We were at the realtor’s office by nine the next morning. It didn’t open until ten, and the proprietress didn’t arrive until ten-thirty.
Her name was Suzanne. She was vaguely reminiscent of Felicity, though even more unkempt, her greasy orange hair scraped back in a ponytail.
“Hey boys,” she mumbled wearily, turning on the lights and rolling up the louvered windows. “Where you from?”
“D.C.,” we replied in unison.
She looked us up and down in a not-too-friendly fashion.
“We’ve had a lot of you people lately.” We weren’t sure if “you people” meant D.C. residents, gay couples, or some other category of undesirables we weren’t even aware of, so we kept quiet.
“We’re interested in buying a house,” I hazarded after a few moments.
She all but rolled her eyes. “Are you now?”
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. “We love the island.”
“Sure you do,” she replied. “Everyone does. Except the people who actually live here.”
It was hard to know quite how to respond to this. Luckily the phone rang as I was racking my brain for a suitably witty riposte.
“Yup,” she barked into the phone with all the charm of a longshoreman. A protracted silence followed. “Yup,” she repeated after a while. More silence. Michael shuffled his feet.
“Look,” she said, fiddling with a jumble of papers on her desk. “I’ve got people here. Just put some ointment on it. That usually does the trick.”
With a minimum of formalities she concluded the call. “My cousin in Maryland,” she remarked as she hung up.
While I was mentally flipping through the Physicians’ Desk Reference in search of ailments that require ointment, she exclaimed, “Hey, isn’t Maryland up in your neck of the woods?”
“Actually I work in Maryland,” Michael replied.
“I thought you were from D.C.,” she countered suspiciously.
“They’re very close,” Michael explained in his most reasonable (that is to say, condescendingly factual) way. “Just a few miles. You’ve never been there?”
She emitted a short yap of a laugh. “No way. Too cold for me. I came here straight from Boca five years ago. Frankly I never go above the 30th parallel. Never have, never will.”
While this was an undeniably novel world view, I decided it was time to try to steer the conversation back to the subject of real estate.
“Now, about a house.”
The tiny glimmer of animation she had summoned for her diatribe against cold weather flickered and died.
“Right,” she said, her eyes glazing over.
I was puzzled—wasn’t this how she made her living? But I plunged ahead, determined to make my pitch. “We’re looking for three bedrooms and two baths with ocean views for about $250,000. Or less.”
There was long, stunned silence.
She glanced absently at her computer screen and, presumably for appearance’s sake, tapped a couple of random keys. “Sorry, nothing in that range,” she announced, rubbing her nose with the back of her hand.
“Nothing?” Michael asked incredulously.
She cleared her throat and spoke very slowly, as if addressing children or mentally-challenged adolescents.
“What you’ve just described is what everybody who comes to Vieques for a couple of days and falls in love with the island is looking for. And it’s all gone. There’s nothing left. Kaput.”
Five minutes later we skulked out of Suzanne’s office feeling as if we’d just broken wind at a tea party.
“She’s quite the saleslady,” Michael remarked.
“Very impressive,” I agreed, trying to match his breezy tone.
But we both felt dejected.
Even worse, I couldn’t stop wondering about that ointment.