Of Mice and Mould by Kate Maxwell

I bet there’s no hot water left, and I’ve told him so many times the system’s capacity is limited. He’s been in there forever. Icy air snatches at the tip of my nose. It’s one of those mornings where you have to barter with yourself to get up. One minute, two minutes more, and then I’ll get up. Nah, I can afford three. Finally, I grab my dressing gown, hunch my body inwards and scuttle to the bathroom. 

The heating is so temperamental in this old apartment block. And it smells of mould. Complaints bring little more than nicotine-stained scowls and mutters from the landlord. It’s not like we’ve got the money for anything more decent in this part of town. But you have to live in the heart, he says. What’s the use of wallowing around the edges where every house and life reflects the other?

 “Comfort, and family,” I replied once, but the way he carried on, you’d think I was asking to join the Amish.

“Give me a year, babe. I’ll have the manuscript finished and then everything will change. We’ll get a bigger place, a proper study for me and you can even go part-time.”

 He always says how much he loves the apartment’s “old world” charm: the floorboards trudged over decades, stories and whispers in the walls. 

“That’s just mice,” I scoff. 

But his long-lashed eyes widen in mock outrage as he wails, “Where’s your soul, woman? Breathe in the colours, the past, the passions.”


Now I step inside the cloudy fug of the bathroom, mirrors misted, bathmat saturated, and puddles pooling on the tiles. At least it’s warmer in here. Probably too wet and warm for a mouse, but I’m sure the mould is thriving. Through the steam his wide smile floats out like a Cheshire grin.

“Nothing like a hot shower on a cold morning,” he says. “I’m warm on the inside now.” 

Like he didn’t steal the doona all night, anyway. Didn’t scrape his cold feet down my calves so I had to yell at him to find socks. I am desperate to defrost.

He slides open the glass door, skirts himself in towel, steps over to the basin. Scrubbed to a smug pink, I smell heat scalding off his flesh like a peeled boiled egg. He wipes a mirror section clean, flattens his hair and takes up his toothbrush.

I used to love watching him primp and preen at the vanity. So clean and fresh. Tipping up his strong jaw to check his pre-shower shave was perfect, combing flat his thick dark hair. He’ll work a shift at the cafe, concocting swirly patterns in lattes for the delight of flirty young mums and office workers. Then back to his book for the afternoon. Maybe a nap or a Netflix show to clear his head first. Or a walk to the park, a visit to his mother. A trip to the museum or library, finishing off that 1000-piece puzzle that’s been splattered over the table for a month. Then maybe his book. I’ve suggested doing laundry or shopping lists could help clear his head but, apparently, that kills the muse. He’s only shown me a few pages, months ago. Says it’s way too rough to view yet.

I use the bathmat to sponge up a little of the flood, give him a sharp eye he never understands, then turn the faucet on. I lean in, hand splayed out under the stream to test the heat. I wait but it builds to tepid at best. He’s whistling some tune to himself. Spraying deodorant. 

I raise an eyebrow at him.

“Yep, this is nothing like a hot shower on a cold morning.”

I’m going to be late and nobody wants Year 9E History Class unprepared. They’ll devour me. Clenching in my irritation, I focus on getting naked and washed as fast as possible. My nipples are hard as bullets. 

“Great. Gotta rush. Make sure you mop up after you.” He smiles at the door. “Gets a little slippery if you don’t. Place is prone to mould, you know.”

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