By Cindy and Walt
When Luis and I got back to the Village, as I had begun to think of it, Carlos and Juan were winding down. They had finished their repairs to the house where they worked the last couple of days.
“While you were gone Senorita, a man came by and left this card. He was a young man in a small van,” Carlos said to me.
“Really,” I said. Andrews Flooring, the card read. “I wonder what he wants.”
Carlos just shrugged. The man from Andrews flooring had said something to Carlos, but he chose not to share it with me. I wondered about that. I remembered that all the men Carlos recommended were Latino. I wondered it he was a closet racist. His family had acted really strange since Jose’s death.
I shrugged it off and asked Juan to help unload Luis’s things. Once I pulled into the dirt drive, we made short work of the boxes. “I’m going to stay to give Luis a lesson in fire building,” I suggested to Juan.
After we got the fire going Luis unpacked. As he emptied the boxes I studied him closely. He was covered with tattoos. Some were beautiful skin art others were just junk. “Do you still have the sketch pad?” I asked.
“It’s full,” he said.
“Really could I see it?” I asked.
“Another time perhaps,” he said.
“Okay, well I’ll leave these with you. Please make notes on the sketches themselves. I’ll get them in a couple of days,” I said. Now do you want Cable TV? If you do the expense is on you. Juan and Carlos will be around tomorrow working on the deserted houses all around you. If you get bored you can help them. It is going to be a while before I can get anything going to give you a job. Of course if you help Carlos and Juan, I will pay you.”
“How am I going to pay your rent?” he asked.
“You will pay me what you paid at the housing authority,” I said.
“I paid half my SSI check to them. It was slightly above $400, but it covered everything,” he said.
“Well give me that and don’t ever tell anyone else what your deal is. I will pay your electric bill, and furnish you wood for heat. I am going to need Internet access, so they might as will install the WiFi in your house. If you want cable you pay for it. If not, I can teach you how to get TV shows on the Internet. You can save a bunch of money that way. I am also going to install a telephone line for the company. As part of your rent I expect you to answer the phone. If you do anything else, we will work out a deal for that as well. For now just take messages, or forward calls to me.”
I did that to recover some of the money I was going to lose on Luis, but also to have him screen the calls for me. It would be a while before The Village was up and running, I thought he would like something to do.
The Village was about five miles from Roaring River, which wasn’t much of a town. The plaza where I did most of my shopping was about eight miles in a different direction. Everything had different directions when traveling from the Village. Still they were all close enough to ride a bike to both of them. Luis might not be up to a bike, but we would work something out I was sure.
“So I’m going to Walmart to get some knit caps, you want to tag along to buy some food?” I asked.
“Sure but you know how I love take out, could we get some burgers to bring home?” he asked.
“Sure why not, now let’s get a move on. You can straighten this place out later,” I said.
On the ride to the plaza Luis asked, “Can I do tattoos in the house until I get a shop?” he asked.
“Sure check with Carlos about building you a table or whatever furniture that he can make for you. I’ll start a bill for you. You can work off the things which I front for you.”
When I awoke the next morning, I felt good. I had managed to find a man to entertain me in a chat room, so I was more relaxed than I had been in a while. One of the things I had learned in chat was that there were men posing as women there. It tended to make the men paranoid, so I had to change my description, so I appeared even more less than perfect. It was strange for me to pretend I was twenty five pounds over weight with thin brown hair. Hell everything about a chat room was pretend. I had serious doubt that there were that many well endowed men hanging around chat rooms. But they all said they were.
I know I was way to good looking, according to some of them, to be hanging out in the room myself. They didn’t know I had pretty much withdrawn from the world. Every time I went out, I risked being recognized as one of my alter egos. Only bad things could come from that.
So I sat by the fire drinking my morning coffee with a smile on my face for a change. I was about half ready for the morning trike ride, when the phone rang. I expected it to be Alice.
It was Luis instead. “Could you stop on the way here and bring me a biscuit?” he asked.
“Sure but I know you have milk and cereal I put them in your cart last night,” I replied.
“I don’t have a cereal bowl,” he said.
“Make a list of what you need and we will go shopping. I’ll put it on your account. You better get those sketches critiqued so you can start reducing your tab,” I said.
“Is there a laundromat around here anywhere?” he asked.
Hell, I don’t know. You can do your laundry at my place for a while, but not forever,” I said. “You can give me a lesson while you are here. Now I have to go. I’ll be by before nine.”
“We are at the end of your drive. Who calls you at 6 AM?” She asked.
