Gemma bought it. She handed money, in broad daylight, to a man with a sharp jacket and a beard that had been trimmed that morning. He didn’t glance over his shoulder, didn’t weigh the coins in his hand quickly to decide if she had cheated him, but stopped at his counting tables and laid them out in neat stacks, and handed her a small stack back when the count came up in her favor. He smiled when he handed the money back, like he was happy to do it fair.
Gemma took the coins back with a smile, but couldn’t keep from sliding them into her pocket, quick, when he wasn’t looking, so to him, they disappeared into nowhere.
He handed her a key, and she had bought it: one roof, two floors, nine walls of varying size, seven doors, eight windows, a staircase, and a ladder. A house,which somehow, she owned.
It leaned close to the house next to it, not so much that it touched, but she could jump from one roof to the other, standing in the right spot, without making too much noise when she landed. In a rush, she might sound like a cat pouncing on a hapless bird, but she could do it near silent. From her roof, there was a door that led down to the second floor, but she locked that immediately. It was obvious, and she wasn’t the only one that could climb on roofs. Instead, she checked the breadth of a cutaway in the side of the house, and shimmied down it, hands and feet to the short walls on either side of her. She left a window unlocked, but unopened, and fell twice learning to swung herself from her cutaway to its ledge, and then once more before she managed to stick her fingers into the right crack to swing the window open and tumble inside.
Gemma climbed back to the roof, shimmied down again, ducked through the window again. Three more times until she was satisfied she could do it every time, quick, quiet, with her hands shaking or still.
The last time she tumbled inside, she stayed on the floor and looked up through the clear glass of the window.
Clear glass, and she owned eight of them. If they broke, she had the money to replace them. It was strange feeling.
It was almost midnight by then. She hadn’t started her strange exploration of her house until it was dark, and her neighbors had gone inside and shut the curtains on their own windows. Slowly, she pulled herself to her feet, listening in the dark for the echoes of her house. She needed to memorize them. So, she crept around her house, one room at a time, learning the creaks of the floors, the tone of the whine on each door. She didn’t bother to oil any of them. They weren’t very loud, and there was a delightful difference between the hum of the front door and the excited squeal of the hidden closet on the second floor. Every one of them had a different voice, and she liked listening, knowing which was moving just by sound.
The locks on the house were fine, with a little toothed key that fit easily in her palm. But she put bolts on the back door anyway, then one on the front door, then one on the inside of her bedroom door. She didn’t intend to use that last one most days. But she imagined it would be useful one day, just to buy her time to pull open a window and disappear.
In the quiet, hours after midnight, she admitted that all she thought these nine walls, seven doors, two floors and roof would do was buy her time. Maybe a month more in this city, before she left like she usually did, on a single breath, before she dropped everything and ran.
But after that day, she was finding she liked to buy things.