The Rumor(8)

by Elin Hilderbrand

Madeline had actually brought her legal pad to the game, just in case inspiration struck between the second and third innings or during a trip to the concession stands for sunflower seeds.

Rachel eyed the notebook with her usual sunny enthusiasm. She said, “How’s the writing going?”

Madeline couldn’t help but be truthful; it was her nature. She said, “Working from home is killing me. Today, I organized the junk drawer and spent an hour on eBay.”

Rachel said, “You need a writing studio.”

Madeline said, “You got that right.”

Rachel said, “I’m serious. Like Virginia Woolf said, every woman writer needs five hundred pounds a year and a room of one’s own.”

Madeline blinked. She was impressed that Rachel McMann had just quoted Virginia Woolf. Even Grace might have been won over by that.

Rachel leaned in. She said, “Seriously, Madeline, I have just the place.”

Madeline should have stopped Rachel then and there. She should have said that, while a writing studio would have been nice, it was a pipe dream, because she and Trevor couldn’t afford such an extravagance. Some months, their mortgage was a stretch—not to mention utilities, insurance, groceries, cell phone bills, gas, car repairs, Saturday nights out, Brick’s college fund, and a large leftover hospital bill from when Big T died. Life is expensive, Madeline should have said. Virginia Woolf will have to wait.

But instead, Madeline said, “Really?”

Rachel said, “Yes, really! A one-bedroom unit in the blue Victorian on the corner of Centre and India. The last time one of those units became available was in 2004.”

And Madeline said, “Wow.”

Much to Madeline’s relief, Rachel had let the subject drop there. She resumed watching the game and shaking the pom-pom, and Madeline held her blank legal pad protectively on her lap.

The next day, as Madeline was trying to brainstorm but was also chopping onions, potatoes, and carrots for a pot roast—because she couldn’t let dinner slide once again—Rachel called and said, “What time can you come look at the unit on Centre Street?”

Madeline had stammered before finally saying, “You… mean today?”

“Today,” Rachel said. “It will go today, or tomorrow at the latest. It’s exactly what you’re looking for, Madeline, I promise.”

Madeline stared at the mess of onion skins, potato peels, and carrot tops on her cutting board. The pot roast would go in the slow cooker, but all of this would have to be cleaned up, and she had to run to the store for more beef broth. How did other women get anything done?

I need to get out of this house, she thought.

“I’ll come right now,” Madeline said.

The apartment was ideal, in its simplicity and location. Madeline had hoped the price would be outrageous, way beyond her means, so that she could automatically dismiss it. But it was far less than Madeline had expected. And Rachel was willing to give her a six-month lease… because she was a friend.

“Let me call Trevor,” Madeline said.

“Naturally,” Rachel said.

Madeline listened to the ringing of Trevor’s phone. If he didn’t answer, she would have an excuse to back out.

“Hello?” Trevor said.

She explained the situation sotto voce: looking at a writing studio, in town, not a bad price, six-month lease. Should she try it out, like an office where she could go to write?

“Hell yes,” he said. “It’s exactly what you need.”

It was exactly what she needed. But it was money out the door, the last of her advance.

She said, “I’m just worried… I mean, we promised Brick a car, and we still have six installments due to the hospital for your dad…”

“You have to spend money to make money,” Trevor said. “We can buy Brick a car when your next royalty check comes, and we’re on a payment plan with the hospital. You shouldn’t have to give up a dream situation because of bills my father left behind. This is an investment in your next book.”

Madeline took a deep breath. The only way she could describe this moment was as one where she decided to jump off a cliff, or out of an airplane.

She said, “I’m going to take it.”

Trevor said, “Good girl.”

Madeline hung up. She said to Rachel, “I’m going to take it.”

Rachel said, “You are the luckiest woman in the world to have a husband like Trevor. Andy would never let me do this. He would think it looked bad.”

She squinted at Rachel. “Do you think it looks bad?” she asked. “That I got my own place?”

“No!” Rachel exclaimed. “You have a reason. You’re an artist. A novelist.”

An artist. A novelist. Madeline basked in the warmth of those words.

Virginia Woolf. A room of one’s own.

Rachel handed Madeline the keys and gave her a squeeze. “Congratulations,” she said.

The next morning, Madeline packed up her legal pad, her pens, the novel she was reading—Family Happiness, by Laurie Colwin, for the fortieth time—and her own brown-bag lunch. Down the road, she would stock the apartment with groceries, but not today. Today, she was going to write write write write write.

The apartment was part of an old whaling captain’s home. It had been built in 1873, refurbished in 1927 and then again in 2002, when it was subdivided into apartments. Rachel said that the woman who had been living in the unit before Madeline had moved to the Virgin Islands because she couldn’t handle another Nantucket winter. It included a parking spot—that alone, Madeline thought, made the place worth the rent. Across the street was Madeline’s favorite breakfast restaurant, Black-Eyed Susan’s. It wasn’t open for the season yet, but soon enough Madeline would be able to pop over and get a veggie scramble and a latte to go. City living!

Madeline fit her key into the lock and stepped into… her apartment!

It was so exciting—although, in truth, the space was nothing special. The walls were painted flat eggshell white. The previous renter had, thankfully, left behind some basic pieces of furniture: a sofa and two armchairs covered in beige linen slipcovers, a plush area rug in squares of varying aquas and blues, a round blond wood dining table with four chairs, and—the only thing of interest—a wooden box with fifteen compartments, covered with a thin sheet of glass. In each compartment lay a bird’s egg nestled in straw—plover, eastern gray gull, black-backed gull, long-tailed duck, oystercatcher, least tern.