Victorian end-terrace attic conversion: quite simply, it offered all I need, rubberwood-framed futon to boot (I pride myself on sleeping little. When needs must): a kitchenette — sink, small oven-cum-grill with two-plate hob (I eat little. When needs must); electric shower; toilet. Granted, the macerator’s roar I did find a tad inhibitive. But is this not the latest in good domestic ecological practice, flushing only when needs must? In any case, it is an airy garret. A dormer window and two south-facing Velux roof-windows allow a good through-breeze. Perfect.
As would my live-below landlord suit perfectly. Or so I believed. When viewing the room, in his burly build and shaven head, indeed I did perceive the potential for brutishness. But one will think as well of people as one may. A shirt of pink and purple paisley ameliorated that first loutish impression. What is more, I inferred that he would rather I did not ‘entertain.’ I do not. I have always been faithfully wedded to my work, to which does not include my writing even now, in these — we may justifiably, I believe, call them ‘straitened’ — circumstances testify?
But I did call notice to one potential complication: my escritoire. I told him straight: ‘Disassembly not an option, Mr. Box.’ If I did not consider him there and then to be the thug he was to prove himself, how could I but acknowledge his intellectual limitations? ‘The turn in the stair?’ I need to spell it out.
With the proverbial penny, his enquiringly raised eyebrows dropped. ‘We managed the futon,’ he averred. ‘And it’s Box. Please. Just Box.’
Good. Matter settled.
Except that Box failed to confide that he does like to ‘entertain.’ Not ungrateful for his assistance in the conveyance of said escritoire on that my inaugural evening in residence, with good grace, I accepted his dinner invitation quite unaware, therefore, that we would not be dining alone.
Imagine my surprise: a little Thai fellow, if you will, lounging on the sofa like whom but Manet’s Olympia — clothed, but you will take my meaning. Box would later introduce (I hesitate to call him a gentleman) this person as his ‘special friend’ Dale. For now, my host busied himself in the kitchen, seemingly oblivious.
Who was this foreign object?
And the look he gave me: up and down, through the smoke of a cocktail cigarette. A pastel-yellow cocktail cigarette with gold foil filter. So bald-facedly intrusive, to boot. Outright rude, I am bound to say, once Box had introduced us. Why would I not use a laptop?; where had I been published?; what is the point of fiction? As if the very greatest feats of human creative endeavor might all stand for nothing.
But I am nothing if not forgiving. One does develop quite the toughest of skins in my line; you may be sure: the criticisms, the inestimable rejections. That is when they can stir themselves to bother to reject you, these editors.
For now, I put his comments behind me.
The trouble between us did not start in earnest until the following morning.
The rest of this short story will be published in our portfolio of new writing, out soon.