Home Sweet Home, Joe Woodhouse
I sat on the sofa watching the crack in the ceiling travel from the corner to the light. It crawled and throbbed like a stringy vein, dripping water as it came. I held out my tongue to catch the drips, tasted metallic, red and raw, I've tasted this kind before. How long had I been living life inside this house to find myself doing such things? Not long enough to feel quite at home, just long enough to poke my fingers in all the holes, in search of something more. Like rats, or the meaning of life. I tried to peer into the crack, but I saw nothing.
The house had starting falling long before I opened the front door.
When I first moved into flat 2, I didn't realise how much wear and tear was present, the guy who showed me what could be, what would be, my future dreams, did a good job of guiding my eyes away from the present nightmares of Tom & Jerry sized holes, rusted radiators, clinging mold, and dirt filled drains. Instead I signed six months of my life away because some other guy was ready to do the same. The view was nice, that's all any fool needed. When did I last sit and look at all those dead trees outside? I needed those curtains closed to watch TV. Nature programs are my jam.
When I did start seeing all the issues, I just passed them off as old age. How sad would it be if someone was to stand and point at my own set of wrinkles and scars. I know, it's not the same, but I was determined to make this flat become my own home sweet home, so I'm just putting in my side of the sweet.
A night after the vein burst, I was having fever dreams. I was sat upright in my own bedroom, listening to the pipes wheeze the words 'Peel'. It sounded sticky and gross.
'Peel. Peel. Peel.' On repeat the words wheezed, high pitched they echoed till I found myself staring at my Jon Bon Jovi 'Slippery When Wet' poster., that was the source of those rasps, Jon Bon Jovi, is that you? I was sweating, I could see each drop soak into the bedsheets. 'Peel. Peel. Peel.' And then the poster began to peel, slowly rolling to the floor, revealing seven holes punched into the wall. It looked like a grinning face, smiling right back at me. I smiled too, the wall's expression was contagious.
'Hello.' The face said to me.
Was this the quality of dreaming the agency promised to me on that fateful flat viewing day?
I awoke with a smile on my face, when was the last time you did that? I peeled back my poster and saw no punch holes, just Blu Tack, sure to leave a mark. Was worth a look, you know, just in case. I skipped to the shower that day and washed my hair with an expression those ladies make in L'Oreal adverts. That day I felt worth it. Unfortunately those sort of adverts only last 30 seconds, and so did mine, for I found a new bump, another ceiling lump. It looked more like a growth than a vein, and it wobbled as I walked. How much water can one lump hold? When I rung the agency they said they'd get someone out by the end of the week, or maybe next. What service.
I tried to make the most of my living situation, attempting a celebration of living in my new place via a takeaway chicken curry I happily chowed down on whilst kneeling on the carpet, for the battered sofa had enough stains from previous owners, every shade of white and brown, so didn't want to chance it, each mark was meticulously detailed back at headquarters, any extra and there would be hell to pay, or so they say. The curry dish laid out on the floor didn't detract from the taste, not one bit. The carpet was a collage of decades worth of misuse, a spill or two meant nothing. The food had a damp quality to it, as if that too was one with the flat.
I woke up in the middle of the night with stomach cramps, feeling like the bedroom corner mold. I sat on the toilet staring up at the bump in the ceiling, it had gotten bigger, with veins spreading out from the centre. It looked like a heart beating, beating to the drum of my bowels. The veins were starting to bleed red metallic water, just as the one above my TV set had done just days before. The pipes through the flat were groaning, and I wanted to rub the ceiling bump better, till the pain went away. But I was preoccupied, with too much to lose from my own insides if I dared to stand up and stride.
We both went at the same time, gargling and popping under the stress of bad decisions. The ceiling was falling, the plaster fell like snow, the rocky rubble tumbled like hailstone, and the toilet water from flat 3 was as thick and fast as a tropical storm. You could catch pneumonia in this sort of weather. And I could only sit and take it all, incapacitated by my own self destruction. There was no longer a ceiling, only the foundations between floors, the behind the scenes of poor workmanship and broken beams. Plus a pair of eyes poking through the storm, staring right into my soul. I blushed and tightened my bare legs. Don't look.
'Hello again.' A pair of lips formed from leaky pipes said back at me.
'Do you mind?'
'No, not at all.'
I flushed the toilet and brushed the flat's flakes from my hair. The face in the ceiling was still looking down at me, its eyes glistened like the polished pipes they were. I think I preferred the wall punched look, at least we were face to face that way.
'What's wrong, you're falling apart on me.'
'But look at that view outside, isn't it nice?'
