Close call on Kōwhai Crescent

When the listing for the cosy home on Kōwhai Crescent popped up in my newsfeed last week, I knew it was the perfect place for us. 

Like a picture from a storybook, Number twelve was nestled in a quiet suburb under a dappling blossom tree. Rose bushes lined its white picket fence and a stone path led through a quaint front garden, sidling up to a welcoming front door. Sunlight beamed into the open plan modern kitchen-dining area and, although the building looked small from the outside, the floorplan boasted three good-sized bedrooms, an office and a laundry. Scrolling through the images, I could already imagine my little car parked in the garage and Ari’s work truck stationed in the driveway.

Ticking off my fingers as I went, I ran through my mental checklist: the location was good, only a short commute from the city centre. A reputable school was within walking distance, meaning the girls wouldn’t have to take the bus, and at the end of the road was a park with a proper playground where we could exhaust both the kids and the dog in one go. So far so good. 

But what about the price? It was a hot market and our budget could only stretch so far. Taking a breath and crossing my fingers, I scanned down the details looking for the asking price. The number on the screen was lower than I expected! I could hardly believe my luck. A wide grin split across my face, this place ticked all the boxes! 

Leaping off the bed with my laptop in hand, I immediately yelled out for Ari to come take a look. 

“Babe, you have to see this place!” 

Skidding into the kitchen, I turned the glowing screen towards his sleepy eyes. Ari, still in his crumpled pyjamas, took a slow sip of his coffee before leaning in to take a closer look. I watched anxiously as his brown eyes scanned over the listing while resisting the urge to blurt out how obviously perfect Number twelve was for us. 

After a moment, he set down the steaming mug on the bench and took the laptop out of my hands. Without a word, he moved over to the table and took a seat. I held my breath, waiting while he clicked through each of the photos. He took his time. Reviewing them one by one. Then he repeated the process. Meticulously reading the advertisement. Line by line. I could hear the kitchen clock ticking on the wall behind me and by the time he had finished, I was hopping from one foot to the next. 

“Isn’t it perfect?!” I gushed. 

An amused smile appeared on his lips – my undeniable enthusiasm was catching. Trying to play it cool, Ari moved back to the kitchen to retrieve his coffee and took another thoughtful sip before answering me. 

“It’s definitely worth a look,” he said, his voice deliberately calm, “But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ll call the agent today to set up a viewing.”

Clapping my hands together with delight, I planted a kiss on his cheek. I then left the room to get ready for the workday ahead, all while thinking, This house is it! The perfect place for our family!

A few hours later, my phone beeped next to me. Ari had arranged for us to go view our future home the following afternoon. I mentally calculated the hours until the appointment and then promptly started daydreaming to pass the time:

Ah, Kōwhai Crescent. What a beautiful home we’d have! In cheesy, romantic-comedy fashion, I fantasised Ari sweeping me into his arms and walking me over the threshold. The girls would run excitedly through the hallway, eagerly arguing over who’d get the bigger bedroom. Mum would give us one of her precious pot plants (along with detailed care instructions) as a gift for our new abode and Dad would go through with a fine-tooth comb, making a list of little DIY fix-it projects that he had just the right tool for.

After settling in, we’d have all our close friends over for a meal. Nothing too big of course, just a little housewarming to celebrate. While clinking wine glasses and passing the salad, they’d make comments about how we’d bought at just the right time and that we were so lucky to have found such a perfect fit for our little family. I would beam at them all, politely saying thank you, and Ari would lean over to kiss me on the cheek. 

As the day wore on, I ran out of romantic reveries and turned my thoughts to coming up with reasons to look forward to moving. It would be a mammoth task, packing up and then systematically unpacking all our belongings but it would be a chance to spring-clean and get organised, I nodded to myself. We’d been meaning to sort through the girls’ old clothes for ages, Ari had a bunch of old toys in the garage that had been gathering dust, and goodness knows the last time I used that horrid Ab King Pro in the spare bedroom. We’d take only what was essential into our future home and leave the clutter behind us. I decided then that the time had come for us to make a decent donation to the Sallys. 

That evening, I regaled Ari with my daytime dreaming and positive reasoning. I could see he’d warmed up from his cautious mood that morning and replaced it with a budding optimism. His hands waved freely as he described how much shorter his commute would be, that he’d have more time to spend with the girls in the mornings, and how he’d be able to exercise the dog more often. We snuggled into bed that night with happy expressions and dreamt unabashed of our picture-perfect home-to-be. 

The next day, we piled into the car with our enthusiasm still in full swing. Dropping the girls at Mum’s for the afternoon, Ari and I made our way towards Kōwhai Crescent. We’d decided to check out the place without the children in tow. As Ari had said the day before, we didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves. 

The drive was easy as the traffic flowed through the city. The sun was shining brightly in a cloudless blue sky and a light breeze rustled through the leaves on the trees. When we turned onto Kōwhai Crescent, I wound down my window, soaking in our potential new neighbourhood. The houses were all well maintained; many with a fresh lick of paint and gardens that were neatly trimmed. Even the footpath seemed to be without a crack or a weed. 

As we rounded a gentle bend, a ‘For Sale’ sign appeared ahead of us.  

“There it is!” I said, pointing it out to Ari. 

He glanced at the GPS and frowned.

“I think we’re a little further down,” he replied, “Maybe there’s more than one place for sale?” 

I leant forward and put my hands on the dashboard, peering at the letterbox as we went past – it was Number sixteen.  

“Oh, we must be two doors down,” I said, leaning back into my seat. 

