Barbara Taylor is a proud survivor of a southern boarding school for girls, a southern women's college where majoring in English required reciting Chaucer from memory, and driver's instructions administered by her father, a former Army drill sergeant. A Ph.D. dropout and winner of Flatiron Writers Short Fiction Competition, she lives and writes in North Carolina.
13 Bedlam Lane
Note on monogrammed stationery to Sylvia Grissel
The unusual (dyed?) electric blue carnations arrived today. I thought the delivery was a mistake until I found your name typed inside the gift card with an odd quote: It requires more courage to suffer than to die (Napoleon). Probably a mix-up at the florist. Anyway, thanks for the thought.
The closing on the investment property is tomorrow. Next, some quick, easy fixes. I’m almost a landlord.
As Always, Wini
Voicemail to Imogen, Leader of Poetry Coterie
“Hi, Imogen. Wini. So sorry to miss our meeting, but I’m up to my ears in rental house business. No time to work on my haiku. But I hear your poem was accepted by “Destroying Angels.” Kudos. I’d love nothing more than to see you all next week as usual at Caribou Coffee, but I make no promises. Cheers.” Click.
E-mail to Mr. Paint Man
Your business came highly recommended by my dear friend, Sylvia Grissel, who provided a number and e-mail address, but it seems your phone is no longer in service. I’m anxious to get an estimate on 13 Bedlam Lane.
Please let me know a convenient time to meet and tour what some might call my shabby chic cottage.
E-mail to Peccadillo Plumbing
Your voice mailbox is full again, so please give me a ring as soon as possible in regard to the clogged drain in the basement floor at 13 Bedlam Lane. The water level is steadily rising, and I’m worried about walking around down there with the old freezer plugged in.
Business letter to Heavenly Roofers
I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to your mother’s funeral, but I had to be at #13 to pay the plumber in cash. I got your messages about an ex-boyfriend stealing her Elvis gold record, cats trapped in the trailer for days, your wife’s breakdown, and your stolen truck. Glad the police located the vehicle with only minor damage and the ASPCA found the cats new homes—even the blind one with three legs. Fingers crossed your wife stays on her medication this time.
I haven’t seen hide nor hair of Cletus and Girard all week. Last time, they were lounging under a tree at #13 drinking what appeared to be Mountain Dew, but I couldn’t swear what was in those cans. I was scheduled to meet a representative from Mr. Paint Man, but no one showed up. By the time I left, Cletus and Girard were nowhere to be found. Now, I understand you’re in mourning, but I don’t think the blue plastic is an adequate solution with a weekend of rain predicted. We need to move along here, Larry.
Again, my condolences.
Sincerely, Winifred Tolliver
P.S. There is still the problem of the sink Mr. Peccadillo left on the porch. Girard dropped his hammer from the roof peak and smashed it to smithereens. We can discuss this later.
Voicemail to Ultimate Septic Pros
“Howard, you can’t find the septic tank? Call me back. It’s Winifred Tolliver.” Click.
E-mail to Sylvia
Syl, you’re sailing around somewhere in the Caribbean, but you’re never far from your laptop and must be dying for an update on the Bedlam Lane project.
Mr. Paint Man is recovering from open heart surgery. Obviously, he couldn’t handle #13, but he told me to tell you he’ll get busy on your dining room as soon as they unhook him from the I.V. The son who gave me the estimate checked into rehab, so he wasn’t available after all. I finally ran across Leo on Craigslist. He’s living in a camper in the driveway, so at least I know where to locate him.
There is a slim possibility the house will be ready to rent before the first blizzard of the season, but I doubt it. I need the name of a property manager. Know anybody?
Have fun, Win
Text to Howard
You still can’t find the septic tank? Even with the camera on the end of the tube?
“Howard, did you say ‘sinkhole’?” Click.
“Hi, Syl—it’s Wini. Thought you’d be back by now. Thanks a million for your postcard. The water really is turquoise down there. Sorry to hear your laptop went overboard. How did that happen? We’re in for an ice storm, so work has pretty much come to a standstill on Bedlam Lane. Not that it was moving faster than molasses before, but--“ Beep.
Note to Bedlam Lane Chairperson of the Road Maintenance Committee, Mrs. Coogan, scribbled on notebook paper with a workman’s pencil stub
I found your bill stuck in the door of #13. As you can see, I’m very busy fixing up the house and thereby raising your property values. No one explained private road fees or who to pay, so I apologize for the delay. I haven’t met anyone on the lane—not a soul has come by to introduce themselves or admire the improvements, I’m sorry to say. And I’m a little concerned about the house across the way with all the junk and a mattress out front. What are those orange wires—extension cords? Perhaps you can fill me in on the situation when at last we meet. I’ll drop a check in your box as soon as possible.
Feel free to e-mail or call as necessary with news of other neighborhood matters.
