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The Oleander Manor
by Katerina Charisi
2016-01-31 10:51:11
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mily01_400Driving seemed endless and I am not used to long rides with a car. I never had a car or drove one before. I never really thought seriously of having a car one day. I love to walk. Michael had tried many times to get me behind the wheel, but I always said no. “What for? I can walk to anywhere I want,” I kept saying. “You can’t walk to anywhere you want if we move to my place. You need a car up there.” I don’t know why, but this made me more stubborn and I kept insisting no. “How about when we have children? Will you let them walk 3 miles for school? In the winter?”

“You walked to school, didn’t you?”

He sighed. “That was 20-25 years ago. Yes, I did walk. Most of the kids back then walked. But it wasn’t easy you know. Sometimes it was too cold, and cold here gets you to the bone.”

“Oh come on, don’t patronize me. This is Louisiana, I know about moisture and humidity and cold that gets you to the bone”.

“Well, it’s not just that. It’s the mud too. When it rains this place gets like a darn swamp. Once my mother walked to the town carrying me on her arms when I suddenly was burning with fever. I was five or so.  She walked halfway through the woods to avoid circling the hill and when she finally got out, it was almost three hours later. Thankfully she found the chairman of the township and he gave us a lift with his car. He was the only one back then to own a car. It was only a mile left but still. Anyway, just saying. Long distances, it’s good to have wheels. Especially with small kids.”

After a turn we drove alongside the lake and for a moment it felt like entering a totally new world. The air changed, got somehow chillier. I don’t want to accept that “things are different up there” as Michael kept saying many times before. It was my first time around here. I asked him why we couldn’t go to meet his folks before we decide to move there, but he convinced me that there was no need. We would move there anyway and his mother wanted him to come once and for all with his woman on his side. “This is not a motel, young man. I will not allow you or your brother to bring your ladies up here for the weekends or holidays for fun. This is a house under the sight of the Lord. When you decide to settle down and start a family for real, then you are welcome to come as a couple. Until then, you go where you want, but come back alone.”

We left the sun behind us and colorful shades escaped between the clouds throwing rays of light on the water and the trees like a kaleidoscope. I could feel the silence like a weight over this new place. It was almost two hours since we had left New Orleans and finally it seemed that we were getting somewhere. The road got narrower and it was not in a really good shape. The engine roared as the car ascends the hill. And then I saw his house. I must have looked funny as I stared and the huge house and the tall, pointy roof with my eyes and mouth wide open because suddenly I felt Michael’s hand on my shoulder.

“Are you okay?” He said and then he laughed. “It’s only a house, Jenny. Stop staring like that. Plus, half of it is just to store things. My old man tried to renovate it once, when money was still flowing, but then my sister got married and we spent way more than expected. So, it’s still like that. You are going to love it. I promise. It’s a lovely place surrounded by land. Clean air, space, even a lake for swimming, what else could someone ask for?”

He was right. I was just silly - It’s just all new to me. He never stopped smiling as we reached the place. His place. I felt really weird about it but I couldn’t explain it. He wouldn’t understand. Plus I didn’t want this first impression of our new ahead to be spoiled because of my childish insecurities. But the size of this house as we approach it, its tall roof and the many windows; it was enough to make me feel more anxious and unsure for my decisions. Living up here? In the middle of nowhere? With people I never met before? Even while thinking of it, I felt a tightness in my stomach. What if they don’t like me? What if I don’t like them? Michael always tries too hard to calm me down, every time I start with this. I just feel like a fish out of the water.

mily02_400“I am fine. It’s just... All this, is so new to me”, I finally said, being almost honest. Yes, it was all new to me, but that wasn’t exactly the reason I felt so... vulnerable and helpless. It was like giving all up. I kept nothing of my own when I made this decision and that makes me feel more insecure. Like I have nothing to lean on. It feels like I’m giving me up. Like a surrender. How could I explain all this without sounding stupid? I was about to enter a new world and start a new life. I had no job, no house, no friends or family. It was just me and my few stuff.  If I disappear, no one will come for me. Oh, stop already!

There’s a man standing at the front gate and waves. He opens the double iron gate and Michael stops the car right next to him. I am still stunned by the owned land. The fence surrounding the manor is lost among the thick oleander bushes and trees with the dark green leaves and colorful flowers. I wonder how far this manor gets. The man’s voice is deep.

“They’re all expecting you”, he said and took off his straw hat. When this was said I swallowed a knot stuck in my throat. He wiped the sweat on his forehead with the back of his sleeve. Only then I noticed his clothes. He must be the gardener or something.

“Thank you Sam. We better get there, don’t we? I’ll catch up with you later.”

The man lowered his head in agreement and then my eyes caught some movement at the house. A door opened and Michael’s family got out.

“Why don’t you take a break, old man? The sun is almost down. Everything will be right here tomorrow”, Michael said again. “Don’t push yourself too hard, alright? I want you still here when my own kids tangle in your feet”.

Sam laughed throwing his head back and nodded us to leave. His genuine laughter made me like him instantly. I saw him from my side mirror putting his hat back and for a moment our eyes met. I never figured out his puzzling look behind his warm, brown eyes.


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