An empty nest constructed mostly of guano and lint in the eaves, grey weeds eked in the brickwork outside the window. The weeds scratched at the glass when the wind blew in off the bay. The walls separating the box kitchen from the bedroom from the bright bathroom, she discovered, after having lived in the attic flat on the seafront for almost a week, were merely emulsioned ply board sheets nailed to the floorboards, nailed to the ceiling. They bowed when she leaned against them. So she avoided leaning against them.
Jessica set the bed, a handmade double she had been bequeathed by an ex – he said he’d bequeathed it, but really the handmade was far too heavy to be carried again to another rented abode and actually, though solidly built, would perhaps not stand another dismantling, another rebuilding – near the window so, if she woke in the night, which she had done so of late, to piss or to boil water, she could pull aside the colourful cheesecloth draped across the glass behind her head and (allowing there was a moon out there floating above the bay) she could make her way through the dark bedroom in its silver stream without having to feel her way along the walls.
She homed two domesticated brown rats. They haunched in the stained basin atop the stack of pots and crockery, supping at the dripping kitchen tap. She collected their tiny pellets as they appeared to her and shook them from the sash window down toward the street. Whenever Jack Loveless arrived on a Sunday evening to take collection of the rent, she scooped up the rodents and, marvelling at their rapid heartbeats, their frames, in her palms, applied quick kisses to their busy, bristled heads, calling out, breezily, over her shoulder, toward the door, “Just one minute.” She placed the rats in the cupboard that housed the rumbling old drum boiler, tendered the same words to them, but in a breath, closed the door and, barefooting the boards, opened the other.
He was from another age. His demeanour was grey. He was fading and within two years he would disappear completely, consumed beneath a phthisic cloak. He sensed this somehow, and sometimes wondered if animals perceived it in him, too. They did. Cats slunk back into shadow, the hedgerow fell silent as he walked the lanes. Jackdaws in the oaks, cackled, unseen. Even Simon, his ever-smiling greyhound, cowed, on occasion, beneath his petting. He pocketed the money without seeming to count it (though surely he must do?). He asked after her wellbeing. His eyes shuffled softly this way and that around the attic, soaking up the unusual and easy-going nature of the way that she had furnished the place. He stood at the palette bookshelf with his hands buried in his pockets, and bent a little toward their tiny spines. The book titles blurred. He offered brief paragraphs of his own from another time, attaching them with the most tenuous of hooks to the few weekly words that passed between the two of them. Jessica listened. She tried to visualise, but the world he described seemed strange and unbelievable.
The rats sniffed behind the cupboard door, scratching communiqué unintelligible into its unpainted wood. They sensed disease beyond. They pissed dribbles beneath the warm tank.