By last summer, I had lived in nine places in eleven months. Forces beyond my control had hurled me from one to the next, some of them rentals but many of them opened to me simply as an act of grace. Home ownership was a fading memory and with every move, I shed more baggage. Friends were calling me the Millbrook Nomad. I preferred to say that I had gone full Mary Poppins: two kids, a suitcase and an umbrella.
To reward us for a hard year, I booked a little cottage on Rice Lake for the summer. But the unthinkable happened within a few days of arrival: the owner had double-booked the cottage. We would be on the move again.
I was still reeling with the news when I ran into a friend back in Millbrook who rented out a farmhouse near the round-about. “About that farmhouse of yours,” I said, “if your tenant ever leaves, please keep me in mind. I need a place to live.”
“He’s leaving right now,” she said miraculously. “You want in?”
“I’ll take it.”
As I drove up the driveway towards the sprawling old farmhouse, I had no idea what to expect. I tried to ignore the song playing on the car radio — a strange little tune that I had never heard before and have never heard since. “I’m living in the now,” crooned a voice almost playfully, “I’ve had a few good friends show me how.”
The tenant opened the door and was kind enough to give me a tour and help me get settled. Before leaving, he drew my attention to a rather macabre sight: a knife lodged tightly through the bolt of the basement door. He shook his head and pointed a finger at me warily. “Whatever you do,” he said, “don’t remove that knife.” Then he lowered his voice to a whisper: “That’s how they get in.”
“They?” I repeated blankly.
He turned and left without explanation.
As we made our home in the farmhouse, I was struck by the profound peacefulness of the place, even in spite of the frightful knife in the basement door lock. The view out every window was like an exquisite pastoral painting. Tiny barn swallows guarded the house with vigilance and we even had a family of woodchucks living under the foundation that would rise to nibble on grass as we ate our breakfast.
On one of these mornings, a tremendous racket filled the kitchen. I peeked out the door to investigate and felt all the excitement of a major epiphany to find a woodchuck gnawing on the wooden door frame. It was in that moment that I knew I had changed: I was a born-again renter.
OWNER: These vermin are destroying my investment!
RENTER: Holy cow! Woodchucks really do chuck wood!
I wondered briefly if “they” had referred to the woodchucks, but I would never find out. Shortly after my arrival, the farmhouse sold. My prospects of continuing to rent seemed good and a meeting with the new owners was arranged for me to make my best impression. I wore my favourite suit. Best renter ever, I complimented myself.
Sitting at the kitchen table, I could see the new owners heading up the driveway in a generously used pick-up truck. It was a tan young couple, both in tank tops and baseball caps. I was committing a fashion fail! Frenziedly, I whipped off my suit jacket and threw it over a kitchen chair. I kicked my heels across the floor and yanked the jewelry from my neck and wrists. When the new owners entered the kitchen, I greeted them cheerily but our talk was cut short by another pick-up truck coming up the driveway, followed by another and then another. People kept pouring into the farmhouse until I had been introduced to at least three generations. I was starting to feel uneasy about this. It seemed like a lot of unnecessary fuss to meet your renter.
Finally, I couldn’t stand the suspense any longer. “Excuse me,” I asked, interrupting what was quickly becoming a festive atmosphere. “You will be continuing to rent out the farmhouse, won’t you?”
The new owners looked taken aback. “Oh, no,” said the husband. “We’ve sold our home. We’re moving here in two weeks.”
My heart went thud. Nine residences in eleven months were about to become ten in twelve, and there was not a thing I could do but laugh and join the kitchen party.
I liked these people and it was clear they were going to fill the farmhouse with good times. Still, as they turned to leave, I could not resist messing with them, just a little. “Oh, before you go,” I said, pointing to the knife wedged in the basement lock. “Whatever you do, don’t take away that knife.” I gave them an enigmatic wink. “That’s how they get in.”
Babble by Anita Odessa