A few weeks ago I wrote about spilling nail-polish in the bathtub and was panicking about cleaning it up before Bénédicte got home.
As I’ve just made the biggest screw-up in any of the houses where I’ve lived, it might be time to tell you about Bénédicte, and maybe you’ll understand the reason for my panic.
Bénédicte is my flatmate, though the fact that she is also my landlady and I pay my rent to her means that our relationship is completely different to the relationships I’ve had with my former flat and housemates.
The apartment is hers. I never use the living room, and I feel uncomfortable using the kitchen when she has friends over. Although she has never spelt it out, the arrangement is very clear – this is her apartment and I am a guest.
This means I need to follow her rules. This is fine, though she seemed to assume that I would automatically know the rules without being told. For example, when I arrived I would wash my dishes and leave them on the sink to dry. A week or two later, she told me that I couldn’t do this because the cat’s water was on the sink, and she was too scared to climb up and drink it if there were things drying there.
Fair enough – don’t leave the dishes out. Still not sure how she expected me to know that.
Also, the bathroom. Here it seems to be very popular for people to have showers without curtains or doors. Bénédicte’s is essentially a large bathtub with a shower-head attached to the tap with a hose. This means the floor can get a little wet. I soon got a lecture about drying up the water after myself so she wouldn’t get mould and mushrooms. Again, fair enough – but with which towel?
Having had a couple of incidents like this, I was hoping to wait until we had a good relationship before I told her I broke the folding chair in my room (it made a strange noise when I sat, and when I tried to fold it flat again, one of the screws broke). I broke it in the first half of October. I still haven’t told her.
The week I got back from Croatia was a bad one – I arrived at 12:30am on a Sunday morning. When you leave the keys in the inside keyhole of our front door, no one can unlock it from the outside. When I got home, my key wouldn’t turn because hers was on the inside, so I had to ring the bell and wake her and her boyfriend up.
A few days later I (very stupidly, I know) left the stove on in the kitchen. In all honesty, it was on a low setting and I would have seen it the next time I went into the kitchen, and Bénédicte saw it about ten minutes later, but it was still pretty idiotic, and I got a talking-to about having to be more careful.
Then, in the same week, apparently some of my food was touching the back of the fridge, and this caused the fridge to leak onto the kitchen floor. Bénédicte was furious! Visibly trying to keep her voice down, she beckoned me to the kitchen and pointed to the fridge and to the floor and told me about how I had to pay attention, and how disgusting it was, and how I was creating so much more work for her when she did all of the cleaning, etc., etc.
That has been the low point to date. After she left I cleaned the entire apartment, and have tried to be on my best behaviour ever since.
I even thought it might be possible for us to have some sort of relationship, so that these things wouldn’t be such a big deal (because, let’s face it, I can be extremely absentminded, and it can be charming once you like me). Patrice, a guy I’ve been having Conversation Exchanges with for the last three weeks, suggested cooking her dinner once a week, so we could talk.
I went home happy, thinking about what a good idea it was and feeling optimistic about Bénédicte’s and my relationship. I set my things down in my room and turned on my laptop.
Bénédicte knocked and poked her head in. “I came into your room earlier and cleared this shelf for you, so you can use it for your things,” she said.
What? I raised my brows; she came into my room when I wasn’t home?
“And,” she continued, “I saw that you had a stain* on your desk and cleaned it for you. If you aren’t going to clean, you need to be careful, because that can damage the wood.”
“Okay,” I said and she left.
I felt violated. She went into my room when I wasn’t home. I only had one room in the apartment, and part of what I felt I was paying for was privacy.
No – I didn’t think a real relationship would be a possibility after all.
So, for the past three weeks we’ve been coasting along on a fairly neutral standing, and I was just waiting for the opportunity to tell her about the chair.
Then yesterday, she came home and knocked on my door, handing me my key.
I’d left it in the keyhole outside.
Okay . . . maybe I’d wait a couple more days before I told her about the chair.
But that was nothing, compared to what I did today. I can’t believe how stupid I was! Even for me, this was beyond . . . I don’t even know what it was beyond. I have no words.
I came home after work and my room smelt strange. I couldn’t figure out what it was – I smelt the curtains, the carpet, my clothes, but didn’t know where it was coming from. I sprayed around some air-freshener and opened my windows for 15 minutes, and promptly forgot about it.
Until I unfolded my bed for the evening.
My bed folds into a rectangular hole in the wall. At the top of this hole are two down lights that I usually turn on when I’m tucking myself in for the evening.
I didn’t turn them off before I left for work this morning.
The lights had been on all day, with the foot of my bed pressed against them.
And there are now two black holes in the foot of my bed.
The top blanket has been burned through, as has the top layer of my doona cover. The doona has two brown holes gouged out of it and the other side of the cover has two black circles. The fitted sheet and mattress protector underneath that have brown circles, and even the mattress has a mark.
The smell was my bed burning.
I suppose I should be grateful I didn’t start a fire, but at the moment I’m panicking about what to do. Should I tell her now and risk being kicked out? Should I wait until I move out and risk losing my deposit (which I really need for my travel budget)? Should I buy new bedding and try to dispose of the old stuff discretely?
And I still have to tell her about the chair.
*It was a glass ring. And I am a clean person, it had just been a busy week and I’d been out all Saturday, and hadn’t gotten around to it yet.