Someone left the backdoor open again

I was talking to a taxi driver the other day as she drove me to the bar across town where I was supposed to be meeting a Tinder date. It started out as small talk. She asked me where I was going, and I told her it was a date. A first date. She smiled, maybe a little bit sadly, and said she almost wished she could experience the rush and excitement of a first date again. “A good first date,” she specified.

She said she was deeply in love with her wife, “of course,” but that things had gotten tricky since they moved to the city. That although there was a lot to do here, her wife hadn’t settled in as easily as they had hoped.

They had moved to escape their criminally insane next door neighbour who used to come over and muck things up in their house. Though they lived on a 70 hectare rural block completely surrounded by forest, this lady just wouldn’t quit.

Most days, they’d come in from plowing the forest and see the back door open, banging in the wind. There was almost always something missing or out of place on those days. One morning, the sugar had been replaced by bicarbonate of soda. One afternoon, they discovered several hundred mostly-dead seagulls in the bathtub. These little things, they could deal with. As a matter of fact, they’d already put up with them for ten years before deciding they just couldn’t take it anymore.

The day of that fateful last straw, they were reading old issues of the Saturday Paper in bed, drinking tea and reading aloud from various articles. They were reminiscing about the old days, back before the Liberals – as they were known at the time – had won the now notorious election of 2022. When references to biblical-scale plagues were still mostly made in jest among non-conspiracy-theorist circles. They laughed, somewhat mournfully about the way people wrote back then. Like things were probably going to get better.

Just as they were finishing their cups of tea, they heard something utterly terrifying, but at once familiar. It was the sound of a circular saw cutting into wood. And it was close. The taxi-driver got out of bed, wrapped herself in her stained, terry toweling dressing gown, and picked up their empty cups to take with her. After all, the noise sounded like it was coming from the kitchen.

As she walked through the hall, images raced through her head of all the possible scenarios that could be occurring in there. She tried to imagine something reasonable… The builder who did their renovations coming back just to finish something off that she’d missed eight years ago when the rest of the kitchen was completed. One of their phones accidentally scrolling to and autoplaying a TikTok video of how to build your own driveway. She wasn’t sure.

As it happened, the noise was coming from a circular saw, wielded by the neighbour, who was sawing criss-crosses through the kitchen floorboards. The taxi-driver told me it had felt menacing.

“Maybe it was because it was eight o’clock at night,” she said, “or maybe it was because she hadn’t knocked. It was menacing, perhaps on a number of different levels.”

But she said it wasn’t even the feeling of menace that the encounter left in the house like smoke. In fact, the neighbour had behaved quite well upon being discovered, the taxi-driver said.

“She seemed quite embarrassed, really. She sort of jumped when I walked into the room. Well, actually, at first she didn’t even notice me. The circular saw was really loud, and she was wearing ear-protection, you see. But when I put the teacups down next to the sink, I brushed up against her a little bit and she got quite startled. The blade went in on the wrong angle and got kind of stuck there. Then it rebounded a bit and cut off one of her thumbs. Horrible…”

She trailed off.

“Oh dear!” I said, unsure of what else to say. At this point, the taxi had stopped outside the bar and we had been sitting there for ten minutes or so. I could see my date through the window. She’d ordered a really big beer and was sipping it, nervously. She looked older than in her profile picture. About forty years older. I wanted to find out what happened to this neighbour, anyway.

“She apologised. She said she thought nobody was home,” said the taxi-driver with a little laugh. “Can you imagine? Well, she shuffled out the door and we actually didn’t see her again for months. Actually, another neighbour said she’d died, poor thing.

“That would have been the end of it but because those wooden floorboards in the kitchen were actually the subflooring, there were quite a number of places that little squares of board just fell right through to the ground, because of the criss-crossing, you know. We were constantly losing things through the holes, and some of the things were important. Once, we even lost one of my prosthetic feet down there.”

She looked sheepish.

“Oh, don’t worry,” she laughed, a bit flushed. “I can drive perfectly well without it.”

My date had started taking bigger gulps of her gigantic beer and was more than halfway through it. Let her drink, I thought.

“Even the losing things thing was sort of okay after awhile,” said the taxi-driver. “But I just got so sick and tired of the creatures that got up through the holes in the floor. Sometimes it was just snails and stuff, you know, but then sometimes it was worse. The family of brown snakes was maybe the most dangerous, but then the leeches were also just disgusting.”

“Wow,” I finally broke in, “didn’t you, like, tape over the holes or something? Get the place refloored?”

“I guess we could have tried that,” she said, “but I don’t think it would have helped. My wife has this thing about the back door. We’d lived with it being left open so long that she just didn’t feel comfortable having it closed anymore. It served as a kind of natural direction of flow for the creepy shit that came up through the floor, anyway, so I went along with it as long as I could. But the snakes didn’t move out and I just couldn’t take it. The floor started rotting too, because of all the condensation that came up from the ground…”

She seemed regretful, but there were too many pieces of this puzzle for me to know where the regret was placed.

My date – which I was beginning to realise she had ceased to be – had finished the beer and was starting on another. She had ordered a single oyster which had been served with a comically large sprig of dill. Dill is a herb I’ve never been able to appreciate, but I hear they love it in Sweden.

“So,” I prompted, starting to feel tired and like I just wanted to go home, “you moved because of the snakes and stuff, and your wife isn’t loving the city?”

“No, not a bit,” replied the taxi-driver. The excitement of the neighbour story was replaced with a melancholy after being reminded of her current predicament. “We had to move into an apartment, you see, since there are so few houses around these parts, and we got so little for the farm with all the rot and snakes that we couldn’t afford one with a balcony.”

She sniffled, wistfully.

“I do my best, I really do, but there’s only so much one can do in an apartment with no balcony.”

I guessed it was hard to move from the wide open spaces of the nearby forest farms to a pokey apartment with no balcony.

But the taxi-driver’s face, glistening with tears now, had hardened into a look of resolve.

“I’ll put on my brave face, though,” she said, “just like I always do. I’ll march in there after my shift is through and I’ll call out to my darling wife, ‘Honey! I’m ho—Oh dear! Looks like someone left the back door open again!’ and just for a second, she’ll feel at home in our little flat…”

We looked at each other. I didn’t know what to say.

My date, for want of a much better word, had downed the second really inappropriately large beer and was cradling the oyster – no shell to be seen – in her hands like a tiny, slimy baby. She looked kind of happy, actually.

“You know what? I think I’ll just head home now,” I managed. “I’m not really in the mood for this.”

“No worries, love. I’ve got your address in here anyway.”

It was only as she started the engine and did a bit of a wonky three-point-turn that I realized the meter had been ticking along this whole time. It was an expensive evening, but I suspected it was probably a better investment than the alternative.

That night, I deleted Tinder. Now I’d really learned what true love could make a person put up with, I didn’t know if I was interested, after all.

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Lily Ray
Lily Ray

Journalist, photographer, traveller and knitter. Mother to a small but demanding infant, Lily's life is messy but generally lovely. She has a lot of thoughts. Here is where she puts them.

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