Homesick by Penny Durham

Alissa sat in her parked car, glaring at the faded For Sale sign.

“Stupid house,” she hissed.

It was inexplicable in this market. It would be inexplicable in any market.

15 Eden Road was the first sale the agency had assigned her after her promotion from rentals, and it was a gift: a wide-frontage three-bedroom Victorian terrace tastefully renovated to preserve period detail. It boasted high ceilings and working fireplaces and polished timber flooring throughout, with flowing indoor-outdoor entertainment areas and two beautifully appointed bathrooms and kitchen with Smeg appliances in premier village position near parks and schools in sought-after city fringe neighborhood, for Christ’s sake.

Around the corner last week, an uninhabitable death trap bursting with asbestos and missing half its flooring had sold for half a million over reserve, three days after listing.

The vendor was threatening to take his business elsewhere, and “When Alissa sells Eden Road” had become office code for never.

She got out of the car and paused to admire the street. All the houses were painted the correct heritage colors, gardens immaculate. It was a bright winter’s day and the gold and claret ash trees blazed against a crystal sky.

She unlocked the house, holding her breath, hoping…but there it was. Beneath the bleach and air freshener lurked the faint odor that had taunted her since her first viewing. She’d scoured the house from top to bottom, had it expensively cleaned twice, sent pest people into crawlspaces, but no source could be found.

It reminded her of something. It was like an unseen hand grabbing her collar and yanking her backwards. She wanted to scream, stamp her heels into the polished timber bloody flooring—but viewers were arriving. So Alissa tightened her ponytail again and hitched a professional smile into place. She handed out brochures, took details, ignored grubby shoes on the floorboards and kept smiling as, one by one, the prospective buyers’ faces went from covetous to uneasy. She pushed contracts at them, but no one took a copy.

One woman in white slacks and large earrings barely reached the hall before turning tail, dragging her shrugging husband with her.

As Alissa was closing up, trying not to cry, there was a burst of sound like canned laughter from an old sitcom. She ran out, slamming the door.


Alissa showed two more houses—dumps, yet the contracts flew out of her hands—and spent a few hours at the office. Then she drove back to Eden Road in the dying light.

She wanted to check she’d locked up properly. It was a gentrified neighborhood that still had a lot of social housing, and the last thing she needed was for some houso kids to break in for a laugh.

She might also have another scout for the dead animal that was ruining everything.

But when she arrived, what she saw made no sense. 17 and 13 were as they should be. 15 was not.

It can’t be.

The For Sale sign was gone. The fence sagged under discarded shopping trolleys, gas bottles, and rampant creepers. Weeds grew where neat rosebushes had been. The fresh cream paint was mold-green and peeling, and instead of the neat Victorian tiling there was cracked concrete. Panels of iron lace dangled from the rotting balcony, while the front porch was madly piled with prams, scooters, bicycle wheels, car seats, as if the house confiscated all means of escape.

But I did escape. Didn’t I?

The cracked fanlight glowed a dim yellow and light seeped down the side of the door. It was open, and someone was home.

She pushed through the rusted gate and stepped carefully inside. The door opened halfway before hitting something soft. Newspapers. Alissa slid her hips through the opening, breathed in—and froze. The same smell that had haunted her for months came now as a fist to her face, foul and familiar: rolling tobacco, lamb chop grease, cask wine, and rancid neglect.


There on the wall was the cheap print of Paris she used to gaze at, imagining.

Her foot clinked against empty bottles, which tumbled like dominoes.

“Who’s there?” A rasping voice from the front room. “Is that ye, Liss?”

Alissa took a shallow breath.

“Just me, mum.”

There was a clatter of canned laughter from the 90s sitcom on the staticky cathode-ray TV. By its light she saw a shape sprawled on the once-floral-print couch, draped in blankets.

“Where’ve ye been? Pour yer mum a wine.” Alissa’s mother held out a grimy tumbler and waved at the cask on the coffee table, near the fruit bowl she used as an ashtray. “Join me.”

“I’m not staying, Mum.”

“Where’ve ye gotta be?” The wheedling voice turned sour.

“I—I have an apartment. A job. I don’t live here anymore.”

Rotten lungs and studio audience laughed together.

“Rubbish! This is yer home. Ye’ll never leave. Who’ll look after yer old mum? Roll me a ciggie, Liss, ye roll ’em best.”

Alissa took the tobacco pouch, her fingers working automatically with paper and filter. With a dry tongue, she licked the glue then handed the sealed cylinder over. A greasy pink lighter sat on the table. Scrape, whoosh. The flame flickered in mean blue eyes, while the smell she’d spent eighteen years trying to forget threatened to engulf her.

This time I’ll do it right.

Alissa lit the cigarette, then a blanket, then the cheap synthetic curtains, which caught after a crackle of dust. Ignoring the sounds from the couch, she returned to the hallway, ripped newspaper pages, lit them too. Then she squeezed out the door and drove away from Eden Road.


Alissa liked her new place. It was only nine square meters and very basic, but modern and clean with a liberating simplicity: single bed, compact amenities, plenty of natural light from a north-facing window onto the exercise yard.

For perhaps the first time, she felt at home.

Picture of Penny Durham

Penny Durham

Penny Durham is a journalist living in Sydney with a tall man and a round cat. She is the editor of doctors’ magazine The Medical Republic and began writing short fiction in 2022. Her horror stories have won two awards and appeared in two anthologies, two magazines, and a podcast.

Leave a Reply