Swing

One day the ceiling came down in our house on Oriole Gardens in midtown Toronto. I don’t know why it did -- only that I was holding my infant sister against my bony pre-teen hip in the sunroom doorway, standing in bright late-winter light, facing my then young and somewhat handsome parents, who were speaking to me from the hall, which was papered in cream thinly lined with gold. They had coats and gloves on, and I loved it when they went out together, when they went out into the world, where they were happiest, I thought, though sometimes they seemed happy at home. I was standing beside our red velvet swing. 

For reasons I don’t fully understand, formerly explained as A Lark or The Sixties, we had installed a swing in our house. I got used to adult visitors intoning: Ah, The Girl on the Swing. I remember that many of my parents’ visitors sounded archly clever and I sensed then that this was a bore and I didn’t ask who the girl was or about her swing. (I was disturbed by the hint of lewdness and I resented it too.)

In the gap between our parents and us was the Persian-rug expanse of the living room -- and then the air was alive with a noisy plaster cloud, and my hand was spreading wide across the baby’s silky head.

My parents were, briefly, speechless, and then: Dear God and Jesus Murphy and our little black-and-white spaniel yipped and ran in circles on the rug now studded with debris.

I don't remember any talk about a flaw or leak in the ceiling. This was a solid, square house, large-windowed and sensible apart from the swing and a mildly eccentric art collection.

When they came to separate after six more years, not so long after we moved into our next house, at the corner of two streets named for saints, in a heritage district of London, Ont., a house of beautifully worn yellow brick, with deep sills and broad-planked floors, the break was swift and capricious. It happened in just a moment on an autumn evening.

There was an ugly tableau in the doorway between the unlit front hall (deep-toned William Morris reproduction wallpaper, wide gilt mirror now reflecting movement in the darkness), and the stark dining room, whose almost-empty white-primed walls were punctured by fresh electrical work, lightbulbs bare, their shades not yet chosen.

I had not thought much about the day on Oriole Gardens when the ceiling fell in -- or how quickly it had been re-plastered and painted -- until I said to myself that night: Well, the ceiling has fallen in again.

And I walked from the dining room up the ancient staircase with my small sister, so much younger than me, and read a book with her and got into bed in the room next door. In hers there was pink candy-striped wallpaper and a four-poster bed and a heavy old toy trunk. I had delicate pheasants and flowers on my walls, a brass bedstead and, in a modest bay window, a rocking chair, footstool and coffee table. It had all seemed rather magical -- and certainly rather sophisticated.

Didn’t enjoy any of it again. We moved on, not well. 

Mother, minidress, swing, 1969? 

Mother, minidress, swing, 1969?