It was a luxury home, with vaulted ceilings, marble benchtops, European appliances, floor to ceiling glass.
There were many indoor plants for Ava to look after. She seemed to either water them too much or too little. She’d already needed to replace two of them.
She was also responsible for two horses and Afghan hound that had a fortnightly appointment with the groomers.
She had a friend come to stay for the weekend in hope it would distract her from her heartache.
She made cosmopolitans for them to drink. ‘This is the life,’ her friend Sophia commented as she melted down into the hot water. Steam rose to mingle with the grey sky above them. ‘I’ve been to the hot springs, which are nice, but you don’t get to have cocktails in the water there.’ She giggled and a little of the pink drink sloshed into the water. ‘You’re so lucky you get to do this anytime you want.’
‘Yeah, so lucky,’ Ava replied without enthusiasm.
‘Think of it as taking the good with the bad,’ said Sophia.
After the spa and a hot shower, they sat on the couch looking out the windows to the foaming ocean in the distance.
‘So, what’s he driving at the moment?’ Sophia asked.
‘Oh, is that all,’ she replied sarcastically. ‘Did he leave you the keys?’
‘Shame,’ she laughed. ‘Has she been around?’
‘What? Daddy’s little girl hasn’t checked up on you.’
‘Hmph! No. She’s busy with all the car yards while he’s away. He’s training her up.’
‘Over achiever!’ scoffed Sophia.
‘Yeah… Sometimes I think I should have gone down that path though. It’s not like anything else has really worked out.’
In the morning Ava found a pink stain from one of their drinks on the couch. ‘Oh, crap! Why white couches?’ she groaned and dabbed at it with a sponge and various cleaners. In the end she gave up and turned the cushion over.
Four weeks prior, Ava’s boyfriend had broken up with her. His rejection had left her floating in a cold sea.
‘I really did love you at the start,’ he’d said to her, ‘But in the end I had to be honest with myself, you’re not quite all that I’m looking for, and I’m still too young to give up trying for that. I have high expectations… and that’s not your fault. You deserve to have someone who loves you just the way you are.’
Her dad’s comment when she told him was ‘What! Another one.’ His exasperated tone had humiliated her. ‘Well, that must be a disappointment. Lucky there’s plenty of fish in the sea.’
Her mum had put a comforting arm around her shoulders and said, ‘I always thought there was something off about him. Good riddance. Don’t worry, the right one is out there for you.’
The house was too big for one person.
Ava closed the doors to all the rooms that were not being used.
Each night she turned on the electric blanket to warm the bed before she got in, she just couldn’t seem to generate enough heat to warm it up by herself. And she’d spoon the dog who’d eventually shift, looking for more space on the bed.
Outside, the weather was as gloomy as she felt. The winters were definitely more gothic on the peninsula than up in the city. The sound of the rain helped to lull her to sleep at least.
She was outside one morning, leaning on the railing of the decking, having her first coffee and cigarette of the day when she first noticed there was a cavity in the landscape that had not been there yesterday. The house was built on a steep slope, with views to the ocean. A section of the landscape, just in front of the back decking had slipped away down the hill. The heavy rains of late were probably responsible.
She looked at it with mild surprise and wrinkled her nose at the pungent smell coming from the freshly wounded earth. ‘I guess that’s what happens when you build on a steep slope,’ she commented dismissively.
She took the following day off work because she had developed a head cold. She sat on the couch in her pyjamas and watched Dr Phil. It was the first time she’d ever seen an episode. She was surprised at how intriguing she found it.
Suddenly she stood up from the couch jabbing her finger towards Dr Phil as he criticised a guest’s passive aggressive behaviour, ‘Passive aggressive, passive aggressive, that’s what it is!’ she shouted with the fervour of revelation.
It continued to rain over the coming days and more chunks of earth melted away below the house.
She had hoped it would subside, so she didn’t have to deal with the problem, but a week later it had eaten all the way under the decking and was nearing the foundations of the house.
In the bathroom, she hung her towel back over the heated towel rail. It was so very nice to pick up a warm towel to wrap yourself in after a shower. Even the floor was heated. She would have to give up such luxuries soon.
She looked at herself in the vanity mirror. It had soft lighting all around the edge of it. It was good lighting to put on makeup by, and when you dimmed it, very flattering. It made her think back to the bathroom at her mother’s house when she was a teenager – lit by the green glow of a single fluorescent tube directly above the mirror – it had made putting on makeup very difficult, with her brother banging on the door, telling her to hurry up and get out.
