Contemporary Friendship

“Renoviction? Is that even a word?”

“In Vancouver it is, and it just happened to you, Jill.”

Still clutching the poorly worded eviction notice, and trying not to sob into the phone, Jill waited for her friend, a long-time Vancouverite, to explain.

“Let’s say you want to double the rent. You can’t legally do that, but you can force your tenant to move out for renovations that turn the place into a bigger or better suite, and then the new rent for the next tenant is justified.”

“And this happens to lots of people?” Jill sniffed and looked around for a tissue.

“You bet it does, and usually the renovation is something stupid like a coat of paint, a minor repair, or like your landlord, just opening a locked door to a hallway. And bingo! A new more expensive basement suite.”

After a couple of days of crying, Jill launched a search for a new apartment. In Vancouver that meant a new basement, unless she magically moved up several rungs on the socioeconomic ladder. Calls. Texts. Scam emails offering to messenger a key to her if she’d just wire some money out of the country. Rental applications with wildly inappropriate questions about her personal life. The process was demoralizing on the best day.

One lady with a beautiful sunny apartment that opened into a garden candidly told Jill that by the time she’d arrived to view the suite that she’d had over nine hundred applicants. Oh, and she expected the tenant to also serve as the gardener and yard help and to shovel snow in the winter.

A couple with a very tiny micro suite admitted, “We only like to rent to students, because they are never home and they don’t cook.” Months later during the Covid pandemic lockdown, Jill smiled to think of how that couple might be faring.

At the last moment, as these things usually happen, Jill found a place. True, the ceilings were low, the floors uneven, and she was constantly killing silverfish, but it was cheap. There was also a mouse who made the occasional and terrifying visit, but always avoided the mousetraps. Yet the low rent, sweet natured if odd landlady, and the proximity to Mountainview Cemetery made it tolerable.

Jill dressed for the weather of the moment several times a week, and headed to the cemetery to walk away her stress. Mountainview was biggest greenspace in that part of the city, so these walks also meant sharing the cemetery and her time with joggers, bikers, and those who used the space as a dog toilet. Still, Jill had made peace with the city. Until…

“We replaced the spark plug wires and the vacuum hose. Rat damage.”

“Rats?” Jill eyed her car with disgust.

“Yeah, they chew the hoses and wires. Happens all the time here. See that fancy blue car over there, it’s here all the time for the same problem.” The mechanic never even looked up from his clipboard.

Jill tried not to think about rodents as she drove to the airport to pick up a cousin she hadn’t seen since he was in grade school. Frank was coming to Vancouver for UBC’s top-ranked forestry program. After living in the city for years, she was ashamed to admit that though she knew about the university, she was unaware of its reputation. She spent the whole drive back from the airport apologizing for her ignorance and for her tiny apartment.

“I’ve got extra earplugs if you need them. The neighbors have a really noisy dog. Oh, and the sirens. Most people don’t notice them, but they wake me up sometimes.”

“Really, cuz it doesn’t matter to me. I’ve got killer jet lag. Hey, can we order Indian food? I hear it’s the best here in Vancouver.”

After a massive dinner of butter chicken and a couple of beers, Cousin Frank just unrolled his sleeping bag and crashed in Jill’s living room. She crept into her bedroom and settled in with her tablet for some reading.

After driving Frank to UBC the next day to check in, Jill’s only evidence that he was still around was his neatly rolled up sleeping bag in the corner and a coffee mug in the sink when she walked into the kitchen each morning. As she took her mid-morning walk through the cemetery she worried, Am I terrible host? Maybe I’m just too old, college was over a decade ago for me. She resolved to make a home-cooked dinner with lots of fresh vegetables that night.

It was going to be a soaker. Rain beat on the window, and at nine thirty in the morning Jill’s bedroom was still pitch black. She dragged herself towards the kitchen and coffee. The sleeping bag was gone. There was no coffee made or cup in the sink. Frank was gone. On the table Jill found a note and a map.

Dear Cousin Jill,

Thanks for helping me get settled here in Vancouver. I’m all set up in the dorm, and I have a local cell phone now. I programmed it into your phone.

I’m leaving you a map of all the area forests and hiking trails I’ve checked out this week. There are notes about where you can park or if you should take the bus—the tricky bits—and where I found the best snacks.

You need to get out of that apartment, cuz. No, there’s nothing wrong with where you live—not really—and I’m grateful I had a place to crash. BUT you seem so sad, so disconnected. It’s like you live in Vancouver without really touching it…like a plastic covered couch.

Yeah, the whole pandemic thing sucked, but it’s time to expand your world. The cemetery is great, but how about seeking out the living?

Once classes get started, and I have my schedule set, we can set up a monthly dinner or something. Maybe we could Zoom Grandma? Wouldn’t that be a scream?

Keep taking those walks, cuz but go farther and go bigger. It’s not always raining, and this city has more than you know.


March 12, 2021 23:02

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David Antoine
03:23 Mar 24, 2021

Poor Jill. From the very first word, I felt for her, and I appreciated the ending, which is surely an exhortation to all Vancouverites!


Karen Watts
19:51 Mar 24, 2021

Thanks for reading. I really hoped to capture that "love/hate relationship" which I think is a bit seasonal in Vancouver.


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Cathryn V
00:30 Mar 22, 2021

Hi Karen, What a great story! I wasn’t sure where it was going and really enjoyed the turn and the ending. I loved this part: True, the ceilings were low, the floors uneven, and she was constantly killing silverfish, but it was cheap. There was also a mouse who made the occasional and terrifying visit, but always avoided the mousetraps. Yet the low rent, sweet natured if odd landlady, and the proximity to Mountainview Cemetery made it tolerable.. Silverfish!! Ugh. Thanks for writing!


Karen Watts
19:17 Mar 22, 2021

Thanks for reading and commenting. I agree, Ugh. I also read that they eat books! Ahhh, the horror.


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Philip L.
14:32 Mar 20, 2021

Wonderful story! You captured the emotions of the characters beautifully and I think it was a very well composed story! Good luck!!


Karen Watts
16:14 Mar 20, 2021

Thank you so much for reading, and starting my day off with a boost.


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