My grandparents are selling their house and it feels like the end of an era. Theirs is a home in a circle of heritage houses, all double storeys with lattice work on their balconies overlooking the square’s grassy park, once glorious, with a fountain that has long since been left in disrepair and an overgrown lawn littered with glass bottles and used condom wrappers. It’s safe to say the glory days are over for this particular house and it has sold for a song to a pastor at a neighbouring stone church. Methodist, I think. Or is it Anglican? No matter. I am here to say goodbye to an old house I have loved.
I visit the dining room, now empty, the fireplace barren. I remember the Kenwood sound system in the room and the large dining room table. French polish. And the Persian carpet. And the cabinet of my grandmother’s porcelain antiques and fine silverware and glassware. Many a house party was had here when they were out of town and I was a teenager under their care, my mother working in London an ocean away. I would roll back the carpet, safely stash away my grandmother’s breakables and push the expansive French polished dining room table back to make way for dancing and revelry, the Kenwood sound system never failing me.
I say a final adieu to the kitchen. A table where my friends and I inevitably converged around after a night at the local pool bar, munching on French toast or gourmet toasted sandwiches. They swore I was the queen of French toast, but it may just have been the drunkenness. I long for French toast here one last time. But it is too late now.
I have been saving the hardest goodbye for last, as I make my way up the maroon carpeted staircase, hand slowly caressing the wooden banister I slid down time and time again as a young child. I am climbing the stairs to the room that used to be my bedroom from the time I turned fifteen until my second year at varsity. The room is still the same soft dusty pink I chose for it when I moved in and made it mine. The shelving for all my CD’s still hangs on one of the walls, adjacent to where my pine chest of drawers used to be. I was fanatical back then. And my music was arranged first alphabetically and after that, chronologically. Many of those CD’s have been lost to time. I commiserate their loss momentarily then turn my attention back to the bare room.
I think on the bedside table that once sat below my CD rack. Every morning at exactly 6a.m. my grandmother placed a fruit salad and cup of coffee with milk and one sugar just the way I liked it upon its surface, to stir me from slumber. How much care was invested in those small and everyday services and rituals. Hot water bottle placed upon it at my bedside on colder nights. So much love in such tiny acts.
I take in the wall to wall carpeting, mindful of the worn spots where I’d danced endlessly in my room to Led Zeppelin in the red and white sneakers my mom had sent me, sneakers I treasured however scuffed like the carpeted flooring. All marks that this room had a life once, and I was a part of that life. But it would again I guess.
I behold the expansive French window. An imposing presence in the room, especially now that it is so bare. Sadly, I take in its bars. The aftermath of a robbery. I remember it as it was once upon a time. My friends and I would climb through the window and suntan on the roof below it. And I would sit on that ledge neither inside nor entirely outside, playing one or another of my favourite CD’s after coming home from a long evening waitressing in my late teens. Usually Joan Osborne. Or Alanis Morissette. Or the Counting Crows or the Cranberries. Later, it would be the Eels. And I would sneakily take out a pack of menthol tens and light one up over a cup of coffee, looking out at the world beyond the window. Into the darkness, only one streetlight beyond, soaking in the quiet of it all, as if the entire world was all mine and mine alone.
A vivid memory suddenly comes to me.
I am seventeen. And I am sitting in the window. The soundtrack to High Fidelity plays softly in the background. Elvis Costello. I am puffing away on a menthol, blowing smoke into the chill of the night, feeling for all the world the justifiable rebel, when a shape is emerging from the dark, rushing with full force towards me. I pause on my cigarette, unable to do anything let alone breathe, stuck in this exhilarating moment, unable to escape as the figure comes swooping into focus… A magnificent owl as I have never seen before. Like a head on collision, it’s coming for me, but just at the last second pivots mid-flight and returns back into the blackness. I am left choking on my smoke.
I want nothing more now than to sit again in this window and see all below from its hidden vantage, to light another cigarette within its wooden frame. But it is barred. And I am no longer seventeen. And I no longer smoke menthols. And the house now belongs to another who will create memories anew within its walls. And perhaps future generations will slide down its bannister, wearing down the French polish. But I carry with me always my memories and that fateful night an owl came to scare the living shit out of me. I go outside and sit on the front porch and make myself a rollie. I draw on it and after a few drags I stub it out and bid a final goodbye to a house that I have cherished. I give it my blessing to carry on, in the face of the neglect that surrounds it. Strive it should, and strive it will, of this much I know to be true. Farewell, old friend.