"I'll be right there!" yelled Mrs. Richards. The real estate agent was already at the door. She was hoping to have a cup of tea before they arrived. It was so cold in the house now. She made her way achingly down the staircase and into the foyer, holding the railing as tightly as her frail swollen fingers would allow. Michael the real estate agent was waiting impatiently behind the screen door.
"Mrs. Richards, you should close the inside door when it gets cold like this. Have you just had the screen door closed all day?" asked Michael.
"Oh, uh, I suppose that's why it's been so darn cold. Had the furnace up full blast too."
"Are you sure I can't have Maggie looking in on you, just until you move at least?"
"No, no, I don't want anyone snooping! I'm a private person! I like my privacy!"
"Well, um, yes of course," said Michael. "I was hoping to show the house today. You said you would be out at the grocery store."
"No! No I don't want anyone in here without my being present. You don't know who could be thieves!"
"But it's customary--"
"I don't care if it is! I'm not letting random people skulk around here without my supervision!"
"Yes, but that's what I'm here for, Mrs. Richards."
"You don't have eyes in the back of your head!"
"And you do?" asked Michael. Mrs. Richards gasped and looked suddenly wounded.
"Why you rude little twerp! I was a mother, of course I-I..." She felt a wave of emotion, and stumbled back several steps, then leaned against the wall that held her raincoat on a hook.
"Mrs. Richards? Are you all right?" Michael opened the screen door and went to her side.
"I'm fine," she said weakly. She looked up at him with wet eyes.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, yes. Let's get this over with."
"We could reschedule for a more convenient day--"
"No! I need to get away from this house. I finally need to get away," she said. She clutched Michael's arm with one hand, and shakily wiped away tears with the other.
"All right then," said Michael. He lead her through the screen door and onto the stoop. He held her arm as she descended the three steps down to the overgrown stone path, and she watched her feet as she did so.
She looked up, and saw a couple, a man and wife presumably, waiting in the driveway next to an unfamiliar car. It was him.
"This is Mr. and Mrs. Dawson. They'd like to see the property today, if that's all right with you." She stared at the man, unable to believe her eyes, and did not answer Michael. "Mrs. Richards?"
"Donny," she said in a quiet voice.
"Excuse me?" asked Michael, leaning in.
"It's him. It's really him." She saw him again, the day he disappeared. It was Halloween, and he was dressed as a tiger, in a fuzzy suit she had sewn herself. He was still young enough to think dressing up as an animal was cool. It was more than forty years ago. There were never any leads. No one knew anything. He just disappeared in the night. She let go of his hand so he could cross the street to meet a group of classmates from first grade. She followed, but somehow he was not among them. She looked all that night, everyone in the small town was roused to the effort, but nothing. She spent the following morning screaming into a towel in the bathroom with the door locked.
Earlier that day, before the sun set, she'd taken a polaroid of him in his suit. He was antsy to get going, so he looked a little unhappy about being posed. She got him raise his arms and scowl in a mock maul. She remembered the leaves swirling at his feet clearly. She remembered the chill in the air and the smell of burning firewood. And she carried the polaroid around, touching his face when she was sad, until that part wore away, and then finally it fell apart in her hands. She buried the pieces in the backyard, under the maple tree that he liked to climb. But the image of him in that tiger suit was seared into her memory like nothing else. And the man in the driveway, shared that same face.
"Donny," she said.
"Who's Donny?" asked Michael.
"My son," she said. "That's him."
"Do you know Mrs. Richards?" Michael asked Mr. Dawson.
"No, we've never met before," said Mr. Dawson.
She went up to Mr. Dawson, and put her hand to his cheek.
"Don't you remember me?" she asked.
"I left your room exactly as it was. You will remember that."
"Honestly, you've gotten me mistaken for somebody else."
Mrs. Richards stepped back and looked Mr. Dawson up and down.
"No, you're Donny."
Mr. Dawson looked nervously over at Michael.
"Mr. Dawson, how old are you?"
"I'm thirty-six," he said.
"Mrs. Richards, how old would Donny be?" asked Michael.
"Forty-three. Last July. I don't believe you."
"Would you like to see my driver's license? It says it right on it," said Mr. Dawson. Mrs. Richards looked up and clasped her hands together. More tears started to form.
"No," she said in a high voice. "No." She looked back at the house. It was a Victorian painted lady, though drably dressed in a layer of gray latex. She looked up to the window on the second floor that was portal to Donny's room. "No," she repeated. She looked down at the leaves pressed into the dirt at the meeting place of the lawn and the driveway.
"I don't think we need to see it." It was Mrs. Dawson who spoke.
"Really? Couldn't you consider--" said Michael.
"We'll buy it," said Mrs. Dawson. She too had tears in her eyes. She went over to Mrs. Richards and held her. "We can always sell it later. It would be cruel to let her keep living here."
"All right," said Mr. Dawson. He smiled at his wife as she comforted Mrs. Richards. "We'll buy it."