When I first saw Penny, I observed the painfully thin, white legs, the unkempt, wild red hair and the slouched shoulders. Her backpack was slung haphazardly over her sloped shoulder, and scrunched up pieces of paper stuck out of it like tissues stuffed back into their box.

I noticed the over abundance of sleep in her eyes and the way that she moved, almost floated, like an oblivious ghost. She constantly turned her eyebrow ring around and around between her fingers, forming a perpetual bleeding, slash, scabby area.

My sense of smell was strong enough to note the pungent aroma of a young woman who didn’t wash often enough. She looked like the living dead and didn’t smell much better either.

I introduced myself straight away and we were friends before the end of the day.

The fact that all the other girls in the house hated her on sight (and perhaps a quick sniff) made me like her more. She was such a contrast to their huge arses, penchant for Celine Dion music and their ability to do nothing but sit in the common area watching friggin’ television.

One Saturday night, everyone was, magically, out of the house – Penny and I had the huge, apparently haunted, mansion to ourselves. We couldn’t believe our luck. There was a Guns ‘n Roses marathon on Rage at midnight and we turned it up to a deafening volume.

A wild-eyed, mousy haired maniac in pink teddy bear pyjamas suddenly appeared in the middle of ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, screaming ‘What the fuck are you doing? Some people are trying to sleep! It’s 12.30!’

She stormed out of the room and we turned the volume down, a little shaken. Sudden unexpected yelling did cause quickening of the heartbeat in such an old, foreboding building.
‘Where the hell did she come from?’ Penny asked.
‘Stuffed if I know,’ I shrugged.

It was events such as these that motivated Penny, Laura and I to think about moving into a house of our own, and leaving all those petty, Billabong tee shirt wearing, closed-minded bores behind.

We went house-hunting, and on that first day, Penny was convinced that she had found ‘the one’ – she was inexorably drawn to the crooked house on the crooked hill, with the crooked floor, that made us feel as though we were in a house of mirrors, uneasy on our feet and dizzy with the perceived lack of balance.

‘It’s creepy that she would want to live in a place like this,’ Laura whispered to me. ‘She’s starting to spook me.’
‘She’s not spooky,’ I told her. ‘Just really unique and quirky.’

After much searching and debating, we settled on an old, run down house that was just around the corner from the student accommodation we were so keen to leave.

We forgot to organise electricity, so the first night we stood in the house with a whole bunch of candles placed around the lounge room.
‘This is so much cooler than electricity,’ Penny’s friend Sam enthused as he tucked into his KFC dinner.
‘We should just forget the whole idea of electricity and go back to how it was in the day,’ Penny’s boyfriend Todd announced.

We didn’t have the hot water on yet either, so we set to the task of filling up the old iron kettle I’d accepted from Mum, and filling up the bath. I had to wait quite a while for my turn, but I was secretly glad that Penny was at least getting clean.

Todd gradually, and he hoped, subtley, moved in with us too. When I suggested the idea of him pitching in for rent, Penny said that he only wanted to kick the footy a bit and be with her. He wouldn’t cause any trouble and we’d hardly know he was there. She said the same about the puppy they decided to bring home a couple of days later.

They moved the television into their bedroom so they could lie in bed and watch it all day, in between their Performing Arts classes. I drew, and I wrote, but I was all alone.

I left for school holidays and returned two weeks later to discover dog shit all over everything.
‘Why is there shit everywhere!?’ I enquired of the wonderful Penny and Todd.
‘We left him here for a couple of days while we went to Heywood to see Todd’s family,’ Penny slurred, her hair even more knotted and unwashed than usual. She suddenly came to life in order to kick the dog.
‘Naughty dog!’ she scolded.
‘It’s not the fricking dog’s fault!’ I screamed, as I stormed off to my room, quickly observing the plates of mouldy food feasted on by maggots on the kitchen bench.

I rang my parents in tears and they travelled the three and a half hours to help me move out, just as they had helped me to move in only three weeks previous.
‘Thank you so much,’ I smiled, full of love for my parents.

They told me that they had already spoken to the landlady of the mansion, and I was welcome to move back in straight away. I was a little embarrassed but I realised I actually missed the generously plumped-out rumps of my former housemates. They had television over there and we could all share it. I thought of the cleaner that came in once a week to wipe and dust and mop. She was so beautiful. I recalled the sixty dollars I paid each week, which covered all my electricity and water bills. We had all the mod cons at the mansion… we didn’t need candles – the ghosts that wandered the halls gave us enough ambience. And they were a lot less frightening than maggots.

