Shelli Margolin-Mayer Shelli Margolin-Mayer cut her chops penning hundreds of municipal documents. In comparison, she considers writing fiction a thrilling joy. She wrote two novels, has a few short stories published, and now seeks an agent. Shelli is a member of The Writer’s Pen Factory and Greater Los Angeles Writer’s Society (GLAWS). She holds an MA in International Policy with an emphasis in Cross Cultural Communications and Social Psychology. Shelli achieves inspiration from the intersection where misunderstandings meet comedy.

A Short Story

By Shelli Margolin-Mayer

Brenda punched the key code into a digital lockbox. She huffed when it clicked open, as this was the start of her new career. After adjusting her tote onto the shoulder of her Realty 21 blazer, she opened the front door.

The Broker of Khackatourian Realty 21 insisted that the agents in his office wear the blazer while working and at social events. If an agent was caught without the polywool geekdar, that agent would be demoted to the bottom of the listing pool. So, Brenda forwent any semblance of her once sought-after fashion sense and stepped over the threshold of her first listing, a bank probate that sat vacant in the searing heat and loathing of the San Fernando Valley.

From the outside, the 1920s ranch house looked like any other beater crying out for gentrification. Inside was much worse. Brenda was the first to enter the home since the paramedics, after Mel and Ida Spilkus committed joint assisted suicide four years earlier. They were nighty-seven and ninety-five, respectively. Their suicide note read, “Enough already.”

Waving the flying dust from her face, Brenda tore off yellowed newspaper from a living room window then opened it. She pulled out her tablet and read the notes from the condescending bank representative who couldn’t have been far from the womb.

According to reports from the neighbors, the Spilkus’s were cranky on the best of days. Apparently, they were gross offenders of turning their neighbors into the city for unfounded violations. The Los Angeles Building Department had them on the top of their “do not respond” list.

Brenda knew the type well. She took out a few wipes and cleared a space on a side table for her Marc Jacobs tote bag. Peeling off her blazer, Brenda fanned herself as she paced in circles, dripping sweat onto the dancing dust bunnies at her feet. She encountered many a cranky NIMBY in her years at the City of Mar Vista. Her building department maintained their own citation Nazi list.

That was before the council deposed her. Brenda stepped out front untying the oversized bow of her silk, sweat-drenched, blouse. She used her tablet to fan herself while she checked out the street.

Orange Grove Court was in a “promising hood,” as Khackatourian had lamented when he gave her the listing. The street, devoid of orange trees, was pocked with new boxy mcmansions among decaying ranch style one stories. The socio-economic demographics aligned with the age of the houses. Newer bigger equaled richer younger. Though Brenda was happy to see that at least racial diversity was stable within the gentrification.

That was not the case in previously gentrified Mar Vista where the homeowners felt guiltier about their white privilege then they did about mowing down teens on motorized scooters. Brenda savored the refreshing eighty-five-degree October breeze.

The electric scooter controversy was her demise. If she hadn’t added them into her bike lane scheme, she might still be there, leading council meetings until three in the morning concerning which street trees don’t drop pollen onto new Teslas.

Brenda shivered, a sign that her hot flash subsided. She went back into the dust maw, closed the door, held her breath until the particles settled again, and changed into one of three spare blouses she kept handy. Her tote was home to various essentials, such as deodorant and Deet, along with spare shirts and undergarments.

Sun streamed in through the living room window. Brenda sighed and began documenting what needed to be done in order to get the Spilkus’s home on the market.

Though this was her first authentic listing, Brenda had her real estate license since she sold her own house. She wasn’t going to let her cheating husband get one extra penny in the divorce. The fact that she lost all interest in sex since perimenopause was lost on her, as was the reality that he didn’t mate with anyone until they were separated for over a year. She still thought of him as the cheating bastard who left her to get laid. So, she got her license and the commission.

Brenda was not a fan of the real estate profession. The money they made off commissions was outrageous. Most of the agents and brokers she had encountered were arrogant dimwits. Now she was living among them, brethren of the polywool blazer.

Matching floral print recliners wallowed below the dust while facing a console TV. Stains and indents marked their stigmata. Between the chairs, atop a metal folding table, was a TV clicker. Brenda recalled trashing a similar one when her granddad died. But what really caught her attention was the Oscar above the gas fireplace.

