Lucky for me, partly I guess, I was alone and talking to myself in the back garden. If my brothers had been there to help me, then there would be no end to the teasing or the heckling. In fact, I would most likely be shoved under the house against my will and not allowed to come out until the next day. God my childhood had been a nightmare, if that’s how I know my brothers would react.
“Just lady-up and do it,” I ordered myself.
Taking a deep breath, I did just that.
Onto my knees and then lower still to my belly, I dragged my body under the house pausing to reach back and pull the bucket with me.
Across my forehead I had an LED light strapped so I could see. I wish I didn’t. Years of no-one caring had resulted in mounds of dry-sandy-cover-every-inch-of-skin (even the skin protected by clothing) dirt rose high. Alongside that was rubbish. Plastic wrappers, beer bottles, and even rubber washing up gloves. “How did any of this get under here?”
Perplexed, I sighed and got on with the job.
“It isn’t so bad,” two hours later I was scrubbing my arms in the laundry tub and heading to the out dated kitchen. “I just have to keep at it and eventually I will be finished.”
Yes, what I had found was frightening and the sheer mass of the job was scary, but I was enjoying it to a degree. There was a sense of pride in my work.
And I hadn’t come across any snakes.
Knock, knock. “Hello? Anyone home?”
Uh? Stumbling back out I looked down the hall to the front door. I didn’t recognise the voice and if it was someone from my family they would naturally just walk down the side of the house to come in through the back door.
I stood still.
They knocked again.
“This is ridiculous,” I rolled my eyes. “For fuck sake, you’re not some kid home alone and told not to answer the door. Go and do it, Lori.” That settled I marched down the carpet and reached for the door.
“Hi?” I swung it open and looked through the gauze door.
“Oh, hello. Are you the new owner?” A little old lady stood on the other side. And she was looking very intensely at me. “Did I come at a bad time?”
“No, not all. I was just stopping to have a drink. Um, yes I am the new owner.” Manners, my internal mother’s voice scolded me. “Sorry, would you like to come inside?” I unlocked the door and pushed it open. “I can only offer you water and a biscuit I’m sorry.”
“Well if that’s all,” the little old lady came straight through the front door and began her inspection. She craned her neck to look into the lounge room and the front bedroom and moved forward to look into the other two bedrooms, even opening the one closed door to do so.
Well shit, I’d just invited the street’s busybody into my home. I wonder what she would go around telling people after this?
No matter what, she wouldn’t be saying anything bad about my manners. My mother did raise me right after all. Smile, be polite, and don’t let the bitches get the better of you. “I’m sorry, I didn’t introduce myself. My name is Lori,” and you’re staring at my unmade trundle bed that I borrowed from one of my brothers.
“Hmm, yes. It’s a pleasure. I’m Hannah from on the corner. What do you plan to do with this place?”
“If you go to the right, the kitchen is through there.” I came up behind her and directed her gaze to the opposite way of my makeshift bedroom. “Can I get you a glass of water?”
“That would be nice.” She moved into the kitchen and stood in the middle. “You haven’t done much.”
Bitch. “I’m only a weekend warrior.” I got her water and passed it over. “Would you like a biscuit?”
“Yes, thank you.”
Would you like to take anything else from me, like maybe my kidneys and my youth? Jeez, common decency would’ve dictated that she refuse at least something, or have brought over a box of chocolates to welcome me to the street.
It was clear, this woman wasn’t here to be nice; she was snooping.
“Sorry I don’t have any chairs. I’ve only just moved in.”
“Yes, I know. Last week wasn’t it? It was so sad when Wendy passed away. That was Mrs Thompson, the old owner of the house. She’d lived here since the fifties. I moved to town in the sixties, sixty-seven to be exact, with my husband and three kids.”
“Okay,” just smile and nod. Smile and nod. As she spoke I opened the packet of cookies on the counter and held them out to her. Her gnarled fingers snatched one up.
“Wendy was a lovely neighbour to have. Her sons use to come over every other weekend and look after the garden. Such nice young men. And every two years they would paint the outside of the house. Do you have someone moving in with you?”
What? “Um, not right at this moment.” What kind of question was that?
“No boyfriend?” Hannah tilted her head to the side.
“No. It’s just me.” Fuck off old bird. I only need to be nice, I don’t have to like you. Fuck, I should’ve pretended I wasn’t home. Fuck.
“So who is going to do all of the work to the house? Can you afford a builder?”
Fuck. Off. “I’m going to do as much as I can on my own.”
“How unusual, for a young woman to be doing such manly things. I could never imagine doing anything like this myself or having my daughter do it.”
And that is why women are still expected to be nothing more than hairdressers and day care workers; other people won’t let them imagine life differently. “Well, I’m just giving it a go. Which I should be getting back to it.”
Purposely I shunted the biscuits back into their packet and moved towards the hallway. “It was so nice to meet someone from the street.”
Now she looked unsure, but followed me anyway to the door. “Yes, it was nice.”
I didn’t drop my smile, not even a little bit, until she was on the outside and the front door was firmly closed. “Fuck,” I muttered. “I hope I can dodge another meeting with her in the future.”
Mum would’ve clipped me up the back of the ear for saying such terrible things about my elders, even though she would sigh heavily after an encounter with a similar type of person.