The following story is part of a series of spooky posts written by readers of Rochdale Variety and selected by our editors. Read about a freaky ghost baby, a voice from beyond the grave, the coldest room in the house, a very haunted library, or a dime store portrait that hates.
It all started when I didn’t get an arts grant. After five years in the UK, my move to Montreal represented, in many ways, an official recoil from academia. While my PhD colleagues found permanent contracts as senior lecturers, I would live in Montreal as a fiction writer. But it’s okay, I had a back-up plan: I’m also an astrologer. So you can understand the existential, or at least economic, angst that befell me when the Canada Council rejected my subsistence grant in 2017, the winter I turned thirty. In desperation, I contacted a real estate agent.
I’d lived as monkishly as possible through my twenties and still had scholarship money saved. The nature of being a writer is that very infrequently you may make a sum of money. And not insignificantly, when my Dad passed away from cancer in 2013, I received a portion of his life insurance. So you see, I had savings, though none of it would sustain me in the long term. When I didn’t get the arts grant, I decided I could either watch this sum atrophy in my bank account as the once-mythically-low Montreal rents soared around me, or I could buy a home while real estate remained relatively affordable.
One more piece of context is that my Dad was a designer — he designed exhibits at the Royal BC Museum, and he designed the house I grew up in. Every family trip to Vancouver would be soundtracked by his architectural complaint on how the city had bulldozed this or that heritage building into a parking lot. Were he alive, he would have been keenly involved in my search — emailing me listings into the night, offering unsolicited pronouncements on the aesthetic and/or structural integrity of a conversion or the durability of the terrazzo. So I was thinking of my Dad even more than usual as I began to visit homes in the early months of 2018. It was in these months, leading to what would have been my Dad’s seventieth birthday, when I happened to notice that my shower gel was serial-numbered with my birth date.
I was born on November 29, 1987. My name is Eliza, so that explained the E. However, the number 171 held no meaning for me. Naturally I began looking for 171 in the addresses I was viewing. Surely this would be my house — the house the fates, or possibly my spectral, overbearing father, had chosen for me. I spent a week searching for this number on addresses—even those that weren’t for sale. At the peak of my curiosity, I nearly knocked on a door that sat next to a fluorescent bakery I’d always assumed was a mafia storefront. The apartment door was ajar, like in a screenplay, and the glass had yellowed with cigarettes or winter. It looked, truth be told, like a squat. I tried to imagine how I would explain my trespassing — “You see, I have this bottle of shower gel…,” and ultimately the prospect of justifying my trespassing in French deterred me. So I did what any compulsive astrologer-writer would do: I went home and plugged ‘171’ into Spotify.
If this strikes you as a logical leap: I listen to a lot of music. Specifically, I listen to music while I work, travel, and walk — and most of my life is spent in states of work, travel, and walking. That year, according to Spotify, I’d listened to 53,277 minutes of music, which equals 887.95 hours, which equals 37 days. So it is not so strange, perhaps, that I turned to Spotify to understand the number 171.
As of February 2017, one track came up: a song called, ‘171: Man and the Cosmos’ by Scallops Hotel. Of course the title piqued my interest. It’s from the hip hop album, Plain Speaking, produced by the poet and producer better known as Milo. At a stretch, the lyrics even began with a design reference: The supreme architect lacks tact / I should have mumbled that. And family lineage: I made this beat with the souls of my ancestors / guiding my very nimble fingers / with closed eyes, I can feel my old earth linger. And death or possibly prison: I’ve been writing from the other side / writing from the other side of time which is ended. … Standing in the line / who’ve I been all this time / need no dollars where I’m going.
I didn’t listen to the full album until the next day, as I walked through the Mile End to another apartment viewing. My Dad’s birthday would be in two days, and I planned to eat smoked meat in his honour (a special gesture, as I was at that time a stricter vegetarian.) I decided to build a playlist of all the songs he loved to accompany my walking meditation through the Plateau to Schwartz’s. And as I pondered what songs to include, and rushed to meet my real estate agent, I listened to Plain Speaking from track one. I stood at the street corner of Bernard and Parc, waiting for the light to turn, when the second track started: “Sabil’s Lullaby.” It began with a voiceover:
This is your Dad, the voice spoke calmly into my headphones.
I have no time to explain why my voice is different.
Do you trust me?
I love you.
It took me a second to hear it. Then I re-played the track. I hadn’t imagined it — those words formed the intro. For a moment, it winded me. I remained stranded on the corner of Bernard and Parc and replayed the song a third time. If you’re wondering whether I bought that walk-up — no, the timing was not so tidy. But I did find my place within a few weeks, and my Dad felt very involved.