An Imperfection in the Kitchen Floor

An Imperfection in the Kitchen Floor

by Heather Greenleaf

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Overview

Family, Food, and Fortitude. With the unexpected news of her pregnancy, Molly’s suddenly responsible husband Corey persuades her to leave her job as a sous chef in a bustling Washington DC restaurant, and move to an old fashioned, run down house in small town Pennsylvania. Stuck with a colicky newborn and a husband who loves the creaky steps, old décor, and even the broken tiles in the kitchen, Molly finds herself trapped in a life that only Corey wants—but is too busy working to enjoy.

A century earlier, the same house was home to adventurous Tish, the middle daughter of the Hess family, who yearns to leave the family delicatessen behind to travel west and paint sweeping mountain landscapes. When Tish meets Ellis, a wanderer from California, their romance carries them through World War I, but cannot survive his return to civilian life and a train crash that claims the life of many aboard. Tied by tragedy to the delicatessen, Tish must forfeit everything for her family.

After so much sacrifice, how can two women living a hundred years apart find happiness in the present, while living a life they would never choose for themselves?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781683506638
Publisher: Morgan James Publishing
Publication date: 05/15/2018
Pages: 238
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Heather Greenleaf has a degree in Art History from George Washington University and a degree in Culinary Arts from the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College. She has written continuously running food columns in the Harlem Times, on Patch.com, and bonedo.com, and is currently employed as a Fine Art Registrar for a nonprofit that travels art exhibitions. In her free time, Heather is the Vice President the Upper Moreland Historical Commission and the Archivist for the Upper Moreland Association, managing their extensive collection of historic local artifacts. She lives in a historic home in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Molly, 2005

The place was a dump.

I stared up at the dilapidated box that was our new house in disbelief. We left Washington DC for this?

"We're here," Corey said, standing next to me on the cracked sidewalk, his face proud and bright. "C'mon! Come inside and see it!"

I watched him lope up the bowed steps like an excited child. The house was three stories high and perfectly, unimaginatively, square. A wraparound porch with grayed and flaking columns surrounded the cracking stone facade. Pachysandra raced over most of the front lawn, dappled with fallen brown leaves. The sidewalk and walkway to the porch were littered with tree detritus from the two peeling sycamores that stood sentinel at the edge of the strangled yard.

Corey fiddled with the key, pulling on the knob and slamming his shoulder into the heavy wooden door a few times. The bolt finally fell, like a guillotine out of the lock. Then, without waiting for me, Corey rushed inside.

Two hundred miles north of our old apartment, its keys passed off forever to the landlord, regret clogged my throat. This practical and forlorn house had none of the beauty Corey had described — no, promised — in the months leading up to our move. My chest was tight with the finality of it all. This was it, where we would be living. Maybe forever.

Earlier that morning, I had awakened in our cozy one-bedroom apartment, stacked high with labeled boxes ready to be loaded onto the truck. The sun streamed through our slatted blinds, filling our bedroom with long, vertical stripes of light. I sat up and, with gentle fingertips, traced the line of sunshine that fell on Corey's bare shoulder. I was happy just being next to him, overwhelmed with love and excited for our relocation.

As we trundled along in the moving van, wisps of my long, thin, light hair blew in the breeze. I chewed on the hangnails forever plaguing my thumbs and watched Corey in the driver's seat. Scruff dotted his strong jawline. His brown hair flipped up at the nape of his neck like a duck's tail. Turning to me, he caught me staring. He reached out with a grin, exposing me to the full force of his dimples, and rubbed my bulbous belly.

"Almost home," he said.

Her home, this home, now our home.

In the truck, I had put my hand over Corey's where it rested on my belly, trusting him fully. Below our fingers, the baby rolled an elbow, or a perhaps a knee, and my stomach rose in a trailing arc. I grinned and looked at Corey. His smile let me know he had felt it too; our tiny creation saying hello.

We had discovered I was pregnant when I threw up at work. I was at my prep station in the kitchen of Aubergine, the French bistro in Georgetown, slicing Dover sole fillets cleanly off the bone. While the kitchen crew exchanged dirty jokes and tales of racy escapades from the night before, my head got heavy and hot and suddenly my stomach lurched. I dropped my knife and as it clattered to the cutting board, I raced out the back door, vomit rising and then spewing behind the dumpster. When I reentered, the guys applauded, assuming I was hungover.

