Gloria met Bruce at her cousin’s wedding. They were seated next to each other at a table in the corner. Bruce worked for the same real estate agency as the groom, representing a construction company developing old paddocks into housing estates on the outskirts of cities He had a thick beard and a slight gut, which he had tucked into his waistband for the occasion.
Gloria had varicose veins and wore running shoes with every outfit. When Bruce asked if she would like a second serving of Pavlova after everyone had left to go dancing she said yes, even though she was full, so they would be able to comment on the sponginess of the middle and the types of fruit on top of it together.
At the end of the night they exchanged numbers.
On their third date, eating fish and chips by the pier, Bruce told Gloria he didn’t live in a house. In between throwing cold chips to the gathering seagulls he explained how he had once been married but it didn’t work out. After their relatively clean separation he found himself staying in cheap hotel rooms, ordering take-away pizza and visiting the pub on weeknights. As his bank account diminished the gleam of bachelorhood waned.
A few weeks before he went into negative figures Bruce was showing a young couple around one of the display homes. After they left he was filled with a heavy limbed tiredness. He spread himself out on the couch and watched shadows grow longer on the roof before falling asleep. When he woke he felt calm and refreshed.
Bruce explained to Gloria how he had woken to a brand new day, sunlight streaming in through the curtain-less windows, and made the decision to start living in the display homes in his sleep.
Since meeting Bruce Gloria had thrown out all her old stockings with holes in them, along with her underpants with the wasted elastic and sagging crotches. Bruce’s situation gave him a slightly dangerous air that matched her new underwear collection. Instead of being concerned by his story she was fascinated. ‘How exciting.’ She said, placing a hand on his shoulder.
After the day by the pier Bruce and Gloria spent more and more time together. Three months later Gloria’s lease ran out and Bruce asked her to move into a display home with him. It was the most romantic thing anyone had ever asked her. She packed her best clothes into two brown suitcases and put the rest in plastic garbage bags.
‘What should I take?’ she asked. He said to leave everything. Leave it all. They would eat take-away every night, throw out the containers so they didn’t have to wash dishes, and move on as soon as the bed sheets needed changing.
‘It will be just like we’re on holiday,’ he said. ‘Except we won’t have to go home afterwards.’
In her first week of display home living Gloria walked around half-drunk, intoxicated with the smell of wood polish and just-dried-paint. The sight of unfilled vases grouped on a bare countertop was enough to make her swoon.
There were no rivers or lakes in the area save a muddy creek next to an overflowing drain behind the children’s playground, but Gloria thought the name of the estate sounded regal. She started setting her hair in curlers and rolling up napkins to stuff down her bra. Her favourite thing in the house was the oven. Even though it didn’t work, she would place take-away food in a casserole dish until Bruce came home. When he walked in the door from a long day trying to spruik the idea of a perfect home and happy family to hopeful couples, she would take the container out of the oven wrapped in a tea-towel, and wave a hand over the food as if it was coming straight from a hot stove.
On mornings when it was cold, and she had the house to herself she would open the oven door and sit cross-legged on the kitchen floor in front of it, warming her hands in the cellophane glow.
There were brief interludes when the quiet sterility of the house would upset her, and Gloria would start to feel like an imposter. She’d spend the day soundlessly moving around the rooms on tiptoe, trying not to disturb the ghosts of future families. But then Bruce would come home from work and he would have two beers in his briefcase, one for her, and everything would be right and full again.
When other houses started rising from the upturned earth like giant vegetables, two or three at a time, Bruce and Gloria re-packed their suitcases and left River-View Lakes for the spindly foliage of Pine-Fresh Breeze. From there they made their way to the squashed grassy squares of Garden-Green Terrace, the camphor laurels of Tree-Leaf Peaks, and the elevated paddocks of Meadow-Flower Heights.
The glamorous life of manicured lawns and thick white carpet felt almost the same in every new place, unblemished by years of home ownership. At the slightest sign of dulled floorboards and gathering dust they moved on to the next new thing, leaving more and more of their former lives behind.
This October our monthly series is all about guests and, accordingly, we’ve invited guest writers to fill in for us as we take a break to drink mojitos. Our second guest, Angie Plummer likes to tell people she was named after the Rolling Stones song, but this probably isn’t true. She studied creative writing at QUT and her favourite things include mojitos, the Internet, cheese, and country music.