From the outside, it’s not much to look at—a low one-story house with a dirt-and-dead-grass lawn and a detached garage that blocks the living room behind it. There are no windows in that part of the house and the inside of the living room is dim. This helps to hide the dust on the mismatched bookcases and the rips in the not-so-gently worn couch. Flutes, maracas, bongo drums, and a ukulele litter the top of the piano, along with a broken fire alarm and a celibate wooden clothespin in a less-than-sterile Ball jar. If you’re half-expecting a bare-chested man in a grass skirt to emerge from the private part of the house, let me be the first to disappoint you. Few men have passed the threshold of this female-only cloister. If the decor isn’t enough to deter them, there are official rules, thank you very much.
The kitchen is behind the living room at the back of the house. Two windows give a weak impression of light. One exposes the dubious virtue of the old-awning-and-cement side yard, while the other overlooks the backyard. Someone has cleaned the dirt and dead flies from the windowsills and polished the dust off the old vinegar jar with the dried wildflowers in it. The grout on the countertops is dark with age and other things I refuse to contemplate until I’ve scrubbed it—hard—with a stainless steel sponge.
Yes, the backyard is spacious and shady . . . and more private. I lead the way, suddenly wishing you were in front of me. Your thumb brushes mine as we both grasp the edge of the blue chipped door. The screen won’t open. You point out that it has two locks: the large upper one that flips open and closed like a mini-windshield wiper and the lower one that’s making me look stupid. As I step outside, I remind myself not to trip over the stoop. Have I ever? The awning hides the cracked patio, but only from the sun. Small white Christmas lights overhang the patio table—a subtle touch in the dark. Bongo chimes repeat their happy mellow discord next to the empty hummingbird feeder. The too-tall grass near the edge of the patio tickles my ankle. I jump as an unripe avocado hits the roof of the metal shed like a badly aimed potshot from Mother Nature. You laugh, and the sound is its own happiness. The breeze smells of freshly cut grass with notes of lemon—my favorite summer vintage. I enmesh myself in the bright blue hammock that swings gently under the larger, shadier avocado tree. You poke my thigh teasingly with the toe of your trainer. My bare feet slowly caress the top of the grass. I can feel the sun casting patterns over my face through my half-closed eyelids. A drowsy fly-in-a-web feeling steals over me. The hammock creaks and sags as your body heat settles next to mine.