Mum and Aaron split up, and so mum, Lauren and I moved into a flat in Marian Street. Marian Street was located on the far side of town, and it was a side I was not too familiar with. (In hindsight, Mount Isa is not that big, and referring to “sides of town” in Mount Isa in the 1980s is a bit of a stretch, but I was still a very small child. Runty, even. So even a 2.6 horse town like Mount Isa seemed massive, if McDonaldsless.)
The apartment was a small, odd box of a thing. Painted brick inside and out, with big metal gates in front, it kind of resembled a vaguely pleasant amenities block. I don’t remember having any strong feelings against it at the time, but when I picture it in my head now, I can’t see how it could have been anything other than sad and boxy.
Good thing, then, that we didn’t stay there too long. We were gone within a few months.
Now, it might seem like we were being too picky. Too fussy. So it was a little small. So what? So it was a little boxy. Big deal! So it was on the “other side of town”. Who cares? You take the good, you take the bad, etc. Why not just settle down and make the most of it?
Well, because, we kept getting broken into.
Home invasion is a frightening concept. Strangers in your home: your private space, your sanctuary. How can you feel safe when you know that people—uninvited, unwelcome people—have been inside your home while you’re not there? They could have stolen your valuables, or broken your belongings, or manhandled your most personal possessions, or say, made themselves a sandwich.
Yes, on more than one occasion, we would come home to find the bread bag half opened, a chopping board and breadknife on the counter, and the peanut butter sitting on the bench. Someone had made a peanut butter sandwich.
Now I realise the leap to “home invasion” is a stretch: Occam’s Razor suggests one of the people living in the house was responsible for leaving the mess. The thing is, nobody in our house made peanut butter sandwiches: Mum was on this crazy health-kick (every morning for breakfast, she’d have Just Right cereal with orange juice instead of milk—I thought she’d lost her mind); my sister was barely a toddler (the only meals she prepared for herself at that age were dead moth bodies she found in window sills); and, as the memory of horse ownership does NOT fade fast, I was still very much a giant snob and wouldn’t touch a peanut butter sandwich with a ten foot pole. I’d eat ham sandwiches or tomato sandwiches or tuna sandwiches, but a common SPREAD? Out of a JAR? Like some kind of ANIMAL? I would assume you were trying to poison me.
(In my defense, this commercial of the era definitely deserves to shoulder some of the blame. Gross.)
So if nobody in our house, then who? The peckish burglars turned out to be the people in the flat next door. They would break into our house, make a sandwich, and go back home. It was like finding out a stray neighbourhood cat was pilfering your own cat’s food, except nothing like that at all because PEOPLE WERE BREAKING INTO OUR HOUSE TO FIX SNACKS.
What do you do when your (frequent) burglars are also your neighbours? Do you call the police? Confront them angrily? Set booby traps? Question the choices you’ve made in your life that have led to actual burglars in your actual house assessing peanut butter as being the most valuable thing in your home?
We did none of these things. Despite being fourth-generation Australians, we suddenly become very, very British, and acted like nothing at all was happening. For however many weeks between the first discovery of the opening of the Marian Street Snack Station and us finding a better place to live (preferably with a combination-lock pantry), we simply denied the existence of the frequent burglaries. We literally did NOTHING.
Well, that’s not entirely true: mum did start buying larger jars of peanut butter.