|Plates are preposterous|
That's what the email is simply called. Without even clicking on it, I know it's going to be the intellectual equivalent of name-calling featuring what the sender thinks is an undetectable dose of passive aggressiveness. It isn't. And the whole thing is laced with lunacy, my landlady's trademark.
She is the kind of person the politically correct brigade might refer to as "changeable". To the kindly couple who used to rent her house before I did, she's simply "lunatic". They were locals and yet she extorted additional sums of money from them for all kinds of bills even though they had signed a legally-binding contract. She also kept a hefty chunk of their deposit for reasons so petty I felt myself recoil inwardly while she tsked tsked her way around the house the day they left and I moved in, bemoaning this, that and the other despite the freshly redecorated hallway and living room.
Clearly a family with taste, the previous tenants couldn't stand the ugliness so they fixed it, at no cost to the landlady.
I dread to think what the place looked like before. Shabby is the adjective that comes to mind now, but without the chic connotation. The interior seems to have been glued back together so many times that everything from furniture to furnishings is always on the verge of falling apart.
Not only does this house betray some serious hoarding issues but it is also a living monument to a lifetime of questionable hygiene. The basement is stuffed with junk, the attic is stuffed with junk, the middle level where I live features loose linoleum tiles, black mold in the bedroom, kitchen cupboards that smell like the cat's litter box, bleach-resistant bed linen with holes and stains, shelves that suddenly fall off the wall, a curtain rod gravitationally in love with my head, a sofa that swallows you when you sit on it...
And much to my chagrin, after years of neglect the place is thoroughly uncleanable.
"We did our best", the previous tenant tells me as she gives me a ride home one diluvial day. We laugh at the sticky kitchen cupboards that still seems to be oozing something that can never be wiped off. I suggest to her that maybe furniture has feelings too and that the doors are still weeping about the repeated stabbing of the wax tablecloth that is now held together with band aids.
"We were disappointed we didn't get our deposit back", the previous tenant says.
I sigh uncomfortably.
There is nothing remotely legit about my accommodation. I wasn't asked for any deposit, I don't have a contract and in a fit of mania my landlady even once threatened me with eviction on the spot only to send me a very bizarre apology by email two days later. In it, she explains that she experienced some kind of time warp during which she felt she was back home with her kids and somehow mistook me for her daughter.
The relationship that started out as friendly and chatty never recovered after that. There's something creepy about being yelled at by someone you've only just met. And when the yelling is caused by personal hygiene matters – i.e. the fact that I shower and wash my hair daily – and accompanied by a glimmer of madness in your interlocutor's eyes as she tells you that "you'll end up bald in middle age and that'll be a fair punishment for your wasteful ways with water ah ah ah you'll see, you'll have no hair anymore", I'm afraid it does make an impression.
In my mind's eye, I remember her foaming at the mouth and pointing a finger at me as she ranted and raved, but it is quite possible that my memory could be pandering to my stress-addled brain.
"I believe we are currently in a surreal situation", I told her while walking backwards, heart somersaulting in my chest from so much crazy so soon.
Back then, I hadn't been in the house two months and suddenly I was sharing my living space with someone who, for the record, bore an eery behavioral resemblance to my own mother, herself also prone to sudden outbursts of cruel weirdness.
Within 48 hours of landing on the island, I found out that she was charging me almost the price of a self-contained and furnished apartment for a house share (accommodation is very hard to come by here therefore incomers are often at the mercy of unscrupulous locals). I eventually worked up the courage to let her know that I knew so she made herself scarce after that. Most of the time, she lives elsewhere altogether, with a boyfriend she takes every opportunity to complain about. Besides, I think she finds my company lacking in stimulation as my aloofness and love of calm do not meet her constant need for background noise – shouty radio and blaring TV, often at the same time – chatter, and attention.
A few days ago however, she emailed to imply I hadn't paid rent because she couldn't remember seeing an email from me telling her I did.
I replied with a screenshot of my bank account listing all the transfers made to her from August through to December. Then I cast my mind back to a domestic incident at the beginning of the fall and tried to remember her biting into an apple while wearing a thick coat of mustache-bleaching cream, absurdity being the one of the two things that seem to tame my anxiety.
To preserve myself and my sanity, I had done away with courtesy emails after each payment a while back, reasoning that the arrival of a considerable sum of money into her bank account wouldn't go unnoticed.
This island will always be the place that taught me, age 37, that kindness does have limits.
And now I lie awake at night, deeply ashamed of this discovery as I wonder whether I might finally have fallen prey to the very pettiness I have been fighting all along.
That this sorry state of affairs is probably reversible by leaving brings me little comfort.