No-one was there. Not the estate agent, nor the potential new flatmate Amanda, nor any current occupants. Hannah had turned off the busy Streatham High Street and was outside an Edwardian terraced house, charged up about the possibility moving to London. She had found this flat online and she was certain that this was it. Her new home, her new life; but that certainty was starting to fade as the minutes drew on.
She checked the number of the house, which was correct. She rang the doorbell. She then went to knock on the door, but found the door pushed open easily at her touch. Assuming the estate agent had left it open for her deliberately, she went in.
The corridor was dusty, with abandoned post piling up against the walls, but the geometric floor tiling, and the stained-glass window above the front door appealed to Hannah’s taste. Softly, she shut the door behind her and climbed up the several flights of wooden stairs. It was quiet.
At the top, she took a moment to catch her breath before offering a hopeful ‘Hello…?’ into the space. There was a second front door with a Yale lock which was open too. I’ve come this far, thought Helen. Might as well see it through. I’m sure the others will arrive in a minute.
She found herself again in a dim corridor and stepped into the kitchen. It was narrow, but still separate from the living space, unlike most of the other so-called two-bedroom flats she’d seen. What was termed ‘open plan’ tended to consist of living rooms with one side made into a kitchen, making everything much more cramped. The window looked out onto gardens from up high. She opened the slightly dated cupboard doors, not expecting to find anything of interest, but looking all the same. There was plenty of space for the two of them to put their food and utensils. She saw some old tins of pineapple at the back of the top shelves, and she wrinkled her nose, cross. She took a picture of the kitchen with her mobile phone. It seemed to have all they would need, all the white goods and wide counters to cook on. There was even room for a small fold away table and chairs.
She found the living room. It had decent floor space but felt pokey due to the slanted ceilings; the flat was in the eaves. The lowness felt oppressive, as if she should immediately shrink, like Alice in Wonderland, to fit the room. It smelled musty and felt grubby; it would need a good airing. The windows were large and that would help. It was a shame that despite the size of the windows, they didn’t seem to catch the light. It was a grey evening, and the shadows in the flat made it seem later than it was. Looking ahead, she imagined where the sofa and TV would go.
Closing that door, and returning to the corridor, Hannah spotted mouse droppings in a corner. Could mice be…gotten rid of? She pondered, shuddering at the thought of living with vermin. She rushed into the next bedroom. The flat was supposed to be unfurnished, but there was a bed still there, without bedding, a bare dry mattress on a frame without a headboard. A cheap pine wardrobe stood in a corner, old wire hangers still dangling hopelessly on the rack. She thought she heard voices and went over to the window which faced the street and thought she would finally have company. Instead, she was mistaken; three passersby were walking along, chatting, and looked as if they were on their way to the pub.
Hannah looked at her phone again in case she had somehow missed a call or a text from either the agent or Amanda. She noticed that there was no phone signal, and her data wasn’t loading up either. Sighing, she turned back to continue looking around. She was starting to get exasperated that her time and energies had been wasted, both on the flat and the girl she thought she would be able to make a home with. I had so looked forward to this.
An angry male voice suddenly broke the silence. She froze, feeling instantly like a naughty child, before realising it was coming from next door. Hannah thought she heard a mouse scuttle somewhere, as if the voice had unsettled it too. A woman responded; her words muffled in a reassuring tone.
Hannah decided to take one peek at the bathroom. It was surprisingly spacious, with a separate bath and shower, good storage, and two mirrors: one full length. This was one room which did seem to capture the light. Hannah briefly saw herself doing her make up in here, getting ready for dates and nights out, her new glamorous life, music blaring, talking to her new best friend over the sound. She felt a surge of disappointment, accepting that this would not come to pass, at least, not in this particular flat, nor with the particular girl she had agreed to move in with. She would need to start all over again.
Hannah stepped out and closed the door of the bathroom, with a wistful glance. She winced at the final door which was obviously the other bedroom. She decided against going in, having already said goodbye. She suddenly felt that she was a trespasser, and shouldn’t be there, uninvited. She hurriedly left the flat, rushing down the stairs, and out into the open air. She almost felt she could cry from the disappointment. She looked at her phone again; the signal was back, and she couldn’t help quickly loading up the app to have a quick search – she wanted to see something else to make her feel better about losing the flat she’d set her heart on. She was interrupted by a woman who got out of a car and waved for her attention. ‘Hannah?’ It was Keisha, the agent.
‘Hello, hello.’ She was handling keys and struggling with a clipboard. ‘You’re early.’
‘Yes, we said 6.30 I thought – it’s only just gone 6.’
‘Oh, that explains it. I must have gotten mixed up. I thought no-one was coming.’
‘Well, I’m here, and Amanda has text me to say she’s running late.’
Hannah couldn’t help being cheered. She smiled, and then said,
‘The door is open.’
Keisha gave an inquiring frown at Hannah.
‘I didn’t open it. It was like that when I got here.’
‘Probably the landlord did it. Shall we go in? Amanda can catch up in her own time. This place is going to go soon, so you’re going to want to look at it straight away.’
Hannah couldn’t seem to find the voice to say she’d already been in. She was shown around again, Keisha chattering away, barely pausing for breath. The door went and Amanda came racing up, out of breath, and she immediately high fived Hannah, saying, ‘This is such a find! Only fifteen minutes from the station.’
Keisha started from the beginning, and they saw the kitchen, the living room, the first bedroom, and the bathroom. Seeing the second bedroom, clearly the grand master bedroom, larger than the other, with a fireplace, Hannah’s optimism about the flat came flooding back. Even if she didn’t live in the master bedroom, she knew she wanted to live here. ‘Girls, you’ll have to fight among yourselves which one of you has this room,’ Keisha remarked.
Coming back into the living room, Keisha abruptly took a call and said she would go outside, giving them room to look around briefly by themselves.
‘Do you love it? I love it.’ Amanda kept moving from one part of the room to the other, looking gleefully at everything around her.
‘I do love it. But I think I should tell you; I think there might be mice here.’
‘Mice? There’re mice everywhere in London. We’ll get rid of them. Maybe we’ll get a cat, and she’ll eat them for us.’
They laughed and caught each other’s eye.
‘And it’s a bit low in the living room…’ Hannah sounded sad as she said it.
Amanda wheeled round and looked Hannah in the face. ‘How are you honestly feeling about it here? Don’t feel obliged to say you like it if you don’t.’
‘I like it and I want to live here, with you. I just wanted to bring up the negatives of this place upfront. Of course, the rent is extortionate, but I knew it would be.’
‘So…. it’s a yes then?’
‘Yes, it’s a yes, if you want it to be. Although Keisha is right, I will fight you for the master bedroom.’
They began heading downstairs, their voices reverberating through the house, stirring up the dust.
The fiction and non-fiction of T.S.J. Harling has been published in a number of online journals including Porridge, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Storgy and X R A Y. T.S.J. Harling is currently studying for a PhD at the Royal Holloway, University of London, on the ‘New Woman’ in Dracula. tsjharling.squarespace.com // @tsjharling