'But what about inside?'
'Is there no love for those in continuous decline? What happened to your indifference over wrinkles and scars?'
'You were listening to all that?'
The flat simply laughed. The pipes shook and the ceiling, well, the ceiling was in pieces over me. 'You weren't actually talking to yourself, were you?' The flat sniggered, and snorted more debris, death from above, swiftly dodged by stomping from the room, even slammed the door the way I used to when I was a teenage dirtbag. And from one slam the flat turned silent. Not a single peep, pop, or parp from the flat nor me. Maybe the chicken curry had made me ill, and I'd cracked with the cracks. I fell asleep without wiping my ass. One too many cracks in one night for me.
In the morning the ceiling was still lying on the bathroom floor. But up above I saw how truly alone I was. No smiles for morning me. I rinsed the bad smells and thoughts from those early hours, suited and booted for another daily grind outside, then fetched my packed lunch out of the haphazard fridge. It was only when I closed the fridge door that I noticed the alphabet magnets all in a line. What did they say? 'I'll make you mine.'
I arrived at work early for the first time that day.
Living on the first floor, I had to climb a set of stairs to get there. The stairs were narrow, but they were also small. From main entrance to bed, it could be achieved in ten seconds flat. When I arrived home I spent five minutes climbing each individual piece, treating them as mountains, scanning the gradually rising horizon for stormy weather, but that was waiting at the peak, I knew that much.
When I finally arrived to my own flat 2 front door, the handle turned, the door swung open, all whilst the keys were still tucked into the bag of my sack. A cold wind blew me over the muddy doormat, and then with a slam that was that. Home sweet home. The wall was covered in throbbing red veins, the plaster had unpeeled to reveal the flat's scabs, all fleshy, all leaky. The sofa was covered in buckets of gore. Another stain for the record book. The sofa didn't seem to mind, it was smiling underneath the cushions. A new one lying in its centre, 'Home Is Where The Heart Is' neatly stitched, the sort I used to see at my mother's old place.
'My heart just isn't in it.' Is all I could say to the sofa lips, and those sofa lips scowled and snarled, I could see lost coins and biscuit wrappers in its mouth.
'How can you say that whilst you're living inside me?'
'It's just for six months, then I'll move on. So please, keep it together.'
'But look at the view, isn't it such a nice view?' The living room windows were covered in grime, outside felt so far away. I pressed my hands against the glass and just like everything else in this flat, it cracked. A man in the park across from my view was looking right back at me. Did people do this every night?
'Yes it's quite a nice view.'
'And look, you'll never be alone inside with me!'
With that, the walls began to scratch and sniff, fat rats popping out of every hole, the fattest crawled out from the tightest, what did it have to prove? The mischief scurried over to the sofa, each holding a piece of paper in their tiny rodent feet. They lined themselves up and held each scrap as high as they could. 'Home Sweet Home', where had I heard that one before? And as their tiny beady eyes looked into mine with the same dream home hopes I once cradled in my own, I freaked and cried, started to punch the living room walls, make a memory mark of my own. They started to look like frowning faces. Frowning faces which grimaced and groaned.
'Hey, you won't get your deposit back if you do that!' The flat moaned as the rats climbed my knees, attempting to topple me with numbers.
'What home welcoming is this? Why did you have to fall apart on me? We could have got along if you just let me live!'
'But where is the heart in that? Every single time, people just want a short stay in me, but I'm not like that. I want a family, and if I fall, then maybe you can fix me?'
The fisting stopped, the rats succeeded in their toppling, and I led on the carpet in silence, looking up at my veiny ceiling sky. How many times had I witnessed these very same sights? How many times had I jumped from town to town, flat to flat? How many times had I found myself in similar situations such as this?
'I can't fix this.' I replied with the rats sitting by the side, all listening in.
'You can if you try. Home Is Where The Heart Is, that saying isn't just for cushions and wall art, you know?' Another snowstorm of plaster fluttered down onto this body. The light fitting crashed onto the table, it shattered on impact. And where the light once shone was a large beating heart, the veins in the ceiling all connected to its centre. 'Look, here's mine.'
I didn't need to think about giving the flat mine, the rats were already on it, gnawing my chest till they could put my own heart on display. Despite the chaos between the two of us, this was for the best.
Besides, I couldn't afford better, anyway.
Joe Woodhouse is a writer of objects brought to life, in hopes of understanding himself and others. Joe regularly updates his blog at channelstatic.wordpress.com, and has recently written about his own personal struggles due to his disability for a SICK AF feature at clarrisaexplainsfa.com.