La Promenade (La Promenade, la femme à l'ombrelle - Woman with a Parasol)
Do you believe in ghosts? Ever since I was a child, I have been able to feel the spirits of people who had previously lived in a house. Occasionally I have even caught a glimpse of them. They are as clear to me as the people we see every day. They are not transparent wisps, but real people.
I have been living in my tree house for 12 years. It is a fairly new development from sometime in the late 1980s. Prior to that, it had been an Edwardian house, built around the turn of the century. Some of the older Edwardian houses in my neighbourhood still exist, and they’re lovely old buildings, with brick fireplaces, wrap-around porches and stained glass windows. Many of them have fruit trees in the yard. I love to walk through the neighbourhood and imagine the folks who lived there and what their lives must have been like in those elegant old houses.
I have never told anyone this until now, but occasionally when I first wake up in the morning, before I am fully awake, I can see a woman in my apartment. She is visible for only a few seconds, and then she disappears. When I first saw her, I thought, “Who on earth is that woman?” After a while, I got used to her, and she just became part of the environment. She looks very pleasant, she has auburn hair and a 1950s style dress. She is quite elegant. I have just accepted her, and she doesn’t frighten me. I imagine she is someone who had lived in the house that had been on the property.
This morning I was late for work, so I took a taxi to my office. When I got into the taxi, the driver said to me, “I was born in the house that used to be on that property…” Omigosh. I have always been curious about the house that had been there before, so I asked him about it. He told me it was a three-story house, it had a large back yard with a lawn and apple trees, and his mother had planted a lovely flower garden. He said his parents rented the top floor to a woman named Hilda. He described her as having auburn hair; she was very elegant, well-read, well-educated and loved to travel to exotic places like Africa and the Orient. She spoke several languages.
The taxi driver told me that when he was a little boy, his mother felt he should learn more about culture and the arts than she was able to teach him, so Hilda used to take him with her to the opera and the theatre. Hilda had been married for a short while at a very young age, but her husband died, and she had no children of her own. He said he became very good friends with Hilda, and was very fond of her. She took him for walks through the neighbourhood, and to picnics and swimming at Kitsilano Beach. She lived her life as a spinster, and she passed away in the house at the age of 90.
I described to him the woman I have seen occasionally over the years, and he said, “That’s Hilda.”
Well, I like Hilda. It sounds as if she had been a very interesting person, and I don’t mind sharing my space with her. And maybe she likes me too, and approves of sharing her space with me. At least now I know her name.