Some dumb, desperate kid once forwarded a message through an irreversible digital space to say:
‘It’s an absolute shithole. The landlord forgot about us years ago—might’ve done a dodgy thing or two to get the house in the first place—and was remiss to tell us that we were the dropkicks.’
I didn’t know this at the time, but she had a charcuterie board laid out on her bed all to herself. A little while later, she was wiping excess cracker crumbs onto the floor.
‘We make it on our own though. We put up with whatever life throws at us.’
I had a date with her, at her house. In retrospect, that might’ve been the first red flag, but I was smitten, nonetheless. Making it to their splintered door was a gateway to their collective hollowed soul. I didn’t have to knock; there was already a fist-sized hole that I used to say hi. She gestured through the hole to come inside. I arrived to a sunflower hug and a firm yank of my arm towards their room. My underwear was peeking out through the thin silk of my overly-planned outfit. I kept getting distracted, wondering where exactly it would end up on that crummy floor.
Getting a glimpse of the house made me realise what kind of shithole they meant: split ceramic on the floor, no hot water in the shower, one big patch of dirt interwoven with slivers of dying grass—nothing out of the ordinary. Not yet. It was the landlord’s fault, I was told. The flavourless kitchen adjacent to the bunk beds in the garage with the half-sucked bongs spilled upon the carpet, all because of the landlord. After staying there again and again, she kept reminding me that it was their shithole, and there was nothing they could do about it.
She introduced me to her family after we had wiped all of the crumbs off the bed, like it meant something important to me—as if they still weren’t scattered on the floor. Her brother was in the room across from us. We’d bump into each other often, like a haphazard high-school scene in a musical. Although I swear he did it intentionally, just to laugh at me as I did the walk of shame outside. I’d scurry to the balcony in nothing but her oversized t-shirt, pulling it against my nose and indulging in her smell. He’d follow me, single-file, and wait for me to realise I had no lighter before showing his face. I’d pat down my imaginary pockets, and he’d scare the shit outta me.
‘After seeing you do that time and time again, I don’t think you’ll ever learn.’
He lit his smoke and twisted the light around his hand to offer it to me. He always thought I was rich because I bought tailors. I was just too naïve to learn how to roll. Small talk suddenly became sincere before the sun had set. I was surprised. My anxious demeanour made it difficult to befriend anyone so matter-of-fact.
‘You better not fuck over my sister. I’ve got some fucked friends, true blue crackheads. People so skinny you’d be surprised when they rip your tongue out of your throat.’
I burnt my lips because I started to suck down my cigarette in fear.
‘Just don’t fuck this up, yeah?’
Intertwining smells of tobacco and dogshit were a great signifier that it was time for us to go back inside. The smell followed and lingered a lot longer than I could stomach. ‘Air-con doesn’t work anymore. Ain’t no one fixing it any time soon.’
‘Maybe it wasn’t always who we were.’ The infliction in her voice made it sound like a question. She carried on. ‘A lot of crazy shit’s happened to us, when you think about it.’ My decision to stay quiet was taken as an opportunity to look sombrely into the distance, like a teen in a bad YA movie. ‘When Dad was here, everything seemed fine. Not perfect, but fine. Better.’ They left another space in the conversation, this time to let their words ‘sink in’. I think she believed what she said, at some point. ‘I’m seeing my therapist in a few days, and it’s weird. I’m having to put effort into explaining why I have no effort, but that’s exactly it, isn’t it? The little effort I do have is just bubbling inside me and is used on everyone else. Effort gets sucked out of me. I’m trying. I really am. It’s just hard when you live with deadshits, I guess.’ She wanted to be different, and I think she was close. ‘I’m glad you’re here, though.’ We fucked on the couch twenty minutes later, and the cuddle afterwards slowly wilted with time.
A house inspection was due to happen on the 21st. The kiddie pool that was used at their dealer’s sixteenth birthday turned their once green-ish grass to a very dull beige, and no one could’ve done anything about that. They thought that cleaning the entire house as a family would be some great big metaphor for familial change and moving forward. The verandah they cleaned was spotless, but nothing could be done about the grass. I came over and spent three hours cleaning every single line of grout in the bathroom, but the mouldy tinge never seemed to disappear. One person vacuumed. The other wiped the stove. The rest hid their medications.
The 21st rolled around and not a single person walked through that door. Everyone forgot about the dropkicks. The cleaning didn’t change anything, mouldy tiles and all. I’m still not sure if she noticed or not. Maybe she didn’t want to notice. A final damp cloth smacked the edge of the bin as they looked up at a laminated facsimile of plaster and carpet.
‘This house is going to stay like this. I’m not letting it go back to that pigsty. No one could live in whatever the fuck that was.’
She was right about one thing.
The house inspectors knocked on the door two days later to rabid dogs and bottles of spilled pills. They had messaged prior to inform them of the rescheduling, but they all ignored their phones.
On the 24th, I ended whatever we had going on. I loved them, but if I stayed in that house, I’d become a part of the furniture.
On the 28th, the family got an eviction notice. She went to that digital space, hoping it would be more malleable this time, and forwarded one last message: ‘This is good. A fresh start for all of us. It was probably time for us to leave this shithole anyway, right? Hopefully a change in scenery means everyone will get better.’
Days consisted of hours consisted of seconds with my mind in that digital space, backpedalling every other sentence I wrote.
‘It’s not you, it’s me.’
‘It’s not you, it’s the house.’
‘It’s not the house, it’s everyone else.’
‘It’s everyone else.’
‘I’m sorry. I… I can’t explain it properly. I wanted to be there for you, but you all just never seemed to see it. The problem. The thing that was causing you and everyone else so much shit.’
Making it to their splintered door one last time was tough. No one replied to my messages, so I hoped and prayed that someone was there. One last farewell? Maybe. Coming back to apologise about everything I said? Likely, but I’m not sure. I peeped through the broken glass of the door to see the walls peeping back at me with diminished eyes, like a hospital patient connected to an IV bag. The wounds were slowly healing. I was curious as I tip-toed through the deserted house. Pills were on the floor, food was still out, bongs were still half-sucked, but no one was coming back. They had left their mark. I imagined a firm yank on my arm as I walked to their room, opened the door, and looked at all of the cracker crumbs that were left on the floor.
Author: According to most, Bea is just a silly lil fella that is trying their absolute best. They think werewolves are cool, their favourite movie is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and they have an unhealthy obsession with the Insane Clown Posse. You hear them spin their wheels at Ungrained Mag or on Instagram @_rad_boi_
Artist: Yongzheng Wang is a visual arts student from China, currently studying at QUT and living in Brisbane, specialising in traditional painting such as classical oil painting and academic sketching. While studying art in China, he won a first prize in landscape drawing in institute. He is fluent in Chinese, French, English and Italian and has a good knowledge of Western art theory.
Editors: Willow Ward and Hannah Vesey