That the yellow house was thrillingly affordable might have been a warning sign, if Eleanor had known how to read it. But she’d been desperate. She was sharing a room with her four-year-old daughter, Hattie, in her parents’ house in Austin, and she had to get out. Her parents didn’t want her to go, but that was part of the problem. What her mother really wanted was to have Eleanor back inside her, along with Hattie, nested like matryoshka dolls.
So when the neat bungalow came on the market, close to the school her daughter loved, Eleanor thought she’d made it up. A wish on a candle. The seller was a pixie-like blond country singer who was never there, and she was selling it as is—another warning. But Eleanor had never bought a house before, and the realtor, who was her mother’s age, with her hair in a French twist, had the air of an authoritative and impatient aunt, waiting for a decision. She tapped her long nails on the steering wheel of her parked Audi while Eleanor gazed at the little house from the passenger seat. The live oak in the yard had good roots, the realtor said.
“Are you sure I can get it?” Eleanor asked.
“If we do this now,” the realtor said.
“Won’t someone outbid me?”
“It’s too small for most people. And the seller thinks you’re sweet. I think we can wrap this up.”
“Look, do you want it or not? You’re getting manna from heaven, in your price range. What do you want, a burger?”
What Eleanor wanted was to ask her father to come walk through th...