*Features adult language and themes.*
Scrape. Scrape. Scrape.
Urrrhghhhh. This is impossible. I scrape away at this filthy mould and I know for certain it’ll be back in less than a week and I’ll have to do it again.
The flat had become a disaster area.
It was like the ‘perfect storm’ of crappy rental flats. Spring had most certainly sprung in recent weeks. There would be a few bright and humid days followed by spells of heavy rain and moist air. Evie’s basement flat had always been a little prone to surface mould in places, but this year it was dire.
For the last few weeks the mould would appear on at least one wall in every room. Being a basement flat each room had an exterior wall that was in contact with the ground soil outside. Evie had trouble keeping up with the growth. As soon as she had wiped it away in one place it would surge back in another.
Eventually she resorted to chemical weapons. The flat reeked of bleach. Evie worried that the fumes might, in fact, be more harmful than the mould spores.
No matter what she tried, she simply couldn’t keep on top of it. Jon was at his wits end too. He had been calling the letting agent on a daily basis. It took them a full week to send someone out to inspect it. Evie couldn’t stand to let the mould spread and paint the worst possible picture for the agent to see. They had already lost too many possessions to the infestation. The mould had gotten into their cheap wooden furniture and turned it green, they found the mouldy dust on their clothes when they dressed, and the overpowering musty aroma blighted their entire lives. Somehow the smell followed them out of the house wherever they went.
The agent had turned up and was convinced in the first few seconds by the smell alone. She wore a pinched expression as Evie and Jon took great pleasure in making her stay in the flat as long as possible.
“I can put up with the smell, I can even come to terms with losing a few ‘things,’ but I’m so worried that we’re going to become ill. Especially my son.” Evie had said.
It didn’t, exactly, light a fire under them, but they did get the landlord to send a damp proofer to the flat to inspect the problem. This took another week.
The report came back. A fault had been found with the ventilation unit. It had stopped working. It should have been pumping clean air into the flat and extracting the stale, musty air back outside. Once that was fixed the mould had abated a little, but then the job of clearing the spores from everything inside the flat had begun.
Evie was now in the throes of eradicating the mould when it appeared, because it was still appearing, just at a more gradual rate.
* * *
I can’t put up with it any more.
The mould is winning. It doesn’t matter what I do. I’ve tried every solution I can think of or discover.
I’ve tried wiping away the mould with a dry cloth, I’ve tried bleach, bicarb and lemon juice, white wine vinegar. We’ve spent money we don’t have on de-humidifiers. Nothing is getting rid of it completely.
The problem isn’t with new patches of mould appearing it’s finding and getting rid of the spores that are already here. It seems to have got into everything we own. All of the furniture, our clothes, everything. The only thing I can think of is to get rid of everything and start again, but we can’t do that. We can’t afford to buy new stuff. We can’t afford to buy second-hand.
It’s really getting to me. I find myself dreading going home. It used to be a place of relative comfort and safety. Now I’m afraid of walking through the door. Getting my first whiff of that stale smell, knowing that it’s tainted everything we own.
I read this months HTBH and one of the pieces of advice is to change your furniture around to give your home a fresh start. I don’t think Kurt quite had in mind what we’ve had to do. All of our furniture is bunched together in the middle of the room away from the walls. It looks like we’re constantly decorating, but the walls never get a new coat of paint. The only change the walls experience is a new patch of mould from time to time.
I can’t live like this much longer. There doesn’t seem to be a solution, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
I know Jon is suffering too. But he doesn’t have to be here as long as I do. I spend most of my time in this flat, and it feels like the place is trying to repel us, like it doesn’t want us here anymore. That probably sounds crazy, but it’s how I feel.
Jon came home the other day and I was sitting in Robbie’s room, with our son in my arms crying. I’m so worried that all this will make him ill somehow. It can’t be healthy.
We’ve complained to the letting agent. I’ve no idea if our complaints actually get through to the landlord, or if the landlord simply doesn’t care. Either way nothing more is getting done.
We’ve tried claiming on our contents insurance to replace the damaged furniture, but it would seem we were never protected against damp. We couldn’t afford a more expensive policy.
Jon says he’ll find a solution. Some way to get us out of here, but I can’t see it. I don’t think he can either. He’s doing his best to fix it. He thinks it’s his job to fix it, typical man. I hope he can, but I don’t see how.
All I can do is suck it up and keep cleaning. Try to keep it under control. Keep trying to make the place habitable.
The only good thing that has come out of this disaster is what happened to my art canvases. They were all ruined. The only ones that were protected were the canvases that still had the plastic wrapping on them. The mould has quite literally given me a blank slate.
I feel cleansed in a funny way. Out of all this dirt and grime, it’s the only part of me that feels clean. Throwing all of those half finished canvases out was exhilarating. Not all of them were half bad. There were elements, glimpses within most of what I had done that reminded me of how I used to feel when I was painting in college. I know I have it within me to feel like that again.
