“This is it,” he said. “It’s perfect.”
I lifted the abandoned shoe by its lace out of the bowl of the toilet. Someone had decided not only to store shoes there but that the toilet would look better in the main room. I lowered the shoe back into its place and looked around at my husband’s idea of perfection.
The mildewed carpet and a line of wrinkled and browned wallpaper ran along the wall about four inches from the floor. The long gone flood, possibly from the toilet relocation, had left black mold in its wake. It smelled of feet and urine. A few needles and other abandoned drug paraphernalia completed the picture.
I touched my rounded stomach. “Your father must be joking,” I whispered to it. Little Kenny didn’t move; I took that as agreement.
I looked over at him. He was grinning like a lion in a meat shop and he most certainly wasn’t joking.
“Can’t you see it, Constance?” he asked. “We’ll have seats along that wall, the counter will fit snuggly in that back corner over there, and we’ll get one of those old-fashioned juke boxes from the salvation army and stick it by the big picture window.” He spread his arms wide in front of the opaque wall. “And we can definitely get it done in four months.”
“Kenneth Xavier Thompson,” I said, “you are out of your ever-loving mind. I have heard two gunshots while we’ve been standing here and I think the rats are mounting an offensive in the pantry. I will not bring little Kenny into this world to live in this… this… crud hole. We are not building here.”
He came up behind me and wrapped me in his arms. I resisted, not wanting to make the realtor uncomfortable, but I couldn’t hold out for long.
“It’s on a main street,” he said, “not too far from the business district, it’s already zoned properly and it has quick access to the highway-”
“So when we get robbed they can make a quick getaway,” I said breaking away from him.
“Nonsense!” he said. A gunshot rang out, closer than before. He brushed it away. “It’s perfect,” he said.
“Perfect, Kenneth? How are we going to restore this?” I asked pointing at the toilet. “Our budget is tiny as it is and how can we even think about bringing our child into this? How can we call ourselves parents and bring our child, our baby, into this?” With a sweeping motion I gestured to the dirt and mold, the cracking foundation and, yet again, the living room toilet.
“How can we call ourselves parents if we don’t bring him here?” he said. “If we don’t restore and build in the broken places? In the places no one wants to call home? If we leave like everyone else, who will stand up for those who are left?”
“Kenneth, this place is just waiting to be condemned,” I said.
The realtor tried to interject, but when I’m on a role there isn’t much in this world that can stop me.
“And the Health Inspector?” I continued, “I’m not sure this place can even be brought up to livable, let alone health code. A place that needs some work is fine, but not some work that needs a place.”
“You really don’t see it?” he asked. His question was honest and confounded.
“Apparently not what you’re seeing,” I replied. It came out nastier than I meant it.
“Ok,” he said, “Close your eyes.”
I raised an eyebrow at him.
“Come on, close your eyes,” he said.
I closed my eyes. He began to paint our future in hues of hope and answered prayers. He walked me through the renovations, into opening day, and through to opening a second shop. He introduced the customers who’d come in just to say, “How ya doin’?” He walked me through where little Kenny would play and where he’d go to school and church. He took me from that dank and dirty room and showed me the world that could be ours for the taking, and I believed him.
And when we journeyed back to that room with mold growing at its edges, I knew that this dream, this world of wonder and exploration would probably never happen. This was a place of danger and uncertainty, and only my Kenneth could see beyond those facts. But I trusted Kenneth’s heart. I thought that a heart so full of love and devotion would not, could not lead us astray. Perhaps my trust was misplaced, perhaps I was a fool, but I think it’s more likely I was just naïve.