Brenda took out two more towelettes and wiped off the insignia. “Melvin Spilkus 1947 Technical Achievement Award: The Dog That Flew.” Brenda did a quick IMdB search. The film was a critical success but failed at the box office due to the traumatizing effect it had on children when the dog fell from the sky.

The actual dog, a schnauzer named Chutzpah, belonged to the Spilkus’s and lived a fifteen-year harm-free life. Although according to the website, the first time Chutzpah swung overhead in his stunt harness, he threw up on the director’s head.

Brenda felt for the dog. She went back to the bank’s notes. Mel and Ida left no family, having outlived their only son. A Daily News article was attached. He died on the fourth of July at age seventy-one, while lighting illegal fireworks in the street.

Brenda gasped. Her son Devin was caught doing the same thing three months ago. Luckily, the police officer remembered the raise she negotiated with the force during her tenure as City Manager. Devin escaped citation, and thankfully, injury.

Perspiration revved up by Brenda’s internal oven filled her pours from the bottoms of her feet to her hair follicles. She grabbed a hand towel from her tote and mopped her face. Brenda also used the cloth to wipe off a photo on the mantel. Smiling behind thick glasses was a young man holding a DIY rocket and a blue ribbon. He had to be around eighteen or nineteen. The same age as Brenda’s boy was now.

She picked up the Spilkus’s beleaguered wedding photo. The picture obviously predated smiling. At least the Spilkus’s had one another, in bickering and suicide. Was she also going to end her life when she had enough of being cranky? Maybe she’d die alone in her apartment bedroom, drown in her own sweat?

Brenda deemed menopause a chronic affliction. Although, she did relish her irascibility. She saw it as an active alternative to gaping depression.

Her second blouse was once again soaked through. Brenda left it on. Another hot flash was bound to follow. She pushed open the sliding glass door behind a doily-lined table.

Where a backyard paradise once stood, now an enclave of dead plants and weeds engulfed the quarter acre. The only surviving shrubs were bougainvillea that privatized the parcel. Brenda pushed cobwebs and leaves from an ornate iron chair and sat down. The abundance of 1950s patio furniture suggested a previously social life.

Hosting social events was one thing Brenda and her husband could agree on. Devin’s fourteenth birthday was the last, preceding divorce.

Devin left for MIT two days ago. At least he had a partial scholarship in robotics. The thought of upholding her portion of tuition from commission sales instead of a steady salary spawned another hot flash. But she was grateful that he was still alive given the scooter tragedy. With casts on both arms and one leg, Devin enjoyed pretty girls ferreting him to class for the first six months of his senior year.

The electric scooters were a transportation mecca for teens the summer it happened. Brenda stared off in the direction of the cracked pool, a Northridge earthquake relic. She had been hired as an agent of change for the City of Mar Vista. They wanted someone that would enhance their quality of life. So when Brenda saw the popularity and practicality of the electric scooters, she put forward an ordinance allowing them to use the bike lanes.

The City Council balked due to angry petitioners unwilling to share the road with bikes, let alone scooters. Even after Devin was plowed down by a Tesla driving westsider, outraged that the scooter might make him a few seconds later to his IPO launch. So in a menopausal fury, Brenda had her Public Works Department stripe the shared lanes without Council approval.

Enough was enough. Brenda pulled off her blouse and headed back inside. She used to be known as a rational person.

Just like Devin was now. She saw her younger self in him. Though, he had a much gentler soul. He loved his parents and put himself in therapy to learn how to deal with their divorce, and how to deal with Brenda’s mood swings.

Devin often calmed her with humor and sarcasm. He had a way of mocking Brenda that made her laugh. Such as when she bottled up frustration then let it rip on unsuspecting strangers. Or, when she refused to challenge her menopause symptoms.

Brenda pulled on another shirt. This time 100% cotton. Spending the next fifty years crabby like the Spilkus’s was probably not the example she wanted to set for her son. Nor was selling real estate. She taught Devin to strive for happiness in all things.

Outside, on Orange Grove Court, Brenda scheduled three appointments. The first with a therapist. Devin liked his, so why not. The second with a gynecologist, and the third with a municipal headhunter.

Brenda glanced back at the Spilkus’s ranch-style house. She left her geekdar blazer behind. The dust bunnies and commission junkies could have at it.