The storm we’re having up here right now is nothing short of AWESOME. The wind is so strong the house creaks, groans, and thumps. Last night I could swear I felt my bed move. This must be, I thought, the type of weather ships sink in.
It’s one of the many magical things about Provincetown in January.
When friends first heard I would be here in the winter, several of them asked me, “wouldn’t you rather be there in the summer?” I’m sure it would be nice in the summer, but a Coastal New England winter does wonders for my work because of the types of stories I write. It is gray. It is windy. Everything has a sodden look to it. And the shrubs and trees are skeletal.
And there is something else.
When I first arrived here, the guy who lives next door noted “this place is a ghost-town in the winter.” The last couple of nights that I’ve had to walk two miles round-trip to events in town, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing this first hand. There are sections of streets where there isn’t even one light on in any of the homes, probably because they are summer places. There are also shops and restaurants that appear to only be open seasonally as well. They are closed down, their outdoor furniture stacked neatly in the corners of hibernating gardens and cobblestone patios.
But of all the shuttered houses and shops, the creepiest ones by far are the seasonal hotels and B&Bs. I passed three of them in a row the other night, and it happened to be on a portion of the street that wasn’t well lit. One building was a white, manicured Victorian, probably majestic and warm in the daylight. In the dark, though, its black windows seemed wickedly intelligent. The furniture stacks on its front porch seemed to mutate into huddled beings. As I passed, the inn’s sign swung slightly in the wind. NO VACANCY.
That, to me, is the most atmospheric part of these closed places; I’ve noticed this same phenomenon not only here in town, but on my drive in through Wellfleet and Truro. The owners of these places, instead of putting out CLOSED FOR SEASON signs, put out their NO VACANCY signs. It implies that the empty buildings are indeed not really empty at all. The people move out at the end of summer. And that is when the ghosts, or God knows what else, move in.
I didn’t grow up where there were sidewalks, and I don’t live where there are sidewalks now. I usually love a place where I can walk on a sidewalk. But here, I prefer walking in the street. These temporarily closed businesses are right on top of me. The tangles of dead vines and hedges look like they could reach out and seize me. It’s a bit claustrophobic.
I suppose I should consider myself lucky there’s NO VACANCY.