Room for Rent

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The poster shows a run-of-the mill motivational poster. A mountain climber scales a snow-dusted peak. Underneath the black border, authoritative letters spell: Perseverance.

Allen lowers his eyes and takes in the bald head of Roger Ackerman, his lawyer. Ackerman’s head is halfway visible over a stack of papers. Allen’s thick file is open in front of him.

“Your father left quite a mess behind. One hundred thousand dollar private cash loan with an interest rate that would make Al Capone blush. Two car washes, one barely breaking even, the other in deep red. Seventy-five thousand in savings. He was using that to stop the bleeding from the car washes and to pay the interest on the loans.”

“At least there’s that,” Allen says, just to say something.

“Not nearly enough. I recommend you sell the White Plains house and pay off the loans with the proceeds. In this market, you’ll take a beating but you don’t have any choice. Rent a bachelor pad. That leaves you with our father’s house on the lake in the Adirondacks. You sell that and use the money to clear the rest of the debt. It’s worth at least two hundred grand.”

“That just puts me back to zero.”

Ackerman shrugs and closes the file.

“The Adirondack house has been in the family for three generations.”

“What can I say, Allen?”

“Marie left me.”

Roger leans back in his chair.

“Hm. In that case, I advise you to move into the Adirondack house while you look for a job. And rent out a room for at least five hundred a month. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but every bit helps. Trust me.”

“The monthly rent is enough to pay you for an hour of your wisdom,” Allen says.

“Indispensable wisdom,” Roger says, unphased by the dig.

“Who’s going to want to live in the middle of nowhere?”

“You’d be surprised. Put up a listing on one of those websites that caters to rich wannabe artists. You know the type. Retired investment banker decides to torture the world with a novel about an investment banker.”

For the second time today, Allen feels an oppressive weight bearing down on him, as if his growing depression is a quantifiable entity. He wishes he could afford a therapist.



“I thought my Dad was a great businessman. All he ever talked about how well he was doing.”

Roger shrugs and gives Allen a blank stare that says: I’m paid to peer into men’s financial statements, not their souls.

Allen guns his throttle and rides his snowmobile over the frozen embankment of the lake. The machine is airborne for a second, giving him the queasy feeling between fear and pleasure. He pulls a sharp left and slides to a stop behind the woodpile. Taking off his helmet, he takes a few moments to admire the sunset over Lake Phoebe. The air is cold and crisp and the sky is clear. No snow for a few days. On a day like this, it’s easy to feel optimistic.

He unstraps the tote bag from the passenger seat and walks up the shoveled path to the front door of the two-story Victorian. The house has been in the family since his great grandfather and as long as he can help it, he won’t let it go to strangers. That day may come, but for now, he is scraping by.

Allen spent the two months since the meeting advertising the room on the Internet. Fortunately, his father kept the house in perfect condition, even as his businesses were crumbling around him. The posting draws many offers, most of them lowballing Allen’s requested 600 a month. He holds firm. Yes, the place is in the middle of nowhere but the basement is furnished and the heat is reliable. There’s snowshoeing, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. The air is clean enough to cure tuberculosis.

Checking the grandfather clock in the living room on his way to the kitchen, Allen sees it’s twenty minutes past four. His lodger, Greg Shaw, said he would arrive by five the latest. As long as he pays the six hundred on the first of the month, Allen doesn’t care if he is an hour late.

Unpacking the grocery bags, Allen gets an idea. He will make Shaw an omelet. Food is not included in the rent, but he needs to start things off on the right foot. This reminds him of how he used to be able to smoothen the most ruffled feathers when he was still in business. His business partner called it the “Allen Touch”. It is strange how the older one gets, happy memories are increasingly wrapped up in sad ones.

Lighting a Marlboro, (Shaw is a smoker and that’s just fine with Allen), he grabs a frying pan from the overhead hook and pours a dash of olive oil into it. Parking his cigarette between his index and forefingers, he scrambles eggs and hums a low tune.

He has finished chopping the onions and put them in the frying pan when he hears a car with a rattling muffler pull up to the house. Putting the pan on low heat, Allen watches the driveway from the living room window.

The red pick up truck stops short of the driveway, because Allen refuses to pay 30 dollars to Rusty, a local handyman, to plow it and with his back ruined from moving his boxes into the house, he can’t do it himself. He doesn’t need the driveway anyway, since he uses his snowmobile to ride across the lake to the Phoebe Lake store.

A man wearing a puffy winter jacket and with a fur-lined collar gets out of the pick-up. He pulls a large suitcase from the vestibule behind the driver, the kind that has an extendable handle and wheels. He says something to the driver, then the truck rattles off, trailing smoke.

Greg Shaw grabs his suitcase and wades through the snow, favoring his left leg. Allen feels a pang of guilt for not shoveling a pathway, at least, and compensates by throwing open the front door and giving Shaw a master salesman smile.

“Welcome, Greg. Right on time.”

They shake hands and Allen grabs the suitcase handle, but Greg pulls it away from him.

“That’s all right. I got it.”

“Any trouble finding the place?”

“No trouble at all. My ride didn’t know where your house was, but your directions were good,” Shaw says and looks around the house. His eyes behind his black horn-rimmed glasses take in the living room with the early 20th century rug, the fireplace with the expected deer head mounted above it (courtesy of Allen Lienforte Sr.), and the grandfather clock that’s older than Allen’s grandfather was when he died. His eyes rest on the bookshelf.

