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Board And Residence
by [?]

One o’clock on Saturday. The unemployed’s one o’clock on Saturday! Nothing more can be done this week, so you drag yourself wearily and despairingly “home,” with the cheerful prospect of a penniless Saturday afternoon and evening and the long horrible Australian-city Sunday to drag through. One of the landlady’s clutch–and she is an old hen–opens the door, exclaims:

“Oh, Mr Careless!” and grins. You wait an anxious minute, to postpone the disappointment which you feel by instinct is coming, and then ask hopelessly whether there are any letters for you.

“No, there’s nothing for you, Mr Careless.” Then in answer to the unspoken question, “The postman’s been, but there’s nothing for you.”

You hang up your hat in the stuffy little passage, and start upstairs, when, “Oh, Mr Careless, mother wants to know if you’ve had yer dinner.”

You haven’t, but you say you have. You are empty enough inside, but the emptiness is filled up, as it were, with the wrong sort of hungry vacancy–gnawing anxiety. You haven’t any stomach for the warm, tasteless mess which has been “kep’ ‘ot” for you in a cold stove. You feel just physically tired enough to go to your room, lie down on the bed, and snatch twenty minutes’ rest from that terrible unemployed restlessness which, you know, is sure to drag you to your feet to pace the room or tramp the pavement even before your bodily weariness has nearly left you. So you start up the narrow, stuffy little flight of steps call the “stairs.” Three small doors open from the landing–a square place of about four feet by four. The first door is yours; it is open, and–

Decided odour of bedroom dust and fluff, damped and kneaded with cold soap-suds. Rear view of a girl covered with a damp, draggled, dirt-coloured skirt, which gapes at the waistband from the “body,” disclosing a good glimpse of soiled stays (ribs burst), and yawns behind over a decidedly dirty white petticoat, the slit of which last, as she reaches forward and backs out convulsively, half opens and then comes together in an unsatisfactory, startling, tantalizing way, and allows a hint of a red flannel under-something. The frayed ends of the skirt lie across a hopelessly-burst pair of elastic-sides which rest on their inner edges–toes out–and jerk about in a seemingly undecided manner. She is damping and working up the natural layer on the floor with a piece of old flannel petticoat dipped occasionally in a bucket which stands by her side, containing about a quart of muddy water. She looks round and exclaims, “Oh, did you want to come in, Mr Careless?” Then she says she’ll be done in a minute; furthermore she remarks that if you want to come in you won’t be in her road. You don’t–you go down to the dining-room–parlour–sitting-room— nursery–and stretch yourself on the sofa in the face of the painfully-evident disapproval of the landlady.

You have been here, say, three months, and are only about two weeks behind. The landlady still says, “Good morning, Mr Careless,” or “Good evening, Mr Careless,” but there is an unpleasant accent on the “Mr,” and a still more unpleasantly pronounced stress on the “morning” or “evening.” While your money lasted you paid up well and regularly–sometimes in advance–and dined out most of the time; but that doesn’t count now.

Ten minutes pass, and then the landlady’s disapproval becomes manifest and aggressive. One of the little girls, a sharp-faced little larrikiness, who always wears a furtive grin of cunning–it seems as though it were born with her, and is perhaps more a misfortune than a fault–comes in and says please she wants to tidy up.

So you get up and take your hat and go out again to look for a place to rest in–to try not to think.

You wish you could get away up-country. You also wish you were dead.