It’s very late. Or very early depending on how you look at it. There’s a smell – dry, copper and electric scorch. It’s so strong that I get up to fumble along in the darkness looking for a source. The smell is everywhere and nowhere so I go back to bed. I lay under the sheet with one leg out trying to find the best position for comfort in the heat. It’s going to rain late tomorrow but it’s not tomorrow yet. In the dark, with my head pointing west and my feet pointing east (well to be completely clear my one foot is pointing north-east) I close my eyes and think about the black house.
The black house rests road side near a curve on Pioneer Line. Pioneer Line runs west to east, or east to west, relative to your starting point and destination. The black house was built on the Dutton end of the curve. It’s a double curve and if you were generous you could call it an S curve but it’s so stretched out it barely qualifies as any kind of letter. Spanning the townships of Dutton/Dunwich and West Elgin, Pioneer Line travels through the villages of Dutton, and West Lorne, and touches the edge of Rodney. The section between Dutton and West Lorne runs parallel to the 401 corridor and in the distance you can see cars and transport trucks on the highway, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. They say that Pioneer Line, or a portion of it, used to be called Starvation Road. The story goes that the soil wasn’t any good (too much clay or too wet- it’s not clear) and you can’t feed a family on land that won’t yield. I don’t know if it’s a true story.
I’m not sure how old the black house is. It’s small so it can’t be very new. People don’t build that kind of small any more. It hasn’t been black for very long though. Before it was black it was clapboard white; faded, peeling, and abandoned, in a lot that was mowed just enough to keep the weeds down. Someone bought it in the spring and began to fix it up but didn’t finish. Before the work stopped the siding was removed exposing the black tar paper underneath.
New houses, old houses, derelict houses, barely there foundations that mark where farmhouses once stood, call Pioneer Line home. They are in the process of being, or becoming something, or un-becoming something-but not the black house. Stuck between being something old(er) and maybe something new, it’s in limbo. Curtain-less windows expose the studs of gutted walls. One window on the second floor is gone leaving the upstairs open to the elements. As I lay in bed I wonder if the air in the black house smells scorched like the air in my house. I wonder if bats or birds come and go through the open window. Do they fill the upstairs bedroom with fluttering wings and shrill cries or is it silent like my room? I wonder if anyone else thinks about the black house, perhaps someone who used to live there. How would it feel to see the black house and remember when you looked out of the windows to see the world passing by instead of peering in through the windows to find only emptiness where you once stood?
When dawn comes I know I’ll see the branches of the cedar tree outside my bedroom window turn warm with that break of day. The light will steal past the lace curtain and wake the cat asleep at the end of my bed. He’ll stir and stretch, sending up a small scatter of dust. The motes will float a lazy dance in the early morning glow. I know daylight will be easing into the black house too, spilling through the grime covered glass, inching across the bare floors, and expanding into the empty rooms.
I draw in a breath of warm air and think about later today when I’ll shut my blinds to keep out the afternoon swelter. There are no blinds to close in the black house. With the August sun overhead the air inside will be harsh and heavy; so hot if you aren’t careful you’ll choke on it. All around the house there’ll be the smell of corn, sweet and cloying, in the afternoon haze. In the distance the heat shimmer on Pioneer Line will look like water on the road. The background hum of the traffic on the 401 will, as ever, be constant and as it is August there’ll be the rising scream of the cicadas’ chorus.
I check the clock and see that it’s even later…or earlier. As I said it all depends on your point of view. I flip my pillow over to the cool side and drift off into sleep thinking about the trucks passing by, day in and day out, and about the black house small against the sky, baking in the sun, just before (if you’re coming) or after (if you’re going) the curve on Pioneer Line.
Music for this post is The Devlins Waiting