The contrasting differences between the two women were as stark as the houses they were each moving into directly across the street from each other.
In front of the east facing house stood Joan, a tall and formidable woman with a shiny metal clipboard in her hands, checking off items on her neatly typed list as she watched the men move the furniture into her new house. It was simply another task for her, just another interstate relocation for work. If she’d done it once she’d done it a hundred times and nothing much seemed to change with every new move. The crisp morning wind began to chill her cheeks as she stood in her place of supervision, overseeing the workers she was entrusting with her worldly possessions. She was far more used to the warmth of sunny, tropical Queensland than the frosty mornings of Melbourne.
Her stiff black slacks seemed to absorb the cool rays of sunlight much the same as her hair, only with grey strands scattered here and there that shone silver in the sun. Her dark green blouse didn’t betray a single crease and her black heels were perfectly buffed and polished. The woman watched with an attentive eye as the men carted plastic covered furniture and boxed items from the large enclosed truck. Even the removalists portrayed the same ideology as the woman who was paying their wages for the day. They worked quietly and carefully, all wearing the same uniform, tidy and pressed, their heavy duty black steel capped boots all of the same design and polished to a bright shine, their caps all in place, forward, with crisp embroidery against the black fabric.
The woman reflected the house itself. Sitting on a long skinny block; the house was built tall with modern architecture relying on angles and colours to accentuate its harshness rather than its softness. Up high on top of the second floor the silver tin roof sat at one even angle across the entire building, rather than a middle gable. It was different, different to all the other houses on the street, different to all the other houses in the whole suburb. Joan found that she actually liked this house, she liked the big open space inside and the low maintenance gardens, she liked how the rooms were squared well and the walls showed a stiff straightness as they stretched on, she liked that it wasn’t what you would expect. She thought that maybe she would live here for longer than a handful of years this time.
Blinds were evident in each window, a medium gray colour present in each glass opening to the facade. Even the front door was hidden from prying eyes by a short alcove or somewhat of a corridor rather than an open veranda. It seemed to make it difficult to move a lot of the furniture through. Joan made her disappointment known to the workmen when she was forced to open the sectional door to the double garage which led through to the back yard for the majority of the furniture to be carried through.
Even her car parked on the street in front of her new dwelling reflected the same strength and power as the woman and her house. At first glance it appeared to be a simple sedan but the way the deep black and shiny chrome reflected the sunlight almost made the vehicle seem like a frightening opponent rather than a simple transportation device. It oozed the kind of energy that made you think any kind of accident would definitely have been your own fault in the end, no matter the circumstances. The large chrome Mercedes badge sparkled proudly on the front black grille as though it was a trophy more than an emblem.
On the other side of the road the woman moving into the west facing house was a polar opposite. Kate had mousey brown hair with blonde highlights and tips that seemed to shine bright with the sunlight even though it was tied up in a loose messy bun at the back of her head. A bright floral bandana was wound around her hairline to hold fly away’s and drop out’s away from her face. She wore a traditional style but obviously very worn red and black plaid shirt tied loosely at her waist with a double knot and the waist high light blue denim jeans hugged her figure right down past her frayed knees to her dirty flats which looked like they were once white. Dirty smudge marks from fingers were present on the thighs and hips of her jeans where she had obviously wiped a dirty hand more than once.
Her skin shone a beautiful natural bronze in the sun and she looked like she was right at home under the rays in the cool morning, even though the climate she was presently used to was hot and dry. She welcomed the vast change of pace. Her nails sported chipped polish of red and purple on alternating fingers with a top coat of glitter on the ring finger of both hands, occasionally the glitter would catch the sunlight and sparkle like flecks of gold. And she proved that she was not afraid to get her hands dirty as she helped the group of men in their mix and match uniforms with their dirty faces unload her mix and match furniture and second hand boxes from the flat bed truck. Even the truck seemed to fit into the picture perfectly with its rust spots, worn tyres and cracks in the windows and windscreen.
Her home was a much older cottage style, insulated whitewash weatherboard with a large front veranda, an abundant garden full of native trees and shrubs and a simple gravel driveway up the side of the house. The white picket fence had recently been restored and looked stark as the glossy white of the pickets stood out against the ageing house and the greenery of the garden. Kate had been busy in the last few weeks having recently sanded and polished the floorboards inside as well as painting the walls, skirting boards, ceilings, doors and door frames, bringing a new lease of life to the characteristic old charm of the home. The exterior of the house still needed a new coat of paint and the tin roof needed a good pressure wash but Kate was happy to wait to complete those things.
