Boxes on boxes on boxes

You can get cardboard boxes from Coles, Woolworths and Kmart, but not Bunnings. But it always depends who you talk to. On Wednesday night, two women, who looked in their mid-twenties, on shift at Coles, gave us about nine boxes fresh from transporting thick, reusable plastic bags at the cash register.

"Just wait like 10 minutes, and you can have all of these", she said, gesturing to the bounty before us.

"Help them out," said Shaw, handing me a box full of bags, "No, no, no... you don't work here," they said.

But I kind of feel like I do. I've been to this supermarket at least once a day for the past year and a half. When people ask where we live, I joke, 'aisle 13 of Coles'. It's not a joke, really. I think the same company that owns the supermarket complex is the one that owns our little low-rise townhouse development. The shape of it is certainly supermarket-esque. The houses line a cul-de-sac on either side, square windows facing inwards like perfectly aligned shelves of breakfast cereal.

We are moving out of our house this weekend, well, Monday is the last day. We nod at our neighbours on the left side, their little white dog escapes sometimes. But otherwise, we don't know anyone. When the left side moved in, I was working in our garage, which about five housemates ago used to be a makeshift studio. My desk was wedged in as far away from the wheelie bins as possible, next to the rainwater tank. But it was the accumulation of bikes that edged me out in the end. And the cold. And our old housemate's yoga zone.

When our neighbour dropped round, I thought it was to complain about the noise of the podcast I was listening to. I turned it down immediately. But it wasn't that.

"I just wanted to say hello," she said, "I'm a teacher and it's the first day of the school holidays. Good time to get out and meet everyone."

"Everyone," as though there was a little group of us. Maybe there is and I'm just not a part of it. But I don't think so. Our interaction with the street is entirely sight-based, looking in through those portal windows. At night, you can see everything, lives unfolding in tiny, well-lit boxes. It would be a great setting for a 90s pop video. Or a horror movie.

Opposite us is a sharehouse of younger girls, maybe early twenties. They had a farewell party the other night, and they'd strung up the most elaborate farewell banner all across one wall. They came in with their Coles bags and cooked a really impressive spread of party food, but then the blinds went down so we missed the surprise. 

Next to them is First-Person-Shooter house, two massive HD televisions linked up and permanently navigating a minefield of grey-blue smudged warzone, the head of a gun needling around the screen, looking for cyphers to kill.

On the other side, there's a home gym in the garage owned by a guy with incredible muscles. We also have a rooftop, but I've never seen anyone up there when I've been up there, in the whole complex. I wonder when they hang their washing out. Perhaps the walls, like Offred's hood, just conceal everyone from view.

I always wanted to meet the neighbours, like our left-hand side people did. I had visions of opening a community cafe in our garage on Sunday mornings and getting to know everyone in the street. It never happened. Because of time. And the bins. And the bikes, and yoga.

Even the bedrooms are stacked like bricks. Our bedroom is on the top level, and we can see the sky through our window. Everyone else's bedroom looks into the house. The bottom floor bedroom looks directly into the garage. I mean, the studio. This is one of the better-designed complexes in our area. It's really not so bad, but you do end up feeling a bit like cargo. Over the past year or so, I've felt myself solidifying just a little bit, like a single-serve packet of easy-mac.

There are more things to habitats than just the space. When Le Corbusier designed the Unite d'Habitation in Marseille, he was working with a 'unit of man' that corresponded to all the places in the house, furniture in-built to these specifications - designed around the 'ideal' - not the typical - human body. It was supposed to be 'a machine for living in', a modernist marvel.

But I remember once reading an interview with some of the original inhabitants, who took a different view. Despite the accolades, they didn't really care for the in-built architecture. One used the bed as a desk, and hung up her fussy, gilt-framed mirrors everywhere; she draped Victorian laces over all the surfaces. Le Corbusier's 'ideal' habitat was not ideal to her; she needed it to correspond not to her measurements but to those things that she loved. Even if they were ugly, useless and old fashioned.

We made what we could out of our boxy little house - food, mostly. We did end up having our restaurant on the rooftop, we made a little pulley-system for ordering which went down to the kitchen. What else did I make there? Two quilt works that didn't fit anywhere, that were too big and completely impractical and a huge pain in the arse, that sprawled.

I think my brain was in some subconscious way rebelling against the low-level, unspoken pressure of it all.

Of rooms that fit single humans, but were no good for groups. Windows that fit bodies but not sound. Rooftops with sunlight but that shut out most of the wind. So many neighbours, but no sense of community. Nowhere for the rain to go but into pipes and tanks. Where is this place? What is this place? Sometimes, it felt like nowhere.