The upstairs apartment I lived in when Bev and I were dating was in an older four-plex across the street from a Public School in Sudbury. It was a quiet building with my landlord living just below me. My apartment was cozy and bright with plenty of space. There was even a door from the kitchen opening onto a tiny railed balcony that sat on the roof of my landlord’s porch. I eventually got used to the orange plaid carpet in the living room. It didn’t clash too badly with my furniture if I covered the couch with a blanket. Fortunately, the flowers on my second hand swivel rocker were also orange. Okay, perhaps it was a decorator’s nightmare but I wasn’t hard to please in those days. At least it had character. All in all, it was the best I’d had since moving back to the city the previous year. The appliances were in decent shape and there’d even been a brand new smoke detector recently installed in the kitchen.
I decided to invest in a little hibachi that I could place out on my balcony so I could barbecue and I invited Bev to come over for dinner so we could try it out. We got the charcoal lit and as soon as the briquettes were burning hot enough we tossed on our hamburgers. Bev squatted by the barbecue and took over the burger flipping and I crowded out onto the balcony to keep him company and admire his flipping technique. It was going well till I noticed that the smoke was blowing right into the kitchen through the screen door. I had an instant vision of that brand new smoke detector and imagined my landlord’s reaction if it suddenly blasted out it’s shrill warning that something I was attempting to cook was about to burst into flames. I felt embarrassed just thinking about it so I reached in and pulled the inner door shut to keep the smoke out. It locked.
I stood with my hand on the doorknob, my face burning with mortification. So much for making a good impression. I felt like an absolute idiot. When Bev asked what was wrong I had to swallow a couple of times before I could get the words out.
“I’ve locked us out,” I admitted in a very small voice. He stood up to try the knob himself.
“Yup, it’s locked all right,” he conceded before calmly returning to his former position squatting by the hibachi. “First things first though. These hamburgers are almost done.”
How could he be so calm? We were probably going to have to shout for help till someone got the landlord to come up and let us in. I was never going to live this down. I fretted and stewed for five more minutes till Bev handed me the plate of burgers and leaned out to look over the railing.
“I think I can climb down,” he announced.
I started to protest that he didn’t even have shoes on but he was already over the rail and lowering himself to hang from his arms and jump to the top step of the porch below him. I fervently hoped my landlord wasn’t looking out the window at that very moment. I couldn’t imagine what he would think to see a man’s jean clad legs and stocking feet dangling in the air outside his kitchen. It was probably a vain hope because when Bev knocked on his door a moment later and stood there in his socks asking him if he’d mind opening the door to my apartment, he never batted an eye. He just smiled and fetched the key with no questions asked. I suppose he had a window open and heard the whole thing. I’m sure it was more entertaining than the evening news. It took me at least until dessert to see the humour in the whole thing. We ended up having a good chuckle and wishing we’d had a camera to capture the moment. Even so, I could hardly look my landlord in the eye the next time I went to pay my rent.
We drove past the old place on our last visit to Sudbury. It’s looking a bit run down after 30 years but the balcony still sits perched above the porch the same way it did back when we were dating. These days the railing is lopsided and aged to a silver grey with only a few tattered paint flecks to show that it was once a pristine white. I glanced fondly at the man sitting next to me in the car. I may not have made much of an impression that day but he married me anyway.