Happy Holidays to you and yours, Winifred Tolliver
I’m sorry you view me as ‘another absentee landlord,’ Mrs. Coogan, but thanks for filling me in on the squatter living in the sea of trash. As you suggest, I will give the property in question—and the pit bulls—a wide berth.
Happy New Year, Winifred Tolliver
“Imogen, believe it or not, it was a relief to hear your angry message about missing another meeting of Poetry Coterie. At least you weren’t asking for money. I have nothing useful to contribute as my mind is absorbed by the Bedlam Lane house. My haiku remains unresolved. But congrats on your poem in “Bloodfoot.” You’re on a roll. Maybe you should put me on the inactive list for now.” Click.
E-mail to Pixie Properties
To Whom It May Concern:
It is not my practice to hire people who hawk their wares door-to-door. Desperate as I am for property management assistance, please stop leaving leaflets at 13 Bedlam Lane. They are littering the yard I just raked.
E-mail to Charles Clifton, President, Pixie Properties
Charles, I’m so embarrassed. I had no idea my good friend, Sylvia Grissel, suggested you contact me. I haven’t heard from her in months and thought she was lost at sea. I would be delighted to meet your associate, Kimberly, at her earliest convenience.
13 Bedlam Lane is, at long last, almost complete. You have no idea how challenging painting paneling can be. The painter spent all winter at the task, living out of his camper in the driveway. But the backbreaking work was worth it. A molting brown cave has been transformed into a showplace by five coats of white (Martha Stewart) paint.
I look forward to turning the business of my rental into the capable hands of Pixie Properties.
Best, Winifred Tolliver
Thank you card (photo of a teapot)
Wow, Sylvia. Thanks for warning me about Kimberly’s hair. But let her take it from here, I say. I’m so ready to get out from under the rental. Also for Leo the painter to get his camper out of my driveway, not to mention out of my life. Do you know any good lawyers just in case?
More later, Win
“It’s me again, Syl. Don’t worry about my last request. Everyone looks at me as if I’ve lost my marbles when I ask for the name of a good lawyer. But, the positive news is, Leo and his camper are finally gone. He left a confusing note at #13, going on about Kimberly. Who knows what that’s about. And Kimberly just texted she’s showing the house to a ‘solvent couple’ this afternoon. So I’m over on Bedlam Lane, burning the last of my serenity candles. Ciao.” Click.
“Well. Kimberly. Winifred Tolliver. Charles Clifton informed me #13 has been rented and you are filling out paperwork as I speak. Aren’t you the speedy one. Do you have any idea what the tenants’ job descriptions are at the cemetery? I mean—just wondering. I understand they plan to move in right away, so I’ll get the new shower head over there. Okay. ‘Bye.” Click.
“Motorcycles, Kimberly? And what are those weird lights glowing in the basement? The ‘Born to Be Wild’ poster leaning against the freshly painted living room wall? Remind the tenants that nails in the paneling are verboten, as is speeding on the lane. Gravel was just put down---“ Beep.
No, I wasn’t specific with Kimberly about vetoing people with motorcycles, and, yes, I’m aware there is no law against them.
There aren’t enough hours in the day to list everything I have objections to, so my suggestion is to encourage Kimberly to keep the lines of communication open. If she had run the cemetery couple’s gory details by me before the lease was signed, I could have avoided the daily complaints I’m fielding from the Chairperson of the Bedlam Lane Road Maintenance Committee. I rue the day I ever gave her my contact information.
Thanks for letting me know about Kimberly’s vacation to Cancun. In the meantime, the tenants need to understand that they are responsible for replacing the batteries in the garage door opener. The charge for a technician to perform this simple task is outrageous and unacceptable.
Winifred G. Tolliver
Letter (typed) to sister, Alice
Sorry for stirring up painful memories. My “spell,” as you called it, was a brief moment of buyer’s remorse—a condition you’re familiar with. Who could forget your better half Woody bamboozling you into co-signing for that worthless swampland?
No need to remind me—in that know-it-all, I-told-you-so voice—that you had your doubts from the start about 13 Bedlam Lane. But I followed your suggestion to make a long overdue doctor’s appointment. I sacrificed my physical and mental health to transform a wreck into, as Keats wrote, a thing of beauty and a joy forever. I trust it’s not too late for the joy and regaining a semblance of my pre-landlord well-being.
Your little sister, Wini
“Syl, thanks for checking on #13 while I’m bedridden with a case of exhaustion and allergy to leaf mold. Agreed: the metal carport the tenants erected is an eyesore. But the garage is full of motorcycles with no space for the monster truck and SUV. The blot on the landscape goes with them when they leave. If they ever leave. I’ll be up and running again soon---“ Beep.
Imogen, how sweet of you to suggest the poets meet in my bedroom this week. I would give anything to say yes, prop myself up and listen to your latest (published in “Sulphur Tuft”—imagine), but the excitement might be too much. Sitting upright brings on a spinning sensation I try to avoid.