“I’m coming now. I’ll explain over breakfast,” I said.
“Oh my you are a pen and ink artist,” Alice said.
“You knew that. You just forgot,” Jeremy said.
“Your friend, is he any good?” Alice asked.
“He is a great tattoo artist and a pretty good sketch artist as well,” I replied.
“I want a tattoo,” Alice said. “I want a tattoo of Sylvia’s Swamp Dog on the base of my spine.”
“A tramp stamp?” I asked.
“Yes of course,” she said.
“Well you have earned it. I’ll introduce you to Luis and you can discuss it with him,” I suggested.
“When?” Alice asked.
“Don’t you want to think about this some more?” I asked.
“Fuck no, if I think about it I might chicken out,” she said.
“Jeremy, are you going to be alright with this?” I asked.
“It’s her decision. She is my sister not my daughter,” he said.
Okay come to the village after you get your morning things done. I had no idea what she did in the morning, but I hoped one of them was to shower. All three of us worked up a sweat racing to the plaza.
When I got home, I took a shower and sat by the stove to towel my hair dry. When it was dry enough to put under a knit cap, I pulled on my black sweatshirt, my black toboggan relaxed fit jeans, and then my camo hunting coat. I looked like one the Duck Dynasty wives, but I really didn’t care.
I drove my truck to the fast food restaurant first, then to the Village. “Luis get your clothes on, I might have lined up a Tattoo for you,” I said as I stood on his porch with the food.
He came to the door with a smile brighter than I had ever seen. He handed me the sketches I had left with him. “Critique session twenty five bucks,” he said.
“Okay, I’ll take it off your bill,” I said. I carried the sketches with me, while I checked in with Carlos and Juan.
“Good morning guys, where we at?” I asked.
“We are going to move on to the house at the end of this block. The roof has to be done for sure, then repair the water damage. It really shouldn’t take too long. We have enough rescued materials to do the work.”
“Good, I have to take Luis to the plaza to buy some things for his house. I should be back before noon. That is if Alice ever gets here. She wants to talk to Luis about a Tattoo,” I informed the two of them.
Carlos looked away without commenting. I had a feeling he knew something I didn’t. I didn’t think it was anything too serious, or he would have explained himself to me.
We were discussing the plans for the village’s rejuvenation. While I was still with the two of them Alice drove up just before the painter and the flooring men arrived.
“Alice would you do me a big favor,” I asked.
“What do you need Rose?” she asked.
“I promised to take Luis to Walmart to buy things for his kitchen but I don’t have time. Would you take the truck and drive him. I will owe you a big one,” I said.
“What does this Luis look like,” she asked.
“He is old honey. He is not going to be a threat,” I suggested.
“But Rose, old can be sexy,” she said.
I gave her my keys and then said to her, “Go on up to his house knock on the door and tell him I sent you.”
Alice nodded, “I can handle that.”
“Alice he doesn’t have any money. Here take this and let me know if you need more.” I handed her three one hundred dollar bills.
“Got ya,” she said and left.
“How about you waiting and we will have more time to pick colors. I just need a minute to talk to this guy,” I said pointing to the floor man sitting in his truck waiting patiently for me.
“Sure why don’t I drive up to the house and start laying my stuff out. Which one do you want painted first?” he asked.
“Two doors up,” I said pointing the direction he should go to find it.
“So what can I do for you,” I asked the flooring man.
“I like that, don’t waste time just cut right to it,” he commented.
“Unlike you, who wants to talk,” I replied.
“Right,” he said. Then added, “I refinish hardwood floors. I know your crew has patched the floors and you plan to put carpet down now, but I can refinish the floor a lot cheaper than carpet.”
“Have you seen the floors in these houses?” I asked.
“No,” he replied.
“Okay the house at the end of the block, that way,” I said pointing the opposite direction from where I sent the painters. We are about to call the carpet house to do it, but if you can beat them, I’ll give you a try. Go look at it then come find me, I’m going to be around a while,” I said.
Luis was a nice guy but I was glad for Alice to take him shopping. After I picked the trim colors, I sat in the cold house where Carlos and Juan were installing a roof deck. Two of Carlos’ friends would be in on Monday to put on the shingles. I bought the shingles and they installed them for five hundred and fifty dollars a house. It was a little less expensive that paying Carlos and Juan to do it. They didn’t mind sharing the workload.
I was deep into reading the critique, when the flooring man came in. “I need to know do you want them to look like new, or with some character?” he asked.
“Smooth wood rough finish,” I said.
