The Battery Hotel sits halfway up Signal Hill. It's big and white like a boat. There's a giant red anchor in the parking lot. Down below, there's a miniature city called the Battery. The Battery is built into the cliffs on the left side of the harbour. It has been years since I've been in the miniature city. Think of the hotel as floating above the miniature city and protecting it from the larger one.
In the hotel lobby, there's a six-foot painting of a woman water-skiing somewhere that is clearly not Newfoundland. On the opposite wall, there's a moose head. The moose watches the water skier. Think of the moose's expression as ironic.
An old friend is staying here. I have brought a lemon cake. All summer, I have been baking lemon cakes for people I love because I recently read a novel in which the feelings of a baker are baked into a lemon cake. I want my friend to taste two things in my lemon cake: 1) That I am sorry; 2) That I am funny.
My friend's hotel room has a quotation from columnist Ray Guy painted in black near the ceiling. The quotation is high up so you won't be tempted to edit it. It goes like this: "Nothing cheers your average Newfoundlander half so much as mucking about in doleful exercises like federal elections." My friend and I spend a long time thinking about whether the average Newfoundlander is ironically or genuinely mucking about. We eat the lemon cake and look out at the harbour and use our binoculars to check the time on the Basilica clocks.
My friend turns his binoculars on me and says, "This is not only the best lemon cake I've ever had. It's the best cake, period."
I have fond memories of the Battery and Signal Hill, but I don't spend much time here and it shows. I am overwhelmed, to the point of tears, by the miniature city. It is so squished and beautiful and the colours are so bright. One house is so complexly built into the cliff that I can't figure out how you'd get inside. There's a tree growing through it. There are cubbyholes and steep staircases and rock. My friend used to live in one of these houses. He says that one whole wall of the house was cliff. You could see and touch the cliff from inside the house. Also there was a natural pool that had trout in it, until the cat ate them.
He says, "Would you water-ski around the harbour?"
Is that allowed?
We make a plan. I will water-ski. He will take a picture. Then we will blow up the picture and have it framed and donate it to the Battery Hotel. The moose on the wall will be astounded. Haven't I seen that very water skier carrying a lemon cake full of apology and humour into this lobby. Why yes, you have. And the moose will adopt a new and unironic expression. And we, photographer and photographee, will stay checked in, even after we've checked out. Think of the Battery Hotel as harbouring us, indefinitely.
Jessica Grant is the author of Come, Thou Tortoise, which won the 2009 Amazon.ca First Novel Award.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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