What has become of my creative juices, you ask? Landlording. No progress whatsoever on my haiku. Sure you don’t want to put me on the inactive list? The title certainly fits.
Best to all, Wini
It’s been a while, Leo.
Thanks for the photos of the Alamo and alerting me to Kimberly’s whereabouts. So—it’s westward-ho to the Grand Canyon. Charles Clifton is out of the office, too, according to the incompetent answering service at Pixie Properties. Is he traveling with you in the camper, by any chance?
Kimberly might be interested to know that a tree fell on #13 during her absence. Fortunately, not one of the big ones, but I had to cancel a long-standing doctor’s appointment to supervise.
E-mail to Kimberly in care of Leo
No sooner did the tacky metal carport go up at #13 than I got another call from the skeleton crew at Pixie Properties, informing me that squirrels were leaping from tree branches into the chimney and committing suicide on the basement floor below. A questionable scenario, in my opinion, but what could I do other than pay someone to fashion a chimney cover?
When do you plan to return from your honeymoon? And where on earth is Charles Clifton?
Your client, Winifred G. Tolliver
Sympathy card (two doves)
Sylvia, I was totally taken aback when you revealed in the throes of grief that you had been more than friends with Charles Clifton. Your comment that I had nothing to do with his stroke confused me a little. But, that aside, how tragic. He was too young to go.
When you’re feeling up to it, I’ll treat you to lunch at C’est La Vie. The cemetery (there’s the dreaded word again) couple is paying rent, at least. Sometime during the month.
With Love & Concern, Wini
Letter on monogrammed stationery
Dear Rev. Cadwallader,
My heart sank when you inquired after church if my rental property was available. I’d love nothing more than to have your nephew—a landscape architect!—and his wife—an interior designer!—as tenants. Sadly, I am under legal obligation to honor a lease arranged by Pixie Properties. You’ve no doubt heard PP is on its last legs. The assistance I’m receiving is slim to none, but I’m tied to their initial contract ‘til the end of the lease period. I’ve been so busy with #13 I had to relinquish my spot on the altar committee—a huge sacrifice, as only you can imagine. Be assured that I will alert you immediately when the house is vacant.
Your sermon, “Lepers Among Us,” was an inspiration. Keep up the good work.
Sincerely, Winifred Tolliver
Welcome back, Kimberly. Sorry to hear about your debilitating morning sickness, but isn’t it nice you can work from home—or, more accurately, out of the camper.
Thank you for the update on my investment property. Since the Boyfriend left with his motorcycles—hurray—I had hoped the Girlfriend could handle running into him at the cemetery. But she quit her job, you say. Good news about the alimony payments, though. I didn’t know she was divorced. There’s a story there, no doubt.
About the tenant’s list of issues.
“Kimberly, Winifred Tolliver here. She said she got poison ivy from a cat? What cat? I specified NO PETS. Get back to me immediately.” Click.
I was at massage therapy (the one thing that keeps me on an even keel) and missed your call, Kimberly.
A neighbor’s cat rubbed up against her and this is how she got a rash. And it’s my responsibility?
What a tangled web.
Don’t be naïve, Kimberly. If there’s a cat involved, it’s hers.
An inspection is in order. If you find any evidence of a feline, have a serious talk with the woman.
I don’t believe a word of it, Kimberly.
Just Because card (apple tree)
Sylvia, you say my tenant is a member of your Broken Hearts support group. Must not be a secret organization, then, since you brought it up. Let me know if she stops crying over Motorcycle Boy and mentions any pets.
Enclosed is a gift certificate for massage therapy. May you feel up to using it soon.
Sorry to hear about your missing lawn ornaments. A devastating loss given the gnomes sentimental value, not to mention handmade costumes your late husband created for various holidays. So rare for a man to be handy with a sewing machine. You must be lost without him.
Unfortunately, I have no light to shed on the gnomes’ mysterious disappearance or your suspicion that my tenant is the kidnapper. Although I’m confident this is not the case, I’ll look into it to set your mind at ease.
“Your message from #13 was garbled, Kimberly, but in between bouts of coughing I thought I heard the words stench and reek. I lost you after that. Get back to me.” Click.
Blank card (water lilies) to Gillian Greenberg, MSW
It’s been awhile since we’ve gotten together in a professional sense. Your vacation to a dude ranch is bad timing for me, as I’ve relapsed into hopelessness about the human race. We touched on that in sessions once or twice. The massage therapy you suggested isn’t cutting it anymore. My body is a tightly wound spring, and my brain won’t shut off at bedtime. Insurance policies (the charges—a crime) are inadequate to cover every possible disaster. I’m sure you’ve heard from our mutual friend, Sylvia—also in the center of a personal maelstrom— that I bought an investment property in a rare period of optimism that quickly went south. The tenant is an animal hoarder and one of the neighbors, a Mrs. Coogan, is harassing me. I know what you’re thinking, but ‘harass’ is not too strong a word, believe me. My property manager lives in a camper with my former painter and claims to have morning sickness twenty-four hours a day. She is no help at all. I’m trapped on a gerbil wheel, getting nowhere fast.
