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By Julia Tranchina
They bought a beach house in 1978. They bought it from a weird woman who made pottery. This weird woman’s ex-husband was stalking her, so the weird woman sold the house as is and left town. My parents and I spent weekends going through the weird woman’s things. The weird woman, let’s call her Janine, liked earth tones and collected fish. Janine was also fond of two. We found two crock-pots, two sewing machines, and two sets of identical outfits, one in a women’s size 6 and one in size 12.
The house needed work but my parents were up to the challenge. My father rented a roto-tiller. My mother considered the orange and red shag carpet a bold visual element to build upon. My father nailed shingles and rusted farm tools on the bathroom walls and painted the woodwork crimson. My mother bought large ethnic pillows to sit on in the living room, Indian style. She incorporated the fish pottery as a theme for our numerous holiday parties, to add an element of whimsy.
One Friday when we arrived at the beach house, my parents and I found the back door broken and ajar, but nothing was taken. When the police arrived they dusted for prints and took our statements. My parents and I were shaken up. We felt exposed and violated. This put the kibosh on our Valentine party. We spent a restless night and left the following day.
My parents received a phone call several days later from the police. They had caught the three burglars in a sting. When they questioned the lead burglar about our beach house he became agitated. The lead burglar told the police that our beach house had bad energy. The head police officer told my parents not to listen to crazy talk from a bunch of rotten egg cult members.
My mother was slicing the corned beef on a fish platter when the doorbell rang. She returned from the door with a woman. My mother introduced her as the former owner of our beach house. My father asked the former owner if she wanted an Irish coffee, made with vodka instead of whiskey, because we weren’t Irish. The former owner of our beach house said, No thanks, I’ve only come for the koi, and call me Janine. My parents and I looked at one another. May I? Janine asked, dumping the corned beef and cabbage off the fish platter and onto the table.
My parents and I followed Janine into the backyard. Janine knew where she was going. In the side yard, behind the broken wheelbarrow and window screens, was an overgrown fishpond. Janine used the fish platter to poke around the green, slimy water.
Janine whistled like she was calling a dog. She stood up, holding the fish platter with two hands. A white-skinned koi with a red and black pattern flip-flopped and gasped for air on the platter. Janine walked past my parents and me waving before she headed down toward the ocean. My father went back in the house to make another cocktail. My mother turned off the soda bread.
The fog was rolling in and the tide was out. My father gathered driftwood. My mother searched for beach glass. Janine held the fish platter above her head. Her muslin skirt spread out in the water. Simple to keep your head above water, hollow things float. Janine said placing the fish platter on her head. The tide took the two. Janine and the koi washed out to sea and they were gone gone.
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