Now I have nothing to look back on, no failures to inspect, just clean creamy canvas to cover. For the first time in a long, long time I feel a little buzz of excitement when I think about picking up a brush or palette, squeezing a tube of paint and mixing a colour until it’s just right.
It hasn’t just been the fact that the flat destroyed my artistic baggage either. There were a few things in HTBH that stood out for me as well. The two things have worked in tandem to give me a slap of perspective.
I know why I don’t like my boss or particularly enjoy my job. It’s because I resent having to do it. I realise I sound like an uppity cow, but I don’t care. It’s true. I hate serving people coffee, especially in a place that displays and sells pieces of art. It’s like I found the only job in Ipswich that could mock me.
I trained to be an artist. The only thing stopping me from being an artist is the fact that I don’t paint. I can’t possibly be an artist if I’m not prepared to do the work. It’s like saying I want to be an airline pilot without all that flying stuff.
Since Robbie was born I haven’t treated myself like an artist. I haven’t thought of myself like that. I’ve been a mother first, I’ve taken all of the responsibilities and compromises and got on with it. Forgetting all the while that just because I’m a Mum, doesn’t mean I can’t be an artist too. I blame the things I have to do in my life for taking time away from achieving my goals. That’s bullshit. It really is. I sit down in the evening and watch mindless television programmes. I should be using that time to paint. I should be prioritising my time and devoting it to something else, something worthwhile, something that makes me feel better about myself.
My painting used to be my job. I used to get commissions, I used to sell pieces at galleries. I’ve lost contact with all the people that helped me to do that. Not through being impolite, but because I stopped working. They had no reason to stay in touch.
Then something strange happened. I gave birth to a son. A boy I love so very much and my job didn’t seem so important anymore. It became a hobby. Something I’d dabble with for a bit of fun when I felt like it. Something that I didn’t take seriously anymore. Something that frustrated me because I used to be pretty good at it when I set my mind to it. Fuck that, I was very good at it.
So now I find myself in a strange position. I know what I have to do. I have a good idea of how to go about it, but I can’t.
I realise I have to approach my painting as though it is my main source of income. If I attack it from that angle hard enough; put enough gusto and commitment into it, it will be my main source of income. Serving coffee could become my hobby. Being a Mum overrides the lot of it, but it doesn’t mean it can stop me succeeding in anything I choose to do.
Suddenly I have the passion. The drive and the desire, but I have nowhere to work. The flat is in too much of a mess already. To add canvasses and paint to it would be impossible, and anything new I take into it will be ruined.
As I sit and write in this diary of mine the edges of the paper are flecked with green and black where the mould has found a foothold.
I’m very glad that we collected together some of our more precious things and took them over to Jon’s parents for safekeeping.
* * *
It used to be rare, but it was now common practice to feel a little glad to be going to work and leaving the mess and stress of the flat behind her.
When all of the mould trouble began Evie politely asked Jane if she didn’t mind having Robbie at her house. She had been pleasantly surprised when Jane was enthusiastic about the idea.
It meant a little more running around to get Robbie to Jon’s parent’s place then heading back into town before work, but quite frankly, she didn’t mind being out of the flat for longer than usual. It meant leaving for work a whole hour before she was due to start, but the exercise would do them both good and the fresh air would be even better.
“Come on, Robbie. We need to put your shoes on. It’s time to go to Nanny’s.”
Robbie came out of his bedroom carrying his shoes. He gave a little cough. Evie put a hand to his forehead. “Are you feeling OK, Darling?”
Robbie nodded. He looked at the shoes he had just dropped on the floor in front of Evie. “Mummy, dog’s don’t have shoes, why do I have to?”
Evie smiled at him. “That’s a good question, Robbie. Be sure to ask Nanny later. For now you have to put them on so you don’t get dirty feet.” She kissed his head, put his coat on, grabbed the buggy and they were out the door.
The first breath of fresh air was bliss.
* * *
Evie was a little out of puff by the time she got to work. She turned into the path that skirted the church yard. She liked to run her hand along the railings making then ring a little as her nails clicked against the rusty metal. She was about to cross over towards the cafe when she heard a sob.
Evie poked her head around the gate and saw Zoe sitting on the bench she usually used for her breaks. Zoe was hunched over, still wearing her apron holding a soggy napkin up to her face. Evie went into the churchyard and sat next to her. Without saying anything she laid a hand on her shoulder.
Zoe jerked suddenly, startled, before looking up to notice Evie for the first time.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you jump.”
“That’s OK. I was miles away.”
“Nowhere good, by the looks of things.”
“A bit better than where I am at the moment.”
“Oh, nothing.” She tried a smile but it soon slid from her face and her shoulder slumped lower. “Everything.”
Evie had never seen Zoe in such a state. Her dark mascara was running and her lipstick was smeared. She never really imagined Zoe crying or feeling sad. She always thought of her as strong and independent. Her young angular face dotted with tasteful piercings and her wild colourful hair always spoke of a confident, untouchable young woman.
“Just relationship shit. Nothing out of the ordinary.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“No, I want to shout about it.” Zoe turned and looked towards the cafe.