I’ll probably need a lawyer eventually, but who?
Thanks to our work together, Gillian, I recognize that I’m overwhelmed. I pulled out the dog-eared list of stress danger signs, and I have them all. Please check your schedule when you return and fit me in. You understand my history, so I won’t have to begin at square one.
This isn’t a good time for the visit you suggested. I could make up all manner of excuses, but the truth is our last phone conversation sent me rifling through the medicine cabinet for migraine medication. So, I lack the vision and backbone of a landlord, do I?
I’m not a quitter, and I resent you comparing this situation to discontinuing clarinet lessons in the sixth grade. I was pressured into them by our parents, if you recall. This is different. In business, bumps in the road are to be expected. I’m allowed my emotions, whatever they may be. Is a little encouragement too much to ask? A modicum of understanding for once?
When the plumber unclogged the drain in the basement (second attempt), the ceiling fan upstairs mysteriously started working again. If this isn’t a positive sign I don’t know what is. Perhaps we can plan something in three to six months if you promise to leave real estate tycoon Woody at home.
Your sister, Wini
“Gillian—Wini. There’s a support group for landlords? A 12-step program? I’m powerless? Isn’t that the truth. And it’s free, thank God. I’m sure you’re right—the cats will seem like nothing after I’ve gone a few times. Landlords are all in the same leaky boat, dehydrated, drifting out to sea, sharks circling. At least I’m not alone.” Click.
E-mail to Doyle, member of Landlords Anonymous
Thanks for your enthusiastic welcome to Landlords Anonymous and the invitation to ‘Pity Party’ night this coming Wednesday at the Jade Dragon Chinese buffet.
Let me get back to you on that.
“Good of you to check in from Boca Raton, Syl. Where am I calling from? A dank church basement, surrounded by broken people over-dosing on instant coffee and talking a blue streak about vermin and eviction. What was Gillian thinking?” Click.
Since Charles Clifton’s demise, your elopement, your extended honeymoon, and now your morning, afternoon, and night sickness, Pixie Properties might just as well close its doors. In fact, it has. PP is nothing but a post office box now, and you have left me holding the bag.
I am setting you free, Kimberly. Try ginger ale and saltines for the nausea.
Yours very truly,
Winifred G. Tolliver, Property Manager
Group E-mail to Poetry Coterie
The 24-hour Out Loud Poetry Jamboree sounds like great fun. Jeremy, so generous of you to sacrifice yourself as designated van driver while the rest of you poets enjoy a wine tasting and heavy hors d’oeuvres en route to a rollicking night and day of poetry, poetry, poetry.
Unfortunately, as you all know, I have abandoned my haiku, hoping to start fresh on another after recovering from my property management crisis. But let’s hear it for our fearless leader, Imogen, who will be reading her entire chapbook, “Devil’s Cigar,” (3:00 a.m. at the Main Tent). Go, Imogen. I’ll be there in spirit.
Note to Krishna—tenant—taped to the door at 13 Bedlam Lane
I am your landlord. You are not answering the door and your phone is dead.
We need to talk.
Kimberly is no longer available. My card is attached. Please be in touch right away.
Thank you, Winifred Tolliver
P.S.—Are those gnomes I see through the glass in the garage doors?
E-mail to Environmental Waste Solutions
I’ve noticed your truck parked on several occasions across the street from my Bedlam Lane house. Someone please put my troubled mind at ease.
Thanks, W. Tolliver
Voicemail to Elford Fink (irritated Bedlam Lane resident)
“Mrs. Coogan is correct. I own 13 Bedlam Lane. Sorry to hear you have been disturbed by my tenant’s musical renditions in the middle of the night. The truth is, I’m having a little trouble making contact with her, but, I will find a way to put a stop to the racket. By the way, do you know what the Environmental Waste Solutions truck is doing on the lane? They don’t respond to my inquiries---“ Beep.
Letter (typed) to brother-in-law Woody
I’m sure you mean well, but whatever Alice told you about my investment property “woes,” as you call them, is pure exaggeration. She’s prone to that. I’m doing fine here. In fact, I’ve simplified by cutting out the middle person. My motto is keep the lines of communication open in regard to my business and personal life.
No need to communicate any further advice from your vast stockpile of experience.
Blank card (kittens in a basket)
Gillian, thanks for the consultation (albeit brief) concerning my problematic tenant. You confirmed my hunch that Krishna could be suffering from agoraphobia and insomnia brought on by sudden trauma—in this case, the break-up with ‘Born To Be Wild’ and unemployment. Or, then again, she might be an operatic sociopath.
At the last meeting of Landlords Anonymous, it was suggested that I park outside the door of #13 and wait. A group member did this once, but her tenant called the police and the landlord was threatened with arrest. What is wrong with our society today?
