HELENA’S HOUSE: Danielle Berryman

Like its owner the house had endured a difficult life, fraught with violence amongst the normal wear and tear of age.

While sometimes a screw would work its way out, or paint would peel, other places carried the scars of kicks, punches and lost tempers.

Helena loved her damaged little home, even more now she was alone under its roof. But she was getting older and the home’s needs were beyond her income and abilities.

Saucepans caught rainwater in the spare room all winter and required emptying at least once a week.

In the kitchen one of the plug sockets was unusable and overheated. Afraid it would catch fire and burn the house, taking her memories with it, she criss-crossed tape over it to guard against forgetfulness and accidental use.

She dared not open three of the six sash windows. Their suspension was a fine balance which, if disturbed, could lead to sharp disaster.

Something was amiss with the stumps under the lounge room floor which dipped and rose when Helena walked across it.

Just the other day on the way to the supermarket she had read some insightful graffiti, “You can miss something without wanting it back”.

That was how she felt about Gerry. She missed his kind care of her and the house but she would never long to have him back because of the times he undid the kindness with flying fists and spit and agony.

So she and the house decayed together, getting a little weaker in structure each year, but happy to take that as the price of a peaceful life.

Helena’s neighbours slowly succumbed to the property boom, selling up and moving out, their cottages and gardens replaced by boundary-to-boundary concrete apartment blocks and McMansions.

Around the time her arthritis made gardening impossible, her beds became unable to grow much in the shadows of the towering new edifices. Perhaps that was for the best, she thought, now so many people could see into the backyard.

As the suburb grew up around her so did the stares and whispers when she ventured out for provisions.

How had she gone from being born in the house, to its owner, to a ‘blight’ on the neighbourhood, despite not having changed a whit in all that time?

There were knocks at the door she refused to answer after meeting the first three ‘charming’ real estate agents who visited. They slid flyers under her door and filled the mailbox with them and Helena was sure they would have telephoned incessantly if she hadn’t stopped paying that bill.

The community’s hunger for her house was palpable, a throbbing, pulsing longing that forced her to stay indoors for longer and longer, subsisting on canned tuna, frozen bread and black tea.

Inside, where they couldn’t penetrate, the old home’s embrace lulled her in comforting fantasy.

Her heart knew no-one would come to save them.

They were nearing their use-by date, already beyond Best Before.

© Danielle Berryman 2021

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