WE LIVED IN an old Queenslander, my boyfriend and I, and two others. There were rats in the walls and a possum in the roof that sounded like the devil. The wooden floor was dusty and pockmarked with holes.
‘You better get some rugs to cover them up,’ my mother said. ‘There’ll be snakes when it gets to winter.’
My other housemates and I did acquire some rugs—a few threadbare ones that we found on the footpath, hoisted onto our shoulders and carried home. They covered the holes, eliminated the dust, and gave us all a rash. A few months later, caught up in a war of passive-aggressive household pettiness, I rolled those rugs down the rotting stairs and under the house. They remained there for the rest of the year. I never saw a snake.
The rats were a more noticeable intrusion and one that proved difficult to eliminate. During night time toilet trips they would run over our feet to disappear through a hole in the bathroom wall. Traps were laid and poison dispersed and eventually, weeks later, we found the entire family dead under my windowsill, lying in the bed they had made from my housemate’s missing socks.
My room in the house had windows that faced the street. The flashes of approaching headlights would slice through the thin curtains and dance across the ceiling, but I convinced myself that the rhythm of the steady traffic could be soothing.
It was better than the nights spent in my boyfriend’s old bedroom. Frozen feet and fingers were the result of windows we could never fully shut, and the deafening roar of a late-night freight train would rattle and shake the timber walls, interrupting my dreams with the thought, How many cows are going to die today?, though the trains may have carried coal.
That year we had lived apart, my boyfriend in his house by the railway line and myself in a small, concrete room, identical in its size, shape and ugliness to every other room at the residential college. When he stayed over we would lie on a single bed in my tiny room and in the morning awake with stiff limbs and bad breath and smile at each other, pretending that the fitful tossing and turning of the night before had been bearable.
In our new house together I assumed that I could spend every night in his bed. On the nights that he would arrive home from work after midnight I would already be curled up in there. On the nights, towards the end of our relationship, when he wouldn’t come home at all I would still be there, legs wrapped around a pillow. There were nights where we would argue, and I would storm from the room to sit on the balcony and sulk. I would spend the rest of those nights in my own room in the house, realising that my bed was a little too cold, a little too hard, and my pillows a little too lumpy. Realising I hadn’t actually learnt to find the street noise soothing at all.