Krishna must leave the house sometime. The cats need kibble and—please—supplies for the litter box. But I don’t want to go to jail. I’m flummoxed. Any thoughts?
Thanks again, Wini
Kimberly, I haven’t received a check for the security deposit Pixie Properties was holding for Krishna. She’s disappeared, leaving only the cat odor you discovered before we parted ways.
I have mixed feelings.
First, relief. Second, confusion. Third, anger. Something tells me this feeling will linger on long after the carpet cleaners have left the premises. Cat urine, experts tell me, is almost impossible to remove. Steam cleaning only makes it worse. The solution—a 50-50 shot at best—is complicated and expensive.
Which leads me back to the security deposit.
I’ve discussed the situation at length with my landlord support group. The members assure me that I’m entitled to the entire deposit, as cat urine is above and beyond normal wear and tear. It’s all your fault, Kimberly.
I’ll stop by the camper and pick up the money. Who can trust the postal service anymore.
Voicemail to Kimberly
“What do you mean, you refunded Krishna’s deposit before she left town? Without consulting me? I’ll be right there.” Click.
Voicemail to the office of Raymond Mooneyham, DDS
“Hello, this is Winifred Tolliver, and I have broken a tooth due to grinding. I know, I was warned to get fitted for a mouth guard when I became a landlord, but did I listen? No. You’ll x-ray me now and find all kinds of stress fractures. Nothing but bad news everywhere. Don’t bother to ask if I’m flossing regularly. Who has the time or the energy? Here it is Friday, and you’re no longer available on Fridays. How nice for you. I’ll suffer through the weekend. Call me Monday.” Click.
Voicemail to Dr. Mooneyham’s receptionist
“Winifred Tolliver, Gretchen. Mouth is still numb. I forgot to pick up the oral surgeon’s card at your desk. My wisdom teeth are ticking time bombs, but they’ll have to wait until the current nightmare is over with my rental house. I bent your ear about that. Okay, please mail me the card. I’ll get around to oral surgery after the smoke clears.” Click.
I got the birth announcement and information on the baby registry at Target, Leo. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t know where to send a gift, as the last time I tried to get hold of Kimberly I discovered you had moved the camper to parts unknown. Probably for the best, as I wasn’t in a good place at the time.
After severing ties with Kimberly, I received a three-page letter extolling her professional virtues despite all evidence to the contrary. Tell her I tacked the letter over my desk to remind me daily of my incredible stupidity.
Congratulations on the twins.
Doyle, your suggestion that I be the featured presenter at next week’s meeting moves me beyond words. I try to avoid public speaking, but if my story helps one shattered individual it will all be worth it.
Where to begin with this veil of tears? My first glimpse of 13 Bedlam Lane? It was raining buckets. A cracked, empty hummingbird feeder dangled from the porch. Once inside, I was gobsmacked by the smell of mildew and rust. Dumbstruck by ceiling tiles and a green toilet. But was I deterred? No. I saw #13 as a challenge. This was my first mistake.
I endured months of renovations, excuse after excuse from workmen, beer drinking and bonfires in the yard, floods, delay after delay, bill after bill. But I persevered.
In my weakened condition, I was easy prey for Pixie Properties propaganda. Professionals—ha. Kimberly saddled me with the tenants from hell, ran off with my painter, and got pregnant somewhere between the Alamo and the Grand Canyon. I found myself in the untenable position of paying her for throwing up.
Was I unrealistic to expect a little gratitude from Bedlam Lane residents for transforming #13 into a showplace? Well, not from the squatter, but from normal homeowners? Instead, I was shunned for renting out my property. Who is Mrs. Coogan to judge? It became her mission to make my life a misery. Did my tenant steal her gnomes? Yes, but kleptomania was just the tip of the iceberg with Krishna. I’m the one who suffered the most, no question.
But I’m rattling on, Doyle. I’ll pack as much into the hour as I can. I won’t disappoint you.
“The gnomes are back—dumped in the shrub bed in the dead of night, you said. No harm came to them, apparently. One of life’s little mysteries I guess.” Click.
Voicemail to Milton Tarwater, Bedlam Lane resident
“The manic quest has come to an end. Your drone is on the floor of #13 in a pile of broken glass. Just as I’m set to interview new tenants. Once we come to an agreement on reparations for my broken window, I’ll return your precious drone.” Click.
Alas, Syl, I can’t make it to brunch Saturday morning as I’ll be—where else?—at the Bedlam house to meet the window repair people in the wake of the drone incident. The metal scavengers might show up to collect the rusting, abandoned carport. Then again, they might not.
90% humidity has caused the return of the cat urine ordeal. I may be facing carpet replacement before it’s all over.
To answer your question, I’m not moved to interview any of the individuals with credit problems (their numbers are legion) who responded to my ad for #13. Same goes for ‘Pet Parents,’ ‘New Moon Commune,’ ‘Fraternity Guys,’ and ‘I refuse to leave a name.’ Is it legal to require psychological testing of potential renters? I should check with Gillian on that.
