“Equivalent” was first published in the Winter/Spring 2016 issue of TSR. The story appears in Amy Hempel’s new book, Sing to It, available here.
The former owner was supposed to fix the door. Instead, he left behind a pool-cleaning robot. He said it was equivalent to fixing the front door, though the house had no pool. It had once had a pool, but the seller’s wife had been the swimmer, and when she died four years earlier, he filled in the pool.
At the closing, the buyer’s attorney pointed out that the repair of the door was contractually bound. She brought out the contract and showed him. The seller still refused to fix the door. He said you just had to put some shoulder to it. The buyer wanted the house, so she was the one both sides knew would give in.
Every couple of months, the seller arrived unannounced to pick up something he had left behind: a wall phone in the den, canoe mounts in the shed. The buyer allowed him to take what he wanted, then asked him for help with a difficult chore.
She asked him to turn the mower on its side to drain the oil. And double-check the basement’s radon remediator. Each favor she asked extended the time until the seller’s next visit. The weeds in the garden—the buyer bets that this will be enough to keep the seller from coming back to get the child’s blackboard in an upstairs bedroom, the child’s name formed by animals carved in the wooden frame.