“and you owe me last month’s rent!”
you didn’t yell that time, and they took it better. You get tense when you have to pay bills. I get tense when I haven’t had my coffee. Reaching up, I slide the tacky 1970s amber glass open to reveal the shelves above your kitchen counter. They are empty except for a bag of salt and a plastic container of honey that has more stuck on the outside than what’s left inside. You are out of coffee. I want to boil water but the kettle is missing and all the pots are filled with crusted macaroni “cheese.” I give up and go out back with a cigarette between my teeth. I think about bringing over the extra kettle from my place. The house used to be nice, then all of a sudden it wasn’t nice anymore. Sitting on the porch railing, I ash into the broken china mug and watch the butts float in the rain water.
I remember one time Bridie and I baked an apple pie in your rusty oven while you boys were rehearsing downstairs. At that point, I was still trying to impress you, so I was brutally embarrassed when the pie turned out to be shit. We all ate it anyway. No one did the dishes that night, or any night after that. When the room near the front door became vacant, we joked that we could turn it into a dining room. It was a joke because no one in the house ate anymore.
We did buy groceries and we did put them away. The bread on top of the refrigerator and the eggs inside, next to a jar of pickled cabbage and chicken feet that you received in exchange for the stockpile of cans in your backyard. The inside of the fridge had become its own biome; its inhabitants were oxidizing leftovers morphing around rusted wire shelves. Nourished by neglect, a modern species bloomed under damp paper bags. We wrapped the eggs in plastic in an attempt to prevent them from becoming one with the layer of mayonnaise that coated the interior walls.
On New Year’s Eve, I went out with the girls to buy groceries. We came back with eggs and bread, Werther’s and Whip-Its. We did half the Whip-Its; filling a balloon first, then with rubber between teeth, we inhaled the chilled air. The leftover chargers were used to fill balloons which we stuck to the living room ceiling near the front windows. We watched the condensation drip down the single paned glass and cultivate a dense black mold that ran the entirety of the window sill.
Despite the state of the house, it’s cozy when everyone is home. Nursing jugs of Rossi suspended between curled fingers and elbows we play backgammon and charades late into the night. We remain anxious and messy, each refined and righteous in our own regard.
One night you decided to shave your beard. You were too sloshed to hear the sense in a safety blade, insisting on a disposable straight razor instead. You cut yourself four times. I offered to help. Proving my capability by shaving hair off my arms, two inches up from the wrist. I cut myself three times and but you didn’t see that. Shaving your chin, I cut right down your cleft. One of those cuts that just keeps bleeding: blood, blood forever. You went to work the next day with a patchy beard and five wounds. You left the disposable razor in a puddle of hair and dried brown blood on the bathroom counter, right next to the green shaving cream cap that the cat drinks out of.
It’s better to wear shoes in the washroom. If you don’t have shoes or a penis you have to hover over the toilet while you take a piss; one foot on the rim of bathtub and the other suspended above the mystery puddle on the floor. You will leave with wet socks no matter how good you are at performing this maneuver.
We turned the front room into a poker den.
An oak card table sat in the middle of the room.
A low-hanging mustard-coloured stained-glass pendant lamp hung low above the table,
leaking dim yellow light that barely cut through the haze of pipe tobacco smoke.
There was a bar in the corner stocked with single malt whiskey flown in from Islay.
The floors were laden with Turkish carpets and a single “tiger fur.”
We ran the place for five months before anyone found out.
We paid off the cops and split what was left.
In reality it was just a smoking room. Later you scrubbed the walls with TSP. Yellow smoke-stained varnish became the colour of the egg shells composting in the garden. The garden was the most beautiful thing about the house. Gabe worked hard in the spring and in the summer and in the fall to make it that way. I harvested a head of bok choy back in May when we were making soup. After picking off the caterpillars, we threw it in the pot.
We don’t smoke in the house.
We only smoke in Lindsay and Rainer’s room.
And Eric’s room.
And, for a hot minute, in the front room as well.
The windows are opened first.
In the living room, there are two couches situated by the fireplace, one is from a friend and the other was dragged from the ally one block over. Directly across the room two, sometimes three, chairs sit under the front window. The record player balances on a small table next to one of the couches. At the room’s best, two velvet paintings adorned the walls. Once I’d finished painting my place, I took mine back and the wall space it occupied was filled by an old SUBWAY sign repurposed into an art project. It was an anti-capitalist collage with some of Eric’s blood smeared on to a politician’s face. Currently, a Klein Blue hangs above the door, eleven o’clock to the portraits of Bonnie and Clyde.
Now that you’ve left, things have changed. Josh and two other friends moved in. They took the trash away. Except for the refrigerator downstairs, the one that no one opens, or should ever open. There’s a lasagna there, covered in mold and God only knows what else. No one has seen it since one of the boys put it in there, around the time you and I got back together. That was two years ago. A year after that I’d cheat on you, and 10 months later, you’d move away. The lasagna sat there the whole time, untouched. No one wanted to ruin a good thing, so we all left it there; only thinking to indulge in it after it started to decay. I wonder sometimes why no gets rid of it. I guess no one wants to confront something in its condition, and anyway, you and I are doing just fine without it.