It’s a tumble-down house on a small suburban block, corrugated iron roof, weatherboards peeling paint, long grass in the front. Out back, down the cracked driveway, three cars sit on blocks. They’re classics, you told me; you’d restore them one day, make us a mint. But they’ve been sitting there gathering rust for years.
Dust hangs in the streetlight that filters through torn curtains. I look at my hands, wrinkled, dirt caked under my fingernails. I should clean, wash dishes, get out the sewing machine, make the house more of a home. It was once. I recall that time, when we first moved in, when these hands were smooth skin, young. When hope was as easy as breathing. You bought the first car that year, a couple of hundred bucks from some guy on Gumtree. It was going to be your project.
You started spending more time at work. I worked too but yours was more stressful, you said. I needed to take more responsibility for the house, you said.
I bought a houseplant for company. Forgot to water it til the leaves started to go brown, wrinkled at the edges. In remorse, I poured jugs full of water into its pot til it overflowed. The plant died but the stain in the carpet’s still there.
A few years passed. The grass grew. Turned brown in the harsh summer sun. I stopped making an effort, let the place go. Let myself go. You said.
For a while, I tried. I dressed up, put make-up on, did a class so I’d have something new to talk about. I thought we were getting somewhere. Making a life, despite our disappointments. You bought another car, and another. I asked what you were going to do with them all when the first one was still waiting to be fixed. I never asked again.
A mosquito buzzes, must’ve got through the screen door when I came back inside. It took longer than I thought it would to dig that hole. Harder to crawl underneath the car, scrape away at the dirt where the neighbours wouldn’t see.
The sun’s starting to come up. I should wash my hands. There’s blood, dried now, on the wrinkled old skin.
You told me last night that you loved me. That you’d never leave me. But afterwards, while I watched you sleep, I realised: staying or leaving was never your decision to make.
Olivia Hamilton is a writer and artist from Sydney, Australia. She now lives a few hours’ drive up the coast, with her husband and dog. Her poem, “for the unborn/this altered body”, was a finalist in the 2020 Grieve competition held by the Hunter Writers Centre. Neither husband nor dog were harmed in the process of writing this story.