I have always referred to the houses I’ve owned by their street name.
First came Stanley. I moved in an unmarried woman and moved out mother to three sons. Next was Dick, house of extreme embarrassment—But mom! We moving to a swear-word street! Then came the half-acre slice-of-heaven, Roosevelt, followed by seven years at Pommel Gate. Squished between I bought a rental property, Brandon.
And now, there is Duncan.
It bears mention of a slight blip in the naming tradition, after Pommel Gate but before Duncan. I never once referenced the flat where I lived for the last year by its street name, Portland Place. It was always The Cave.
When I move into a new place, standard practice dictates that until I’ve lived there a full year, I shall not paint. This was an offshoot of hitting the paint cans too soon at Stanley, Dick and Roosevelt only to find myself repainting a week, month, or even year later because no matter how many pillows were adorned couches or how many works of art hung on walls or how clever I was to snag a carpet with the perfect pattern to pull the room together, the colour did not work.
By the time I moved to Pommel Gate, I’d smartened up. A house will speak to its new owner if willing to wait. The best course of action after moving into a new home, then, is patience. In time, a house will reveal what it wants to the willing.
As a renter this last year, painting wasn’t an option. The Cave’s walls were pleasant enough, neither white nor beige. The colour was an artful marriage of the two, more of a bisque.
In the one communal room that housed the kitchen and lounge, the upper half of the walls were exposed brick. Not being able paint, I focused obsessive attention on the brick, imagining the hands that had mortared the stones. Since the building was erected in 1864, not a one of the men attached to those hands ever knew that the foundation they’d built was solid enough to withstand both the infamous Halifax explosion and me living there a year.
It is no secret that I both loved and hated The Cave. Entering its front door and walking the long hallway that opened into its 500 hundred square feet and three teeny rooms was to be swallowed by small and dark.
For the year, days were spent in an ongoing pursuit of light and space, found by exploring the city’s library, cafes, and parks, to take refuge in these places. How I used to wish that I could bottle sunshine, take it home, and smash the glass, flooding illumination into every nook and cranny of the claustrophobic Cave.
Sometimes the damn dark held me in a grip that squeezed from the bottom up, expelling everything I’d ever said or done for every moment of my life, leaving no choice but to confront all I’d ever held sacrosanct around fate and destiny and the standoff that had led me to runaway in the first place.
Impalement on a nail-bed of unwanted memories.
“Stone walls do not a prison make,” my landlady Janet wrote in an email in late winter after I’d bemoaned the impact of the lack of daylight and its terrible toll on my spirit.
Ha! I’d thought after reading her words. Obviously, she just didn’t understand the human need for light.
After giving my notice, Janet and I were in constant contact as she searched for a new basement dweller. Sometimes I’d let potential tenants in and take them round the place if Janet couldn’t make it. Showing the flat was a quick process. Explaining subterranean living was not.
I suppose I might have told the inquisitive how often I would hear the activity of the upstairs tenants, Bonnie and Dan. In the winter, I began to rely on Bonnie’s 6am footfalls above as morning alarm since my bedroom was murky and womblike, no matter what the sun was up to.
In the evenings, when she and Dan watched TV, I could never quite figure out what show they might be watching. The was sound absorbed into the baseline audio of the outside customary sirens and late night party-goers leaving The Local. Occasionally, a nighttime text vibration cut through the din, down through their floor and into my ceiling. I would lay in my bed below straining my ears to see to hear their Hello.
After a year of darkness, I wonder if it will be easy to rest when the moon sneaks into my room or if I will mind waking to the sun instead of Bonnie’s footsteps.
Life at Duncan.
What will be like to spread out to two floors, many rooms and a yard after 12 months in reduced quarters?
At The Cave, my son and I quickly figured out what does not matter in order to get along, not only with each other, but with our many visitors. We laughed where once we might have complained and hugged where once we might have cold shoulder’d. The Jenga and dominoes came out where once we retreated away from one another into the depths of Pommel Gate’s many rooms.
Janet suggested I change the name of my blog from No fixed address to Not from away since I am now a home owner in Halifax.
The email frequency between us reached its zenith the last week of August. We were in touch daily, sometimes three or four times, notes occasionally not about renting the cave. One day she wrote of the tenant before me, Josh, whom I’d once met when he’d knocked on my door asking me for a nostalgic walk-about of The Cave.
“Glad you met Josh. About 3 mos before he left, he told me he wanted to stay in his apartment (that is, in your “cave”) forever.
I imagine that might be me knocking on The Cave’s door someday for a trip down memory lane. By then, surely I will have let my hair will be gray, eyes a bit rheumy, face gnarly with wrinkles,.I hope my memories of The Cave remain intact.
“Hello,” I will say to the occupant when I go for my visit. “I used to live here.”
They might invite me in, as I did with Josh last winter. And after I walk through that darkened hallway once again and feel the walls, I’ll remember what The Cave said when it let go of me, which had nothing at all to do with paint colours.
Janet was right, of course. Stone walls do not a prison make. I was the one who didn’t understand walls or prisons—freedom and illumination. The Cave let me know place had not a whit to do with either.
I stink at goodbyes. Some are downright treachery, like when I say goodbye to my two sons who live in Toronto at the end of a visit. Others are more a slow fade.
Goodby Cave and Hello Duncan.
Hardly three weeks in, Duncan forced me to take a a crazed cross-country tour to retrieve stored belongings necessary to fill its greater that 500 square feet spaces. I also brought back my nephew Spencer, who has decided he must move to Halifax too.
September has me moving into week two of a plaster and lathe rewiring nightmare. The job was supposed to take one and be completed while I was away. Nova Scotia and the best laid plans and all that rot.
Meanwhile, through the rewiring came large holes in my walls and ceiling, and I discovered Duncan has insulation-less walls, an important matter entirely missed by the house inspector in a circa 1865. And now, I will need to get the walls insulated before the snow flies. Of course that can’t happen until I find someone to repair the gaping holes. Have I mentioned the general discombobulation that comes hand-in-hand with a new home?
Home has the strangest ingredients. What to do with that list has always been my most difficult challenge.
Duncan, I’m listening. Get talking.