Just then, a woman in a bright red pant-suit with a big grin and even bigger hair stepped out onto the curb. Waving madly, she motioned for us to pull into the driveway. Before we’d even got out of the car, the woman stepped forward and introduced herself. 

“Hello!” She said in a loud cheerful voice, “I’m Angela Davis but you can call me Angie.”

Disembarking from the car, we introduced ourselves and shook hands with Angie, who seemed determined to become our new best friend.

“C’mon, c’mon, let me show you through,” she motioned for us to follow her and started towards the house. 

Ari and I exchanged bemused glances and then hastened to follow as the woman opened the front door. Angie didn’t go inside right away though, instead she stepped to the side and with a grandiose sweep of her arm, invited us to step over the threshold. Holding hands, Ari and I stepped inside. 

Number twelve was even better than the pictures. For the next twenty minutes we explored our new home. Opening cupboards to examine storage space, asking questions about when it was built, discussing options for if a particular room would be better suited as a bedroom or a study. 

Angie was great too but she seemed a little distracted. While she was full of information, answering our questions confidently and referring to the paperwork she’d brought with her, I noticed she’d continuously glance at her watch and try to keep us moving through the house. A nervous pang hit my stomach as I realised she probably had another interested buyer who was coming to view the place right after us.

Finally, we headed out into the backyard. Angie led us outside through the glass slider and onto a small stone patio. There was enough room for an outdoor dining set and barbecue. This gave way to a luscious green lawn that stretched all the way down to the back fence. Ari took my hand and gave it a squeeze. It was superb. Exactly what we needed. 

“Well, that’s about it,” Angie said smiling from the back door, “Do you have any other questions?”

We both shook our heads and smiled. 

“Great!” Angie clapped her hands, “I’ve got all the information packs inside, so let’s head back in.” 

Ari and I had matching goofy grins as we started to follow Angie back indoors, but a moment later, those smiles had completely slid off our faces and onto the ground. 

It was just as we reached the patio that we heard it. A queer disembodied voice shouted at us from over the fence. 

“Fuck you!” It yelled aggressively. 

I whipped around, trying to see who had yelled the obscenity, but the sweeping green lawn was totally empty. 

“Fuck you! You shitbag!” More exploding expletives fired in our direction.

Ari’s face reddened and then his eyes widened in disbelief as suddenly, like an unexpected downpour, a torrent of bad words washed over our heads. A constant stream of filth continued for a full thirty seconds before stopping as suddenly as it had started. A stunned silence fell over the three of us as the foul-mouth phrases hung in the air like a bad smell. My jaw dropped, who on earth was that? 

Angie stiffened beside us, her million-dollar smile still plastered on her face. Ari turned to her with an incredulous look.

“Actually, I do have one more question,” he said, “Has the current owner ever had any trouble with the neighbours?”

Angie laughed lightly and kept smiling through her teeth. 

“Well, not the neighbour per se,” she answered sweetly, “It’s actually their cockatoo. Her name is Lila and she, um, unfortunately has learnt a few unsavoury words, it would seem.”

A few unsavoury words?!” I cried, “More like a whole dictionary’s worth!” 

Angie dropped her gaze and started to fidget, picking at a stray thread on her pantsuit.

“Yes, well… It’s unfortunate but she only goes off from time to time,” she said earnestly, “I’m sure you won’t even notice her after a while!”

As if hearing her name, the cockatoo suddenly swooped down onto the back fence. Balancing on black clawed feet, she started patrolling back and forth before turning to stare at us with her beady eyes. A loud caw sounded from her sharp beak and her bright yellow head feathers were raised in defence. 

“Fuck you!” Lila screeched again. 

Won’t even notice?! The whole street can hear her!” 

“We have young children,” I said, turning to Ari, “We can’t have the girls around that kind of language!” 

Ari, for his part, didn’t look so sure. 

“It’s such a good location…” he started.

“No.” 

“And the girls will get to go to a great school…” 

“No.”

“And it’s such a good price…”

“No. No. And no,” I repeated firmly, folding my arms, “This must be why Number sixteen is for sale too! That awful bird is stinking up the neighbourhood with it’s terrible swearing.”

Angie rubbed her temple and exhaled loudly through her nose. Ari reached over and touched my shoulder, giving it a comforting squeeze.

“Babe, think about it,” he said gesturing to the bird, “This could be our forever home. How long do cockatoos even live for anyway?” 

I sighed, maybe he was right, surely we could outlive the bird and just tell the girls to ignore what it said. They were bound to come across swear words sooner or later anyway. I was about to reconsider until I saw Angie wince beside me. 

I rounded on the real estate agent, “Do you know how long they live for?” 

She squirmed and started to mumble a weak excuse, “Well, um, see the thing is…”  

Deciding not to wait for an answer, Ari pulled out his phone and started typing: How long do cockatoos live for in captivity? 

A barking laugh escaped his lips as he read the top search result, “Up to a century!” 

Lila cawed smugly at us from her perch on the fence. 

One hundred years? No way. 

Ari and I marched out of the yard and back through the house, Angie trailing after us, her half-hearted appeals falling on deaf ears. The car tires squealed as we pulled out of the driveway and I hit the gas before Ari had even buckled his seatbelt. 

After a moment, Ari sighed and said, “I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t get ahead of ourselves.” 

I glanced back at Number twelve in the rear view mirror only to realise Lila had come to see us off. She’d flapped over and landed on the letterbox, tilting her feathered head to stare at us as we made our retreat. She then leaned over and started pecking off the metal numbers with her curled beak, trying to dislodge the nails. I shuddered and quickly returned my eyes to the road. We never went back to Kōwhai Crescent.


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