Artichokes / Grenades

Things I've seen in Real Estate:

1)  A dozen polished and live grenades laid out like steel artichokes in a wooden grape box on a kitchen counter in a vacant limestone farmhouse set amid long yellow grass and buzzing power lines north of Gananoque.

This would have been five years ago, maybe more.

I was showing houses to a critically acclaimed but not-big-box-office playwright, and his wife, a craniosacral therapist, of all things (I had to look it up when she told me). They never ended up buying anything but we had a good time looking, and sometimes that’s nearly as important.

(I remember, now that I’m writing this, that we’d also been to look, a few weeks earlier, at another farmhouse a little further north, a dilapidated clapboard spot set down heavily into a wet, green and slightly creepy valley well back from the dirt road, and with no other properties for half a mile. There were well-worn trails heading into the forest in all directions. And inside there were at least a dozen mouldy single mattresses spread over the floors, a couple Hudson’s Bay blankets gone soot-grey, a formidable line of raincoats hung on iron pegs just inside the back door, and a half-dozen mismatched work boots. Next to the mattresses were assorted Spanish language CDs, and gum wrappers, also Spanish, and some pages of an Asian newspaper.

A workforce of some sort had lived here. Upstairs there were washing lines spread from wall to wall, like some impossible nylon spider’s web.

My playwright friend imagined obscure cultish goings-on, and his wife -- I’m not making this up -- grabbed her head and moaned. For my part I assumed grow-op. I envisioned a migrant workforce trudging into the woods every morning to harvest a mighty pot plantation.

It was late fall – post-harvest - when we were in the house and I just assumed that the labourers had by now been paid from a soiled roll of bills for their work and walked into town, to the bus station, and then been carried away for good.

But I know nothing of how such things work. And maybe I’m wrong. I’m often wrong. And anyway, I digress.)

So. To the next house. It was limestone and so inherently beautiful and squat, but also somehow like a boat adrift in that shifting sea of yellow, thigh-high grass. Abandoned, sure (there was raccoon shit on the floor of the bedrooms, and a squirrel dead in the laundry sink in the shut-up basement) but still full of the remnants of lives lived fully: iron piggy banks a century old and shaped like whales that would swallow coins as they bucked through an ocean of tin; wagon wheels and hub caps; paintings that to my eye were accomplished and valuable, but also abused and ripped; a shotgun and an old bent rifle; a dull trombone on a harvest table, a doll in a white linen petticoat, her face rouged and her eyes tipping back in her head when I lifted her; a rusted tractor seat, and a bowl full of coins from South Africa. And then the wooden grape box full of hand grenades, some with their pins still in.

I think if I’d seen those bombs in an antique store, a memorabilia joint, I’d have passed them over, laughed them off, not taken them seriously at all. But here, in this country kitchen where half of everything felt like it might have been looted and the whole scene was decadent and lurid, it was as if the whole room was intensely combustible. Beyond the back window were enormous electricity pylons. I heard them buzz, could feel their frequency in my cheeks. They felt dangerous, like they might cause the pins to wriggle free, and I wanted out. Desperately.

We retreated to the car. Rolled off gingerly through deep musical gravel and never saw each other again. Which, come to think of it, is how real estate often goes: an intense getting to know each other and then a sudden parting. 

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