Sunday 31st August 1997
It took at least 30 minutes to get the front door open. Turned out, it wasn’t even locked. The door was just too stiff and too swollen in its frame to budge. Once I put my shoulder to it, it shifted and a vinegary smell hit us in the face. Jayne swung her head around the door.
‘Are you sure you saw this place before you picked up the keys?’
‘Of course,’ Andy looked around. ‘It wasn’t like this a few weeks ago.’
Andy strode in first. The carpet crunched underfoot. He reached down & scooped up a handful of crumbs, sniffing them.
‘It’s crisps, pickled onion or cheese and onion. Definitely onion based.’
‘Smells of Worcester sauce to me,’ I added.
‘Probably just the dregs of a multipack,’ Andy replied.
‘Well this isn’t good enough! We’ll have to get the estate agent on the phone. They need to sort this out. Someone open a window for god’s sake.’
Her voice was doing that high-pitched thing she always does before she barks “Eric, are you going to stand for this?”
‘The windows are painted shut,’ I tried to blend into the walls but I haven’t been gifted with that particular superpower yet. Besides I’m not sure camo comes in terracotta paint colours.
‘That’s a fire hazard! Eric, are you going to stand for this?’
Andy trundled down the hall, kicking open the first door he came across.
‘This one’s mine,’ Andy shut the door behind him. He didn’t come out for the rest of the morning.
‘If you aren’t going to do something, then I will!’
‘Jayne, it’s a Sunday. The estate agents are closed. We’re here now. We are just going to have to sort it out tomorrow.’
‘But how? How? How will we sleep in here? It stinks…’
This went on for an hour or two. I hoovered. Twice. It didn’t do much good. Jayne came running into the living room declaring there was tomato ketchup in all our drawers. Just another thing to add to the list of complaints.
We’ve got separate rooms. Jayne’s insisting. She wants us to keep our independence. Just room-mates who happen to be boyfriend & girlfriend. She’s adamant that we are no more “moved-in-together” than me & Andy.
Not that I’m bothered. Now Jayne’s graduated, the only chance we will really have to see each other is after her work. I’m mostly busy during the day with uni & she works nights in a restaurant.
I made two rounds of beans on toast for me & Andy & one round of beans beside toast for Jayne. I was glad to see at least the oven was working.
I knocked on Andy’s door. He mumbled inside so I went it. I was unsurprised to find Andy’s stuff was already unpacked & on display. He’d always been very particular with his things. I’d be happy to live out of my boxes for the rest of term, but not Andy.
‘Do your drawers have ketchup in them too?’
‘Made you beans on toast, if you want to come out.’
‘I might take it in here, ta!’
‘Come on,’ I said. ‘I want you two to get along you know.’
‘We’d all get along better if you’d have told me it was her moving in, in the first place.’
‘I know I should have. I mean, I didn’t really think of it straight away. I just thought it was silly, her renting a place on her own, us renting somewhere. Then I just said “move in with me & Andy”. It just came out.’
‘Yep, you said. I still think I’m going to be stuck in the middle of you two.’
‘You won’t. I promise. We never fight anyway.’
‘Famous last words,’ Andy mumbled. ‘Has she picked a room yet? She should be in the box room by rights.’
‘We’ll see. Anyway, there’s beans on toast out here if you want it.’ I went in search of Jayne. She was in the double room, moving boxes.
‘I made everyone beans on toast…’
‘Beside. Beans beside toast, I mean. So have you picked the double room then?’
‘Well makes sense, I do have more stuff.’ The light shone through the wisps of Jayne’s frazzled hair to create a semi-golden halo. I grabbed her hand.
‘Come with me,’ I brought her to the box room. ‘Now, you can have the double room. That’s fine with me but just hear me out. I imagined you in here. Look, the window sill in here is just wide enough for you to sit on. Just like the one you told me about in your bedroom when you were little.’
‘How did you remember that?’ She laughed.
‘Not done yet. If you look out the window & squint really hard, there’s train tracks there. You said you used to sit on your window sill & watch the trains go by as you wrote down your little stories. You could do that again.’
She swung her body towards me, arms wrapping themselves around my waist.
‘I love it but I have too much stuff for this room.’
‘Well luckily, you have an understanding room-mate who’ll share his wardrobe with you.’ I kissed her on the forehead. ‘First though, lunch. I’m starved.’
I made a big pot of tea, strong enough for a mouse to trot on. Then we settled down on the sofa. Jayne fiddled with the TV for a while, plugging & unplugging things. Eventually it turned on – the news. Every channel – the news.
Confirmation that Diana, Princess of Wales, has in fact been killed in a car accident…
I ran to get Andy, to tell him the news. As I reached his door, I stubbed my toe. The pain shot up my leg as I tried to get the words out about Diana. I felt heavy like I was sedated. I knew there was pain. I felt it but it was more of an awareness than a feeling.
Jayne went to the phone box on the corner & rang home. Her cheeks were striped with tears when she came back. She was clutching a packet of hobnobs & a fiver. Turns out she was so deep in conversation about Diana with the shop owner, she’d forgotten to pay.
‘First day in the house & he’s going to brand me a thief,’ she sobbed.
I ran down to the corner shop to clear up the confusion. The owner didn’t have a clue that Jayne hadn’t paid. Like us all, he was going through the motions.
When I got back, Andy was retelling a story about his 70 year old gran waiting in the cold & rain to met Princess Diana, only for Princess Anne to turn up. Her friend had got her wires crossed. When his gran found out, she swung for her friend with her handbag. Nearly got arrested. Jayne chuckled at the blow-by-blow account.
As details of the crash streamed in, it was all a little surreal. We took it in turns to make cups of tea, all amidst a cloud of oniony crisps. We couldn’t stop watching. I don’t think anyone could.