This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

Spring 2024

The Eviction

Carmella Gray-Cosgrove

Illustration by Emily Elise

The guy who bought the house next to my apartment is the heir to a chain of hardware stores. I saw him teaching a young woman about the stock market at a local coffee shop. I watched him as he leaned over the young woman’s laptop, his chubby index finger pressed into the screen, making a little rainbow as he told her how to spend her money. There was something fervent about the way he was bent over, about that finger. He licked his lips.

I was grading papers for the first-year English courses I was teaching on a terrible per-course contract at the university, scritching in pencil in the margins and trying to be as nice as possible so the students wouldn’t hate me, so they wouldn’t hate English—the language or the literature. I had read about the recent stock market drama: people were using Reddit to drive up stock prices. It didn’t mean much to me, but the heir to the hardware stores was telling the young woman all about it and the young woman was on her computer buying stocks. I was half listening, half scanning for comma splices and subject-verb agreement, trying to understand what the heir was saying. This was the closest I had ever been to him. He had a Gerber baby face even though he was in his forties. He wore designer clothes that were made to look scruffy with frayed hems and manicured tears. He had round blue eyes and laminated eyebrows.

In the past two years, two luxury hotels had gone up on my street, a Marriott and a Four Seasons. Things were changing and the heir to the hardware stores knew it. Now those hotels overshadowed the whole bottom half of the street. There was no more sunshine at all for the houses behind them. Up by my place there was still lots of sun and I understood how the house next door would be appealing to someone with money because it had three separate suites and sat on a double lot. Shortly after I saw the heir to the hardware stores teaching the woman about the stock market in the café, he evicted everyone in the three suites.

The first eviction was Chris, who sold drugs and was always either fighting with his girlfriend or walking down the street clutching her hand. Chris, who had stolen another neighbour’s TV while he was cat sitting and sold it a little further down the road.

The second eviction was a gay couple who had lived on the middle floor of the house for twenty years. They did up their back deck really fancy in the summer with a big umbrella they cranked up every morning; planted lavender and strawberries in pots on the rail. They drank cocktails and beers out there with friends, the smell of weed wafting over into my bedroom window.

The third eviction was a nuclear family of four from the top floor suite. Two kids and another on the way. The mom sat on the kitchen counter next to a huge picture window in a baggy t-shirt and underwear watching videos on her phone all day, smoking and flicking her butts into my yard, wrist resting on her huge belly as she scrolled. The two daughters went off to daycare and kindergarten and the dad left on foot every morning wearing aviator sunglasses with a black duffle bag slung over his shoulder. When the eviction notice came, the mom told me she was glad they were moving out.

“Fucking silverfish everywhere in there,” she said, dragging on a cigarette on the step outside the building while her daughters played hopscotch.

Construction on the Marriott went fast. A hole in the ground, a foundation, steel I-beams, Tyvek, windows. Until near the end, when a construction worker fell off the roof to his death. I heard a rumour that it was suicide. Then later, what I figured must be closer to the truth, which was that the guy wasn’t harnessed on and the railings weren’t properly installed around the top of the building. Someone knocked over a heavy piece of equipment, a surveying tripod, it was said. The guy who died, there in that moment before he died, his reflexes told him to reach out and grab that tripod as it fell. But the weight was too much, it had momentum, and he had reached too far, crossed over a critical apex.

Construction stopped for two months after that for the investigation, and then one day it started again. Tonkas revved, cranes fired up and swung across the pale blue sky. Men in hardhats covered the Tyvek with the final exterior veneer. And there it was, a glossy new hotel with a bar looking out onto the overpass. Windows from floor to ceiling reflected the clouds as I walked by; through the windows, red velvet banquet benches, the type with buttons pulling the fabric taut and luxurious; a big parking lot out back and an even bigger shadow cast up the street.