I wasn't hungover.

Corey, who, until the moment the second blue line appeared, loved our late nights out drinking, dancing, and eating pizza in Addams Morgan, became an instant family man. His goals were immediately rearranged. He compulsively checked the balance of our savings account. He invested in more life insurance. He started talking about the house in Willow Grove.

I had never been there, but he painted the small Pennsylvania town and the large American Foursquare house with idyllic nostalgic colors. His Aunt Tish had lived in the house her entire life, some ninety-odd years, and after her death, she left it to him. He had let the house sit, generally ignored for years except in his memory. He told me stories of his summers there, picnicking under the pine trees in the backyard, running toy cars over the kitchen tiles, and relaxing in the rocking chairs on the front porch. His childhood days spent in Aunt Tish's house were full of happiness, and now he wanted to raise his family there too.

He described every aspect of the house, selling me on it with each gorgeous detail. It is old and charming, he said. It has a pocket door and leaded glass windows, he said. It is just sitting there waiting for us, he said. It is in a safe, suburban town, he said. There are four bedrooms and a backyard, he said. Aunt Tish would want us to raise our family there, he said.

Inside our cramped apartment, it was easy to get wrapped up in his excitement. Picturing something akin to Shangri La, I quit my sous chef job at Aubergine, packed up all of our things, and was ready to make a new life for our baby.

And now, standing in front of it, the reality was something quite different from the dream. Though I had conjured images of Frank Lloyd Wright beauty, the house was closer to Grey Gardens — once loved, but no longer. Corey's exaggeration of the house's glory was a betrayal. It pounded deep within, felt as surely as I felt the baby's swift kicks.

With a sigh, I lurched up the porch stairs. Once inside, it took my eyes a moment to adjust. A deep must filled my nose. I instinctively held my breath. I approached the windows, covered in lacy curtains that masked the sunlight, and threw open each one. The fresh air billowed fine cobwebs in the corners of the nine-foot ceilings and displaced the silt on the oak floors. Corey's footprints left empty spaces in the dust.

I followed his footprints until I found the kitchen at the back of the house. The room was a horizontal narrow rectangle with an old porcelain sink and precious little counter space. The stove had gas burners and I tested each one, fearing the worst, but they thankfully clicked and then burned blue.

Below my feet, one of the tiles had a long crack radiating from a dark crescent. I squatted down like a frog, knees bent and legs splayed out to the sides, my belly in the middle, and looked closer. I poked the tile with my finger. About two inches long, c-shaped, and deep, the crescent was an empty, dark recess. I shook my head in disbelief. Was everything in this house broken and crumbling? Feeling tricked, I continued to run my finger over the crescent's smooth edges.

The sound of rushing water began behind the pantry door. I turned and looked, certain that the plumbing had just given way. Suddenly the door flew open and Corey burst out. Before I could ask him what he was doing in the pantry, he stepped aside and I noticed it wasn't a pantry at all, but a very tiny bathroom.

"There's a sink, but no room to stand to wash your hands in there. I remember it being bigger! You have no chance of fitting in there!" Corey laughed. "Oh, I see you have found my racing track. I used that crack in the tile as the starting line, then raced all my toy cars to the other end of the kitchen. Our boy is going to love doing that too!"

I recoiled from the crack and stood, baffled by Corey's continued excitement. Couldn't he see this place for what it was?

"Corey," I began.

He ignored me and put his hands around my enormous belly, bending down to address the baby. "What do you think, little man? Want to race cars in here? Soon you are going to be running around this house, loving it as much as I do. Let's hope your mommy loves it too. She's looking pretty skeptical right now. But we aren't going to let that get us down, right, buddy?" He stood up, his face now level with mine. "I really think it is going to be great here. Let me show you upstairs."

He kissed my forehead, and after washing his hands at the kitchen sink, he took my hand in his and led me around the house, pointing out his favorite things. His chest was swollen with pride.

"Aunt Tish painted this landscape, and this painting was done by my grandmother," he said, pointing out a still life with onions and carrots on the dining room wall.

It was dark with age and though it seemed skillful, it wasn't my taste. I wrinkled my nose. "Do you like it?" I asked.

"Yeah, it's great, isn't it? I love it all. The house is already decorated and ready for us to just settle in! Don't you just love its charm?"