‘I just feel bad about the dog,’ I told Dad, after we had packed everything, ready to move me back to the student house. ‘They thought they were so kind taking on a stray, but it’s almost as though he’s more stray than ever.’

I will never forget what happened next. My father, the dog hater, scooped the foxy up into his arms and said quietly, ‘We’ll take him. Your Mum’d love a dog.’

The following night, I sat in my safe warm bed at the mansion, reading a magazine, and vowing to never leave this place for as long as I was a Professional Writing and Editing student.

‘Phone call for you!’ a voice screeched.
I leapt out of bed and answered the call.
‘No more than fifteen minutes, okay?’ the sour-faced girl warned me.
I grinned at her, and complimented her on the way she ironed her freshly laundered clothes so lovingly.

‘I can’t believe you did this to me!’
It was Laura. I’d forgotten all about her. She was never around anyway – she was always off with her boyfriend, just like Penny.

‘I’m so sorry Laura, but I couldn’t handle it any more! I came home to a house full of dog poo and maggot food – I couldn’t stay there one more night, all alone in that awful house!’
‘I understand. It’s just that I’m the only tenant here now.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, I heard that you had left and that was a shock. And I only figured out that Penny and Todd were moving out when I saw them pushing a fridge down the road.’
The monotone in her voice emphasised the hilarity of the whole situation. We laughed until we cried. All was fine between us.

Now I was the only ‘outsider’ at the mansion. I sat with the others watching ‘Friends’ and ‘Spin City’ while they politely ignored me. I hadn’t watched TV in months – Laura and Penny weren’t into it. It was kind of fun to watch TV – it was relaxing, really. I didn’t have to think.

I was so grateful to be back that I tiptoed whenever I walked, and whispered whenever I talked. It was safe here, and I wasn’t about to offend anyone again.

The next week a new girl moved in – a shy, sweet Nepalese girl named Sujita. She’d only been in the country for a year so of course she wasn’t wearing Billabong or moccasins. None of the other girls wanted to know her. She and I became firm friends. On the first night of her tenure at the house, she turned on some Spice Girls and we danced around her room like ten year olds at a slumber party.

One of the angry girls burst through the door.
‘That’s it! House meeting tonight at 7.30!’
I grinned. I’d stamped my foot down on the floor purposely. I wanted a meeting.
‘Bring it on,’ I muttered under my breath.

That had been close. I had almost become one of them.
I could still be the happy outsider, but with the perks – a clean living area, all my needs met and a good friend sans the offensive odour.

I lit a candle, and Sujita switched off the lights.
‘It’s sure nice to light a candle ‘cause you want to and not because you have to.’
‘That’s true,’ Sujita agreed.
’It’s against house rules, but then again so is everything.’

I woke up a few hours later, around three a.m., feeling peckish. I really didn’t want to, but I would have to go downstairs to the kitchen. I moved as quietly as possible down the carpeted stairs, past the orange phone tacked to the wall, the ironing board and the huge pot plant, torch in hand.

I reached the kitchen and saw a slight, wavering figure standing by the sink. The sight of the shock of red hair that emanated from this wisp-like creature made me grip on to my torch like it was a lifeline.

I observed the painfully thin, white legs, transparent, showing the movement of blood through veins. The slouched shoulders and the lowered head hid the face, but I knew what was happening. Penny was back, despite being more than unwelcome. She was a friend of the long-dead who inhabited this place. My nostrils were overpowered by the smell a young woman who didn’t wash often enough.

She slowly raised her head to reveal a face, featureless except for the maggots that squirmed and eddied, somehow forming the rough shape of eyes, nose and mouth. The wild red hair seemed to reach out towards the ceiling and walls like a mad, knotted Medusa.

The torch dropped to the floor, and my mouth hung open, my heart immobile with fear. The noise seemed to alarm the creature. She disappeared at that moment, the air where she had been still pungent with the essence of the living dead, or the dead living.

Dammit, I’d have to ring Mum and figure out where I was going to live next.


Michelle Rogers

Joined April 2007

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Artist's Description

One of the learning curves in my first year of ‘independent’ living!

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