Another one came last night.
Flawless fence line. Windows so perfectly polished I can watch the TV through them from across the street. And the white of that skidmark-free driveway. When the sun casts its rays onto that thing, it’s as if it’s trying to melt my eyeballs onto the filth-free rectangle that comprises their section of the footpath. It would be power washed off afterwards, of course.
This one is living a far more lachrymose existence than the others. The others are birthed from the destruction of old working class homes like some kind of fucked up Anglo phoenix, complete with all the thin-lipped, upper-middle class hatred for poor people that a real estate agent could ever need. But this one didn’t remove the old Queenslander it took over. It stripped it of its multi-colour paint job and ornate railings, covered it with the colour known as ‘rental white’, and replaced its four-panel windows with sleek modern ones. The fence near the footpath is some white thing that lines its borders in a sick boast of its unassuming, acceptable status. This home was not allowed a peaceful death. It’s been skinned alive, left suffering in full display. It’s become a home imprisoned within the cold, unfeeling skin of a House.
Italians bought this one. Class fucking traitors. Wogs with money make me more pissed off than any bloody real estate agent ever could. Increasingly, however, it seems these two classes are combining into a blood-boiling issue of its own. It’s a personal betrayal, a statement that they wanted to ‘make it’ so badly they stepped on their own past. Congratulations, you’re finally one of Them. Down here, we’re still suffering the thing you clawed your way out of, and you haven’t got any sense to stick a hand down to help.
Me, I live in a six-pack. So called because they have six apartments, six garages, sometimes six balconies. Sometimes no balconies. They are hideous things. They are stacks of bricks in the most obtrusive-looking rectangular prism you can think of. And of course, all apartments come complete with ‘70s tiling, unless you’re lucky enough to get one renovated and reskinned into rental white.
But to me, despite their ugliness, they draw a kind of charm, maybe because they’re the only sort of apartment I can afford the rent on in this part of Brisbane. When you live here, there’s a comforting guarantee that your neighbours are all like you – working class people and poor university students struggling to pry together enough money to treat themselves to takeaway every once in a while. There’s no risk of some guy upstairs cornering you on the stairwell to tell you, very vindictively, that you aren’t rolling in cash yet because you bought an almond milk latte this morning, and you just have to tell him, ‘Sorry mate, I shit liquid whenever lactose comes within a three-foot locale of my being.’
Yes, in the six-pack, everyone’s bank account is fucked.
I think maybe a third of my street is six-packs. Another third are old Queenslanders, and the last third are Houses. Although, well. That’s changing fast. It’s probably up to at least half Houses now, if not more.
I see a lot of people moving out. There have been at least two old folks. They’d both lived in their homes for decades. But this street isn’t what it used to be, since the Houses. The lot next door isn’t occupied by people you feel the slightest touch of unity with. Those who remain here grow despondent, and those who leave have to deal with the embarrassment and grief of being chased away.
This street has always been divided, but not by the Houses. It’s on a hill – typical for fair Meanjin, of course. The hill levels out halfway for about four feet before continuing on up a steeper incline to its lofty acme. That level splits the hill between my end and the Top of the Hill. It’s all fancy homes, not Houses but homes, but not occupied by people like the ones on my end. On the Top of the Hill, the fences are taller and so are the buildings. ‘The view of the Storey Bridge is amazing!’ – to quote the real estate listings.
The Houses don’t appear on the Top of the Hill. The Houses like it better when they can easily take over from those who are particularly vulnerable. And of course, the Houses come from places like the Top of the Hill. They are horrible creatures, but they are investments to those who can afford them.
The people at the Top of the Hill like their homes, even though they aren’t the white of the Houses, because they like to envision themselves as having Taste. But they tolerate the Houses pushing into my end of the hill because they push out the ugliness that ruins their aesthetics. To them, it’s the utmost affront that their route to their plush jobs at the tops of the CBD towers passes my end. They do not like to lay their sharp eyes upon us and our places, which are in want of a splash of paint that no one here has the time nor money to afford. The Houses may be too plain for the tastes of those at the Top of the Hill, but they are neat and clean and therefore preferred. They radiate a signal, that of an upper class investment property that the six-packs and old two-bedroom Queenslanders do not. The Top of the Hill respects that. They do not see the unfortunate occupier in the House. They see their class compeer who sent it down here.
