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Local Directory for Ottawa, ON


Throwing things off balconies

There’s this three-storey apartment building at the corner of Caldwell and Merivale, on the edge of the Experimental Farm, right by the path where I go for walks. There are nine balconies facing the Farm, and sometimes, if I’m lucky, I catch glimpses of people living their lives.

There used to be an old woman who lived on the second floor. She dressed in the same clothes every day: a shapeless black house dress and a worn grey sweater. She wore thick hose and sensible black shoes. She was stooped over and her old grey hair was always pulled back in a bun.

I imagined she was an immigrant from some eastern European country and that she still spoke very little English even after all these years, and that she was a widow and poor, and that her middle-aged children didn’t visit often. These things may or may not have been true.

Her life seemed to revolve around the makeshift clotheslines she’d tied out on her balcony. Whenever I passed by, she was hanging items on the line, or taking them off, or checking to see if they were dry yet. Mostly dish towels and wash cloths, but sometimes small garments.  Nothing too personal, mind you. One time I smiled up at her and said hello, and she scowled back at me.

She’s not there anymore. The day the makeshift clothesline came down, I knew she was gone.


Also on the second floor, but in the apartment to the right of the old washerwoman’s, I once saw an angry middle-aged woman with bleached blond hair throwing power tools off her balcony into the back yard. There was a drill, and a circular saw and a chain saw. She was moving fast and hard and she wasn’t just dropping these things off the balcony, she was hurling them. I imagined the tools belonged to her good-for-nothing, two-timing, free-loading boyfriend.


This morning, on the third floor, directly above the old washerwoman’s balcony, I saw an old man throwing things off his balcony into the back yard: cushions and mats and a dog bed. And then I saw him pick up the little white dog and move towards the edge of the balcony and I felt like my heart was being squeezed by a panicky fist. I was just about to shout “No, don’t do it!” when I saw the man cradle the little dog in his arms and kiss him on the head. I still don’t know why he threw the cushions and mats and dog bed off the balcony, but I was relieved the dog didn’t follow.


There are birthdays today! My niece’s daughter, Chelsea, is three years old! Here’s a picture of her wearing the outfit I made her for her birthday. I made this. Can you believe it? I don’t like to brag, but I don’t often impress myself this much. (Chelsea named the toy zebra Marty, by the way.)

Also, it’s my friend Astrid’s birthday. We’ve been friends since high school, even though she only lived in Canada for that one year. We had our first conversation on her 16th birthday. She turned to me on the bus and said, “Today is my birthday.” And that was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

And it’s MikaArt’s birthday!

Happy birthday MikaArt, Astrid and Chelsea!

6 comments to Throwing things off balconies

  • Hi Zoom,
    Thank you very much! I had a very lovely birthday with Sushi and wine :)

  • I love the three balcony stories. They’re like micro short stories. The one about the old washerwoman could stand alone or become a novel. Lovely!

    • Thanks Lynn! I hadn’t looked at them that way, but now that you mention it, maybe I could work one of them into a Geist postcard short story contest entry. (Basically it’s a short story contest in which all the entries are submitted on postcards.)

  • Daphne

    I enjoyed this (I enjoy all your posts).

    Your story about the dog reminded me that many years ago when new to Ottawa (here for school), I naively moved into a building on Bell St that was apparently famous for PEOPLE getting thrown off the balcony. I was informed of this when I invited a new friend from school to come over for dinner.

    She didn’t attend (perhaps not surprisingly) but others did. Our dinner was interrupted by a neighbour knocking on the door to ask me to call 911, because a man who lived on the floor above ours was dangling a woman over the balcony.

    I don’t recall why that neighbour couldn’t call 911 herself. But more strangely, I can’t remember the outcome of that evening, other than that police did arrive.

    I didn’t last long in that building, but it was the roaches and not the neighbour/balcony issues that finally drove me out. However, I do also remember calling 911 when smoke was pouring out from under another neighbour’s door. Firefighters had to come and break down the door since there was no response. I remember talking to police, who also arrived, and seeing on their computer screen that they had a history of my phone calls to 911. When you have to call 911 twice in a few months, it’s time to move, I guess, regardless of bugs.

  • Oooh, I know that building! I never lived there myself, but I know a lot of people who did, including my sister. I used to live with someone who was, briefly, the building manager of that building. He got a salary AND a free apartment. It didn’t last long though, because he and his wife concluded it wasn’t a good place to raise children after his daughter witnessed someone plunging off a balcony.

    It seems a lot of people lived there only briefly…

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Daphne.