She stood looking in the fridge and asked why I had moved her sauces? I replied what sauces? She said the mayonnaise and sriracha, those kinds of sauces. I told her I’d been making room for milk and she peered over the fridge with a scowl.
My housemate doesn’t often stay in our shared apartment. She prefers to live with her boyfriend about two kilometres away. They are both tall and fit, he owns a briefcase and she’s started buying luxury leather goods. His apartment is newer than ours and has the expectation of marriage and babies. Our apartment was built in the seventies and the only expectation is to wake up at midday to smoke a cigarette. I listen to her put the sauces back to their rightful home. I make plans to move them again once she’s gone.
She is here because it is my birthday and because I received lots of gifts this year she feels bad so she’s come with an expensive bottle of wine. I don’t mind because the wine is one of my favourites, although I think her choice was a fluke rather than intimate knowledge of my preferences. We sit on the floor and eat pizzas, she talks about the job she’s applying for at length and how much money she’ll make. Eventually she asks if I still need her to contribute to the utility bills even though she’s not really living here. I tell her it’s fine, I’ll cover them from now on.
She stays the night and I make us coffee in the morning. I hang out my washing on the clothesline off the balcony as she is leaving. She says we’ll go for a walk that week and promises she will make some time for me. A sheet flaps in the wind and I drop the peg I was holding. She walks past it and gets into the waiting car.
I get nervous about hanging my clothes on the balcony line. I worry that people will see the type of underwear I like and laugh, or it’ll be too windy for the pegs and I’ll lose all my clothes. But I do it because I like the smell of clothes and sheets when they’ve dried in the spring wind. The freshness is my permission to start over, grow, rebirth, a tiny spring each time I pull a clean shirt over my head.
I don’t need to work today so I sit on the couch in our apartment and stare at her furniture. The tv cabinet receives my stare soullessly and the patterned rug says nothing. I turn on the tv to avoid their silence. I don’t mind the couches but question if we really need two. I try to sit on both couches equally because it feels excessive to have so many places to sit for one person.
There is a grocery store on our street that I go to when I don’t feel like going to one of the chain supermarkets. It is where I usually buy last minute booze or morning avocados. I walk to the shop to get something fizzy because the wine from last night has given me a headache. On my way back to the flat I notice that someone has picked up my peg and put it on a windowsill. The gesture makes me feel seen and respected. I wonder which neighbour it could have been.
I tell my boss I have an ongoing migraine and take the next three days off work. I alternate between the couches and wait for the housemate to make time for me so we can go for a walk. I don’t want to get stuck at work and miss my opportunity.
I wash all of the clothes in my cupboards and hang them on the balcony to find growth. When the wind catches a piece of clothing I drop a peg. The helpful neighbour starts throwing them onto my balcony when they make a pile on the window sill. I leave them where they land to remind me that someone close is making time for me.
I fold each piece of clothing and place them back in my wardrobe in sets of outfits I could wear if my life were more like my housemates. I curate outfits for the office, for date night, for lunch with the boyfriend’s parents, for weekend shopping trips and for dinner with our couple friends. I think about the charming little quips we would make and the way parents and friends would smile at us because we are so perfectly, heterosexually, matched.
It is summertime hot for a few days. I open all the windows and sleep with the balcony door open. Each night I can smell the cigarettes of my neighbour. I can’t sleep in the heat so I masturbate to the smell of the smoke snaking through my flat. I cum involuntarily loudly and I wonder if the smoke might conduct the sound of my orgasm back to the cherry of their cigarette.
The housemate calls and we go for a perfunctory walk around to the zoo and back. She got the job, it pays more than expected and she’ll get a bonus. I congratulate her, we hug and she promises to make time for me again soon. I say we could even go out for dinner. She says of course and gets into the waiting car. When I get home there is a note on my front door from my neighbour; “stop dropping your fucking pegs.”
Zara Gudnason is a Tasmanian writer currently living in Melbourne. She has worked as a newspaper journalist, in communications and as a freelance writer. Her work has been published by Matters Journal, Right Now, Dirt Newsletter and Catalyst Magazine.