, up ahead, there’s the house I saw.” Diana pointed across the car at the large abandoned looking farmhouse on the left side of the road. John slowed the car and turned into the dirt driveway.

“It looks deserted. Do you think it’s okay to stop? We could just keep driving back. It’s starting to snow again.” Diana scanned the yard for people.

“It’s fine. Country people are friendly. Come on.” John stopped the car at the top of the drive and got out.

The front screen door opened and a yellow lab bounded out and down the wooden steps toward John.

“He won’t hurt you. He’s a puppy in a grown dog body. Rambler, get back over here.” The old farmer on the porch clapped his weathered hands together, and the dog stopped. He looked at his owner and John. His tail beat the ground in excitement.

“We don’t get too many visitors, as you can tell. What can I do for ya?”

“We are hoping you can give us some directions. We must have made a wrong turn.” John slowly approached the dog. “Can I pet him?”

“Sure, but if you do, he won’t leave you alone.”

“No complaint there, I love dogs. I hope to own one someday. We live in a city apartment now, no yard.” John bent down and scratched the dog’s ears. Rambler rolled over on his belly.

“Looks like you made a friend. Where you looking to find?”

“Meadow Lane. You heard of it?”

“Son, I’ve lived here for 79 years, ain’t no part of these hills I don’t know.”

John looked back at his car and Diana. “Come on out, babe. We stopped at the right house. He knows where Meadow Lane is.”

“You stopped at the only inhabited house.” The old farmer hobbled over toward John. “I’m Pete Meadow. Meadow Lane is named for my great grandfather. You missed the turn for it because of my house. The lane is right there. But there is only one house on Meadow Lane. Belonged to my aunt and uncle.”

Diana got out of the car, house picture in hand. “Is this the house, cause it’s for sale.” She held out the picture of the large white farmhouse.

“Yep, that’s it.” The old farmer whistled. “Where did you get that old picture?”

Diana and John exchanged a glance.

“My crazy money hungry cousin, Cheryl, couldn’t wait to sell it, huh?”

“How far down the road is the house?” John peered down the snowy lane. Through the pines that lined the old farmer’s yard, he could see the roof of a house.

“Not far, I walk to it.” The old farmer bent down and rubbed his knee. “On a good day.”

“Do you think we can go look around? We didn’t call our realtor, we wanted to look first ourselves.”

“Well, no one lives there. It’s been vacant for twelve years now. But the old key is still under the doormat,” he answered.

A blustery wind blew across the farmer’s field. Diana wrapped her coat tightly across her body and pulled her hood up to cover her head.

***

John and Diana stood in the entryway. Both imagining a different time and house. At one time I bet children ran up and down the steps and the kitchen smelled of pot roast and homemade bread, Diana thought. John ran his hand over the ornately carved mantle. “Boy, this is a beauty. Hand carved. The outside boards are in pretty good shape, too. This is a well-built house.”

The newlywed couple walked from room to room and as they did, their ideas to make the house their own grew in grandeur. 

Another gust of wind, this time making its way through a broken window, blew the torn curtains and brought them back to reality.

“Be careful,” the old farmer said, “Stair boards are rotted. Attic’s filled with squirrels’ nests too.”

John jumped. They hadn’t heard the old farmer come in. They had been so busy walking into all the rooms.

“Had I known you were coming; I would have given you a ride over,” John said. The old farmer stared at the kitchen. His face flushed and his eyes glazed over.

“Bet you have a lot of memories in this house,” John said.

“Memories, yeah.” The man stroked his chin.

“Diana’s a great cook. We will have to have you over for dinner once we buy,” John said.

“Let’s call the realtor tonight. We belong in the country,” John whispered to Diana.

“It’s perfect,” Diana said. She wrapped her arms around her new husband.

***

The happy couple purchased the house at 412 Meadow Lane on a Friday and by Monday they were hard at work making it their own. John repaired the broken windows, patched the roof, screened in the attic entry blocking out the unwanted squirrel family, replaced broken pipes and worn floor boards, cut the high grass, dug a garden, and stained the weathered house and porch boards. Diana went to work on the inside. She applied a fresh coat of paint to every room, made her own curtains and started cooking all the things she imagined a house of this beauty should have grace the dining room table.

But, no matter how hard they tried to make the house their own, the house itself seemed to buck them.

“I don’t get it; I’ve replaced every board and they still squeak.” John pried a board up and examined it.

“The skunks here are relentless. They’ve dug up all of our flowers and vegetables, again.” Diana said as she brushed the dirt off her knees.

The constant repairs were unyielding. It was almost like the house wanted to be left abandoned. The wire John placed to keep animals out frequently disappeared. Every time it rained, he found himself in the attic putting out buckets to catch the rain that poured through the latest roof hole. He would repair one pipe and another would burst.

And then an unexplained tragedy happened that almost killed John. One hundred and ten volts went through him when he went down into the root cellar and attempted to check a malfunctioning light. The electricians called to the scene told Diana that John had to be careful when doing repairs. He had probably unknowingly mixed up the wires. They were lucky they hadn’t had a fire as well.

Diana held John’s hand as he lay on the stretcher. He pulled her towards him and whispered, “I just repaired that light last week. It worked perfectly.”

Diana followed the ambulance to the hospital. As she passed the old farmer’s house, she saw him sitting on his front porch in a rocker. Rambler lay at his feet. He waved. Diana returned the wave. John was right; country folk are friendly, but not nosey.

When John returned home from the hospital, they invited the old farmer over to dinner.

“We would have had you over months ago, Pete, but you know how women are,” John said.

“I wanted everything to be perfect before guests came,” Diana replied.

“It was worth the wait. This looks delicious.” Pete scooped a large helping of vegetable lasagna. 

“All the vegetables in the lasagna and salad are from our garden. I even made the dressing myself,” Diana said as she passed the salad bowl to Pete.

The next day, as John was about to turn onto Meadow Lane, he saw two cars at the old farmer’s house. I’ve never seen company at Pete’s. I hope everything is okay. No harm being neighborly. We just had him for dinner last evening.

He drove his car up the drive as he had done five months prior. In the front yard stood a woman and a young couple with a baby in their arms. Pete and Rambler weren’t around. John got out of his car and walked to them.

“Hi, I’m John, a friend of Pete’s and Rambler. I live down the road on Meadow Lane. Is everything okay?”

The woman stopped mid-sentence. The sold sign she was about to hand to the couple fell to the ground. She turned to John.

“I’m Cheryl Meadow. If you are referring to my cousin, Pete Meadow, and his dog, they died twelve years ago in an accident at my parent’s farmhouse. I’m selling his place.”

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