The sign says ROAD CLOSED. This must be where we start.
She tells us they were there last night. The road was kept open only for The Woman to receive mail and goods. Sometimes a car would come and take The Woman away. It would always bring her back. We colour in the story by peopling the car with The Woman’s family, taking her out to have A Day and bringing her back again. These are our paint strokes, salve to ease our itch of her loneliness. The Woman’s loneliness itself is our narrative work. We catapult ourselves into her story and suffer, hugged only by trees, soothed only by the monotone of the Chevron Burnaby Refinery below that sounds to some like waves crashing on the shore and to others like roaring traffic and yet to others like the planet fast forwarding itself. The Woman herself may never have known loneliness, or even noticed the refinery’s hum.
One day, a sign went up. The sign says ROAD CLOSED. The road really was kept open for only one purpose.
We slither past the ROAD CLOSED sign and into the forest. She tells us that they found books in The Woman’s house the night before. They were mainly books about and for children. The Woman must have been a teacher. Yes, a teacher! And these were her books! Canadiana dusted with moss, paper recycling itself back into the earth, stories attempting to become trees again. She tells us that one of The Woman’s books is a guide for boys on How To Become a Man, as if nature could not be trusted to administer the process alone. In the book, a diagram links the penis to the brain in one dotted line. We are too busy giggling to dissect the author’s intention with this sketch.
The house taps us gently on our left shoulders. I wanted it to emerge from the forest with a flourish, announcing its significance. It does not seem interested in show. Rather, it whispers so inaudibly one has to lean in to hear its song through the muffling moss. Next door to The Woman’s house, the foundations of a companion home are bared open like a cadaver in autopsy. There was once a neighbour! A blackberry bush ensnares me, trapping me in a childhood picture book of illustrated (what was the fairy tale?) stories, the girl imprisoned in nettles or thorns or patriarchy, her mouth agape waiting for a hero. I decide to free myself.
The books are in the shed. Why are they in the shed with the wheelbarrow, with the gardening jeans? Books are functional here. Books are tools, it seems. The moss must have been dragging the stories into the earth long before The Woman was done with this house. It spikes me like a thorn: Our Land from The Canadian Citizen Branch. Look! The Woman was as I am. A visitor. The Woman arrived from elsewhere and learnt how to be here. Our Land tells of Canada’s impressive size and provincial divisions, of its infamous cold and vastest plains. It tells without thinking it is even telling of the “Our” in the title. Without even knowing, the book declares ownership through flags and crests and islands named after British princes. In the preface, the word “factual” is used. I ask the book, “Whose facts?” It refuses to reply.
The door to the main house is open. They will bulldoze the structure soon. The water and power have been turned off. It is a matter of time. The house is on death row. The house is lying terminal in a hospital. The house is at that moment right before the crash.
I eavesdrop on a conversation that the house is having as its own life flashes before its eyes. The house is speaking to a ghost of a house in my parents’ town of Knysna, continents away from anything this house has seen. Fires in Knysna have done the work of a million bulldozing construction companies and far too efficiently. This house in British Columbia speaks to the ghost of a house in Knysna, like some sort of structural medium. The Knysna house used to be home to a Malawian family of three, come to South Africa to find a new life. It is now an apparition. If it is given second life, it will be home to only one person, a man who lost his wife and three year old daughter in the blaze.
The house in British Columbia attempts to motivate. Please, if you materialize again, and if you have to become the respite to now only this man, please, please, please. Please, comfort him.