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She returned the necklace to the bald head of a screw pushed clear through the closet door where the necklace swung, the enamel cameo lady knocking against the door as Laura tugged her duffle bag from the desk chair causing a living creature to spring to life out of a pile of legal forms over the armrest and skid across the room. Pale yellow slips lined with blue ink gathered on the floor where the cat looked with the indignation of betrayal at the papers, then up at Laura.
“Hey you, pretty kitty. Kitty kitty kitty.” Laura took one of the legal papers and moved it swiftly around on the hardwood floor expecting to get the cat’s attention. “Whusht,” she said. An imitation of what the paper might sound like to the cat’s ears was coincidentally the sound her laptop emitted every time she sent an email, and by association it gave Laura the same jolt of pleasure as a quirt of dopamine fired through the mesolimbic pathway of her brain. “Whusht,” she said it again. Then faintly, dearly, like a parent hushing a child from telling its secret to the world, that life could be flung just like that, like a pea: “Whussssht.”
It must have come in while she was sweeping yesterday. Dust was bothering her eyes, she remembered. Dust always bothered her eyes, but now with Paul gone she could finally open the windows, unhook the doors from their frames, without having to suffer through another one of his lectures on how much damned money those fools are making off us and always ending with a rhetorical but really, who are the fools, us or them? She’d had the back door open a crack, as well as the windows, to clear the air. It must have come in then. Just a neighbourhood cat, slinked in probably smelling the canned tuna she mixed with mayonnaise and onion for lunch.
She decided not to worry about it and poured some oat milk into a small ceramic bowl only ever used for holding the pits of olives and dates when she and Paul used to do charcuterie. Do cats drink oat milk? Cow milk seemed at least as unnatural to an alley cat as the milk squeezed from the tits of a thousand grains of oat, but was that really an argument?
Typically, clients showed up to their viewings early. Anticipating this, Laura gave herself an extra thirty minutes before their scheduled appointment. She began by lining up the family portraits face-down along the bureau in the front foyer, beside the catch-all and Febreze. Sunlight, which poured in through the front door with its frosted glass window and the tall transom windows on each side of it, enshrined everything in the foyer, herself included, in a fuzzy ethereal glow. She’d been told in her home-staging training to make the house feel like it belonged to nobody in particular, but to maintain the comfort and homeyness of a space in which people could, theoretically, live. De-personalize. The light, she figured, could not be a bad thing.
Laura took the judge’s gavel from her duffle bag and smashed every one of the family portraits, letting the glass, which seemed to be radiating brilliance in the amber glow, coat the table. Value-Village was where she found most of the props she used in her staging process — the vinyl records she had bent and scattered out of their sleeves across the living room; the mirrors she had thrown down hallways and over stairways; the dishes, the glassware. But the gavel was her first and favourite purchase. “Order! Mother-fucking order!” Finality, she had thought. Yes, a sentence that, once declared, could not be retracted.