The squat was the grandest thing Willa had ever seen. With its sagging roof and silvered walls, it looked like it was waiting for the kiss of life. It was Willa’s first time out of the city, off the mainland. She hadn’t seen a deserted farmhouse before.
She’d met KJ that morning at a Street Art Festival, waiting in line to pay for a spot where a person could busk or sell crafts. After two hours, neither of them got a place.
“One girl told me she’d been here since six,” Willa said.
KJ shrugged. “I’m on my way to Spirit Bear Island tonight anyway. I know a special place there. Wanna come?”
Willa, who’d run away from home with a sack of knitted clutch purses, two changes of underwear, and her life savings of $250, said yes.
On the deck of the ferry, KJ sang lively verses about new days dawning and better times ahead. Willa perched beside her, knitting needles marking time to the music.
They hitchhiked to the top of a steep hill and KJ led the hour-long trek through the bush to the deserted house. There were sleeping bags left from some other squat which they dragged into the sun to air. KJ had almond butter and crackers. Willa had bags of raisins and peanuts. In the neglected orchard, the branches of the trees bent under the weight of rosy McIntosh apples.
The next day KJ busked at the Sunday market in the bustling tourist town. Willa spread a towel on the ground under a cherry tree and laid out her purses in tidy rows of rainbow colours. After three hours, all of Willa’s purses were sold and KJ had hauled in over $200. They also sold apples. Plus: $30. They’d scored groceries, weed, yarn, and guitar strings. Minus: $187.
Spurred by success, KJ wrote and practiced new songs every day. Willa bought golden thread. She joined the two sides of her clutches with it, using a decorative running stitch.
The following Saturday KJ doubled her take and Willa sold forty clutch purses.
The first of the autumn rains rolled in under a black cloak. Willa looked up when a raindrop landed on her forehead. More drops tap danced around the kitchen floor. KJ swore and stowed her guitar in its case.
“Put your purses in the bag or they’ll be ruined!” she yelled at Willa.
They covered their packs with a tarp and hitched to town. The double-sided tent they bought was guaranteed waterproof and fit into the vacant living room as though engineered for the space. KJ drove the pegs into the floorboard with a large mallet.
That night Willa drifted off to sleep, warm and dry.
KJ spoke into the darkness. “Do you like it here, Willa? Do you? My gran left me this place when I was sixteen. We could stay forever if you wanted to.”
© Maggie Bolitho
Photo from Wikimedia Commons: McIntosh apple tree in Harvard, Mass by ashstar01