I envy your upcoming trip to Alaska. I’ve never considered a cruise, but I’d be willing to risk crashing into icebergs (are there any of those left what with global warming?) to escape my landlording responsibilities. I’m beginning to wonder if my days of fun and freedom are fini, but how wonderful you still have a life.
“Reverend, this is Winifred Tolliver. My rental house is now available, and I’m hoping against hope your nephew (the landscape architect) and his wife (the interior designer) will be interested. Tell them the carpeting is new. I look forward to hearing from them. Any time, day or night. Also, when you think about it, could you include me on the church prayer list? Thanks, and God bless you.” Click.
E-mail to Bluebird, member of Landlords Anonymous
I appreciate your generous offer to smudge my rental house with sage sticks. Cleansing the negative energy and making way for a new, healing cycle certainly wouldn’t hurt. The sooner the better.
I understand you’re gluten free, soy free, wheat free, nut free, egg free, and—needless to say, meatless—but if you’ll let me know something you can eat, I’d be happy to fix a casserole or perhaps my magical cauliflower scones (I never divulge the recipe, so don’t ask) as a token of my esteem.
Text to Bluebird
Lentils. Got it.
Little did I know you poets took a vote, concluded I’m suffering from writer’s block, and plotted to show up unannounced at 13 Bedlam Lane for an impromptu intervention in the middle of my smudging ceremony, spoiling the ambiance.
It was my choice not to follow-through with my haiku. Given current circumstances, the light-hearted tone I was going for is no longer relevant. Can we drop it now?
Thanks for the “Persevere” card and comprehensive description of your Alaska cruise. I almost feel I lived every delightful moment. The buffets. Popping over to shore. Vodka drinking games with the captain and crew. Your vacation is the closest thing to bliss I’ll experience for some time to come.
By the way, persevering is not what I had in mind when I purchased 13 Bedlam Lane. Now it’s my career. Perhaps you could hold off a bit on announcing another trip?
Must dash. Meeting the exterminator at 1:00.
“Sorry I wasn’t available when you and Woody dropped into town without warning, but I have pressing business with Bugs Be Gone at Bedlam Lane. As you probably know by now, there’s a Motel 6 within sight of the outlet mall and a Krispy Kreme if you get hungry. Enjoy your weekend. And alert me next time, for God’s sake.” Click.
Gillian, Landlords Anonymous is a Band-Aid on a gaping wound at this juncture. Who knew that fleas’ eggs could lie dormant and then hatch like that? I need medication, and a psychiatrist to write the prescription. Not the one with narcolepsy you told me about that time. No, I’m not feeling self-destructive, just in despair about the future.
Syl, can you pick me up for the appointment with the psychiatrist? My car is being recalled. The last thing I need is for the passenger air bag infiltrator to explode and riddle me with metal fragments.
I’m waiting for the lemon balm tincture to kick in, if it ever does.
Stunned to hear from you after all this time, Leo, and to learn Bluebird once drove your school bus. So, she leaked the information that 13 Bedlam Lane is for rent again (erasing the positive effects of sage cleansing)? I could list all the reasons why I must decline your offer to “do me a solid” and move the camper into the driveway of 13 Bedlam Lane (deja-vu all over again, as Yogi Berra once said), but my time is limited. I’m suffering from a horrid wisdom tooth infection that has come on the heels of an unresolved nervous condition. My “friend” Sylvia, the world traveler and bon vivant, forgot to pick me up for a crucial medical appointment.
Off to the oral surgeon.
Good luck finding a new—and free--place to park.
P.S.—Thanks for the photo of the twins. Their hair looks just like Kimberly’s. Little Flopsy and Mopsy.
Voicemail to Neville’s Bunny Breeders
“It makes no difference that the rabbits are a business, not pets. Goodbye.” Click.
Voicemail to Deirdre, owner of Deirdre’s Daycare
“What a coincidence that you are running an illegal daycare center on Bedlam Lane, which is conveniently located a few doors down from my vacant rental house. The one you would like to use as a toddler overflow location on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for a pittance. I must decline the opportunity as I very recently had the carpet replaced and toddlers are, to say the least, unpredictable.” Click.
“Of course the oral surgeon put me out, Alice. It was the best sleep I’ve had in months. Dreamless. A refreshing break from dealing with the rental. Only wish it could have gone on and on. Do not come here. That’s the last thing I need. I have plenty of gauze pads and pain killers. Yogurt in the fridge. Stay home with Woody.” Click.
This is to let you know I received—by registered mail—an official-looking, punitive document excommunicating me from the Coterie. You may recall that awhile back I asked nicely to be put on the inactive list as I was up to my neck in quicksand at 13 Bedlam Lane. Apparently we’re skipping the inactive step and going straight to non-member status without collecting $200.
