SLIPPING OFF HER high heels, she sighs with relief – more out of habit than real affliction – and takes a step onto the fluffy expanse of carpet. The tendons in the back of her legs stretch. She pads into the pale, bright living room, taking in the bare walls and gleaming surfaces.
The carpet squelches slightly near the door to her bedroom. She swears softly, bending down to blot at it with a towel. Her hair must have dripped after her shower this morning.
Later, she sits on the edge of her bed, phone to her ear. ‘You’ve got to see the view, it’s really stunning.’
‘I can swing by tomorrow if you like?’
‘Maybe next week? I want you to see it when it’s all set up,’ she says, looking across the damp patch of carpet.
The apartment block is brand new. Although she moved in two weeks ago, she still catches the occasional whiff of paint. It makes her smile. She’d spent a long time tossing up between this place and a tiny fix-me-up townhouse. Her friends had told her to go for the townhouse. It was closer to the city; it was in a trendy little suburb; it had character. In the end, that was exactly why she didn’t choose it. The dented floorboards and peach-tiled kitchen all screamed someone’s character, but not hers. She wanted something that might reflect her own sensibilities. A blank slate.
There isn’t much in this neighborhood at night. After the shopping mall closes, there are only blocks of apartments like her own. It doesn’t matter. Her view is spectacular. Standing on her balcony, she can see right across the suburbs to the city, its golden lights twinkling
She sees the wet patch the moment she gets home from work – a splodge of Royal Navy against the sea-foam blue. She feels tears itch at her eyes as she calls the building manager. It will leave a stain.
Dabbing out as much wetness as she can, she positions a folded towel on top of it. sits on her new Cuban Mocha sofa, her back to the towel, and tries to distract herself by flicking through art prints online. She wants to get something perfect. A large, framed work of art to brighten up the empty cream walls, something that shows her character, shows that this is her place. She itches to go and pick up the towel from the floor; it looks so out of place in the spotless apartment. Eventually, she goes to bed early and shuts the bedroom door so she won’t have to look at it. She’s still sleeping on a mattress on the floor. She hasn’t decided on a bed frame yet.
Every day the damp spot grows, spreading across the living room in a widening stain. No one has come to take a look at it, despite the desperate messages she has left for the building manager. At work, she can’t stop thinking about it. The dark spot of damp taking over her space, growing as she sits there behind her computer, unable to blot up the moisture.
She stands in the work-break room, drinking her coffee with shaking hands. Trying to put the image of the wet spot out of her mind.
‘So when are we going to get an invite to your new place?’ a colleague asks, making her jump.
‘Soon. I haven’t really got furniture yet.’
‘Well, I’m looking forward to seeing it! I can’t believe you are a home owner. It’s amazing. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to rent my whole life!’
Half smiling, she tells her it isn’t true, although it probably is. She had her apartment because she’d worked for it, saved and scrimped. By the look of her colleague’s constant parade of new clothes, she probably would be a renter for a while.
‘Yuck, can you smell that?’ the colleague asks.
‘It smells weird in here. Kind of mouldy and damp.’
IT IS ALWAYS so empty in the parking garage. In fact, she isn’t sure if she’d ever seen another person down there. This is the part of her day she hates the most. When she locks her car, the lights flash and horn trills. When she used to park on the street it had been barely noticeable. It is different down here – her tail-lights ignite the grey, the sound echoes all through the concrete cavern. The first time it happened, she’d stopped dead and looked around, waiting for someone to jump out at her. That won’t happen again. There is a system in place for it now. She parks her car, takes ten paces with her keys in her hands, and then presses the lock button, running to the doorway as she hears the beep, her footsteps echoing.
When she gets upstairs she keeps her gaze fixed straight ahead. She removes her shoes, sighing with relief, and takes a step onto the carpet. As her foot presses down, the water pools between her toes.
SOON THE WATER is almost the height of her mattress. The first thing she can see in the morning is its silken surface. Lying awake but unable to move, she watches the faint tide ripple across it. Every day it is becoming stronger. Without intending to, she has started to arrive late to work and leave early. Afraid to get within range of the wrinkling of her colleague’s noses, sure they can smell the rancid damp on her.