“Nobody gets splinters, but the wood looks its age?” he asked.
“Exactly,” I agreed.
I sand the floors to get them as level as I can. I vacuum them then put two coats of colored poly on them. Six hundred bucks a house,” he suggested.
I shook my head then asked, “Do you have a helper?”
“I do,” he replied.
“I will buy kitchen and bathroom vinyl tiles, you install them as part of the six hundred. If you want we can do a deal on one house to see how it goes,” I said.
He nodded and shook my hand. I had people coming and going and it made me nervous. I didn’t want to lose control of it, nor did I want to be tied down to it.
April Fools Day was Monday but nobody played jokes where my workers came from and I didn’t want to fool around myself. Instead we began work on the next house with a vengeance. Everybody wanted to impress me since I was on the site.
“Hey I need to do laundry,” Luis said.
“Good after five you can come to my place and do your laundry and teach me how to shade around the eyes with ink,” I suggested.
“Okay but first we go out for fast food. I think Pizza,” he suggested.
Time just kind of ran together after those first few days. The month of April just drifted by. Before I knew it the month changed, but not the weather. It was slow to warm up at night. The days were warmer, but not so noticeable was the warming of the nights.
I was sitting at a small table I had found for Luis at a yard sale in Roaring Gap when I assessed the changes Luis had brought to my life. One good thing about having Luis on the site was that he made decent coffee. At least he did as long as I brought my own blend over. It didn’t get old enough to be strong the way I liked it but that was because we drank so much of it.
Luis had even invited Carlos and Juan to bring their lunches to his place, since it was warm inside. Of course Carlos and Juan’s wives sent along something for Luis. Luis was a hustler, but he was so lovable no one seemed to mind. He always gave something back as well. Hell Luis already had a better life, than he did in the senior housing project. It was also safer, I felt.
“You wanna do pizza and a lesson tonight,” Luis asked.
“It has been a tough day, so I wouldn’t mind the pizza and lesson,” I replied.
Luis and I sat around the small counter in my kitchen eating slices and drinking diet coke.
“I finally started on your friend’s tat today. It took her a while to decide, but she showed up about noon all ready to go. You know she is a good looking woman.” He stopped to look at me to gauge my reaction. Then added, “She’s got nice tits.”
“You know Luis this conversation might be getting a little weird,” I said without a smile. Luis was old and Alice was just a few years older than me. I wanted to stop the conversation, before he asked for my help. Hell he might even want to tell me he was screwing her.
“Okay but can I ask you what this fascination with dogs is with you two? I mean she wants this bad ass tat of a dog, and you draw that mutt every week or so,” he said.
“It’s just we like dogs, and don’t read anything into it,” I said. He was right about my fascination with the dog. I went to the studio every afternoon after lunch and put out a bowl of Kibbles for him. Sometimes he ate it some time the squirrels ate it. When he was around I made lots of picture then I turned one of the photographs into a pin and ink drawing. So yeah, Luis had seen a few of them.
“You should draw your friend naked,” he suggested.
“Luis, if you want to see her naked, you draw her nude,” I suggested.
“You wouldn’t be upset if I did that?” he asked.
“So that’s what all this is about. I presume you are both adults, so do what you want as long as it is consensual,” I warned him. Nobody spoke for a minute then I said, “Okay critique over, the pizza is gone, and your clothes are dry, so it’s time I took you home.”
“I’m going to start helping Carlos and Juan tomorrow,” he said just as I pulled into his yard.
“Oh, what are you going to be doing?” I asked. I didn’t mind putting Luis on the payroll, but he had to actually do something. I knew he had back problems and his hands were pretty well knotted up. The hands were the cause of his very, very slow tattoos. So slow most people wouldn’t use him at all. He had admitted that to me.
“I’m going to run errands for them. I still have a driver’s license,” he explained. “It’s just going to be maybe an hour a day. Better to have me going to the store for five dollars an hour rather than Carlos at Twelve dollars.”
“Well your math is good,” I said.
After we got into a routine the work just went along pretty much on autopilot. I worked with the construction crew in the mornings. I went to the studio over lunch to work on my drawing. I stayed there until I got sick of my lack of talent. When that happened I went back to the job site to check on the tradesmen.
During the month of May, spring finally came to the mountains. There were buds on the trees and the animals emerged hungry after the long cold winter. In the almost two months since my return from D.C. we had rehabbed another ten houses bringing the project to the half way point. We had all the rental units finished. We even had two of the For Sale units completed.
