Some days I have nothing real to do, and I can’t bear to stay inside. I’ve started riding my bike around the neighbourhood. I don’t have a helmet and I can’t afford a fine (plus it’s best not to tangle with the police if you can avoid it), and for these reasons I stick to side roads.
There are a lot of different sorts of houses in my suburb. Many people have workers come to look after their lawns and their bathrooms. I don’t think you’d call them servants anymore, that seems like an outdated term, but I have observed that many of them seem to come everyday to the same homes, and so I suppose they carry out a similar function. These houses with attendants are all small palaces, and generally appear to have been built fairly recently.
Some of the houses are clearly twentieth century buildings, already crumbling apart, just a bad storm away from the asbestos removal team and demolition. They have ivy growing through their gutters, and their fences are whitish sticks poking out of the ground.
There are others made of yellow brick with yellow grass that hurts to walk across because it is so dry, and their fences are also yellow brick. It’s amazing how all these house grow up the same, like families, like everyone had the same bad ideas about their houses, and riding around you can see that this house is related to this house and so forth.
Having done this for a while now, I believe I can see inside all of these houses and tell what is happening in each.
Inside this one is a woman with platinum blonde hair and many pairs of designer sneakers – Isabel Marant wedge ones, Isabel Marant low white leather ones with a metallic blue wave on the back of the ankle, Golden Goose Chuck Taylor’s, some Nike Frees (these are just for the gym), and countless others, a lot of jewel tones, pink and wine satin. Her house is big and externally the colour of sand, and also the texture of sand – if you rub your hands on the walls you will come away with some light grazing. This way, if anyone slams her up against the wall to kiss her too hard, she will suddenly remember herself (no, not her gardener, perhaps her long-time best friend, Samuel – they drank too much wine under the jacaranda and she started to jiggle her left leg as she sat cross-legged with him and she asked him why they never got together, and he said you didn’t like sex with women, and she said you never were one, and now she looks at him under her platinum blonde fringe and they start to kiss each other and she moves over to sit in his lap, and he picks her up because she has been on the Michelle Bridges diet for the last eight weeks and as a consequence of eating nothing but roasted capsicum has become very light. He carries her through the garden and wants to take her upstairs, but first he slams her up against the wall (a careful slam, not to bump her head, just to add heat, because if you pretend heat, you start to be heat), and she feels the sand wall graze her elbow, and she very slowly and very fast thinks of all the things she might lose, and it isn’t just the house and the kids, it’s Samuel as well, because at this point maybe they can go back to being just the best of friends, and she needs a best friend, and he does as well, because his mother is sick and he has been very fragile, and so she gently pulls her mouth away, moves it to his forehead, and touches her lips to it, and then gently pats his head, and he allows her to stand instead of be carried, and he starts to cry, and she hugs him and they walk back over to the jacaranda and sit cross-legged to finish the bottle).
Inside that one is a thirteen-year-old girl who has been asked to look after her younger brother because her mother has to take her grandmother to the doctor for a routine check up. She is not fooled, she read the letter on her mother’s bedside table, her grandmother has to get a lump checked, and she knows what that means, she’s not stupid. Anyway, her brother wanted her to do drawings with him, but she has things of her own to do and so she put him in front of the television (ABC Kids runs twelve hours a day now) and sits at the kitchen table while the intro to Fireman Sam plays in the background. I’m not going to invade her privacy, she clearly wants this to be a secret, so I am not going to tell you what she is writing in her journal, although I will tell you that the journal is an unlined exercise book that she covered herself with dark blue Japanese paper that she bought with a twenty dollar note that her grandmother slipped her. She’s almost finished this whole book, but she has some pale blue paper and another unlined exercise book ready to go, she hopes that this new book dressed in a less heavy colour will mean a new phase in her life, a lighter one. She is finishing her writing now, she lets a tear drop and smudge the ink, because she believes in the recording of both written and physical evidence of her state of mind. Sesame Street is playing now, and Rihanna is guest-starring, so she brings some orange juice over to the couch for her brother, and he shoves himself into her lap to drink it, and they watch Rihanna and Elmo sing a song about being gentle.
Over there are two men, one the father, one the son. The father is in his fifties, and the son in his early twenties. The father is trying on different ties that he is pulling out of a plastic Myer shopping bag, and depending on how he feels about them, either laying them neatly on the bed, or placing them back in the bag. The son is in his bedroom smoking pot out the window and reading a book about gem stones. The father leaves the ties for the moment, he goes into the kitchen to start dinner, and pulls some red meat from the freezer, which he unwraps and places in the microwave. He chops up capsicum, tops and tails some green beans, and then gets to slicing carrots into surprisingly fine slivers. He juliennes. The meat is defrosted, he slices that too before turning the gas on a wok. All the ingredients go in with some oil, and he lets them sit a moment before shaking them. Dinner is ready in fifteen minutes, and he puts some in a bowl for himself, calls to his son to let him know, and then returns to his ties. He holds up one that alternates glossy and matte emerald green. His son examines the page on the emerald in his gem stone book.
These people are my neighbours, real or not, and so when I turn my bike around to go home and make salads for my family who are coming round for dinner, I hope they all made good choices today, even when I know they didn’t. Tomorrow when I go past the girl’s house, I will hope her journal writing has progressed and that her grandmother’s lump is benign, but I won’t be sure until it happens, because it could be stormy tomorrow, who knows.
I do know that my own lawn needs to be mowed and that people who drive past my house are probably thinking that it was made for students, and I agree, but I would tell them if they were looking into my house they would see it is very neat inside and you should have seen it before we moved in, there were clothes everywhere and it was so dark. Really, I think it’s not so bad now, we have a turkish carpet and everything. Don’t look at the lawn, definitely don’t look inside the letterbox at the snails, also don’t look through the windows, because that would scare us, but just imagine that inside three sisters are watching Lost, or a young couple are cooking salads, or whatever you like.
Words by Pema Monaghan, illustration by Holly Jian
‘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.
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