“Hey. Are you okay? Seriously, this is getting scary.”
“That doesn’t really sound assuring.”
“Quentin, why do you have to assume I’m breaking down?”
“Well, your story from yesterdat, for starters.”
“Was it that obvious?”
“Sorry if I scared you. I’ll be fine.”
Chapter 15: Sundown
from the 1974 album “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot
posted at 16:25, 25 February 2019
Sundown, you better take care
If I find you been creeping round my back stairs…
I turn off the lights in the hallway. Looking up, I catch the lightbulb as it flashes and then dies away, the memory of the light shrinking faster and faster until it disappears. In the bedroom, I look at the softly floating shadows.
Goodness, this is the life. Why do people like spending Friday evenings at parties? I’m not exactly the most clubbable person. Just give me a novel and a glass of wine and I can get through the night, nothing else. What more could you want? The night is warm but not sticky, there’s a nice breeze blowing through the windows, cool but not frigid. My friends said that the shadows on the walls are creepy, that I should really spark-joy all that clutter lying round cause it blocks the light. I promise that I’ll get round to it one day, but really, I’m not sure I can be bothered. The shapes dancing on the walls are cute, and they shimmer so well… gosh, it just looks lovely, and if I could just get comfortable…
Whoa. Who could it be at this hour? I’ve already told the Taylors that I’m not interested in their parties… they can’t be coming back to find me again, can they?
A woman stands in the doorway, staring past me into the gloom. Her frizzy hair is long and all over the place, but it doesn’t hide the tons of makeup that she’s slathered on her face. What the hell is going on? Isn’t Halloween four months away? She’s even taller than I am — though that’s probably because of her heels — and I take a step back, startled.
“Roxette?” she says peering into the gloom.
“Who’s Roxette?” Is that even a name? Who names their child Roxette and expects them to live with it for the rest of their life? Do they already hate their child so early on?
“Isn’t this number…” She looks at the plaque beside the door. “Oh, sorry… wrong door.”
“Not to worry. Is there a party next door?”
“Not really,” she says, looking over her shoulder, as if she’s expecting a friend to come up later. “Thanks for helping out.”
“It’s nothing,” I say, closing the door. Could be the people at C9, doing their themed things again… last time I went to one of their parties, I bailed within twenty minutes. Just not my thing.
One look at the clock. Midnight. Another half hour more of “The Thirty-Nine Steps”, maybe? That bit I’m reading’s pretty good, and I don’t have much to do in the morning. I stifle a yawn and climb back onto the tiny mattress. Where was I? Ah yes, “then I saw I had walked straight into the enemy’s headquart —”
Apparently fate has decided that I will not find out what happens to Richard Hannay. Get back up and walk to the door. As I walk down the hallway the bell keeps ringing, the person on the other side of the doorway becoming more and more insistent.
“ALRIGHT ALRIGHT I’M COMING STOP PRESSING IT LIKE A MANIAC.” I haven’t even opened the door, but God help me if I haven’t already had enough of him. There is silence for about twenty seconds — a most unnatural silence.
“Stu? It’s me. Open up… they’re onto you, you’ve gotta run for…”
Oh God. The fabled Stuart Woodford again. I open the door to find myself face-to-face with one of the shortest men I’ve seen in my life.
He squints at me suspiciously. “Who are you?”
“Sir, I’m sorry, Mr. Woodford has not lived here for two weeks now… I’m the new resident here, my name’s Wayne.”
“Wayne, eh?” He stands there, his face troubled. Finally he shakes his head. “I guess you’ll do. There’s something I need to tell you, and I don’t have anyone…”
“There’s a journalist who lives in C12, go and find her if you have something to say. I just sell books downtown, man.”
He hesitates and looks down the corridor. I take the opportunity to close the door in his face. He does not try the doorbell again, and a few seconds I can hear him knocking furiously on Olivia’s.
Christ, he must have something very pressing… maybe I should have helped him after all? I listen for frantic noises down the doorway, but all is silent once more except for the faint sound of the Sugababes blasting through C9. Animals, the bunch of them. Crawl back into bed. Maybe I’ll leave John Buchan’s novel out for another day… I don’t need a dead body on my hands myself. Switch off the lights and pull down the curtains.
