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Xhenet Aliu


1. What is pre-foreclosure and how can you make it work to your advantage? In the next half-hour, world-renowned real estate guru Truman Evans will show you with his patented No Money Down Deal-Sealer’s System.  
       The way I understood it was like this: most people hoard more than they’ll ever need in this life like it’s going to give them a head start on the next one. You know, the two-for-one, the family size, the value size, the free six-inch sub with the purchase of a foot long and medium soda in-store only coupon must be presented at time of order, the six-CD stereo upgrade for a limited time only with a 48-month lease at your friendly neighborhood Ford dealer not all lessees will qualify, the Unlimited Nights & Weekends Families Talk for Free plan with the purchase of four (4) V600 camera phones, the $3000 Home Depot gift card with your down payment on a new prefabricated home at Gardenia Gardens minimum 1800sq plan with financing through First United Bank Member FDIC, the people die every day doesn’t your family deserve more coverage you automatically qualify if you’re a non-smoker, etc. and so forth.
       But some people can’t even keep their hands on the barest needs. Terrell Berm, for example, barely keeping the roof over his pock-marked little head after the divorce and the bankruptcy and probably a stint or two at the Who Owns You Now rehab facility down on West Park. I didn’t know Terrell Berm from any of the other guys living in any of the other gutted-up modular houses up and down the gutted-up modular streets here in town, but I knew the type. I figured someone like Terrell Berm would want rid of his pre-foreclosed property, his pre-foreclosed goddamned life, so bad he’d pay the closing cost and send me a greeting card in the mail afterward. That’s why I was thinking this was going to be easy. I was feeling alright when I pulled the Tempo over and slipped that envelope into Mr. Terrell Berm’s mailbox. Inside was the Magnetic Marketing Letter I’d printed up on the Deskjet at work: I buy houses in any condition! Quick closings! Turn your undesirable property into DESIRABLE CASH!!! Everything was red and blue on white, because cash is American is good. That’s what Truman Evans said, to identify yourself with something positive, something that doesn’t say: You poor, losing bastard, I will take from you the last thing in this life that is yours. A nicotine-beige curtain fluttered but I missed the face behind it.  Enjoy your magnet, Mr. Terrell Berm, I thought. Seal your bills to the refrigerator with it, or if the bills don’t make it that far then the Chinese takeout menu or a coupon for a dollar off two rolls of Pillsbury biscuits. Just maybe pause a minute at the name in red caps: LIZA BUSHKA, your friend in finance, or just CASH!!!,whatever’s prettier. 
       Mr. Terrell Berm owned, or at least used to pay the mortgage on, this property right here in Livingston, Montana. I knew that because I work at the bank, dialing the phone numbers that the recordings are usually sorry are no longer in service, then licking the envelopes shut on those pre-foreclosure letters that go straight into the trash. 99 N. N St. More like a stutter than an address, or a candy bar you’d buy at the Dollar Value – like, the N & Ns right next to the Snuckers and Three Nougateers, that chocolate that’s so cheap your mouth ulcers if you eat it. Even my kids don’t beg for that crap. That’s what the house was, too, a knock-off of a home, an ugly 2/1 in a puke green color that’s only used for cheap siding and Tupperware. And that was the only green there. It’s funny – you think grass is free, I mean it’s everywhere, some states and countries are nothing but grass, people mow it down for Crissakes, but some poor bastards just can’t get any in to grow in their 40 x 50 lots. It’s like some kind of scarlet letter, only shit brown. The kind of shit brown yard with a busted bicycle plopped right in the middle like the topper on a birthday cake. 
       The Magnetic Marketing Letter didn’t list my address, 93 N. K Street, three blocks away in a doublewide I share with my mother. Terrell Berm didn’t need to know I don’t even have the down payment for a house of my own yet. Real estate negotiation is all in presentation, in confidence, and he didn’t need to know I don’t have that either. Because according to Truman Evan’s patented No Money Down Deal-Sealers System, you don’t really need money to make money. You just need a little creative self-marketing, a hard-money loan, and some carpeting to slap into a distressed property before you sell it, flip it, for market value without a single mortgage payment due. So I pulled away from the house with my sunglasses on because I thought maybe things were changing. Maybe I could be someone who can wear sunglasses without feeling like an asshole.
       True, Truman Evans’ No Money Down Deal-Sealer’s System didn’t include a chapter on how to make your kids’ feet stop growing long enough for you to buy the cheap carpeting you can’t even afford for your own home, or how to live off the life insurance policy your dead husband forgot to leave behind, or how to stop Caleb’s night terrors that set him off screaming at least three times a night and start Jenna crying right along with him when Jesus, your head, this is the only time you get to study the No Money Down Deal-Sealer’s System can’t you just be a big boy and sleep through one freaking night. I’m not stupid, I could see the holes. But the infomercial had offered a 30-day introductory trial of the entire system for just the cost of shipping and handling, and then they’d asked, What do you have to lose? Right up until then I’d been laughing at all the fools in the commercial, their stiff hair blowing in one Dippity-Do as they were interviewed in front of their new motorboats, but that question brought me right back down. What do you have to lose, Liza? I tell you, I thought a long time about that question, and to this day I haven’t come up with an answer.     
2. Truman Evans first began investing in pre-foreclosures as a penniless undergraduate at the University of Illinois. By the time he earned his degree, he’d already made his first million. Now, Truman will show you how to take control of your own lives, your finances, your destinies, with his patented No Money Down Deal-Sealer’s System and optional seminars.
       I was nineteen. I wanted a dog but the complex we were living in wouldn’t allow them, and even if they did Scotty wouldn’t. “I don’t want to share you with a dog,” he’d say. So I’d visit pounds and shelters with a bundle of Milkbones wrapped up in my pocket and slip them between the wires on the cages. I’m sorry I can’t take you home, I’d tell them, but I’m sure you’ll find a fine one eventually.
       I also wanted cancer. Not to die from it, but to survive it. Any idiot with the money for tuition could get a degree, but to beat malignancy and hardly even miss a day at the call center – that was something worth trying. So I took up smoking and tanning and eventually went to Dr. Sizemore with my symptoms: fatigue, nightsweats, nausea, constipation.
       “Well, you’ve got great iron in your blood,” Dr. Sizemore told me. “I’d say you’re feeling exactly how you’re supposed to be feeling.” He flipped through the chart, then looked up at me funny like there was grape jelly crusted all over my face. “You do know you’re pregnant, don’t you?”
        “Um, I guess so,” I answered. And the sickness hit hard right then, and all at once I had to puke and pee and who was going to buy the formula and diapers and Diaper Genies and the little outfits with little pink gingham ruffles on the ass? But it was like drinking too much – after I threw up into the trash can I didn’t feel so bad anymore. I still wanted a dog, but I knew Scotty would at least agree to a baby since he was one of twelve himself. That kind of stuff just made sense to him. A baby seemed less like sharing me than getting more of me, only thinking that made me sick all over again. Goddamned hormones.  
       I told my mother first. “Ah, crap,” she said. “You know you don’t have to marry him.”
       “I know,” I answered.
       Then I told Scotty. “How about that,” he said. “You know we have to get married.”
       “I know,” I answered.
       Scotty came home the next day with a quarter carat ring and a pair of tiny white booties. My mother didn’t counteroffer, so Scotty and I headed down to town hall for the license.

