MY MUM GOT INTO A CAB AT TRUDEAU and asked the driver to take her to the Mile End. They had pulled off the highway before she directed him to my house. He shook his head when she finished. “No,” he said. “That’s not where she lives.”
“I think I know my daughter’s address,” she responded, fumbling with her cell phone to confirm the house number.
“That’s not where your daughter lives,” he repeated, sure of himself. “That’s my ex-wife’s gynecologist.”
The floors of the front two bedrooms were, indeed, tiled. Above my roommate Noah’s mattress, the runner for an old surgical curtain still had the hooks attached. Rumour had it that the doctor had set up his deathbed in the circular living room with I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Butter-coloured walls. In the unfinished basement, Noah found books on abortion from the 1900s. It was a three minute walk to the Morgentaler Clinic.
The night I moved in, I heard a group of my roommate Natasha’s friends discuss a plan to cleanse the house of evil spirits with a smudging ritual. The stereo used to turn off by itself, they said. Once, Natasha woke up and saw two angry figures at the end of her bed. A week later, she was sitting on the couch with her friend Émilie and they both felt a chill. They gathered up their wine and high-tailed it to the safety of the mountain. Plates would fly out of hands despite a firm grip. Noah’s cat, Serge, would charge at bedroom doors, chasing things none of us could see.
OUR LANDLADY was an older women whom we only knew by a hyphenated last name. She insisted on picking up four individual cheques from us every month, and would brusque into the house in a skirt suit to collect them from the kitchen. We were interchangeable in descending order of interest based on our grasp of French. Her boyfriend, or maybe her brother, was friendlier. White haired and affable, he was called in if something broke. The offending fixture would languish unmended for weeks until he came to repair it, always stopping two steps shy of finished. We turned the shower on with a wrench instead of a tap. There was a little diagram taped to the stove to indicate which burners were stuck on high, and which didn’t work at all. “I don’t own the house,” our landlady told Noah when the furnace broke. “The rent doesn’t even go to me.” It took them weeks to turn the heat back on. I scraped frost off the inside of my window with my fingernails.
ONE MORNING, after we hosted a Hallowe’en party, Noah took his cup of coffee out to the disintegrating wicker chairs on the porch. A man about our age was poking around the property. “Did you leave something here last night?” Noah asked.
The man looked at him, startled. “My father used to live here,” he said.
His dad was a doctor, and he had only been five years old when he died. The lawyers caught his stepmother trying to alter his father’s will, and she managed to convince them to leave the house in her care until her stepson was old enough to manage it. Even though he wasn’t technically allowed on the property until it changed hands, he wanted to come check it out. He told Noah that he had a feeling she wasn’t keeping it up.
He described what he remembered of the house from childhood. The mounds of dirt at the back of the shadowy basement, still unchanged. The layout. “That room on the left, that was the waiting room,” he said, gesturing to Natasha’s window. “On the right was examinations.” Patients used to convalesce in my bedroom at the back, behind the kitchen. He didn’t mention his dad setting up his deathbed where we kept our coffee table.
He will get the keys when he turns thirty, he told Noah. By then, we’d all have moved out. The house didn’t belong to us, and it didn’t belong to him, either. Or the landlady. The house belonged to the ghosts.