She makes dinner in her kitchen, her back to the rest of the apartment. With her trousers rolled up to her knees, she wades through the ankle-deep water. She chops the vegetables carefully, making sure each piece is even. The phone rings, but she ignores it, focusing instead on stirring the sauce in the frying pan. Her buzzer rings. Looking into the receiver next to the door, she sees her friend in the small black-and-white screen. Her friend smiles into the camera, as if he could see her, though she knows he can’t. The buzzer rings again, and her friend holds up a bottle of champagne, grinning. She has already told him that she wasn’t ready for guests. Checking the boiling water, she turns it down slightly so it doesn’t overflow. Ignoring the last attempt of the buzzer, she drains the pasta through the strainer, a cloud of hot steam puffing up at her. The phone rings, and her friend’s voice fills the apartment from the answering-machine speaker.
‘Just checking you’re not at home. I’m outside your place right now, thought I’d surprise you.’ A long pause. ‘Okay, well…give me a call, alright?’
She plucks at her dinner with her fork and savours the first mouthful, the bland pasta against the rich vegetable sauce. Then she begins clearing up, alternating between eating and washing, making sure that by the end of her meal everything is in its place and the kitchen looks perfectly unused once again.
THE LIGHT FROM the moon reflects across the water’s surface, painting her bedroom with liquid mercury. Her blinds are left open at night now, something she’s never done in her life before. Without realising, she’s slipped into sleep, her lids resting closed against the dark blotches under her eyes. Her hair fans out on the pillow, her hand lies softly against her face. The silver light makes her skin luminescent.
Perhaps sensing her peace, a small tide rises towards her. Making it over the border of the mattress, it pushes into her left ear. Her body twitches; then she sits up with a gasp. A powerful indignation overcomes her as she wipes the water off the side of her face.
The phone rings. It’s the office, for the third time. Now that it is early afternoon, the voice on the answering machine has changed. The initial annoyance has morphed into worry. She barely listens to the plea to please call them back. She is busy. Her hair hangs around her face in wet clumps, her pyjamas are drenched with both sweat and water, her chest is heaving with exertion.
‘How do you like that?’ she says under her breath, throwing another bucketful of water into the toilet. She has already filled the sink and the bath. To begin with, she watched with joy as the water gurgled down the plughole. Perhaps the pipes filled up, because now the water isn’t going down at all. That wouldn’t stop her. This is her house; it is time to get rid of the unwanted guest.
When the toilet is close to overflowing, she refills the bucket. The kitchen sink is next. As she takes a step, a tide pushes at her ankles and her foot slides on the tiles. She falls with a hard slap against the surface of the water, her head hitting the side of the bath with a thump.
For a few seconds the room buzzes around her. Her arm shakes violently as she tries to push herself off the floor. Slowly, she counts to ten. When she opens her eyes, her vision is focused. Standing shakily, she picks up the full bucket. It won’t beat her.
‘This is my house!’ she screams. ‘Get out!’
Running over the carpet and onto the balcony, she throws the water over the edge. She watches it splash on the footpath below. She begins to laugh, sending bucketful after bucketful of water over the edge.
Running inside for the fifth refill, she stops dead. A wave is rising in front of her. Without hesitating, it pushes itself on top of her, dunking her into its depths. Opening her mouth to scream, she breathes in water. It plugs her stomach, fills her lungs and burns her nose and throat. The water settles and she sits up, gagging and spluttering. It streams around her peacefully, playing innocent.
She catches sight of herself in the bathroom mirror. Here she is, still in her pyjamas in the afternoon. On a workday, no less. Her hair plastered over her face, no make-up on, blood dripping from her temple. She’s been running around, talking to herself, laughing like a mad woman.
A SHOWER FIRST, then she blow-dries her hair. Make-up, stockings, dress. The sun sinks. She slides on her high heels and wades across the carpet.
She leans onto the railing of her balcony, staring at the beauty in front of her. It really is such an incredible view. She has watched the sky’s blush fade. Now, the lights from the city twinkle at her. She tries to ignore the sound of the water, thumping against the glass doors behind her. It’s past head-height now, not far from reaching the ceiling. Her laptop floats, as do some clothes from the wash-basket. Waves rise up, bashing against the glass, trying to reach her. Her view always looks best in the gloaming. Pulling herself up onto the railing, she wants to see it all. The glistening skyscrapers, the flash of car tail-lights just tiny speckles of red glitter.
The corner of her laptop clinks against the glass, forming the first crack, but she won’t turn to look. Standing up on the railing, she just wants to enjoy her view.