The clues emerged slowly. Kikkoman’s soy sauce packets and chopsticks in a kitchen drawer. A women’s sweater in the dryer. And, balanced improbably above the bathroom door frame, a pink candle burned nearly to the nub and two singe marks on the wall fanned out like angel wings.
Someone had clearly lived in the rental house after the last tenant moved out and before I moved in.
“The Rent Really Is Too Damn High” reminds me of that mystery, the who and why behind the clandestine guest at the Capitol Hill house I moved into in the fall of 2012. After all, the city, and Capitol Hill in particular, is experiencing spasmodic changes, a clash of haves and have-barely-enough-to-get-by. Rent in some places, as writer Matthew Halverson reports, has jumped as high as 150 percent in a single year, displacing longtime residents and radically altering the character of the neighborhoods we love.
In truth, I had no business living in that house myself. A small windfall, the result of some work I’d done on the side, allowed me to live slightly above my means for exactly one year, so I signed a 12-month rental agreement on the small, cottagelike home.
In the flurry of moving I had missed the signs that would seem so obvious once I’d unpacked and settled in. In addition to the soy sauce, sweater, and cherubic candle stains, I found a hair dryer and some makeup.
Okay, so there had been a squatter, I concluded. I pictured her schlepping her earthly possessions from empty house to empty house to whatever Broadway breezeway wasn’t occupied by another homeless Seattleite. I felt for her, this older woman perpetually down on her luck. There was addiction, I imagined, or mental illness, or both.
A couple weeks after my discovery I asked my landlord about it. “I thought I told you,” she said. And, “Sorry, we let you move in so fast some things may have been overlooked.” I’m sure she had told me and, again, in the rush of moving I had missed that too.
“Tell me about her,” I said.
That summer, a few weeks before I moved in, my landlord and her husband had walked into the house and discovered a woman asleep on a mattress. They threatened to call the police. She apologized and said she was going to bring back a friend’s truck to haul her stuff away. They waited but she never returned, and they never saw or heard from her again. Her belongings went to charity, but they missed some things—the things I found.
“But what was she like?”
She wasn’t the older homeless woman I’d imagined. She was young, well dressed, maybe in her early- to mid-20s, healthy and pretty—really pretty. And she had the body of a ballet dancer, complete with a bun in her hair.
The new Seattle. A place where after the question of who’s been displaced is answered, bigger mysteries remain.
I tossed the leftover items—everything but the pink candle that had stained the wall. That I never took down. Its black wings were still spread beautifully above the doorway the day I walked away.