My father had died in April, but there were still some loose ends to tie up. My youngest brother had already done the lion’s share of the work, settling the estate, selling the house and arranging for my mother’s care. There was yet one surprise awaiting at the bottom of a box of paperwork.
My parents owned a vacation home in Lake Luzerne, NY from 1973 to 1996. It became our summer getaway for many years, and once my brothers and I grew up, it became their mountain retreat. My father retired from the police department in 1992, selling my childhood home in Farmingdale, NY and then splitting their time between Lake Luzerne and a condo in Naples, FL. At some point, the time and effort it took to maintain both houses became too much, so they sold the house in Lake Luzerne and upgraded from the condo to a proper house in Naples.
Every word of the preceding two paragraphs is 100% true. What follows is entirely an invention of my subconscious, but given the context of my father’s recent passing, as well as the location in Lake Luzerne, it felt real.
The surprise my brother found in a box of paperwork back in California was a lease for a two-room apartment in Lake Luzerne. The lease was current through the end of 2020, and there was a key in a sealed envelope, with “#7” written in my father’s unmistakable print. The lease had a provision for early termination, forfeiting the security deposit. We decided that terminating the lease was the right thing to do. Unfortunately it included the formality of a landlord walk-through in the presence of the tenant. Given that I lived on the East Coast, I was nominated to make the trip.
I arrived in town on a Thursday night with the intention of meeting with the landlord the following afternoon. I spent Friday morning wandering around the town, amazed by how little had changed since my last visit in the mid-90s. The apartment building was an old 2-story house that had been hastily divided into 10 modestly equipped apartments to accommodate workers at a nearby paper mill that closed decades ago. There were 5 identical 2-room apartments on each floor, each with a bedroom, half bath and small kitchenette. The 5 rooms shared a shower at the end of the hallway.
Envelope in hand, I located apartment #7 quickly enough. Not too surprisingly, the key required a little bit of persuasion to work, but after a few seconds I opened the door and stepped into the kitchen.
To say the room was spartan would be generous. The only cooking surface was a hotplate, supplemented by a microwave and toaster oven. The mini-fridge belonged in a college dorm and not an apartment, and the kitchen sink predated “mid-century modern”. The cabinets were made of plywood hastily painted white. In them were a few cups and plates. Likewise the drawers had a few utensils, but very little in the way of pots or pans.
When I opened the refrigerator, I noted a clear glass bowl with a black bean and vegetable salad that seemed fresh, neatly covered in plastic wrap. There was also a carton of milk and a few containers of yogurt.
I was startled by a greeting at the door, which I hadn’t closed behind me.
“Hey there! Are you moving in?”
It was a neat looking man in his 30s or 40s.
“Are you the landlord?” I asked.
“No,” he said with slight embarrassment, “I’m Curt. I live down the hallway.”
I guess I had expected any occupant of these dated apartments to be disheveled and down on his or her luck, an uncharitable misjudgment on my part.
“I’m sorry for the confusion. I have an appointment with the landlord this afternoon. Apparently this apartment was being leased by my father, and, well… he’s recently deceased…”
“Oh, my,” Curt said, “I’m very sorry to hear that.”
After about a minute of awkward silence, another man appeared at the door wearing only a towel. He had just stepped out of the shower and seemed as surprised to see us as we were to see him.
It was becoming clear that some sort of informal use of the apartment was going on, and while I had every right to an explanation, there had been no damage done, and the space had been kept clean and neat. If anything, the unsanctioned occupant or occupants had been doing my father, and therefore me, a huge favor.
“You know,” I said, “I think I might go back into town and come back at 1 to meet with the landlord.”
The men offered no objection, nor any sort of explanation. They politely followed me into the hallway as I locked the door behind us and walked out of the building.
Seconds later, I woke up, leaving me to speculate about the strange circumstances of an event that never happened.