Kate had loved the place from the moment she laid eyes on it just a few weeks beforehand. She could have purchased just about any home she wanted, in any suburb throughout Melbourne, but this was the one. She loved the gardens, she loved the charm, and she loved the neighbourhood. But most of all she loved how she felt when she stood inside and closed her eyes; even when the place was completely empty, nothing in sight but a weathering ‘for sale’ sign out the front. It had felt like home. She had paid cash for her new home that very afternoon.
Parked way down the back of the driveway was her second hand Hyundai; with one door the wrong colour and some very definitive rust tinges around the edges of the doors and bonnet, much like the truck. The fan belt squealed some mornings when the car started and the clothes hanger antenna had to be tilted in just the right direction to pick up any radio signal. There was no definitive reason for the car, it was simply that Kate had been in the right place at the right time. And so far, in the last 4 months of couch surfing and road living, the old beast hadn’t missed a beat.
“Be careful with that!” Joan yelled in a sudden flush of anger at one of the young movers as a case slipped from his fingers and his colleague caught it a split second before it hit the ground.
“Sorry, sorry Miss,” the young man stammered as she marched up to him, her dark eyes showing nothing but rage at the situation. He cowered under her gaze and desperately tried to find anyplace else to look other than at the woman who was currently his boss and whom terrified him to his core.
“The violin in that case is worth more than you will ever make in a year young man.” Her voice was icy cold, low and dangerous as she glowered at the fresh recruit. “Watch what you are doing.” With a firm grip she ripped the case from his colleagues’ hands and walked it to her car, placing it carefully on the backseat to join a select few other items she had deemed important enough to transport herself. Laying the case gently in the backseat of her car she chastised herself for entrusting something so valuable to the children whom she had hired to do the heavy lifting. She rarely trusted others with important jobs; she knew that no one else would do it correctly.
As Joan straightened herself her eyes fell on the woman across the road and for the first time all morning she took a moment to actually see her newest neighbour. She was beautiful. Young and full of energy, probably late twenties, flirtatious with the movers and keen to get the job done with them, instead of leaving them to it and relying solely on the motivation of others. She was proud of her purchase, the SOLD sign having only been removed a few days beforehand even though Joan knew the woman had been doing maintenance work in the house for at least the last 2 weeks. Several times during the purchase process Joan had been viewing her own new house when she had spotted the young woman flitting around across the road, tidying up, renovating and generally being productive. Joan had found herself impressed at the woman and glad to be living nearby someone who was obviously proactive about life.
She watched the woman pick up a box from the steps with both hands and hoist it onto her left hip where she simply held her arm around it to support it, then she crouched and collected what appeared to be an ornament of some sort in her right hand as she walked into the house, turning sideways to clear through the front door with the box held firmly to her side.
A smile played the corners of Joan’s lips as she watched the woman’s body work; the curve of her hips; the definition of her upper arms; the tightness of her strong thighs. All accentuated as she lifted the box as though it was nothing more than a feather and walked up the three steps to the veranda, dropped into a low squat to collect again, and with one graceful movement her thighs pushed her whole body to rise again without even breaking a sweat. Joan was impressed.
Coming back out into the sunlight Kate stretched her back and her arms as she looked up into the blue sky, her bronze skin shone in the sunlight and reflected off the blonde tinges in her hair like jewels. She twisted on the spot to stretch the tension from her spine getting ready for another box when she saw the new woman moving in across the road looking in her direction from the rear passenger door of her frightening car.
Kate raised her hand and waived with a smile.
Slightly shocked and embarrassed Joan took a moment before she could wave back, with a strained smile plastered on her face knowing she had been caught staring. She struggled inside herself to hold back a rising blush and closed the car door, walking back to her place of observation with the clipboard in her hands and her back to the neighbour as the men around her worked for their money.
After a few moments she took her chance to turn back and catch another glimpse of the woman behind her, she was once again laughing and joking with the three men who were helping with her move as she passed around cool drink cans from an esky. The hint of a smile played Joan’s lips for the rest of the day.