Ah, the sun is setting. Coupled with the new House across the street is yet another one on the lot next to my apartment block. Its roof brushes the horizontal of my balcony railing and blocks off most of my view of the city centre. But still, I can just spy the tops of the buildings, including that grotesque thing across from South Bank I call ‘The Taser’ and many others call ‘The Chode’. In spite of all this I still enjoy this sunset. It’s fire-orange today, vivid in the vein of every classic Queensland summer sunset.
Next door, and now across the street… they’re getting close.
I don’t sleep all that much anymore. During the day I occupy myself – or perhaps distract myself – by reading books I pick up at op shops, and finding new words in the dictionary. Today I learned velleity: a wish, unaccompanied by an effort to obtain it. I’m sure whoever came up with velleity didn’t have to deal with the Houses. No use in wishes anymore. People like me don’t get to have wishes.
During the night, well…
The coffee in my hands is hot, strong, and stingingly bitter. A big mug of black mud, as I’ve heard it said in some American crime thriller novel which wasn’t very good, in my opinion. Slang name or not, this’ll have me pushing through all night for sure. I need it. To stand guard.
The sun dives beneath the western horizon. The stars set in. The driveways of the Houses are so white they glow in the darkness between streetlights.
It’s almost half past two in the A.M. when I hear that all-too-familiar-now sound of one clanking down the street. I rush out my door, down the worn-down steps of the six-pack and onto the long unwashed footpath out front.
I have no problem seeing the House, even without a torch in my hands. The ghostly white-blue light bursting out from its windows, unbound by any curtain or blinds, make it more than palpable to the eye. The colour of the light signifies pure function. A House is pure function. It can never be a home.
Its hulking figure creaks down the hill towards me, ever closer, ever closer.
I can make out its tall, thin legs now. This one has thirty-three, maybe thirty-four. It’s real close. I can see the wooden tentacles of its underbelly, smell the chemical odour of fresh paint. It’s white in a way that hurts the eyes, even muted by the dark of night. Pure, cold white. Bleach white. Like the driveway.
“I’m not moving, ya bastard!” I yell. “No fuckin’ way.”
The House is almost right over me. If I reached out, I could grab hold of one of its spindly legs. They have upwards-pointing thorns like insects’ legs in the sickly green wash tone of newly-treated wood.
Behind the adrenaline sparks the chill of terror. I could still leave. I’ll find somewhere else.
I shake my head, clench my fists. It wouldn’t be home. Everywhere else, the Houses would come eventually. That’s how it is these days. People like me aren’t welcome anymore. Give it a decade and there’ll be nowhere left.
The House twitches backwards. It reminds me of a cockroach, or a spider, sprayed with poison. Its many many legs make chittering noises as they move. Then, it stops just in front of my other neighbour’s house. The legs extend, and it grows taller, taller. Its glow is like a beacon, and it casts its ghostly rays over the rooftops.
I crane my neck to peer around my suburb. I may only be halfway up the hill, but I still have a decent view. All amongst this neighbourhood are other Houses, all coming down from places like the Top of the Hill. There are more, more of them each night. I can see their beacons, see them moving about as they hunt, rising for the killing strike.
The House rotates ninety degrees and begins creeping backwards, legs still making that horrid noise. It’s like there are insects in the walls, but it echoes unmuffled throughout the street. For a moment, it hovers, paused, a soulless imitation of a home hovering above a real one. Then, the tentacles descend.
I’m stuck still on the street outside my own apartment. I know what’s coming, but I’m nothing to it. I’m too small to help.
Ravenously, the tentacles wrench the home up from its concrete foundation. It drags it up to the gaping maw beneath its floorboards, swallowing the home whole. Slowly, stiffly, groaning and creaking in monstrous decibels the entire way, the House settles on the ruinous earth upon which yet another working class home once lived. The House’s cockroach legs tear up the grass and the succulents and the trees left in the yard. The tentacles dart out to grab the final remnants of the house and bring them up to be digested too. Then, its bleach-white integument slides off the House like a shed snakeskin and covers the lot. It hardens quickly into concrete, and when all is done, the House retracts its legs beneath and finally stills.
It’s over. Yet another one has made its way here.
Perhaps it may not be so bad to move away. I am surrounded by Houses now. In the next week, another one will come down from the Top of the Hill, and I will be the target. Perhaps I did not understand fully the prospect of being truly faced with one of these things. What power do I really have against all this?
Besides, this place doesn’t feel like home anymore anyway.
N.Z.E. Tabakov is the token anarchist in your uni tutorial. You can follow them on Twitter at @vampirepoem.