"Corey," I said slowly as we climbed the stairs even more slowly, "I'm not sure. It is already decorated, but the house isn't exactly how you described it."

"It needs a little work, but it will be great."

"A little work? It needs more than that," I said. I chewed the hangnail on my thumb. "It's dirty outside and in, and is the porch even safe?"

As Corey began to answer, a loud horn honked outside.

"Hank's here," he said and turned to thunder down the stairs, taking two at a time. I descended the stairs more cautiously and emerged out into the sunshine to see Corey greet his older brother with a hearty hug. Hank was burly, a jovial fraternity guy gone soft and nearly bald. I waved and called hello.

"Hey there, Suburban Lady! Are you missing the city already?" Hank hollered from the street. "Jocelyn will be glad to have you in town. She has tons of wisdom she'd like to impart about childrearing."

Hank and Jocelyn had been high school sweethearts. They married young, right out of college, bought a house, and now had two elementary-school-aged boys. Their family of four was part of the Hess contingent who had come to DC for our wedding. Hank stood as best man. Jocelyn had tutted around in her tight designer dress, fussing with the flowers, picking off the dead leaves, and straightening the silverware. Her boys ran around in their tiny suits, claiming to be ninjas, chasing each other and hollering. They were always hollering. And Jocelyn was always hollering for them to stop hollering. That Jocelyn "the Ubermom" was the only woman I knew in town made me cringe.

"Great," I muttered. Changing my tune, I said, "Hey, thanks for coming. I'm fairly useless right now." I patted my belly.

"Sure, use the baby as an excuse," Hank said, winking. "We all know you wish this van would turn around and drive you straight back to your little Dupont Circle apartment."

"Come on, Hank. This place is going to be great," Corey said. "Right, babe?"

"Well ..." I began, unsure how to continue.

Hank let out a huge laugh. "Oh man, you didn't tell her what a dump this place is, did you?"

"It's not a dump!" Corey said. "You never liked this place as much as I did."

"Mom didn't send me here as much as she sent you. I was the good son, remember? She wanted me around," Hank said, winking again and grinning.

"Shut up and help me with this stuff," Corey said, giving Hank a slight nudge. He disappeared into the back of the van.

Corey didn't like his mother much, but hated to be reminded that she may have felt the same way about him. I first met her a few months into our relationship, when she visited DC. Corey had been reluctant to introduce her to me, almost embarrassed by her. "She's not your typical loving mother," he had warned me. We met her for lunch at a seafood restaurant on the Georgetown waterfront. She was a vegetarian. When we arrived, she air kissed Corey's cheeks and then moved on to me, her gold bracelets clanking together on her slim wrists. I returned her air kisses, embracing her lightly for fear that her thin frame would shatter under any embrace. She was glamorous but cold. Her hair was perfectly curled and framed her face. Her sharp nose and hollow, defined cheekbones were heavily covered in movie star makeup.

She insisted I call her Robin. She insisted that the waiter bring her fat free salad dressing, on the side. She insisted that her fish be broiled without "any butter whatsoever," and then sent that fish back twice, claiming that she tasted butter. I could just imagine what the kitchen staff was thinking about her.

Throughout lunch, she prattled on and on about her charity functions and the famous people who attended. She didn't ask Corey a single question about himself, and made very little effort to get to know me. She never mentioned Corey's father, who passed away shortly after Corey graduated from business school.

I didn't particularly like her. And soon she was off on a plane back home to New York, where she had moved a few years earlier.

From what little Corey would say about her, I knew she was much younger than Corey's father when his parents married, twenty-five years younger to be exact. "Having Hank and me negated some of the loss she would take in the prenuptial agreement," Corey often said with a touch of bitterness. "She never wanted to be a mother. Still doesn't." His parents had stayed together, though, until his father's death. Throughout Corey's childhood, it seemed that Robin was more than happy to let Aunt Tish, her spinster sister-in-law, take the boys for entire summers and long weekends.

And so, I understood the soft spot that Corey held for Aunt Tish and her house, but I was beginning to see that perhaps this love for her had clouded his view of her house in its current state.

Corey and Hank worked all day, placing our things amid the fragments of Aunt Tish's estate. She had left most of her furniture behind. Covered in sheets, the chairs and breakfronts stood like ghosts in all of the rooms. As I watched them bring in the pieces of our lives and place them in their permanent resting places, I tamped down my urge to scream, "Put it all back on the truck!"