The Regional Arts Council had heard about the Village from one of their members. She read about the Village on line. They knew I was trying to promote it as an art colony. The Director of the Council suggested I host a series of art festivals. I could do that at least through the summer, I decided. The only real expense would be renting Molly and cleaning up after her, I thought. Molly would keep the grass down on the factory site, I was sure when I explained the story behind the goat crap the people wouldn’t mind it so much.
The first festival was set as the first weekend in June. The first Saturday spaces were going to be free to any local artist. If anyone wanted to come back on Sunday, there would be a twenty dollar vendor fee.
“Are you going to run a booth in the fair,” Luis asked.
“As a matter of fact I thought I would. Maybe you and I can man it,” I said. “I would be willing to take a hundred bucks off your tab.”
“Fair enough, can I also show my tattoo samples?” he asked.
“You do that and if I am out showing a house, you tell anybody interested I’ll be back in ten minutes,” I suggested.
“You have a week why not do a drawing?” Luis asked.
“Oh I have one, I might get it matted,” I suggested.
“Good enough,” he said.
Since there were three State Borders within a hundred miles of The Village, I had vendors from all four but mostly they were local. The out of state vendors paid the twenty dollars space rental without objection. It would have suited me just fine, if they had refused. I was mostly interested in filling houses not festival spaces.
There were fifty vendor spaces showing hand made items. Everything from knitted caps to custom antique bicycle replicas were on display. The crowds came from opening till closing. The first day was supposed to be the big one. Since the local vendors had to pay for day two, I expected very few to stay.
I had to have two portable toilets on the site anyway so I told the vendors if they wanted to pull a camper in they were welcome to do so free this one time. Since the factory site was large enough, I had a small music stage constructed. I promised any local musicians, who wanted to come ‘Jam’, a spot on the stage. If there was one that was fine, if there were two even better. They were allowed to have someone pass a hat among the audience to take up a collection, just like an old time tent meeting, I explained.
I didn’t sell my drawing but what I gained was worth the aggravation. I got to speak with five people interested in the rental houses. I was happy enough with the outcome to plan a July Fourth festival.
Between the Internet, the local arts council, and that festival, I had all ten houses in the rental section filled. Finally the flow of money changed directions.
After the June Festival Carlos and Juan continued working on the only other street in the Village. I planned for ten more houses on that street. I wanted the same double lot since the mill’s lots were so small. We had lots of building material that we hadn’t needed for the ten rental units.
On the Sunday, after the first festival, Carlos called. “Senorita Rose, would you be willing to sell one of the extra bathroom fixture sets?”
“Is it for you?” I asked.
“No Senorita it is for a man who stopped by last week. He said that he has a cabin near by,” Carlos explained.
“Well the fixtures are all old and need to be refinished but if he wants a set of one sink, toilet, and tub for a hundred bucks fine,” I said. It must have been a deal because the man was there Monday morning asking to pick his set. I told him he could choose from all but the very best sets, those I planned to use.
That is how we started selling those and other materials. It had never been my plan to sell things, but if they wouldn’t burn in our stoves, they were for sale. When word spread we were going to rehab the old mill houses, people who grew up in those houses began showing up to look.
“I love it,” the sixty year old woman said. “My dad worked in the mill back there and we lived in this very house. A friend of mine came to your festival. She was so excited that she called me right after her return home. Of course the house is smaller than it was when I was twelve.”
“Of course,” I said and we both laughed.
“How much are you asking for this one?” she replied.
All these house have new heating and air conditioning systems, so it is going to seem awfully expensive to you,” I said. “My Realtor says $75,000 is a fair price.”
“To be honest I am sure it is. The village atmosphere is already here with the artist living on the next street. It looks as though the house is low maintenance, but I just don’t have that kind of money,” she said sadly.
“I am sorry. You are the kind of resident I would like to have here,” I said. “Is there a price you could do?”
“If I stretched, I could maybe come up with $65,000,” she said.
“If I sell this house to you for 65k, you will have to tell your friends about the house, but not the price you paid. Would you be willing to do that?” I asked.
“Oh yes dear, my daughter and I will be thrilled,” she said.
“Is your daughter coming to live with you?” I asked.
She laughed, “Lord no, I have been staying with her family, since my husband died. I want to be on my own, but everything was so expensive.”
“Why don’t you talk it over with your daughter and her husband before you decide,” I suggested. “If you still want to do it, call my Realtor.”
That is pretty much how all the houses got sold. People knew people and before I knew it we were working on the last two houses. They were both sold before Carlos drove the first nail. It was truly amazing.