Early this month, driving north toward Wellfleet and the shingled house overlooking Blackfish Creek, I’ll be musing about the Route 6 traffic, what to pick up at the Stop & Shop on the way, whether I’ll have time for the beach after unloading the car.
And I’ll be musing about Andrea, as I’ll call her here, and whether we’ll need to have a conversation.
Can you claim a relationship with someone you know little about, have never met, and communicate with mostly to report problems? Andrea will be my landlord for the following three weeks. I’ve rented this Cape Cod house from her seven summers in a row, spending a few days alone or with friends until my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter arrive. It’s a place we all cherish.
But since we’re usually the season’s first tenants, after the house has been closed all winter, we frequently encounter...issues. I could report these to the realty agent, but it’s simpler to go straight to the top.
“Andrea, water from the upstairs shower is dripping through the ceiling of the downstairs bathroom,” I text, “even though I swear I tucked the shower curtain inside.”
“Andrea, there’s a hornet’s nest on the deck.”
“Andrea, we’re used to ants on the Cape, but these carpenter ants have created such an impressive mound of sawdust by the living room baseboard that—well—here’s a photo. Should we call your exterminator?”
I don’t know precisely where Andrea lives or what she does, whether the house is hers or co-owned with siblings. I know, from the agency listing, that her parents built this airy retreat in 1987. From the shelf of books in the study, I learned that they were educators and authors. That’s about it, unless I care to undertake a Web search. I doubt she knows much about my life, either.
We have a kind of bond nonetheless, rooted in concern for the house and perhaps also love of the Cape. I’ve visited since childhood; she probably has, too. Still, I doubt she’s usually happy to hear from me, because it means the dishwasher isn’t draining or something equally as fun.
“You wanna buy a house?” she sighed wearily on the phone one June. A joke, but like many vacationers, I have indeed fantasized about owning a house on the Cape. This will never happen and, given the evident challenges of long-distance property ownership, maybe I’d rather borrow Andrea’s anyway. She always resolves these minor difficulties as speedily as possible.
As with all relationships, ours has its disappointments and tensions. She hasn’t replaced those old, hard-to-clean window blinds, despite my pointed comments. I’ve also mentioned, to no effect, that the volunteer trees growing up outside are about to obscure the view from the deck. I imagine bringing a saw and surreptitiously felling a couple myself, but I don’t.
I worry, too, about our relationship ending. We’d stayed at a house nearby, year after year, until it changed hands and its new owners could afford to stop offering summer rentals—something happening a lot on the Cape. My family would mourn if Andrea sold the house.
Over the winter, though, I learned that she values our connection, too.
The lease the agent e-mailed me showed a considerable jump in the usually reasonable offseason rent. “Wow,” I e-mailed. “That’s almost $1,000 more than last year, with the fees and taxes. Do you think there’s any possibility that Andrea would lower the rent somewhat?” The agent said she’d inquire.
Three days later: “The homeowner appreciates your continued patronage of their vacation rental and will offer you the 2022 rental rate.”
So, we’re on for this month, when the town starts reawakening but the beaches remain largely empty, and you can still make a left-hand turn on Route 6. I’m happy; my kids are happy; my 6-year-old granddaughter can’t wait.
Paula Span is a New York Times columnist and essayist. Please send comments to email@example.com. Tell your story. Email your 650-word essay on a relationship to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.