The Back Room
The back room in our house was a mess. There were all sorts of creatures living underneath the debris. Every now and then a cockroach would show itself, exploring the outskirts of its heaven. The stink of cat piss would get caught in your oesophagus upon opening the door. At least the door opened. If it didn’t, we couldn’t call this space a room. Do you get the idea?
She was outside in the backyard, so I went out to help her hang out the washing. ‘Hey Pip, do you want to sort out the back room today?’
‘I’ll do it, stop stressing me out!’
The backyard was a great place to take respite. It was a typical suburban backyard with not much grass and a large slab of concrete called a driveway. I usually sat on one of several milk crates and enjoyed a hot cup of coffee, while her dog barked its head off at the neighbours through the fence.
‘C’mon, just tell me what’s rubbish and what isn’t and I’ll help.’
‘Seriously, go away.’
I was still sitting down on the milk crate with a coffee. Whenever I have a coffee conversation comes naturally. Pip was concentrating on positioning the pegs correctly. She has tried more than once to teach me how to do it the right way. I guess I’m just a slow learner when it comes to household chores.
Pip’s eyes were intense. At first I thought she was in a deep focus. She often looked stressed. Her fierce, red hair would tangle itself in knots. If it wasn’t for her large downturned eyes you would identify her as a crazy-woman. But now, she was starting to cry. I thought about what to say. I had to say something.
‘Are you okay?’ I asked. She widened her eyes and a teardrop slid over her cheek into the corner of her mouth.
‘Not really.’ It was at this point where she began to tell me a story that I would never forget. ‘Do you know why the house is such a mess?’ I didn’t answer and let her continue.
‘My ex, Giles, was an alcoholic. He wouldn’t go away. So, the only way I could get rid of him was to literally force him out. That’s why the house is the way it is. When his alcohol abuse started to transform into physical abuse, this is when I started to collect all this junk. I was already working overtime to distance myself from him. I had a good job so I could afford it. After my dad died I lost it and told him to get out.’
‘Oh.’ I wanted to ask why she still had everything, now that Giles had moved on, but I held my tongue.
‘He went in cycles. One month he would be charming and the next month he would slam the door in my face. Apparently, this behaviour is common in people with alcohol dependence.’
‘At least he’s gone now,’ I said, alluding to the idea of cleaning up as soon as possible.
‘He keeps bloody texting me when he’s drunk, trying to get my attention.’
‘Just ignore him.’
‘I do but, he knows how to push my buttons. I was with him for almost ten years.’
‘Why don’t you get a new number?’ I suggested.
‘All my friends have this number and I want to keep getting all his messages anyway so that I have evidence of abuse.’
I had many things to say myself. I wondered if she still had feelings for Giles. I walked inside and entered my bedroom. I was still being stalked by the smell of cat urine and wet dog. It was getting late so I had a quick, microwaveable dinner and headed off to bed.
The next day I slept in. Pip had already left for work. I made my way to the kitchen to make a coffee. As it was brewing, I walked through the hallway towards the back room. It looked as if Pip had ventured across and opened the window slightly. I always wondered how she did this. She must have moved a few cupboards in the process, like a game of Tetris. Out of curiosity, I opened one of the many cupboards. There was a wooden box inside. I thought about opening it, but I went back to check on my coffee. It was probably a good idea to have a break from the room. Its atmosphere was quite toxic and would make your eyes water. It would make you cry.
Later on that night, Pip arrived home from work.
‘Did you have a good day?’
‘It was okay.’
I could smell alcohol on her breath. I wondered if she had visited Giles. She parked herself on the lounge and let out a great sigh. As I sat down next to her, something must have fallen. It made a most unusual noise as it landed. I looked around the room.
‘What was that?’ Pip said, slurring her speech slightly.
‘I don’t know.’
I got up and searched for anything unusual. There was just too much stuff. It could’ve been anything that made the noise. Pip got up and walked to the back room. I could now see it through the hallway. The wooden box had fallen and all of its contents were on the floor. Pip was in the back room. She looked back at me. I could see a tear rolling down her cheek.