Well, so be it. I was recovering from oral surgery, loss of blood, and screening a tide of unsuitable tenants when the document arrived, so you’ll understand why I was too weak to respond instantaneously as you obviously expected. You left a sarcastic follow-up phone message informing me that, wasting no time, my place in your esteemed group had been filled by Bluebird, the sage smudger. The very person who, via her big mouth, sent the latest batch of losers (otherwise known as would-be renters) my way. To think I took the time and trouble to make her a lentil crumble.
Whatever happened to appreciation and compassion?
Happy trails to you and the rest of the poetry aficionados.
P.S.—For your information, I haven’t “given up on the capacity for growth.” Just my haiku. I’m sure I’ll pick it up again when the current crisis passes. Literature is my life.
Just read your e-mail alerting me to the fact that my ginkgo tree has died and you are glad because you detested the vomit-like stink the berries exuded in fall.
Be that as it may, there is a larger issue you can help me with, Mrs. Coogan.
My tenant—now gone with the wind—complained about a “creepy” man with lopping shears, and I now know that he does more than lop the landscaping of others. He relieves himself on trees. Given your tenure as Chairperson of the Bedlam Lane Road Maintenance Committee, you must know who I am speaking of here.
I’ve caught sight of him—always in an undershirt and drooping drawers—many a disgusting time. Without a doubt, he is to blame for murdering my tree. Soon I will have a wasteland at #13. He must be stopped.
Who is this person? Contact me immediately with a name and any other information, please. I am in the process of seeking legal representation.
I didn’t know you had a son, Mrs. Coogan. Your rant on the phone (I was attempting a much needed nap when you called, by the way) left me confused. You never actually said this son Hartsell is the man I referred to before—the ginkgo killer—but only that I’m prejudiced against the mentally ill. Nothing could be further from the truth. Difficult as it is, I attempt to keep the lines of communication open with my sister—a real piece of work, believe me.
Has anyone ever told you it is rude to hang up on people? From this point on, I think it makes more sense (legal and otherwise) to communicate with each other in writing. I want a paper trail. And, just so you know, I plan to keep a very close eye on the plantings I have left at #13.
“Deirdre, this is Winifred Tolliver. I’ll have you know that #13 is private property—not a picnic location, not a public restroom or playground. My yard man brought to my attention that you and your little charges were caught red-handed trampling what’s left of my garden on Bedlam Lane. In case you wondered where the garbage bag on your doorstep came from--full of juice boxes and other debris including official Deirdre’s Daycare nametags for “Windy” and “Xavier”—now you know. Tres--- Beep.
“Trespassing will not be tolerated. I repeat: #13 is private property. Cease and desist or you’ll hear from my lawyer.” Click.
“I was flushing out my wounded mouth with antiseptic when you called, Syl. So your icemaker has stopped working. And just before your gala cocktail party that I’m unable to attend due to drooling and unsightly facial swelling. You shouldn’t have bought that computerized mega-fridge. Call Wally Underhill. He handled the oven explosion on Bedlam Lane. That was a close call. Expensive—I reeled at his bill—but at least the house is still standing. Time for a pain pill.” Click.
Reverend, you cannot imagine my joy at receiving your message that your nephew (the landscape architect!) and his wife (the interior designer!) are once again in the market for a rental. A shame their accommodations didn’t work out with the beastly landlord, but, I assure you, flexibility is my middle name. 13 Bedlam Lane has their name all over it. What is that name, by the way? You didn’t say. When can the dear couple move in?
I await your next communication like a child on Christmas Eve, too excited to close my eyes, counting the minutes ‘til morning. God bless you.
E-mail to Jasper and Annette Leake-Perlmutt
Jasper and Annette:
Excuse my delay in addressing your comprehensive list of “crucial” requirements prior to viewing 13 Bedlam Lane. Rev. Cadwallader may have shared that I’ve been overwhelmed of late by circumstances beyond my control. The congregation is praying for me in spite of the fact that I dropped out of the altar committee and, in fact, the church itself. My landlording experience has had a devastating effect on my spiritual life; so much so that my immortal soul may hang in the balance.
But I digress. Let me hit some of the high points of your communication to make sure I got it straight.
You say fostering “our feline friends” is your passion, as is hosting regular brass band practices. How nice that you are animal lovers. And music lovers, too. Unfortunately, I have come to despise felines (vehicles for fleas) after a band of them destroyed the flooring at Bedlam Lane. To be honest, I’m repelled by music, too--the result of constant complaints from one Mr. Fink who was driven mad by my then songstress, kleptomaniac, frozen in adolescence, irresponsible, animal hoarder tenant, Krishna.
It sounds as if Annette is allergic to water and air, so expensive filters are needed. Removing the new carpet would also be a must. Well, tough. Annette, you’re not really allergic. There are authentic allergies (such as mine to leaf mold) and the imaginary. It’s all in your mind, like people who out of the blue take a notion to swill apple cider vinegar by the gallon. And that carpeting isn’t going anywhere.
You would like permission to construct a skate board ramp for Jasper. Over my dead body—which, at the rate I’m going, might not take long.