After the evictions, the heir renovated, tripled the rent, and hired a property management company to find tenants. They listed the apartments as short term and vacation rentals. I found them on Airbnb and Marketplace and VRBO, scrolled through all the pictures. Wondered if the silverfish were still there, hiding under the fresh laminate flooring. The heir’s new tenants were a steady stream of mostly film industry people and rich kids. He had stopped mowing the lawn out back and it was all overgrown with weeds that crept toward my yard. I called the city hotline to complain but nothing happened.

I asked him to mow it, but he wouldn’t commit. He stood there on the steps of the top floor suite rubbing his stomach while we talked. He lifted his shirt right up to his chest and did big circles on his belly which was tanned orange, hairless, and soft. I couldn’t help but stare.

“Do you know anyone who would be able to mow it?” he asked, as though it was my responsibility.

“I don’t know anyone who mows,” I said, watching his hands slide up and down his belly. I thought about his determined finger prodding the computer screen in the café as I turned and went inside.

That semester I was teaching three English courses, mainly for international students who spoke English as a second language, and working at the Writing Centre, helping undergrads edit their papers. The Writing Centre was a windowless room in the library. Students trickled in after lunch that day, and I took my seat next to a boy I had been working with all term. He rubbed his eye under his glasses and I could hear it squelching. I pointed to his thesis statement, circled a dangling modifier. I wondered if he would like to mow the heir’s lawn.

Around that time there were several home invasions in my neighbourhood, mostly old people answering the door to a young man, only to get beaten up and have all their valuables stolen. I started checking out the window before answering the door. I kept a baseball bat by my shoes, and my cell phone with me at all times. When I got home from work, Chris, the drug dealer who had been evicted from the heir’s basement suite, knocked on the door. I knew him, so I answered. As the door swung open, I realized it was entirely possible that Chris was doing the home invasions. I stood there feeling freaked out and calculating the distance to the baseball bat. Chris was high, his eyes all puffy and red and his face shining with sweat. He was talking fast and clear.

“I noticed your cat outside. What a cute cat,” he said.

“Thanks Chris,” I said, hoping that maybe saying his name would prevent him from doing something terrible, then feeling bad for thinking he was going to do something terrible just because he was high and a drug dealer. I thought about how I was an asshole, but then clutched the doorknob tighter and took a wide-legged stance. When I said his name, I looked into his eyes, and he blushed and looked away.

“Does she have any kittens?” Chris asked.


“Yeah, like any kittens you want to sell?”

“I don’t have any kittens.”

“I’m looking for a kitten,” he said. “My little girl wants a kitten.”

“She’s fixed, Chris,” I said.

“She wants a kitten for her birthday,” Chris said and then turned and started to move away. I felt my hand clammy and guilty on the doorknob and then on the deadbolt as I turned it firmly into place.

That night I dreamed that the heir got approval from the city to build a 50-storey apartment building on his lot next to my apartment. As it climbed up and up above the roofs of the houses, above the maple trees, its brown brick looming over me, its gleaming windows blinking down into my tiny, shared yard, all the light was sucked out of my life. My garden was in full shade, the day lilies never bloomed, the peonies withered brown, all the houseplants in my windows died.

When I got up the next morning, I bumped into the heir outside the house.

“New tenants coming tomorrow,” he said as he leafed through the stuffed mailbox.

“Any luck with the mowing?” I asked.

“They’re working on that new Disney movie that’s starting filming next month,” he said.

“Maybe I could do the mowing?” I said. “I’d do it for 50 bucks.”

“You would do that?”

“I really don’t want the weeds getting into my garden,” I said.

We went around the back of his property to have a look and, as we were rounding the corner of the building, the heir put his hand on my waist to move me out of the back gate’s arc. It was fleeting and probably meaningless, but I felt his palm there even after he moved it. A warm spot just above the line of my jeans.

At work the next day, I typed up an ad for someone to mow the heir’s lawn on the Writing Centre computer. I printed a small stack and cut little lines between the repeating rows of my phone number, which ran sideways along the bottom of each page for people to rip off. On my way home, I pinned the ads to the telephone poles on my street. When I checked the next morning, there was one phone number ripped off. I waited for the call.

