March 2018

Back to Issue 3


By Ynez Sanz

Long before the mummified rats 

or the live rat that leapt at our heads 

from shelves where, like a scene from ‘The Twilight Zone’,

a hundred or more dolls stared balefully down 

through dusty lace curtaining at the bed

that she had lately slept in, we knew. 

Even as we surveyed the first veranda room,

with its scant toeholds of floor, only centimetres in 

from the blameless street front and geometric garden beds,

we could see that this was not simple disorder.

Not just the legacy of her incontinent tomcat,

but a miasmic, low-lying layer of something else

whose source we traced to a sunroom where

yellowed sheet music drifted up the v-j walls 

towards portraits in oval frames and we stumbled upon 

a gorged carpet python under a German piano.

The deeper we penetrated the territory, the less

we could fathom the rhyme and unreason of it all.

Pearlescent garden cockroaches skittered fanwise

under our hands from everything we touched: 

spider-spotted cartons of instant noodles, 

rolls of redundant garbage bags,

random parts of disassembled whipper snippers,

even a pair of push bikes, sprinkled with rust 

like gingery mildew. All of it colluded in an avalanche 

with plastic supermarket bags stiff with papers.

Sticky labels, begging letters, bills and pharmacy receipts 

broke free, shifted, whirled up to settle on the threshold 

and slither stealthily into the garden beds beyond. 

Cages came to light, to trap possums and house cockatiels, 

and others, more elaborate, with mezzanines and miniature hammocks, 

all yarnbombed with dust-caked cobwebs. We burrowed onwards.

In the wash house everything carried its own burden of clotted birdlime.

Each time we bent our backs, feral pigeons made flapping sorties

through the broken louvres, the cockbirds’ throaty cooing

sounding like indistinct insults or furtive sex in the sleep-out, 

while at the closed door of the toilet, now swept of her empty nest, 

a hen bird fretted, silent, a twig in her beak.

We bundled inexplicable numbers of child-sized plush 

rabbits and bears and gorillas into the back seat of the car, 

stockpiled all the still-boxed cordless vacuum cleaners,                                      

found the odd fetching apron among endless opshopfuls of 

unworn clothing and struck ironic poses in our selections 

from a stack of straw garden hats, our eyes a little too bright

below each raddled, flower-laden brim.

We saw ourselves then. Wordless, we shut the boot,

 jammed the wheelie bins closed and peeled off our rubber gloves.

We lowered the blinds and with a last long sigh of fly spray,

fiddled her arrangement of chains and padlocks 

and tiny keys into something like security.

Driving home we stopped at a late-closing lunch bar

to push food into our mouths. Our fingers carried                

the scent of hygienic handwash with base notes

we didn’t want to name. Our eyes held the long-distance gaze 

of people trying not to focus on what was under our noses.

Baffled surmise was all we had left…all those umbrellas…

coin purses…scented soaps…crucifixes… 

At the finish, we were not collected enough 

to ask the real question, though having dug right down, 

we might have read some hint in the rat-dirt braille 

strewn across the orange sitting room rug.

Not what she thought she might find, or feared she might face

when she struggled to creak open the reluctant front door.

Not what she saw each time the first crack of daylight

slashed across her tumbled treasures, but where was 

the key, and where the small skewed window,

into that innermost room that would never be filled.