May, and its long days that surprise me with the intensity of their light, always reminds me of the last house I lived in in Provincetown. May was the best month to live in that house, before it got too hot, before the traffic from nearby Route Six picked up.
We moved to that house the year the neighbors rediscovered disco. Bass cranking loud, walls rumbling, and Cher singing Do You Believe in Life After Love? was outmatched only by the sounds of pier pilings pounding the year they rebuilt MacMillian wharf. Acoustic echo bouncing from Long Point to the backshore, we were saturated in sound.
It was like living inside the very heart of that place, beating against a sandy chest. That was home. Each spring, we slept with the windows open, the peeper frogs deafening. It was even brighter than summer, before the trees that clawed at our windows were saturated in green.
We built up the bank with the carcasses of old Christmas trees. A turtle from a nearby vernal pool once startled my father on a Saturday morning when he found it had taken up residence in our laundry bin in the basement. The line between the human world and the natural world was thin.
It was a humble duplex, but our end looked out onto conservation land, towards the old railroad bed. This unobstructed view of the woods made up for our sharing one thin wall of the house with neighbors. Hollow core doors and bare wooden floors made all the sound from our side reverberate through the shared wall. In truth, the house was more assembled than constructed, but it was our house all the same.
On the other side of the wall was an older couple who owned a bar downtown. Before we moved in, they’d rented this side to the drag queens who performed nightly at their club. Plastic hooks, meant to hold hanging plants, hung from the ceiling of my bedroom. Water-stained spots on the hardwood floor corresponded to where the tenants hung up their wigs after rinsing them out. They had gone on to perform at another resort, but their wig-prints remained, fossilized in the peeling hardwood. It seemed impossible that anyone so glamorous had lived in this house, where the windows struggled to open, and every conversation could be heard from the kitchen.
It was a short walk to the old railroad bed, where I alway hoped I find some old piece of rail or maybe a rusted out spike. Something to prove that there has been a moment in time where Provincetown was not so isolated, instead connected by a spindly track to the rest of Cape Cod. Imagine people and salt cod and carefully stretched artist’s canvases riding together. In winter, I woke to the sound of the wind howling through the trees, a perfect mimic of the train’s low whistle.
The last night I spent in that house was in early September some years ago. The water had already been turned off, and all the furniture moved out. I camped out on the floor of the living room. It was finally quiet on the other side of the wall.
And at the end, all that we left: growth spurts measured in tick marks on the wall, phone numbers and tide charts, and a million grains of sand, wedged in wood floors. From across the dunes: a coyote’s howl, a cat’s last cries. It was years before I could bring myself to drive past. We watched from the old railroad bed, up to our ankles in soft sand.
The new owners sat on the back deck, now screened in, sipping coffee. We’d seen the photos online on the rental site: they stripped the floors, opened the kitchen, put porthole windows in the bedrooms, and skylights. Any indication that we--or the drag queens--had ever been there was scrubbed away. But I am sure the house is still full of late spring light.