Instead, I tore down the curtains, catching lungfuls of dust, as I pooled them on the ground in a musty heap. With the removal of each curtain, more sunshine entered the house, brindling the hardwood floors with light. Next, I busied myself pulling the sheets off the furniture, the dust motes taking flight and sparkling in the air. Hank and Corey brought in our sofa, cramming it in next to Aunt Tish's wingback chairs. They placed our flat screen television on top of what had to be an antique table. They dumped boxes anywhere and everywhere. The house was much larger than our apartment, but like a bomb, our things exploded and hit every wall. By the time Hank left, shrugging off our offer to feed him dinner, Corey and I were exhausted. Corey flopped down, throwing his leg over one arm of the wingback chair.

"Man, I'm thirsty," he called to me as I was puttering around, trying to organize the melee of boxes. Disappointment was still tangy at the back of my throat, but when I had everything unpacked, the place would be more like home.

"I haven't found the box with the glasses yet. Want to go out and get something?" I called back.

"I'll run to Wawa. Grab us some sandwiches too."

When he left, I sat down on our couch and propped my feet up on the nearest box. I looked around, sighing. It felt big, our new home, and I would focus on that. The sound of church bells trickled in the windows. It was a song I recognized, tinny and high, but kind in its familiarity. After a few moments, I climbed the stairs and located the box marked Sheets and made our bed.

Corey came home with two hoagies. "You have to call them that now. We are in Philadelphia," he said. "And, here, we call them hoagies."

"Got it," I said. "Hoagies. Wawa." The words felt silly in my mouth, but whatever they were called, Corey was right. They tasted good. After our sandwiches, Corey and I slept hard in our bed in his aunt's home.

* * *

The following Monday, Corey began his new job at his financial firm. I kissed him goodbye and was left alone to begin unpacking and settling in. I looked around. Years of dust fluttered in the morning light. The thought of our baby living here made me slightly ill. Though I felt desperately tired in these last weeks of pregnancy, I was compelled to clean the house. I started in the kitchen, wiping down all the counters and sweeping up the floor. Mouse turds turned my stomach and I made a mental note to call an exterminator as I splashed hot soapy water around with my mop. The recessed crack in the tile remained dingy and dark, a century of grime hiding inside.

I moved to the bathroom, banishing the stains from the toilet, sink, and tub. I wiped all of the baseboards and chased cobwebs and frighteningly large spiders with my vacuum.

I sat down, exhausted, fearing I was overdoing it. I rested my hand on my huge tummy. I fired up my laptop and entered our new Wi-Fi password. After sending a few emails and checking Facebook, I knew I couldn't stall much longer. I made the phone call I had been dreading.

I picked up the phone and dialed my father and stepmother in Florida. They had married shortly after my mother passed away. My stepmother had three sons, Nicholas, Joseph, and Michael. She had raised them herself, gritting through many tough times, and always called them by their full first names. Beware the person who tried to call them Nick, Joe, or Mike in her presence. Her relationship with them was almost Oedipal in its mutual devotion. There was no room for a daughter in the family; I was as unwanted as Cinderella.

My father, perhaps always secretly yearning for sons, was enamored with her trio as well. Dad was kind to a fault, and like milk toast, was absorbed easily into their life. But, without my mother, Dad was all I had, and so I called him now, hoping he or the machine would answer. My stepmother answered, breathless, annoyed before I had even said a word.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "An Imperfection in the Kitchen Floor"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Heather Greenleaf.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Prologue, 1920,
Chapter 1 – Molly, 2005,
Chapter 2 – Tish, 1916,
Chapter 3 – Molly,
Chapter 4 – Tish, 1916,
Chapter 5 – Molly,
Chapter 6 – Tish, 1916,
Chapter 7 – Molly,
Chapter 8 – Tish, 1917,
Chapter 9 – Molly,
Chapter 10 – Tish, 1919,
Chapter 11 – Molly,
Chapter 12 – Tish, 1920,
Chapter 13 – Molly,
Chapter 14 – Tish, 1920,
Chapter 15 – Molly,
Chapter 16 – Tish,
Chapter 17 – Molly,
Acknowledgments,
About the Author,

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