3. With the help of Truman Evan’s patented No Money Down Deal-Sealer’s System, you’ll learn how to hone in sellers who aren’t even aware that their properties are on the market! In the end, your sellers will be thanking you for saving their ravaged credit, and your bank account will be thanking them for the fat profits!
       Mom smeared some more peanut butter on the toast she eats for dinner every night.
       “You’re wasting your money on that, you know,” she said.
       I’d spread out two days worth of newspapers and three months worth of junk mail to camouflage the Deal-Sealer’s binder, although really, I knew better.
       “I’m not wasting any money except $9.99 shipping and handling,” I told her. “It’s a 30-day trial and I’m sending it back after I finish it.”
       “You spent $9.99 on that?” she asked, like it was even worse than she expected.
       In the pauses between the thumps and screams coming from the living room, a mind-murdering cartoon chanted a chorus to a song that gets stuck in my head for days, a whole string of gibberish that means nothing except that an overpaid Disney songwriter was too lazy to think of actual words. Someone probably earned six figures for that song, and yeah, I spent ten dollars on a white binder that was supposed to tell me how to buy a house even I wouldn’t live in and maybe, by some act of God and legal fine print, I might’ve made a thousand dollars profit so I could invest in my next slum. And yeah, maybe I did have a better chance of writing one of those Disney songs than making this thing work, but I had three days left with the system and damn if I wasn’t going to try and make at least the $9.99 back.       
       Mom pushed the toast crumbs over the edge of the table and onto the floor. “I’ll sweep tomorrow,” she said. “I have to get to work. Jenna had a little bit of a fever today so you might want to put her to bed early. And Caleb’s probably going to catch it so you might as well put him to bed, too.”
       I nodded. I guess the fever didn’t weaken their pile-driving muscles, but hey, I planned on putting them to bed early anyway, get in some good study time in my last three nights with that binder. I scanned Tuesday’s paper while Mom gathered up her work smock and pocketbook, which seemed to take about ten minutes if I were counting.
Finally she mumbled goodnight and I pulled out the Deal-Sealer’s System before the door closed all the way behind her. I had some work to do. See, Truman Evans said the Magnetic Marketing Letters just plant an idea in, say, a Terrell Berm’s head. Selling them on the idea was up to us. So I opened up to page 73, to the script Truman Evans gave us to follow more or less when contacting a potential seller. The script didn’t call for a five- and three-year-old, so I walked into the living room.
       “Hey guys,” I said, “we’re going to play a game. You guys get to be really, really quiet while I’m on the phone. Whoever’s quiet the whole time gets a Toaster Strudel.”
       Caleb rolled off the couch right on top of Jenna. “We hate this game, Mom,” and like usual Jenna followed up with, “Yeah.”
       “Well, it can be a game and you get a Toaster Strudel or it can be an order and you get a swift kick in the butt. Your choice.”
       I walked away there because they might actually have considered it a choice, and whichever one they went with there was still only maybe a 30/70 chance of ten minutes of quiet. I picked up the phone and dialed the number I wrote on one of the pieces of junk mail, a credit card offer that was obviously an oversight in their credit check process or else a downright taunt. The line rang and I stared down into the script, wishing I’d memorized it like I memorized the role of Rizzo that I didn’t get in my high school’s production of Grease. It was on three rings, four, then finally,
       “Uhnn?” a voice on the other end said. I recognized that voice, a Pall Mall and Crystal Light voice.
       “Yes, hello? Is Mr. Terrell Berm available?”
       “Who’s this?” he said.
       “Hi, I’m Liza Bushka. I’m an independent real estate investor and I’m interested in talking to you about your real estate house or property located at 99 N. N St.”
       “What about it?” he said.
       “Well, I understand that you’ve had some trouble making payments lately, and I’m prepared to offer what I hope is a solution that --”
       “Are you from the bank?” he asked.
       “Um, no, not really,” I said.
       “Then what the hell are you calling about?”
       “It’s…I’m interested in perhaps talking to you about potentially purchasing your home for a fair and reasonable -- ”
       “You got the wrong number, lady. My house isn’t for sale.”
       “Well, I understand that it isn’t currently on the market, but I was hoping perhaps that we might discuss the possibility of possibly considering a sale, which would,” I checked the script, “perhaps circumvent the possibility of foreclosure which you are now currently facing.”
       “What in the hell are you talking about? This house isn’t for sale,” he said.
       “Yes, I understand that it isn’t now for sale,” I said.
       “It isn’t ever for sale. What in the hell are you talking about?” He choked out a courser voice. “Where the hell do you think I’m going to live? Are you that magnet?”
       “Um, well,” I said. It might as well have been Grease in front of me by then. “By clearing the burden of a mortgage, you could possibly find another --”
       “No, lady, you possibly find yourself another shithead to steal a house from.” He was screaming then, and let me tell you that voice didn’t sound any prettier the louder it blew. “You want to take away a man’s home? What do you even know about a home? You’re probably some kind of dyke, right, don’t want a man to have a home of his own?”
       “Um, no, I’m not a dyke, I’m an independent real estate --”. 
       “If you’re not a dyke you’re a slut. I bet you’re a filthy whore and you want to use this as your whorehouse.”
       I hung up the phone and shook a couple of Toaster Strudels from their box in the freezer. “You guys were good,” I called out to Caleb and Jenna, though I guess not loud enough for them to hear. 

