When I got the news, I was so happy I couldn’t stay inside. I had to go out immediately, so I ran into the street and messaged a man I barely knew. He came to meet me, and I told him the good news. He was happy for me, and we clinked our beer glasses. Then we sat there by the window in the pub, looking out onto the street as cars and buses went by and the daylight faded and the lights came on. I kept ordering more drinks, hoping to draw out the happiness, because in truth the man wasn’t quite as excited by the good news as I’d thought he would be. He wanted to talk about his recent house move and how he was struggling to make friends with his new flatmates, how he’d started a worm farm and the flatmates kept overfilling it with scraps. But this was the best day of my life. The news – it was good, it was so good, and when I thought of it my heart surged like a geyser.
I remembered another man I’d sat with at that very same window. He had come to see me from the other side of the world. As we sat there looking out on the busy street, sometimes turning towards each other, I felt so happy, as if I were receiving good news over and over again. And I remembered another time I’d sat at that window, this time with a violinist, and I’d felt not happiness exactly but a dull contentment, because he didn’t seem to mind how our conversation stopped and started. And I remembered sitting at the window with another man, someone who I loved, and how as we sat there one afternoon looking out on the street we saw a small dog get hit by a car.
The dog had suddenly run out on the road at the intersection. The car stopped and people got out. Someone took a blanket from the car boot and they wrapped the dog in the blanket. A woman ran from house to house, knocking on people’s doors, then she returned, shaking her head, and soon, after standing for some time with hands at their mouths, the people left the dog wrapped up in the blanket on the grass in front of someone’s house. The blanket was brown, the sort of blanket you always have in the boot of a car for wrapping heavy objects in. We didn’t speak as we watched the people drive away, but afterwards we were both thinking about somebody coming home and finding their dog wrapped up in a blanket, and we sat and waited for another half an hour, but no one came along.
On the day of the good news, as I sat at the window with this new man I barely knew, a driver stopped at a red light. She turned towards us. She saw us, and rolled down her window. We looked back at her. She gave me a thumbs up and shouted, ‘I heard the news. Congratulations.’ I waved and laughed, and just like that I felt again how good the news was. The light went green, and she was waving as she drove away.
Although the house looks small and barren, resting in the mud, we’re feeling hopeful. The mud has a lemon tree on it and a sprinkler waving its arms. A feeling of prosperity is in the air, as if some things might be within reach again.
This house was formerly owned by a family of bears, the estate agent tells us, but they’ve taken good care of it. He shows us inside. A stream flows rapidly through the house. There are eels and salmon in the water, though they are all belly-up and should be easy enough to clear away. More of a concern is that the house has no windows, and the chimney looks to be made of sticks. What gives me serious pause, though, is that one bedroom is filled from floor to ceiling with green peas. To look inside we have no choice but to push through the peas with our arms held out. Behind us, the real estate agent is saying, ‘Please be careful. The family loved these peas, and a condition of ownership would be their upkeep.’
Before he has finished speaking, before the two of us have even discussed it in private, you’re turning to him, brushing peas carelessly from your clothes, and promising, ‘Of course. We’d make them a priority.’ This is a pattern of yours – this agreeableness to strangers, at my expense. Because I know it will fall to me. I know that in the end these peas will be my responsibility. And I know I will become bitter about it, and my bitterness will manifest as cruelty towards you, and in the end our lives will be destroyed.
But I also know that this is the best we can hope for. It makes financial sense, and that is the only sense that makes financial sense. As you ask for the number and the agent makes a loud roaring sound, I reach for your hand.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ashleigh Young is a writer and editor who lives in Wellington. She is the author of Magnificent Moon, How I Get Ready and Can You Tolerate This? Some of her recent writing appears in The Spinoff, Newsroom and the Guardian.