“Is Layla in?” Asked Evie.
“No. I closed up for a moment. I needed a bit of air. The place was empty. I was standing at the counter, all on my own surrounded by all those picture frames. All of the colours and shapes seemed to slide off the canvases and paper and run down the walls. Then I realised I was crying, and it was the tears running down my face.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter if we stay closed for a little while longer. Tell me what’s up?”
“I’ve been dating a guy for a few months and I found out he’s been seeing someone else behind my back. I trusted him, Evie. I didn’t even suspect anything until the other woman sought me out and warned me off the guy thinking he was cheating on her with me.”
“I know. Sad isn’t it. I don’t know who I feel more sorry for. Her or me. We’ve both been used, but she’s under the impression that the guy is worth fighting for. At least I have a clear perspective on what a prick he is.”
The wind picked up for a moment and whistled through the churchyard making the long grass sway and blowing Evie’s hair across her face.
“How do you do it Evie?”
“Do what, Honey?”
“Keep a relationship going. Finding someone worth trying to keep a relationship going with?”
Evie exhaled long and hard, mimicking the breeze. “That’s a tough one. I don’t think there are any simple answers.”
“How did you know Jon was the right guy for you?”
Evie was stumped for a second, then a cheeky little smile found the corner of her lips.
“You don’t have to say anything,” said Zoe. “I’ve never met a guy that made me smile like that just by thinking about him.”
“I’ll answer you anyway.” Evie shuffled across the bench and put her arm around Zoe’s shoulders, hugging her close. Her friend was chilly. She had goose pimples rising on her bare arms, yet she’d had the foresight to wrap a scarf around her neck. “I guess I knew and still know Jon is right for me because he always puts me and Robbie before himself in everything he does. He doesn’t think about it. He just does it. It’s just how he’s made. He thinks it’s what a husband and father should do. He doesn’t realise what an amazing thing it is to be so selfless.”
Zoe blew her nose, obliterating the napkin, then smiled. Evie fished her hand into her bag to give her a fresh tissue. “You can tell I’m a Mum, I’ve always got tissues to hand.” That made Zoe smile a little wider. When she pulled the packet out of her bag she spilled a load of odds and ends all over the pavement. “Shit, I have no idea how half of this crap gets into my bag.” Evie stooped to begin collecting it all.
Zoe got up to help. She picked up something small and circular, stopping to inspect it. She held up a yellow badge with a smily face on it. “Is this what I think it is?”
“Depends, what do you think it is?”
Zoe reached up to her scarf and flipped part of it over to reveal a similar badge. “How to be Happy?”
“Yup.” Evie got back up, once everything had been corralled back into her bag, apart from the tissues. She offered them to Zoe as she took a seat.
“I really envy you, Evie.” That took her by surprise. Evie was speechless. Luckily Zoe didn’t expect a reaction and carried on. “You seem to have it all figured out. You have a good partner, a beautiful son. What more do you need? You’ll never be lonely, never be alone.”
Evie chuckled. “We’re a silly pair Zoe. We really are. I often look across at you and think: ‘My god, I wish I had her life.’”
“Are you kidding. You’ve got it all ahead of you. Your whole life. And you’re totally free to do whatever you want. I’m not that much older than you, you know, but I’m tied down to the life I’ve chosen. I’m set. You have all your choices to make, and you have lots of time to consider it all.”
“Today you got rid of a wanker that was no good for you. Tomorrow you could meet mister right, or at least mister right-now. The day after that, who cares? You get to live each day as it comes with no attachments and no responsibilities apart from the ones you have to yourself.”
“Yup. Do you know what Jon says to me? It’s the one little part of his philosophy that I like to spread around. Each person on this world has the single responsibility to find a way to make themselves happy. Sounds easy doesn’t it?”
Spits and spots of rain began to colour the stone paving at their feet.
“That doesn’t sound easy at all,” said Zoe.
“No, it’s not. But it’s a good aim to be going on with isn’t it?” Evie looked to the sky, the clouds were grey and bulging. “I think we better get inside.” They stood up and walked arm in arm towards the cafe.
“Did you know back in the 70’s the ruler of Bhutan declared that their economy would no longer strive to achieve Gross National Product, but be a tool to aid GNH. Gross National Happiness.” Said Zoe.
“That sounds like a good aim.”
“Can you imagine if the whole world had that attitude?”
“Nope.” They both laughed. “We really are a silly pair, Zoe. We both have it good, and each of us occasionally wants something completely different.”
Zoe was fumbling for her keys as the rain really started to fall hard. “Everyone is like that. We all think we’ve got it worse that the people around us. Everyone sits around admiring someone else’s life. I guess, unless you actually live every minute of someone else’s life, you’ll never really know if it’s better.”
“It’s much better living you own life.” The door opened and they fell into the cafe, sopping wet. They both giggled when they saw their drowned reflection in the mirror behind the counter. “Anyway, you can’t have my life, good and bad. It’s taken.” Said Evie, playfully sticking out her tongue.
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