By Matthew Wallenstein
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
We left from New Hampshire. My dad drove most of the way. We slept for a few hours at a truck stop in northern Maine then went back to it. The Canadian border guard just waved us through without looking at our passports. Eventually, we arrived on Prince Edward Island.
We decided it would be interesting to go to as many of the Island’s lighthouses as we could. By our third day, we had ridden our bikes to a good many of them. The roads went along the ocean. Looking one way it was farms and fields. Long golden stalks blew in the wind, twists of old barbed wire ran from post to post. There were houses falling in on themselves. To the other side were beaches, small cliffs, water that went on forever. The farms ran right up to the beaches in some places. Sheep dawdled and ate grass by the ocean. There were few people.
We came across an abandoned house. It was completely lopsided. It stood at an impossible slant. Its facade had collapsed so we could see its insides. We stopped and got off our bikes. I climbed up a pile of boards that used to be a wall and went in. Moving through the rooms was like walking through a funhouse because of the bizarre angle. My father took some pictures.
We kept riding. As the day went on we grew more and more tired. We grew hungrier and hungrier. We had been on our bikes all day and hadn’t eaten anything. We Wallensteins do not plan our trips ahead of time. We go to a place and see what we can see, do what we can do. As a consequence, we had no idea where we would stay that night. It was getting cold. We were worn out and starting to get annoyed.
By some chance, we happened across a restaurant. While there, my father asked the waitress if she knew a place we could stay. She said she had heard of a bed and breakfast not far from there. She hadn’t been to it herself. She had seen it advertised on a placemat at another nearby restaurant.
We arrived at dusk. It was a small, one-story house. All the windows had Venetian blinds. All the blinds were pulled down and closed. There were no lights on the porch but I could see a light coming from inside the house.
“Is this the place?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” my dad said.
We walked across the lawn. I knocked. The door opened a few inches and I could see part of a face: A wrinkled cheek, half a mouth— thin-lipped, an eye. The eye moved rapidly between my father and me.
“We wanted to rent a room.”
“Well, we’re closed for the season. It’s past 6 p.m. anyway. We are closed.”
I turned around, looked at my dad, and shrugged. The door opened the rest of the way.
“How many nights? This room, how many nights you want it?”
He motioned for us to come inside. We did. He had on a blue silk robe. It was decorated all over by dragons. His hair was like thin string and only covered portions of his scalp. What was there reached his shoulders. He moved very slowly and kind of slid rather than walked.
We followed him through the dark into the living room which had a light on. The TV was on. Its sound was turned down low.
“That’s my wife,” he said, pointing to a woman asleep in an armchair. His fingernails were long and yellow and curled into themselves.
I looked over at the sleeping woman.
“Say hi, honey,” he said.
She was snoring like a broken machine. She scratched her crotch. She went on snoring.
“That’s her,” he said.
“Mm,” I said.
One of them farted, I’m not sure which.
“I’ll bring you to your room,” he said.
We walked to the back of the house. There was a large wooden door.
“The room is in the basement. You’ll need to take your shoes off before you go down there.”
“That is the rule. Take your shoes off.”
My father and I looked at each other. There was a silent acknowledgment between us. It said we were tired and it was a place to stay. Normally we probably would have just left and slept outside or back in the car, but we were dog tired. This guy was weird, but beds sounded very good. We took our shoes off and put them on the mat. I opened the door. It was very heavy and thick.
“Well go on. Go ahead. I’ll see you in the morning,” the man said and shut the door.
We walked to the bottom of the steps. It was dimly lit down there. On the other side of the door I could hear latches, I could hear locks being locked, metal sliding into place.
“He’s locking us in,” I said.
“Our shoes are still up there, outside that door,” my father said.
He started walking around quickly. I followed him, unsure of what he was doing. At the bottom of the stairs, there was a thin hallway lined with rooms. He was opening the doors to them and looking around with purpose. I was trying not to laugh. He was mumbling to himself as he went.
“What are you doing?”
“A way out,” he said.
He kept searching, lifting up mattress pads, looking behind things. The rooms were windowless, only slightly larger than closets. They had been built very cheaply. A couple were unfinished, portions of walls were covered in plastic sheets.
In the back corner of the basement was a room with a toilet in it. My dad opened a door off of that. Inside it was crowded, a water heater, pipes, some shovels, that sort of thing. He was still going, looking for something, some way out, an exit if we needed it. He finally found what he wanted. Tucked in the back corner behind the hot water heater was a window. It was about a foot over his head and too slender for either of us to fit through.
“There it is. We have it if we need it. I don’t like this guy at all,” he said.
After much talk and pacing and plan-hatching, we decided to go to bed. I don’t think I slept. I did some wall staring and I read. It was Hamsun, I was hooked on him at the time. He was the meanest softie there ever was.
In the morning I was sitting on the edge of the bed. I heard someone walking above me on the first floor. The locks clicked, unlatched, slid, opened. Then the footsteps moved away, got quieter. Right then I heard hurried pattering in the hall outside my door. Then a few rapid knocks. It was my father.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” he said.
We went up the steps. The door creaked as it opened. We hurriedly put on our shoes and snuck through the house and out the front door. We were free. We hadn’t been murdered. We took off.
By the end of the day, we arrived at a lighthouse. There was a restaurant attached to it and we were hungry so we went in and sat down. It was expensive which always made me feel out of place and guilty. But it felt good too to be sitting there with my dad in an otherwise empty restaurant. It felt good to eat when you were hungry, to sit in a room with many windows and all that sun rolling into it. We sat. We ate. We talked.
There were crumbs in his beard from the pie he ordered. He held the plate up when he was done eating and licked it. The ocean looked good. The table cloth was clean. Our lives were waiting on us and we didn’t care.