4. You might be asking by now if flipping is legal and if you can do it with no cash or credit. The answer is yes and yes!
       I admit that Scotty was good. He worked hard, I mean legendary hard, down at Browman Bros., so hard that they broke the rules and put him on the concrete pumps at full union scale within six months of his starting there. I can tell you that because Mr. Browman and everybody at the company tells me that still if I run into one of them at Albertson’s, and it’s like they’re trying to convince me to think good of him when they see my carriage full of Albertson’s Peanut Butter and Albertson’s Tuna Fish and Albertson’s Everything instead of Name Brand Anything. But I know he worked hard. $17.00 an hour on site days, plenty of time and a half. By the time Jenna came two years after Caleb we had the health insurance to pay for her to be born. I just worked part-time at the florist, which smelled nice and wasn’t so bad, really.
       And he was a good father. Our kids had nice clothes and nice toys. “Too many toys,” my mother said. “You never had that many toys,” as if that means something, as if I’m what I want my kids to grow up to be. The man was down on his knees every night building Lincoln Log cabins with them before he even took his boots off. That’s what made hating him so hard. The World’s Greatest Dad cap me and the kids gave him last Father’s Day, that wasn’t just a cheap novelty. He could’ve won that contest. But when he got me the matching Mom cap, I thought it was a practical joke. Because really, I was still thinking about that dog. Dry food in a bowl, some newspapers on the floor, a rubber bone and a tie outside – that I could handle. But watching Scotty watch Pocahontas for the eighteenth time that week with Caleb and Jenna made me want to walk out into the winter, leave a trail of footprints to Gallatin that’d be long snowed over by the time anyone realized I was gone.
       Instead I told Scotty that I wanted to take some classes at Montana State.       
       “You’re going to drive a half hour to Bozeman every day, half hour back, probably quit your job that you barely work at as it is, suck up half my paycheck into tuition and half dumping the kids into daycare, so that you can ‘better yourself’? Better your kids, babe,” he said.
       Then I told him I wanted to take karate, get strong, get out of the house a couple of nights a week.
       “Karate? You? Babe, you cry when you stub your toe. You never even did that Tai Bo video I got you last year.”
       Then I told him I wanted a divorce.
       “Liza, you can’t.” He said it once, twice, over and over again, and his voice broke down like a truck, and the tears fell so hard I swear they stripped his face away, and I saw past his flesh to the chasm right in the center of him, and I knew what he said was right. Liza, you can’t. Because maybe the kind of need we had for each other was like drowning people who pull the other one down and ride them like a raft to shore, but it was need nonetheless.

