It’s not every day that that your flatmate moves their furniture out while you’re at work, disappearing for good. But it happened to me.
I don’t know what it would have been like to arrive home and be surprised by the empty room. As it was, I discovered her disappearance when I rang home to check my messages during the day.
This was my goodbye note, as delivered by Telstra Message Bank:
“Hi, it’s Rebel here. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve had to move out to go live with my sister because her boyfriend has just been arrested in London and she’s had to go over there to be with him, so I have to look after her house while she’s gone. She’s having to spend her savings on getting over there, so she doesn’t have enough money to pay her rent. So, I’ll have to stay living with her even after she gets back, to help her out. I’m really sorry about running out on you like this, but she is my sister and she needs me. And I had to move out suddenly like this, because it was the only time that Tom could help me move my stuff. I’ll call you again later and leave some money for the bills. Sorry. Bye.”
I hung up needing a cigarette. I needed to go outside and think. I definitely needed to get away from customers. How can you think about whether the new Tara Moss is out yet and avoid answering the question about whether it’s any good, when all you can really think about is what you’ll do to pay the gaping hole in next month’s rent?
Sitting in the alleyway behind Little Collins Street, I felt oddly relieved. I didn’t really like Rebel anyway.
She had been better than Bob, the sixty-something retired tradesman who told me he watched TV all day and had two girlfriends, one of them my age. (“Nice big screen,” he had said approvingly of the wooden 1970s box that Jason had bought through the Trading Post and left behind.) She had been better than the truck driver who had asked if he could park his rig in the street. And better than the (really quite sweet) student from the country who said the only problem was that she might have to move back there in a few months. When Rebel turned up at the door, sister in tow, twenty-something, chatty without being irritating and with only a bike to park, I’d been ecstatic to install her in the big front bedroom.
But Rebel was weird. Or maybe she just thought I was weird. I don’t know. The first thing that went wrong was on the day she moved in.
The room was empty, except for a freestanding six-door cupboard that almost entirely covered one wall. It was a truly monstrous thing, another relic of Jason’s hurried departure. Honey-coloured wooden panelling with mirrors plastered across its breadth, so that your reflection seemed to follow you around the room. Rebel loved it. So, even though I’d been planning to somehow get rid of it once someone took the room, I left it for her. While she was moving her stuff in, there was a splintering crash that drew me running from the kitchen, where I’d been deliberately staying out of their way. Three accusing heads (Rebel, her sister, their friend Tom) turned to look at me as I approached the mess that had been Jason’s cupboard.
“I just opened the doors,” said Rebel.
It was like it had torn itself apart at her touch. The flimsy chipboard backing had sprung free from the nails holding it to the frame and flung itself backwards. And worse, the body had tipped perilously forward, throwing open its outer doors and spewing out glass shards onto the carpet.
“It fell on me,” she said.
Luckily, she had caught it. Together the four of us tipped the whole mess backward and leaned it against the wall. I went to get the vacuum and a rubbish bag for the glass. It was easy to take the cupboard apart after that. Piece by piece, we moved it down the passage and stacked it in a corner of the shed. Tom and Rebel’s sister went home to get a wire hanging rack for Rebel. Exhausted, Rebel made chicken two-minute noodles in the microwave and took her dinner into her room.
She ate her dinner there every night after that, for the whole of the six weeks she spent living in Jason’s old room.
This is, as you'll probably realise, something I found while browsing forgotten folders on my computer. All true, even the names. Really, who names their daughter Rebel? What do they expect? I never got any money for the bills. And a trucker and his fiancee moved in after that. One night they saw me reading a book on the couch and responded with dumbfounded awe. ('You gonna read that whole THING?') I was glad to move out of there.