“Ah, I can see you’re a writer. Your eyes went straight to the bookshelf.”

“Very nicely made. Cherry wood?”

“Indeed. You’re the first artist to guess that. Come on in, let me give you the nickel tour.”

Ten minutes later, they are back in the kitchen to find the onions burnt to a black crisp.

“Gosh, I forgot all about the omelet,” Allen says and cranks the Andersen window open to air out the kitchen.

“No worries. I’m not a big egg person.”

“I’ll whip up something else. Are you sure the basement will be alright?”

“Perfect. I don’t have any fancy habits. A bed and my record player is all I need. And I plan to be working hard on my novel, as I said. I didn’t expect the house to be half as beautiful as it is.”

“It’s something, isn’t it? It was built in 1890 by my great grandfather. He was a furrier. He bought fur from the Mohawk Indians and sold them in New York City and Chicago.”


“When he built it, this was the only house for miles.”

“That’s just what I’m looking for. Total isolation.”

“You’ll have it. So, what’s your novel about?”

Greg looks around nervously. There is something furtive about his glance as if he expects to be interrupted at any moment.

“Hard to say, really. It’s sort of a domestic drama about a dysfunctional family.”

“Sounds like a timely issue. Well, take a load off until I whip up a home-cooked meal.”

Fascinated, Allen watches Greg demolish his third hot dog, mopping up the last of the macaroni and cheese with the end of his bun. During the meal, Greg says little and eats as if he hasn’t had a full meal in days. He insists on sitting with his back to the kitchen, facing the front door, which Allen put down to superstition, or a harmless quirk. All in all, Greg seems like the nervous artist type who doesn’t feel comfortable in his skin. But as long as his check clears, his personality is not a concern.

After clearing the dishes, Allen lights a cigarette and passes his lighter to Greg. They puff away like two carefree bachelors.

“It’s nice to share a house with a smoker,” Allen says.

“Yup. One by one our freedoms are being taken away.”

“So, about the rent. If you could pay two months in advance and a security deposit, that’ll be sufficient.”

Greg reaches into his pocket and pulls out a wad of bills. He peels off hundred dollar bills like he’s done it a thousand times before.

“Thirty-six hundred. That’s six months. I’d rather not bother with paying month to month. I hope that’s okay.”

“That’s fine. I’ll write you a receipt for it.”

“Sure. As long as it’s just for me.”

“Yes, of course,” Allen says, not sure what Greg means. He doesn’t like the way Greg jumps at the word “receipt”, as if it has a hidden meaning. “And, like I said, I’ll fix the basement step. I only noticed a few days ago that the board is loose.”

“I can do it. I’m pretty handy with tools.”

“Nonsense. No lodger of mine is going to go around with a hammer and nails.”

Not when they’re paying six months in advance, Allen adds in thought.

“So, what do you do, Allen?”

“I used to own a talent agency. For kids.”

“Really? You’re retired?”

“No. It went bankrupt. My partner had a gambling problem. He was also the business manager.”

Allen is surprised at how easy it is to confide in Greg.

“That’s a rough one . You think you know a guy.”

“Yeah. I’m a former child actor myself. Nothing major, just TV commercials mostly.”

“Really? Anything I would’ve seen?”

Allen puts his cigarette on the edge of the ashtray and swivels his head from side to side. An old habit of getting into character. Suddenly, the 45-year old Allen Lienforte is gone, replaced by an angelic 7-year old.

“Oh, Ma, you know I don’t like oatmeal!”

He takes an imaginary spoonful of oatmeal and a huge grin breaks out over his face.

“Mmm, this doesn’t taste like oatmeal!”

“It’s not oatmeal, it’s McCann’s!” Greg finishes the slogan. “That was you? I’ll be damned. That was like, back in the 70s.”

“Hey, don’t go there.”

“I have a lot of respect for actors. Me, I can’t be anything other than what I am.”

“Don’t feel bad. I can’t write.”

Greg stubs out his cigarette, lights another.

“This road is the only way to get to the house?”

“Yes. Unless you snowmobile across the lake. That’s how I do my food shopping.”


“You won’t be disturbed, I promise. I have some business to wrap up in Westchester, so I’ll be gone from time to time as well. I never got around to getting wi-fi up here, but now--”

“No, that’s fine. You can’t trust it. Even with the firewalls and everything, people can hack in and find you.”

“Find you?”

“Steal your identity, I mean”.

“Ha. With all the problems I’m having, I wouldn’t mind having my identity stolen,” Allen says, laughing.

He stops when he notices that Greg is not laughing along.

Allen has a hard time falling asleep. He wakes at three in the morning and stumbles to the bathroom. Things are on the upswing, no doubt about that, he thinks as he flushes the toilet. All he has to do is hang tight for a year and his father’s debts will be almost paid off. After that, he can think about starting a new life.

On his way back to the bedroom, a silhouette in the living room catches his eye. He steps closer, his heart accelerating. An intruder.

Greg is standing by the window, holding the curtain open as if he had forgotten he has already pulled it back. Even though Allen’s socks make no sound, Greg turns around, as if sensing him.

“A car drove by, then turned around.”

“That happens. We’re the last house on this road and people use the turnaround if they get lost.”

Greg seems relieved and walks past him. Allen listens to his feet creaking on the basement steps. Music drifts up, very faintly.

The Grateful Dead. Allen shakes his head and goes back to his bedroom.

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