This bathroom was one of five in total in this house, no, six – she forgot the one out by the pool. This one of six was the same size as the one and only at her mum’s house. She wondered if her mum was relieved that she didn’t have to share the bathroom with them anymore.
After her parents had split up when she was a child, her mum bought a small three-bedroom place with one bathroom. She had said it was what she could comfortably afford so she didn’t have to work too much and still had plenty of time to give to her kids. Her Dad though, came soon to live in a much nicer house than her mum. By the time she was a teenager he had traded up again to a house with a pool and a pool house. He did the same with the car and his clothes and a wife. She suspected his stepdaughter was a trade up too.
Ava had shifted back and forth between the two homes and viewed her face in two very different bathroom mirrors.
As a teenager, she’d only ever wanted her friends to come over when she was staying at her dad’s house. She had wanted to impress them, to be included in the popular group. They liked the billiards table, the pool house where they could have sleepovers, and were impressed by her dad’s sportscars. She knew her father’s house had gained her popularity and friendships that she would not have otherwise had.
Her and her brother didn’t tell their mum what they did at her dad’s house. She had felt guilty about it, she knew it was a betrayal of some kind. Her mum couldn’t compete with it, which wasn’t fair, but Ava’s thoughts had been at the mercy of her fragile teenage ego.
Yet it had only been her mum that made sure she always had a clean uniform to wear to school, who stroked her temple when she was sick and had taken her to her orthodontic appointments. Her father had groaned over the cost of her braces, but said, ‘I can’t have a daughter with crooked teeth.’ He’d said he would pay for them if her mum would take her to all the appointments. ‘I’ve got money but no time, and your mum’s got time but no money,’ and he’d laugh as if it were funny.
When she finally got her braces off, he said, ‘Now, that’s a smile you can be proud of. Lucky I can afford to do these things for you.’
‘Lucky,’ she’d reply and she liked her straight teeth.
Shifting between two lives, two selves.
There were pockets of nothing under the house now and the end of the swimming pool was floating in the air.
Her father called, but she didn’t mention the issue of the land slip to him. She talked as though nothing were amiss; assured him the animals were doing well.
It did occur to her that she should probably be making phone calls, that further slipping could be prevented by the shoring up with rocks or concrete blocks or something of the sort.
She wondered what was stopping her? She surprised herself when she realised that, each day as more land slipped away, as the area of decay grew so did her pleasure in watching it.
The pool finally became so exposed that it tipped over on its side, exposing its grey concrete belly, like a beached grey whale. She laughed at the absurdity of it.
Then one night she was woken by a rumble and the sounds of crashing and shattering glass. She wondered whether the neighbours would have heard it. What would she say if they inquired after the noise or turned up unexpectedly? Claim that it had all only just happened!
She got up to check out what level of destruction had occurred.
Cold moonlight filled the living room where once it had never reached.
A whole corner of the house had fallen away.
‘Wow! But that’s an even better view now, don’t you think!’ she said to the Afghan hound.
She went back to bed and shut the door to keep out the cold night air and turned up the electric blanket.
As more of the house fell away, furniture followed the structure – the crisp white couch with the cushion she’d tried so hard to get the stain out of, a glass and marble coffee table, a Persian rug. She watched them go over the edge. ‘I suppose I’m being passive aggressive myself now,’ she said out loud to herself as she tapped her cigarette with her finger, sending ash into the void.
She was there because her dad had invited her to house sit while he and his wife holidayed in Turkey for two months. HE. HAD. ASKED. HER. So why then, when he had handed her the keys, did he say, ‘I’ve left detailed instructions. Call your sister if you have any issues. I haven’t left the keys to the Porsche out – I’ll save you the temptation. And…’ with a heavy sigh, ‘Don’t make me regret this.’
‘What do you think I’m going to do to the place?’
‘I thought the responsibility would do you some good. Maybe inspire you to get your life on track, finally.’
A torn off water pipe was making the peaceful sound of a trickling stream.
Still, Ava swung between regret and recklessness, unable to settle on what it should be. Indecisiveness – like when she’d gone to university to get a diploma in hotel management, then switched to interior design, but when she struggled to find work regretted not having stuck with hotel management. In the end she had thought backpacking overseas was the answer.
The power to the whole house short-circuited one week before her father and stepmother were due home. That must have happened when the fridge fell off the edge and slipped down the hill. The place wasn’t liveable anymore; she’d have to travel back and forth to check on the horses.
Taking the dog with her, she shut and locked the front door on her way out and hid the key under a plant pot.