5. Truman Evans’ course details his exclusive step-by-step process for revitalizing distressed properties. Turn real estate lemons into lemonade with the No Money Down Deal-Sealer’s System!
        Truman Evans sold my name to about a thousand mailing lists, the son of a bitch.
       “I told you that was a waste of money,” Mom said. “And a waste of time.”
       “You never said it was a waste of time,” I said, but really I just called her on a technicality since waste of time is pretty much built into everything I do.  
       Used car ad. Another credit card offer. Sewage bill. Electric bill. Letter.
       But not really. No stamp, no address, just Liza Bushka printed in block letters like Caleb uses. I don’t know if you understand this, but people like me don’t get letters. If I was an army wife, I wouldn’t get letters. Even the Austrian pen-pal I wrote to in the fifth grade never wrote one back. So I didn’t need to know what was inside to know what was inside, but I opened it anyway because it was that or the electric bill.
       The magnet tumbled out when I unfolded the page, a red ink scrawl on lined Yellowstone Manufacturing memo paper.

Dear Liza,
I don’t want your whore magnat. Your not getting my house and neither is anybody. Your a whore and your husband is better off now.
Terrell Berm

       “Jesus Christ,” I yelled, and I wanted forceful but it came out a wobble instead. “Crazy son of a bitch, Jesus Christ.” I hopped up and locked the doors even though I didn’t want to be near them and I didn’t want to walk past the windows with that crazy son of a bitch two blocks away or maybe right outside, who the hell even knew. 
       “Caleb and Jenna, come in here,” I called, even though I don’t know why they needed to be in there or what I was going to tell them.
       “What’s your problem?” Mom asked, still smearing that peanut butter on her toast.
       “This is my problem,” and I showed her the letter.
       She read it over and handed it back to me. “Well what do you expect, going around trying to buy houses you can’t afford from people who can’t afford to give one up?”
       “I don’t expect to be stalked,” I said.
       “What do you want?” Caleb said, Jenna trailing right behind him like his security blanket.
       “Nothing. Just play in here for a little bit, okay?”
       “But you never let us play in the kitchen,” he said.
       “Yeah, well, happy birthday.”
       “It’s not my birfday,” Jenna said, but Caleb, he got it even though he shouldn’t have, and he glared right into me.
       Mom started back up. “You’re not being stalked, you’re being put back in your place. It’s insulting to people, acting like you’re better than them. Plus, why’re you giving out our address?”
       “Hello, the phonebook, the goddamned newspaper printed my personal business all over this goddamned town, remember? Freaking hell, I’m just trying to act better than I am. What the hell am I supposed to do, live in this hole forever? Lick envelopes forever? I mean,” and it came out too quick, “don’t you ever regret having me so young?”
       She thought for a minute. “Nah. I wasn’t doing anything better with myself. I mean, could you imagine life without these guys?”
       Sometimes I cry thinking that this woman will someday die, and that the last thing that makes sense on this earth will die with her. Why couldn’t I have inherited that sense, that pure logic that no science or religion could possibly stand up against, instead of these freckles on my shoulders? See, life without them goes like this:
       I went through Bozeman, picked up a nursing degree, and signed up with one of those traveling nursing agencies that sends me to Arizona or New Mexico or I don’t know, just someplace warm, Hawaii even. Or I stayed on singing in that band I joined for three weeks in high school, and we’re not famous or anything, but we do weddings and high school reunions, the occasional county fair. Or I’m really fit, a runner, a cyclist.
       But Child & Family Services listens in outside doublewides, waiting for the chance to swoop down and prove you don’t love your babies, so I just said, “Nope.”  
       But it still scares me, sometimes, to look at my children. Jenna is so pretty that I want to take her to the doctor to fix it. There’s no good to come out of that kind of pretty. And Caleb – Caleb is the kind of smart they call precocious but I call unnerving. He was looking at me there in the kitchen, and I knew he knew that I make everything up on the spot. And I could only look back at him and think, Where did I come up with a name like Caleb? 

