My homes and other real estate by Jennifer Worgan
My homes and other real estate
Lou moved into the laundry and unrolled her mattress every night.
She grew basil in the front yard. After a month or so she made a fold-out table that she put in the kitchen and grew basil there as well.
“I just love the smell,” she said.
Hiro, who had lived in the house the longest, was against the basil from the start. His aunt was the landlord and this put him in a position of power. He was also the one who had sublet the laundry to Lou for such cheap rent. He normally didn’t mind what anyone did in the house, but as soon as he caught the first whiff of basil he banned it from the kitchen.
“There isn’t enough space,” he said. “There are six people here.”
Lou ran a dog walking business as well as doing something else on the side that she never quite explained. She had recently left her wife, and couldn’t pay the mortgage for her property in the Blue Mountains on her own. She was renting it out and living in the laundry to save. She drove a van with the logo of the TV show The Block on the side and a massive dent in the passenger side door.
Because her room wasn’t the size of a real bedroom, and people kept going in and out of it to wash their clothes, Lou spent most of her time in the kitchen. She had three sons my age who would come over for dinner every second Sunday. She invited me to join them once, but I declined.
One night, I reached out of bed to grab a pen so that I could write down my tax file number on the back of a receipt and lost my balance, tumbling to the ground. My face hit the tiles. Once I managed to sit upright my nose started bleeding.
Distraught and plugging my nose with tissues, I called my boyfriend. He was in Barbados with his family, so I left a long voicemail explaining the intricacies of the fall, how I would need to have reconstructive surgery on my nose, and how my tax file number was now lost forever.
Around seven minutes in, there were two soft knocks on the door.
“Jen?” Said Lou. “You okay?”
“Yep,” I said.
“You want anything? You want a beer? You want a blunt?”
I declined, but then she said, “You sure? Your face looks like shit,” and I accepted.
Eventually I moved out, when another one of our housemates got arrested, but Lou stayed behind. Every day when Hiro went to work, she would fold out the table in the kitchen. In the afternoon she would pack it up and move the basil pots out to the backyard.
I was putting off buying a mattress. There’s no point, I thought. I’ll be moving in a month anyway. I bought a blow-up mattress from Kmart and my housemate Gen had a pump she let me use until she moved out.
When the washing machine finally broke, Aniqa called all of the remaining housemates together. She handed out sage and a special holy wood from Mexico, and we burned it while we spun around all the rooms of the house in an anti-clockwise direction.
According to Aniqa, the washing machine breaking was part of a long series of unusual, and presumably paranormal, events. The most shocking one was a handprint on the wall that had appeared out of nowhere on the night of a full moon.
The sage didn’t fix the washing machine or the strange noises we heard in the night, but it subdued the smell of dog that had been dominating the house for the past two months. We started taking our clothes to the laundromat.
Once Gen moved out, every night when I got into bed, I thought to myself: this mattress is really starting to deflate. I would resolve to buy my own pump the next day, but as soon as I was out of bed in the morning, I would completely forget. I started enjoying being able to feel the floor on my back.
When the lease was about to end, we burned sage and holy wood in Aniqa’s room, not to exorcise spirits, but because it smelled strongly of dog. The room’s smell didn’t change, but the dogs smelled like sage for a week afterwards because they were sleeping near the smoke.
“What a beautiful view,” my father said. “You can see Sydney Tower.”
“The rat baits are fresh as well,” said the facility manager.
We put my boxes in the corner and stared out of the window.
“It’s actually bigger than your room as well,” said my father. “You should just move in here instead of looking for a new place.”
“Oh yeah,” I said. “I think you can see the bridge in the distance as well.”
“You have twenty four seven access,” said the facility manager.
“All you would really need is a generator. And you could drill some holes in the wall for ventilation.”
“What do you think?” said the facility manager. “Does it suit you?”
“Totally,” I said. It would need a heater as well, I thought. My father caught my eye, pointed to the rat baits in the corner, and nodded approvingly.
“If you look out to your left you can see the high school President Obama went to,” said the driver. “A very prestigious high school.”
My sister, me, and everyone else in the bus leaned over each other to take photos of the school.
The bus pulled into the shopping centre and we filed out. I don’t remember much that happened after that, besides Nike socks, eel sushi, and constant adrenalin. My sister and I were sharing a room - two single beds - and it was a relief to have a break from each other. When we sat down again for the trip home, we were exhausted, but it felt like no more than fifteen minutes had passed.
On the way back the driver continued pointing out the sites.
“There are a lot of good restaurants back there,” he said as we left the city centre. “Out here is where a lot of Hawai’ians live.”
We all leaned over each other to take photos again.
