by Oreen Scott
A piece from a memoir
| If you read this short piece, you are jumping into a story that begins before and ends after this part, and is a work in progress rather than a finished work
The house on Dominion Street resembled the one in Sophie’s Choice, only it wasn’t pink, it was brown and white, and the veranda was enclosed. The turret gave it a distinctive look, but the poor old thing was ragged, and had certainly left it’s best days far behind.
The caretakers, who didn’t do much taking care of the building, but did a lot of snooping and gossiping, were a couple with the last name Disher. They lived on the first floor.
Alma, who worked selling dresses at Sears Department Store, was a rotund middle-aged woman with bleach blonde hair. “I like spending the money I earn on my back, rather than on where I live,” she said, as a way of explaining her living situation. She liked to put on airs, and fancied herself a stylish woman.
Her small furnished room was situated in the front part of the second floor. When she used the washroom she needed to go down a public hallway, at the end of it was a bathroom that she shared with me.
Although she pretended to be superior to me, it was a farce. I was twenty-three and if nothing else my youth gave me hope that I’d find a way out of this dump. She, like the house, way past her prime, didn’t stand a chance at moving above this situation.
Alma had a boyfriend. On many an occasion, when Alma was finished work, she and her boyfriend would come back to her little room where she’d cook sausage and eggs on her hot plate. They liked to revel into the wee hours of the morning, drinking and singing loud Ukrainian songs. Her boyfriend drank a little, then he pissed little, and being as he was drunk his aim wasn’t very good. The next morning my first task would be sanitizing the bathroom.
I never said anything to Alma about the urine, but sure as the sky is blue had complaints about me. She especially didn’t like my baths, which she thought far too long. The toilet was in a separate room, so it wasn’t an urgent matter that compelled her to bang loudly on the door,
Vera lived in the only apartment on the second floor. It was Vera who rented a room to me because the Dishers were on vacation. Because Vera had completed the task in their absence, their authority was usurped, and that was enough to make them dislike me.
Vera was thirty-six and worked as an Air Canada ticket auditor. Tickets were very complicated in those days and people like Vera had to sort out how the fares would be distributed among carriers. She didn’t like the job. She preferred her old job, which was traffic manager for a local radio station. But the Air Canada job paid about twice as much.
Vera’s husband was gone, which gave her the opportunity to make a life for herself. Although a highly trained and well paid stationary engineer, eventually he couldn’t get a job in Winnipeg. And so, he moved Calgary. Vera wisely decided this was the time to break loose from a sixteen year marriage in hell. Her husband was drinking himself into oblivion. Booze was the only companion he cared about, and the only job he really wanted. Vera didn’t drink.
Vera, who said she was born because a condom leaked, sold herself short. She was smart, reliable, perky and had a great sense of humor. Although she didn’t make friends easily she was a great friend.
I had one and a half rooms with the shared bathroom. The walls in the main room were painted an indescribably awful mauve. Every morning I’d roll over, open my eyes and there it was, the yellow blotch on the wall. It looked as if at some point in the past someone had vomited on the wall and left this permanent stain on the ugly mauve.
My dumpy home was a real fixer upper, and like all fixer uppers it was cheap. I began my improvements by cleaning and painting the kitchen. It wasn’t really a kitchen, but a closet where someone had built tongue and groove cupboards. There wasn’t a sink or countertop. There was an ancient refrigerator with it’s motor stuck on the top. Because the half room was so small, the stove was located in the mauve room.
The paint color in the half room was a pale yellowish beige, popular in the 1930’s. The color plus the layers of dirt and grease, lead me to believe the room had not been cleaned or painted in forty years. Before I painted I needed to use turpentine to clean. The wall turned pink which meant I needed to resize so that the paint would adhere.
The half room had no light, except what came through from the hallway, and so I painted the closet-kitchen very light colors, bright white and pale yellow. One strip of the tongue and groove white, the next strip a pale yellow.
Well I was working, from time to time my friendly neighbor, who claimed she was my nosy neighbor, Vera, would drop by. My trials and tribulations with that tiny closet-kitchen inspired her to paint and decorate her apartment. When she was finished it outshone my tiny project by a long shot. Her remodeling got rid of the ghost of her husband. As we sat drinking tea in her newly decorated living room we talked about life, relationships and the Dishers.
Vera told me about how she knew Mr. Disher was in her apartment when she was at work. She had stuck pieces of paper in the door to her apartment, if the door was opened, the paper would fall. Sure enough, she’d come home and the paper would be on the floor. She did the same thing in her underwear drawer. Mr. Disher was a snoop and a pervert.
Once my closet-kitchen was clean I started on the mauve room. Most of the furniture was beyond repair and needed to be thrown out.
“What are you doing?” Mr. Disher asked.
“I’m taking this chair into the basement.”
“You can’t do that, it’s part of the room.”
“Look at it. It has a huge hole, no one can sit on it. Besides it’s moldy. It’s a health hazard. I’m putting it in the basement. Do with it whatever you like.”
The Dishers were in a dither. They didn’t like the changes being made on the second floor, but it wasn’t their building, they were simply caretakers with a false sense of authority. They lurked in the halls and kept tabs on who was visiting.
I was twenty-two years old and had a boyfriend, big deal! He had a beard, so what! When they thought I couldn’t hear them they called him whiskers.
“Is whiskers here?”
“Is she home?”
The Dishers became very preoccupied with our coming and goings.
The bitter cold of winter took hold, snow piled high and an icy wind continually blew, but my cheap room stayed pleasantly warm. The other advantage to living in that house was its location, right across the street from where I worked.
A friend called me at work one day, alerting me to something very strange that had just happened. My friend had absent-mindedly called my home instead of my work number. A man answered, said hello,and then realizing what he had just done, hung up.
I went home and found nothing out of place. I knocked on the Disher’s door. Mrs. Disher answered.
“May I please speak to Mr. Disher?
“He’s not home, dear.”
“Well, I think he just might be, and I think he was in my room not long ago snooping around.”
“He’d never do a thing like that.”
“I beg to differ. But, as I’m sure you are aware, if there is a reason to go into my room you need to give me twenty-four hours written notice. I will be coming home from time to time to check up, if I catch him in my room I’m going to report the incident to the police as a break and enter.”
Vera may have thought Mr Disher a relatively harmless creature, but I resented having my privacy violated.
The third floor of the house was primarily the turret, I never took the stairs to the top floor, and as far as I know neither did Vera or Alma. The girl who lived on the third floor was an enigma who came and went, seldom seen and never heard.
Because my housing was so cheap I was able to save money, and began planning my next move. Maybe I’d go further east, maybe Toronto. It was in this house that my son was conceived, and all hope of moving onto another city vanished.
I moved from Dominion Street to Des Meurons. It was when I was living on Des Meurons that Richard was born.