Coffee Klatsch, Memories

The Secret Under the House

I’m a scaredycat. I have my reasons.

If I’m alone I don’t sleep unless the doors are locked, the windows secured.

I don’t check under the bed before I go to sleep. But it wouldn’t take much.

Years ago I lived in an old house with a steep, boggy, overgrown back garden.

My friend Elaine and I were both at loose ends and a friend of a friend had inherited the house.

His elderly mate Julius had died suddenly, and when we moved in there was still food in the fridge, clothes in the closets, and bric-a-brac from a lifetime of travels in every room. Right down to the pink phallus-shaped salt and pepper set.

The laundry was a damp, dirt-floored dugout next to the crawl space under the house, every cranny filled with old clothes, bursting trash bags, more bric-a-brac, and spiders.

The laundry wasn't a place to linger. Time there was transactional: load, unload, and get the hell out.

Unlike me, Elaine is not security conscious.

She’s never had to be.

So she would often leave her bedroom window open at night and when leaving for work.

Elaine never visibly sighed when I begged her to please secure the house when she wasn’t home. But I could tell she wanted to.

Knowing the house was sometimes accessible put me on high alert.

What if someone was now hiding in the house, like one of those bad horror movies?

I started checking the closets each night just in case.

Then I started noticing that items had moved during the day.

Food was disappearing.

I mentioned it to Elaine.

Her thick brows, plucked each morning before her first espresso, formed a glossy unibrow.

I’m sure I heard her sigh.

And I could read her mind.

I was losing it.

Soon after, we discovered I wasn’t going mad after all.

Julius’s lover, a young Niuean man, had been living under the house.

When Julius died he had nowhere to go.

While we were at work he would come into the house through Elaine’s window for nourishment and warmth. To be at home again amongst Julius’s things.

How afraid and alone he must have felt.

By the time we learned about the young man he was gone.

Had he found his feet and a new home?

Had he returned to Niue?

We will never know.

Weeks later we found his old mattress and thin blanket under the house, camouflaged amongst the cobwebs and bric-a-brac.

Julius was not a poor man. Although he knew he wasn’t well, he left his young lover without the means for a fresh start, an oasis of time to recover and grieve.

He is remembered as a good guy by those who knew him.

But when I remember Julius I remember the Niuean boy on the dirty mattress, alone, under the house.

I think about how, when I climbed into my high old bed each night, he was there beneath the floorboards. About how we breathed together as we slept.

Fakaalofa atu young man. Malolō nakai a koe? Fakamolemole la.

Hello. How are you? I’m sorry.

I think about you.

I didn’t know you were there.

Photo: Unsplash

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