Somewhere else is embedded in my skin. I’ve never been there, but I know I’m made entirely from it. I’ve spent a lot of time looking for my source. I’ve tried to find it in a lot of different places. In books, in space, in a plant I bought from a home-ware store even though there’s a vine encroaching onto my balcony that I don’t know how to prune. Sometimes, I have looked for somewhere else in other people, tilting my head to the side and trying to fit my fingers into the gaps between theirs. Looking for things in people is messy work. Once, I thought I caught a fractal of somewhere else shimmering in a freckle beneath a pretty eye. He was beautiful, I was slight, and I did not want to love him. In the end, I couldn’t tell who had become trapped and who had done the trapping. We became so tangled we had to cut each other free. I stung for months and he decided he didn’t want to be an engineer any more. There was a girl once too. I never got close enough; I just met her eyes for less than a second through the faded tinting in my car window. Didn’t even know her name. But she was jogging along the river in a black turtleneck and her long dark hair reached the middle of her back. The only other thing I remember about her was the mist that was rolling out from the water, blurring the landscape into soft, unfamiliar shapes. The girl looked so much like an idea I had when I was a child that I never once forgot her. I should have stopped the car and asked where she came from.
Whenever I think of the reason I moved into this house I think of a morning before he knew how to make poached eggs. It was raining and I had a hand on his bare shoulder and his certainty was enough to anchor us both. There was an old electric heater from the nineteen-seventies fitted into the fireplace. Each morning he pushes his mouth against my forehead and I soften appropriately while I tighten the tie around his neck, pulling him into a more defined shape. While he is gone I float around the house and sometimes lounge over the balcony, draping myself in the sun like a bed sheet. I watched new furniture being delivered to the top floor apartment and wondered what was in the boxes marked fragile. I didn’t see the new tenant, but the cat appeared around the same time. I’d been to two interviews for positions at laboratories measuring chemicals and sterilizing equipment and had become addicted to refreshing my email. If the lounge room window was open the cat inevitably wandered inside. It would then sit just out of reach and stare. I didn’t mind, I felt reassured by the knowledge neither of us had anything better to do. I made circle embroidery that felt inadequate, as if the cat refused to be contained in the fabric. I mentioned it at dinner; two well buttered slices of toast eaten cross-legged on the lounge room floor. My love’s blue eyes were always filled with an affection that made me feel that somehow that he knew just where I was from and just where I would go. I didn’t know the cat’s name.
Why don’t you introduce yourself and find out?
I didn’t know cats appreciated introductions?
To the owner, smartarse. Take them a plant or something and say hi.
I’d never owned a pet. I carefully planned my visit, not early enough to be bothersome and not late enough to be odd. I settled on a small succulent I had been given as a house-warming gift. It was in a cheap gold pot with a scratch on the side. The stairs to the top floor were external and shaded, and as I climbed them I realized that I had no idea how much time had passed since the scaffolding had been removed. The new resident had drilled an enormous brass bell into the door. I rung it as gently as possible, but the noise sounded like it had come from a much larger object in a much larger place. The being who opened the door appeared in a momentary glare of sunlight, enough that it took me a moment to correlate his expensive street-wear and the mouthful of packet noodles peeking it out of his lips. An enormous blue bowl of the stuff was tucked neatly into the sun-dappled angle of his left elbow. His straight dark-hair was neatly combed and gelled back, the undercut looked freshly done. He seemed more prepared for the world than I had ever felt, and his skin had a deepness of hue possessed only by those who frequent the ocean, but his dark eyes were wide as if the appearance of an open door had taken him by surprise. I imagine our expressions were much the same.
Hey, I’m from downstairs, thought I’d say hello, introduce myself. I brought you a welcome gift.
He stared at me a fraction too long without speaking, and I had the odd sensation of being searched. He suddenly registered the offered plant and he seemed to refocus,
Hey! Yeah! Thank you! Come in, you want some tea?
I did. Walking into the apartment, I understood where the glare of light had originated. Hanging from the ceiling on thin strings of varying lengths, and covering every flat surface, were hundreds of crystals. Mostly roughly cut and in a seemingly limitless array of colours, with the window thrown open the sunlight bounced off every one, giving the room a strange dappled appearance. I felt both entranced and disorientated; I clasped my hands together and tried to keep my mouth shut as he delicately removed a glass teapot from a shelf that seemed to bend inwards under the weight of pink agates. In the freed space he placed my succulent. I felt at a loss for anything remarkable to say, and perched on the end of a low leather couch facing the window without being asked.
Your cat has been visiting our apartment.
Aw sorry, I hope you don’t mind. He’s always been a bit of an ass. Never interested in anything I have to say.
He asked how long I’d been here. It wasn’t long. I asked him how long he’s lived here. He said his Mum came from the Philippines and he and his Dad were born not far from here. He lived in Manila for a while and moved back to Australia for a girl a few years ago, but she liked the food better where she was from and went back home. I asked him what he did. He said he was a chef. I asked what kind of chef ate two minute packet noodles, and he gazed forlornly into his bowl as if he might find the answer somewhere in the depths of carbohydrate strings. I felt I had made some horrifying social misstep until he burst out laughing. He said tired chefs eat two-minute packet noodles. He asked me what I was doing today. I looked around the room, certain that this strange man, who’s appearance seemed to be shifting under the light of his crystals, knew something I desperately needed to understand. I said,
Just waiting, I guess.
He smiled, but it made me feel sad,
The cat was asleep on small red rug on the windowsill that looked like it had been cut from something that was once expensive. I found out that its name was Bean.
‘I Am In Your House’ is a collaborative story by the creative writers of Pelican. It is published in weekly installments, every Sunday. Read more ‘I Am In Your House’ here.
If you would like to contribute, either as a writer or illustrator to ‘I Am In Your House’ contact the web editor (firstname.lastname@example.org).