It came later in the week. I wasn’t sure if I knew the voice, soft and low. We arranged for him to come on Sunday morning, and I texted the heir to announce when the job would be done.

On Sunday I woke early and went over to the shed on the side of the heir’s house. As I dug around for the weed wacker and the canister of gasoline, the heir pulled into the driveway in his Audi. I watched him through the shed window, then dislodged the weed wacker from a mess of extension cords and plastic buckets.

“Knock, knock,” he said from the doorway. He was holding two cups of coffee and handed one to me as I turned around.

“You didn’t need to do that,” I said. “I didn’t expect you to come, you don’t have to stay.”

“I thought I would check in,” he said.

I heard footsteps in the driveway and then heard a man’s voice calling out.


“I’m in here,” I said.

“Who’s that?” asked the heir.

“Hi,” said the voice, as Chris, the drug dealer, peeked around the door to the shed.

“It’s you,” I said.

“I didn’t know it was you who posted the ad,” he said.

“What’s going on?” asked the heir.

“Chris will be mowing the lawn,” I said, handing Chris the weed wacker. “I think we’ll have to fill the gas tank,” I said and unscrewed the cap.

The mowing job took longer than expected and when Chris finished and I went outside again, I was surprised to see the heir was back. Or still there. Chris had all the yard waste in a huge mound at the end of the driveway. He was trudging up from the bottom of the yard with his shirt off and dangling from his back pocket. His clavicle and ribs pressed out against his skin.

“You’ll need a truck to get rid of all that,” he said as he got close.

“I didn’t plan that far ahead,” I said.

“I’ll get my guys to take it to the dump,” the heir said.

“Was that four hours?” I asked Chris.

“Yeah, a bit longer than I thought it would take,” Chris said as I took out my wallet. I went slow, watching out of the corner of my eye to see if the heir was going to take his wallet out too, but he just stood there, still holding a coffee cup.

After Chris left, the heir stayed. He checked the mailbox for the basement suite. He poked around the shed. I packed the weed wacker away and was nearly at my door when he turned to me.

“Do you want to get a drink down at the Marriott bar?”

I was so surprised that I said sure. I went into my house and put mascara on. I thought about the heir rubbing his stomach and grimaced into the mirror as I dragged the mascara brush up along my lashes, wiggling it back and forth slowly as I went. I changed into nice shoes and grabbed my purse, stuffed my lipstick and phone in.

Inside the Marriott smelled like a new car, plastic under floral perfume. We sat at the bar. The heir ordered a martini and turned to me.

“I’ll have the same,” I said to the bartender.

Later, in a room on the top floor, I stood in the window in my bra and underwear, looking out as night fell to see if I could see my house. I wondered how far up the street the shadow of the hotel stretched. I thought about the worker falling from the roof and looked down at the hard asphalt in the parking lot. I wondered if he fell past this window. I wondered what I would have seen if I’d been standing here then. The streak of his body? Did he cry out? What do people say as they fall? I imagined all the unheard whispers of people swooping toward the ground.

I couldn’t see my house, but I could see the house where Chris had sold the stolen TV. A sheet of plywood nailed over one of the front windows. The heir was dozing in the bed with his arm behind his head. I looked at the lumps of his body under the sheet. His pits had smelled like baby powder. There is something so vulnerable about armpits, the neck, the soft skin of the groin. Even he had those delicate spots, so prone to shaving cuts and chafing. I pulled my clothes on and said I had better be going. As I pushed through the shining door out of the lobby and into the night, I ran my hand over the warm skin above the waist of my jeans, before tottering back up the hill.

Carmella Gray-Cosgrove is from Vancouver and lives in Newfoundland with her family. Her writing has appeared in PRISM international, Broken Pencil, The New Quarterly and elsewhere. Her debut short story collection Nowadays and Lonelier won the BMO Winterset Award. She is the managing editor at Riddle Fence magazine.

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