A Lot | Five vehicles in varying degrees of decrepitude are parked on a lot along a busy street. A blue fence divides the lot in half and separates the cars from a long, low building. The fence is made out of cheap sheets of plywood, solid, with no slats. An orange and black “no parking” sign is tacked on the side of the fence that faces the empty lot. In the lot are parked two trucks, two cars, and a tent trailer (closed). On the car closest to the busy street is a sign, “For sale by owner,” and a phone number. The original phone number has been changed by pasting squares of paper over some of the original numbers. The car’s price may have changed too: for now, the price is $800 o.b.o. Past the cars, the fence turns so that it faces the busy street. An elm tree marks the point where the fence turns. Perhaps the fence was built around the tree.
On the street side of the fence is a sign, “For sale.” The top of the sign is obscured by drooping elm branches. In the centre of the sign is the name of a real estate company and its agent. “Call direct,” it admonishes, and gives a phone number. Next to that sign is another sign, smaller, but with a similar message. “For sale, great dvlpmnt property. Zoned R7.” The phone number again. Peeking above the top of fence is another sign: the only visible word is “no.”
The fence terminates at the low long building. It seems to be a trailer, but it is stuccoed, as though it is permanent. Small windows line the front, and shutters are half drawn down on all of them. The door in the middle of the trailer is shut behind its brown storm door. In front of the trailer is a black sedan. In the car’s window is a sign, “For sale.”
A wiry old man exits the trailer from the front door. He wears baggy dress pants, a baseball shirt and a Bud Light baseball cap. He lets the storm door slowly swing shut behind him. He hobbles to the putty-coloured plastic bistro set under the spreading elm. He sits, pulls out a cigarette and lights it.
The oldster stares out at the passing traffic. It is ten o’clock in the sultry morning this day in August.
An hour later, another man walks down the sidewalk from the direction of the Highlands public library branch and stops on the sidewalk in front of the bistro set. The new man calls across the patch of dirt between the sidewalk and the bistro set. “How much for the lot, bub?”
The oldster looks up from his cigarette. He gently draws the cigarette out of his mouth. “What you say?”
The new man nods his head in the direction of the two real estate signs. “This lot is for sale, right?”
The oldster shrugs, says nothing. He taps the cigarette on the edge of the big clay ashtray on the bistro table.
“Okay, then,” the new man says. “How much is it going for?”
A bus rushes past them and blows dust from the gutter. The gutter dust joins the dust and raw dirt on the lot underneath the bistro set and the elm.
The new man leans forward and looks at the oldster’s face as though trying to read lips. The oldster’s lips aren’t moving, though.
The new man straightens. In a loud voice, he asks, “How much does the lot cost?”
The oldster crinkles his eyes in irritation. “How should I know?”
The new man looks at the two real-estate signs as though trying to reassure himself that he has interpreted them correctly. At the same time, the oldster hauls himself up off the chair. With halting steps, he returns to the trailer and disappears inside. After a minute, he comes out of the trailer with a can of Pepsi and sits himself down on the second of the two chairs.
The new man has waited and shows no sign of impatience. “The sign is on your property,” the new man says. “Don’t you know what’s going on at your own property?”
The oldster cracks open the Pepsi. He takes a swig, takes a puff from his cigarette, and carefully balances the cigarette on the top of the can. His hand shakes a bit, as though with palsy, but he manages to make the cigarette stay on the can.
“I just live here,” the oldster says.
“You’re a renter?”
The oldster finishes the cigarette. “Nope.” He drops the butt in the ashtray, picks up the can, holds it to his thin-lipped mouth. His Adam’s apple tracks the passage of the Pepsi down the oldster’s throat.
After the oldster puts the can down, the new man says, “What, then?”
“I just live here.”
“So you’re a renter.”
The oldster lifts his eyes to the new man. The eyelids are red, and the whites of his eyes are shot through with red capillaries. “No, I’m not.”
The new man grunts. “So you’re the owner!”
The new man jerks backwards as though someone has suddenly pulled out a knife and jabbed the blade towards his face.
The oldster says, “I just live here. Always have.”
The new man glares at the oldster. “I just asked you a question, jeez!”
The new man walks away, shaking his head, muttering, towards the old Coliseum.
The oldster watches the departing man. “And I just answered you,” he says to no one. He picks up the can, drains it, and sets it down. He looks out across the street.