6. Truman Evan’s No Money Down Deal-Sealer’s System isn’t the cheapest real estate course out there, but then again, the best never comes cheap. 
       What you need to know, what Terrell Berm and everybody needs to know, is that Scotty isn’t better off. No way, no heaven in any religion could match what he wanted on earth. Caleb and Jenna sure as hell aren’t better off. I’m not even better off. Maybe I asked for a divorce, yeah, but I know now it was just to hear him say, Liza, you can’t. Liza, you can’t leave. Liza, you can’t possibly understand how deep you’re in. You can’t love them alone the way that I can.
       And it was his love that killed him, so big it just popped him right open. Except he got a little help from a die-cast fire truck and some cement basement stairs. Listen, I was always telling Caleb not to leave his toys around the house like that and I was always telling Scotty to back me up on it. They never listened, never. So when me and the kids came home one day and the basement door was open and we heard nothing, nothing, I knew I should’ve sent them to their rooms before I called down there to Scotty but I was scared. And I don’t know what they saw when I pulled the door open wide, but I saw first the dollhouse half-finished and I thought you fool, you stupid goddamned idiot, why was the one you bought a year ago not good enough? But when I dropped down to my knees and put his head on my lap and soaked up that blood on his hair, that blood that sank into my own skin and colored it for days, I understood finally the kind of love that Scotty felt, and I understood that I’d never feel it, and I told him Scotty, Scotty, I wish I could, Scotty.         
7. If at any point within the 30-day trial period you’re unsatisfied with Truman Evan’s Deal-Sealers System, simply return it no questions asked sorry, shipping & handling non-refundable.
       Mom was on her way out the door when the phone rang.
       “I got a dick you can suck if you need the money,” Terrell Berm said.
       I pulled a big stream of air into my lungs so I could yell, but suddenly I was crying instead, crying which I hadn’t done in three months, and that bastard made me remember it and he could die himself for that. “Go to hell, you motherfucker,” I said.
       “What’s the matter, whore? Don’t you want my property no more?”
       “I don’t care about the fucking property,” I screamed into the phone, and then hung up, and then whipped the receiver across the room into the cereal cabinet, and then Jenna was crying, and then Caleb looked up at me with the kind of disappointed eyes that no five year old should have earned yet.
“Mommy,” he said.
       “She meant flipping property, Caleb,” my mother said.
       “No I didn’t,” I said. “Mommy’s mad and she shouldn’t say things like that around you but that’s how mad she is. She’s sorry you had to hear it but sometimes life just isn’t good and she’s sorry you have to hear that, too.”
       Caleb stared up with those caramel eyes that came straight from his father, a whole face that came straight from his father, and I wished I could have seen right through to his insides so I’d know where they came from, if there was any chance at all, because my children, oh my children I am sorry.  

© 2006 Xhenet Aliu

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Author Bio

Xhenet AliuXhenet Aliu hails from Waterbury, Connecticut, also the setting of her novel-in-progress, What is More Lasting Than Brass. An MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, she keeps busy waiting tables, contributing entertainment stories to the local newspaper, and playing guitar in the rock band Marstellar. She’s often had to explain that though her ethnic background is Albanian, she should not, in fact, have white hair and red eyes. “Flipping Property” is her first published fiction.

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January- February 2007 #57