You specified a six-month lease as you are currently house hunting. You could buy #13 from my estate, if I can ever find a decent lawyer.
Thank you (and Rev. Cadwallader) for your interest,
Winifred Tolliver, Owner
“Your cryptic memo didn’t sound like a man of God, Rev. Cadwallader. Be that as it may, the recent hurricane and subsequent flood deposited someone’s statues of the baby Jesus and Virgin Mary by the fence at 13 Bedlam Lane (the property Jasper and Annette will not be inhabiting with their cadre of cats and brass band instruments). If the church can use these religious artifacts—slightly the worse for wear—you’re welcome to them. Otherwise, I’ll contact St. Fergus’s.” Click.
“So, Syl. You’re off again—this time to a rapini festival in Spain to celebrate broccoli. How festive. May the excitement go on and on. In fact, don’t pause for a second to think, Wini must hear about this. No, she mustn’t. I will live in blissful ignorance of cruciferous vegetables and the bullfighters you are certain to meet on this latest junket. And I’m afraid you can’t borrow my cashmere shawl for the flight. Left by accident at #13, it was soaked with a toxic substance by Bugs Be Gone. Let this be a lesson.” Click.
Voicemail to Peccadillo Plumbing
“Mr. Peccadillo? Winifred Tolliver, 13 Bedlam Lane. My yard man forgot to lock the garage door and I suspect some toddlers and their keeper availed themselves of the downstairs toilet. Can I prove this? Probably not—that daycare woman will deny everything. I need you right away, please. This is an emergency.” Click.
E-mail to Horack Accountants, PA
See you soon, Winifred
Voicemail to Detective Vogel
“Detective, I heard on the news that members of some screwy nation that doesn’t believe laws apply to them are moving bag and baggage into vacant houses and refusing to leave. I pay my taxes and own a rental property that happens to be empty at the moment. 13 Bedlam Lane. Could you assign an officer—preferably around the clock—to guard the place? Not forever—just for the time being. Honestly, I don’t understand what is happening in the world today. I ask you, what next? Oh, my name is—“ Beep.
Generic birthday card (gray with black lettering)
I’m still processing your call, Alice—the most recent one in a frenzied series with Woody in the background, babbling incoherently.
The ramifications of your situation stagger me. There is still time to turn back. What exactly is the timetable with the foreclosure?
Many happy returns of the day, Wini
Thank you card (image of a long road stretching ahead) to the Landlords Anonymous support group in care of Doyle
After I monopolized the entire meeting and coffee hour last week, I found under my windshield wiper the sympathy card signed and filled with inspirational notes from each of you. You have all been where I am now—investment property hell. Who better to understand my current plight than you poor, fractured people—barely hanging on by a thread yourselves?
But the bitter came with the sweet. My supposed friend, Sylvia (I spoke of her blasted getaways at length) sent a postcard after I specifically asked her not to rub it in about the wonders of the broccoli festival. I can’t believe I didn’t see her passive-aggressive streak before now. Thank you all for being true friends, even if we don’t know each other’s last names.
Blank Postcard to Rev. Faust, St. Fergus Episcopal Church
Rev. Faust, you don’t know me, but I recently left two statues on the steps of St. Fergus’s in appreciation for the Landlords Anonymous support group that meets in your basement. Yes, I am a landlord and therefore in desperate need of divine help. The minister of my former church no longer speaks to me (his parting shot: Good luck finding a religion that agrees with YOU), so anything along spiritual lines would be appreciated. Please, Rev. Faust, pray for this poor wretch. God will know who you mean. Thanks.
You’re on sabbatical, Gillian, but not incommunicado when it comes to client crises, surely. If this doesn’t count as a crisis, I don’t know what does.
Bear with me here.
Need I remind you of the vestiges of my dysfunctional family of origin? My sister, Alice (outlet shopper), and her spouse, Woody (accumulator of worthless real estate)? You found twisted tales of them amusing, for some reason. They are finally going bankrupt, losing their house, and looking to me, of all people, for rescue.
In other words, they are making a case for moving into 13 Bedlam Lane.
Yes, it is still vacant. Yes, I’m having a little trouble finding just the right tenants. But they’re out there, Gillian. I’m sure of it.
I know what you’re thinking. This crisis represents an opportunity. Easy for you to say, as you did again and again like a broken record during my therapy. The ideal opportunity for more pain. There is no silver lining here, Gillian. In a wave of hysteria, they swore to pay rent on time, unlike Krishna. Ha. What a joke. This pair has the potential to suck me dry.
No, I haven’t found a lawyer yet. No one seems to be in the position to recommend one. What I wouldn’t give for a threatening letter of some kind. And no, sister and brother-in-law don’t own a cat. Theodore is a ferret with a skin disease, and he most recently shredded the drapes and wallpaper in his owners’ soon to be sacrificed home. Alice and Woody will never give him up.
Where are you, Gillian? Call me.