Once, I rented a second-storey flat from a couple who brought to mind Jack Sprat who ate no fat and his wife who ate no lean. Somehow, they cohabited just fine–I suspect, by avoiding each other, which seemed sad.
The husband was roly-poly, sloppy and odd. He blasted techno music on a strict noon till 11 p.m. schedule, and wore a blue hockey jersey year-round, which hung from his shoulders like a nylon sack draping a potato. The wife, she was articulate, tidy and small. She walked on quiet footsteps and slipped my mail under my door.
He lolled indoors, maintaining a doughy palor into late summer. Now and then, he sat on the porch and aimed a hose at the dusty sidewalk. Mostly, he watched TV and languished in the air conditioned parlour. Come August, he was still as hunched and sour as a bear breaking hibernation.
She tended a dainty garden that met the front curb as a sloping patch of flowers and miniature fruit trees, giving way to hardier plants close to the house and winding around to a backyard vegetable patch. Every night of the growing season, she crouched in the soil to gently pull weeds, primp leaves, harvest purple carrots and red beans, shake pollen from cherry blossoms and mist the ferns. She was the most relaxed person I had ever met, despite the techno, despite the husband who frankly deserved a kick in the pants.
Now, I live in a homier place. It, too, is a second-floor bachelor, not exactly cramped but modest enough I call it my doll-house, my cubby, my home the size of a breadbox. It’s well-situated, sunny all day and dead-quiet all night, but its outstanding feature, the thing that made me move in and makes me determined to stay? A private balcony overlooking a forested yard.
My landlord says this used to be the house girl’s quarters, converted ten years ago to a rental flat. They bricked up the flight of stairs that once descended to the kitchen, and adapted the one running to the laundry room to create a private entrance. But, there was a complication–they closed the staircase first and took care of the plumbing second, stranding the old clawfoot bathtub too chubby to fit down the narrow steps. And so, my balcony boasts a rusty green tub, planted with roses, peonies, tall grass and short daisies.
This year, I could use a bit of the plant-based relaxation enjoyed by my former landlady, and think I might sow some complicated things. Weird vegetables, fussy blooms, things that creep and sprawl. It’s too early to trust the frost, but today I wore only one sweater beneath my jacket, and surely the warm weather can’t be far off…