If Walls Could Talk (2003)

"If Walls Could Talk" in The Writers' Trust of Canada, Canada Book Week: Elementary Booklet, Issue 1, 2003.


While fixing my house one summer, I hired a contractor named Chen, a small, wiry man and non-stop talker. On learning I was a writer, he leaned in close and told me this tale. I don't know if he was telling the truth or not, but here's his story.

He had arrived in Vancouver in 1972, when waves of newcomers were causing Chinatown to boom. But the buildings there were seventy, eighty years old, and some had to be demolished to make room for new businesses.

Chen had done construction in Asia, but competition here was especially fierce. No one would hire him. Soon he began to worry about his wife and young children.

One day, Chen stopped at an abandoned building in Chinatown. Once a store had occupied the street level, with a rooming house in the two upper floors. Now the storefront was boarded up, bricks were crumbling, and the windows were dark with dirt. The owner planned to renovate it; Chen knew because he had bid unsuccessfully for the job months ago.

Later he spotted saw the owner. "Hey," he greeted him. "How's business?"

The owner glared back. "Terrible," he replied. "I hired three firms, and they all quit. Each claimed the building was haunted."

Right away, Chen saw an opportunity. "Let me try. I'm not afraid."

"You're not afraid of ghosts?"

If walls could talk 1
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