“Most of the real estate in the centre of town is owned by people from overseas,” he said. “If you look to your left you can see my uncle’s house. You can actually see into his bedroom.”
My sister and I peered over, clutching our plastic Calvin Klein shopping bags. I wasn’t sure which house it was, but I leaned across and took a photo of the street.
My sister found it hard to adapt to sleeping in a single bed again and kept rolling off in the middle of the night. That night she rolled onto a pair of shoes she’d bought at Nine West. She had a bruise on her hip for the rest of the week.
“We’re always thrilled to have you,” said my mother. “Honestly. You’re always welcome. You know that.”
“I’m making brisket,” said my father. “I’ve just put it in the slow cooker. Do you want lemon cake?”
“I really appreciate this,” I said. “I know it’s last minute.”
“Now, your sister is coming to stay tonight as well, so we’ve given her the second bedroom,” said my mother. “And we’ve invited Cathy and Leo, and they’re going to stay in the front room. But come and look at what I’ve done to the couch in the study.”
“Sounds perfect,” I said. “Wherever you have space. It’s just until I find another place.”
“It looks like a hotel,” said my father. “You’re basically going to be staying in a five star hotel tonight. Congratulations.”
“Now, we’re running out of blankets with so many people here, but I’ve got a hot water bottle for you. You’ll also notice some socks on the bed,” said my mother. “Now go and put a jumper on.”
“Where did we stand on the lemon cake?” Said my father.
“You won’t even know I’m here,” I said. “Whatever’s easiest. It’s just until I get my application for the next place accepted. I’ll find my own place again.”
“I can put cream or ice cream on the cake,” said my father.
“Hey Jen,” said my sister, walking into the room. “You’re homeless again.”
“I am,” I said. “Temporarily. Just waiting for my application to go through.”
“Honestly, you’ll freeze without a jumper. I’m not putting the heater on.”
“Let me know if you need help with anything,” said my sister. “Dad’s making brisket. Did he tell you?”
“I think it’s all basically sorted,” I said. “I’m really just waiting for a few days. I didn’t know you were coming up.”
“Yeah, just wanted a break from Sydney,” said my sister. “If you need someone to drive you somewhere, let me know.”
“Thanks heaps. I did hear about the brisket, yes,” I said.
“Look at what your mother’s done to the sofa bed,” said my father. “She’s even put a chocolate on it.”
“And look at what shape the towel is,” said my mother.
We all stared at the towel.
“It’s an animal,” said my mother.
“A stingray?” Said my sister.
“An elephant?” I said.
“It’s a swan,” said my father.
“You should have let them guess,” said my mother. “It is a swan. It’s a swan to welcome you home.”
The swan stared at me, its crumpled beak drooping onto the blanket. The smell of the brisket was wafting into the room; thyme, bay leaves and onions.
I finally decided to buy a bed after Jess told me it had changed her life.
“Everything’s different now,” she said. “It’s just better when you’re high up.”
I ordered a queen bed from IKEA. When I put it together it took up three quarters of my room.
I felt incredible.
“It actually does make a difference,” I said to Jess.
I loved my bed so much I did everything in it. I ate, worked, slept, and even tried to exercise. It was the first place I went into when I got home. In the mornings I would wake up at five thirty and lie there, basking in the luxury. It was true; I’d had no idea what I was missing. Mattresses were made to be elevated. It wasn’t right to leave them on the ground.
I never felt like I was spilling things on the bed, but after a while it became clear I was changing my sheets more frequently than I had when I was sleeping on the ground.
I had a new boyfriend, and over time he started to get concerned.
“We should go out,” he would say, as I opened my mouth to suggest another nap. “Don’t you think the headboard is a bit too wide for the room?” I tried and tried, hoping that one day he would feel the sense of total calm I did every time I pulled the doona around me.
When the lease ended the mattress was a mess. My year of excess was showing. I was too ashamed to ask the removalists to look at it without a sheet on, so I told them to leave it behind when they took the rest of the furniture. I would buy a new bed, I thought. One without a headboard.
Once I had finished cleaning everything out, I was left staring at the mattress on the floor of my empty room. My housemate had already left. It was covered in stains. My love for it had completely gone. Instead I felt vaguely embarrassed that something so thoroughly ruined belonged to me. It was like there was a lesson I missed in high school, where everyone else learned not to let an item of furniture become an aspect of their personalities.
I dragged the mattress out of the room and down the three flights of stairs in the building. I dragged it out of the door and down the driveway. I left it on the side of the road, imagining the meatballs I would eat at IKEA after I bought my next one. It was the day before a council pick-up and the street was full of chairs and children’s toys.