Okay. Okay. Apparently fate doesn’t think bed is an option either. I stumble back through the passageway, not even bothering to bump into some of the objects along the way.
Three big, burly men in the doorway this time. Police uniforms. Two of them are wearing sunglasses — my stomach churns. Could it be the erotica I sold a couple of weeks ago?
Then one of them speaks. “Stuart Woodford?” I open my mouth to respond, but he barges on nonetheless. “Were you at the Cruxhill Factory on the night of the explos —”
“I AM NOT STUART WOODFORD, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE,” I explode. The men stop immediately, as if they’ve been waiting for me to say so — but behind them I can see the third man looking at his partner, unnerved.
“This is August Heights, 26 Higham Terrace?”
“You are the resident of Room C7?”
“Yes.” I’m not even interested in saying more than the necessary minimum.
“And yet you are not Stuart Woodford?”
“I moved in here ten days ago. Why does everybody still think that I’m him? Do I look remotely like him? Did he not provide anything like a clear, legible return address…”
“That will do, sir. Can I see your documents?”
I hand over my card, and the resulting argument concludes that yes, I am not Stuart Woodford, though one of them is insistent that I could be him. “Doesn’t he look a bit like him under the light? Come out into the light…” Eventually two of them turn to leave, not even bothering with an apology. The uncertain man stays behind. I notice that he’s not much older than me.
“Mr. Davies. We really should have updated our intelligence… but if anyone comes asking, we weren’t here, okay?”
Ordinarily I’d be interested to ask why or pick another fight, but tonight I’m in no mood to argue. “Fine. Whatever you say.”
I close the door and pray to whatever deity watches above me that this is the last time I will be mistaken for Stuart Woodford, who is apparently an old 60-year-old man with a beard and bad breath, and who more to the point looks nothing like me. I throw my glasses on the bedside table and sit down on the bed for a minute. Surely the moment I lie down, fate will send me another visitor. Sure enough, just as soon as I switch off the light…
This is getting intolerable. Storm out to the door and fling it open. “YES?”
I immediately regret shouting. It’s the girl who came up earlier and she winces at this violent reintroduction. I sputter to a halt.
“Hi. Roxette’s still not here… can I help you with anything?”
Without warning, she lunges forward. And for a second, I think that she’s going to kiss me, that this night might not turn out to be so infuriating after all. But of course, I am wrong. For her mouth goes upwards, and suddenly I find my nose being clamped between the jaw of a girl my age.
It all happens in a flash. By the time I regain my senses, she’s already let go and pursing her lips. She does not bite down, so my nose is none the worse except for a bit of lipstick around it. But this does not in any way minimize the shock. I watch her wipe away a bit of dribble on her cheek with her sleeve, my eyes bugging, my mouth unable to close.
“Feels like a seven… could have been an eight,” she says.
“Wait, what? What exactly do you —”
“Shame,” she says, cutting across me, and walks down the hallway without a second glance. She doesn’t stop at any other door — instead, she turns left on the stairs and goes into stairway 3.
The door slams behind me. It’s now one thirty and I have no desire to go back to sleep because of — well, THAT, for Christ’s sake. I mean, literally what the hell just happened? Is there something I’ve been missing on Instagram? Do people walk around and gauge the suitability of screwing buddies by this weird mating ritual? Is the modern world THIS complicated nowadays? Nothing that has happened tonight has made sense.
Kick off my slippers, angrily wipe my nose with a napkin which I then fling into the wastebasket, and get under the covers. Seriously, this is getting weird. Does living in this apartment block have so many challenges to it? I moved in here because it was so far away from everything else. Having half the world turn up at your door is not my idea of splendid isolation. Perhaps in the morning, when —
OH FOR GOD’S SAKE WHAT THE HELL
A story to cheer you up! I know you haven’t been sleeping well for a bit. Tell me how the repairs go. Don’t rush things. I do wish you’d write something cheerful for a change, your characters always seem like they’re on the brink of psychological collapse… and not all of us are like that.