Malinda didn’t need a watch to tell her the realtor was late. She knew the time down to the exact minute just by the way the shadows reached from her windows with long fingers that caressed the foot of her cast-iron stove.
When the realtor finally arrived, she walked through the front door without knocking.
“Thank god, I finally found the place,” Greta said into her cell phone. She held up a thin finger with pink, cotton-candy colored nails to let Malinda know she’d be with her in a minute. “I got lost like twice on my way here. The GPS was no good with all those god-awful trees. I’m surprised I even have cell phone service.”
Malinda fed several logs into the stove, which was large enough to fit several forty-pound turkeys side-by-side. The antique stove had been in her family for several generations. It would be a shame to leave it behind, but she couldn’t imagine a scenario where the movers could get it out the door. She suspected the house had been built around the oven.
Greta’s high-pitched, nasal voice continued: “It’s a real fixer-upper. Probably take all of my considerable talent to unload it.”
Malinda brushed the flour from her apron and frowned. She wasn’t invisible, and she sure as hell wasn’t deaf or stupid. Greta looked barely old enough to be an adult, but she wore a wedding ring with a diamond as big as one of her knuckles. Although the woman’s business suit had sharp lines which suggested predatory professionalism, her blond hair erupted off the top of her head in a playful fountain of blond curls.
Greta ended the call three minutes later with a kissy noise and “We’ll talk later.”
Heat radiated from the stove behind Malinda, as she waited for the younger woman to initiate the conversation. Greta tapped a pencil against her pouty lower lip as she considered the frosted windows and the forest beyond.
“Nice view. We can write something like, ‘360 view of enchanting woodland’ or something like that. Young families will eat that stuff up.”
At the mention of family, Malinda sighed and placed a withered hand on the stove. She missed the days when she could cook a large meal with children.
The realtor circled the breakfast island with all its copper pots and pans dangling overhead. The warm scents of vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves lingered in the air and mingled with the cooler scent of peppermint. She pointed to the cookware.
“Get rid of those. One scratch will probably give someone lock jaw. Plus, it will make the room feel . . . roomier.”
Malinda’s ear hairs bristled at this comment. Those pans had hung there since her grandma had taught her to cook in this very kitchen. Hiding them seemed sacrilegious.
Greta dug out a packet of papers from her designer purse and dropped them on the counter, sending a cloud of flour into the air. “Here’s your contract. I get 8 percent. Non-negotiable.”
The number startled Malinda, and she wasn’t easily spooked. She had been hoping to take the income from this sale and start her own candy shop in town, but the realtor fee made that possibility dissolve like sugar in condensed milk.
Greta noticed the hesitation and pouted. “My fees are reasonable. If you will sign these papers agreeing to let me represent you, we can get down to work.”
The ancient stove clicked and pinged as the metal expanded to contain the inferno raging in its belly. Malina inhaled the scent of wood smoke and fondly remembered every single meal she had prepared there. Every delicacy had been crafted to perfection, and when ingested, made her feel a score of years younger.
Her bones snapped and popped as she limped toward the counter between them. She reached for the contract with her soot-stained hands.
Greta cleared her throat. “Be prepared to sink some money into this place to get it ready for showing.”
That made Malinda pause. In the past, the house had never failed to attract attention from random visitors, but she decided to humor the child realtor. “What do you recommend?”
“For starters, you’ll need to remove those decorations outside. I’m sure your house is a big hit at Christmas, but no one wants to live year-round in a gingerbread palace dotted with gumdrops and candy cane window frames.”
The heat rising through Malinda’s body had little to do with the cast-iron stove. “What else?”
“No offense, but your place has that old-lady smell to it. You know what I mean. Mothballs, dust, the hint of cat urine. The bakery smells are enticing, but young couples like a clean place for their children.”
Greta stared meaningfully at the contract, and Malinda dutifully signed it.
“About your oven,” Greta continued. “I’m sure it is an antique that would fetch a great price at auction, but no one wants to start a fire just to cook. We’ll install electric appliances. Or maybe gas. Does this place have a gas hookup?”
“I think you are missing the charm of my oven.”
“Really?” Greta’s plucked eyebrows met above her petite nose.
Malinda beckoned with one of her long fingernails. “Let me show you.”
The smile faltered on the realtor’s face, but she shrugged and bounced over to the oven. Malinda opened the door. “Take a look.”
“I don’t see anything.”
Greta bent down and shielded her eyes from the heat. Malinda planted a foot on the realtor’s Pilates ass and pushed. Greta disappeared into the oven with a squeak that quickly turned to a scream.
Malinda tossed the contract in after the woman and slammed the door shut. Option one hadn’t worked. Now she’d move onto option two, selling the house herself. At least she had gotten a decent meal out of this first attempt.