by Rita Braby
Casey is currently thirty-one years old. But he was happiest when he was twenty-seven. Twenty-seven was the year Casey lived with three friends in a share house. It was an extensive but run-down Queenslander sitting precariously on a steep slope, which led down into a national park; a national park of bike trails and rotting undergrowth. The canopy of the trees around the edge of the park were directly on level with Casey’s back veranda. He would sit out there before everyone got home from work and slowly drink his way through a VB tallie. He liked to imagine he lived in a tree house. This was his forest. He sat amongst the tree tops as a kind of king; immune to everything and out of reach.
But then his housemates would get home and they would all blast music out of the broken stereo and flick their bottle caps off the veranda. Casey worked at Bunnings then. He trolleyed stock backwards and forwards through the immense shed. From gardening to plumbing, from timber to power tools. The trolley was his constant companion. He would sit out the back with it on his lunch break. Pulling on a cigarette as the trolley sat waiting. He scratched “Fuck off” into the side of it the day his girlfriend Amanda broke up with him. She sent him a text as he got to work saying she was over it, over everything. He struggled for a few hours to work out what “everything” was, but then just assumed she was mental, or a bitch, or both.
Every Saturday night the house would be filled with people. Friends of friends and complete strangers would squeeze through the narrow hallway and then spread out through the house. Casey controlled the music, shifting between up-beat to rocky to cheesy classics. He would not take requests. Drinks over-filled the fridge and freezer. He would often find their bread and meat fully thawed-out in the kitchen sink the morning after. People shoved cans in the fridge door, letting the milk lie on its side on a shelf, leaking slowly through to the vegetable compartment. Every party someone would get stuck in the bathroom, pulling at the door handle that wouldn’t turn. Casey loved these nights. He drank and he didn’t give a shit about anything. Everyone seemed interesting and attractive. He felt invincible. Every morning after was hilarious, every clean-up was followed by a few more drinks.
Towards the end of the year, his housemate Brett moved in with his girlfriend, a tall and sullen looking blonde who hated Casey, hated the share house. She spoke like she was saving Brett from something, from a fate worse than death, and she couldn’t make him pack up his stuff quickly enough. After Brett left, the mood in the house changed. The party’s kept happening but everyone looked a bit different, talked a bit different, people started to mess with his playlist. The mornings after were spent in silence, all three remaining housemates avoiding eye contact. Cam, who had the room next to Casey, was tired. He kept telling Casey that he was exhausted all the time after work, never got a good night’s sleep. And someone kept eating his cheese. He was the next to move out. He left one weekend quite suddenly, and then Casey and Stuart were the only ones left and couldn’t afford the rent.
It was raining heavily the day Casey said goodbye to the old Queenslander. There were flood warnings, landslide notices from the council. The letterbox out the front was full of water. Casey scrubbed at his walls with sugar soap but couldn’t get all the mould off. The kitchen looked dirty no matter how much he cleaned it. He left the fridge open to dry out. There were still ten bottle caps lined up on the railing of the back veranda. He sat out there for a while, looking into the trees. Just before he had to leave, take the keys to the real-estate and convince them he had hired a professional carpet cleaner, he picked up the bottle caps and, one by one, flicked them with his thumb and index finger into the trees, listening to them bounce off leaves and branches and then get lost behind the steady sound of the rain.