The Girl under the Umbrella


I once lived in a brick Victorian house with a plaster bow ornamenting the second storey window. It was a former railway managers house, but all its former glory had been stripped bare. It was now a basic two storey house with four bedrooms and pink skirting boards in the living room. There was no carpet on the floor, so when the local pub stripped out its carpet we took it to cover the bare living room floor. However, the carpet continued to smell of beer. A big black spider lived in the bathroom which we tolerated along with the cracked shower screen which never was fixed in our residency.

A mixture of flatmates moved through the house but it was my name and Benjamin’s on the lease.

There was the girl with translucent skin, who because of her food allergies could only eat a limited range of foods. Another girl moved in after her who did aerobics three times a week but then would come home and eat cake. Our most notorious flatmate was Raymond. Before he moved in an assortment of objects came before him, a TV among other electronic gear, a heater, a clock which then disappeared when he moved in. They most likely were stolen goods. Raymond had tattoos, in a time before it was cool, and a sign of being a criminal. His most striking feature was the anarchy sign tattooed on his third eye. When he moved in he was followed by his pregnant boxer dog dripping milk, and then the landlady materialised at that inopportune moment, which led to his eviction 2 weeks later.

He brought with him a set of drums which upset the neighbours. He borrowed my Echo and the Bunnymen record and would thrash to Blue Moon. If he liked that band he was ok in my books but as soon as he came, he had to leave, followed by letters from the police. I wonder how long he survived with his habit for alcohol and pills. Every so often I would run into him in my social circles and I had respect for the fact that he was not all bad as his appearance belied.

But then three times later we were burgled for our kitty money, a black goth dress I owned with a white cross sprayed across it, and once in the middle of the night, when we all were home. I was the only one to wake when my door was opened but could not see clearly without my contact lenses in. I felt something was wrong and got up half an hour later to find the back door open and gardening shears laid on the kitchen table like a weapon. It was scary but we could never prove it was our former criminal resident.

The house also survived a potential fire. It was a lazy Sunday morning. Benjamin was reading the Sunday newspaper and me feeling bored watching him read the paper all the way through decided to do something drastic. I grabbed the lighter by the gas cooker, sat back down and proceeded to light the edge of the paper. It went up so quickly he ran to the next room where our rubbish was stored and I imagined that getting set alight too but Benjamin had run outside and put out the fire.

One time we decided to get creative and make artworks for the stairwell. Benjamin had a man with an umbrella sheltering a girl (me) which made me feel secure with him. I took a photograph of him arms and legs outstretched in a large pipe in silhouette. To me, he was the circle of my whole world. I believed I loved him and he was the only one. But I was warned against this state of affairs by an older woman flatmate who was 27. She said I’ve watched you, and you can’t just have Benjamin as the centre of your world, you need other friends. She was divorced and knew a thing or two, but I couldn’t change my behaviour even when he started flirting and having other female friends. I wanted him.

He could be cruel and self centred those last six months. So one drunken night after being stuck at a work party and being teased by his female compatriots after he had flirted with them, I lashed out by sticking my fist through the glass surrounding our front door. I had walked home by myself. My actions scared our current flatmates, an accountant and engineer Lee and Warren. But everyone was too scared to say anything to me. It was the precursor to the mental illness that hit me after our break up.