It was a misty winter evening in Birch Road. A blanket of London fog hung low in the street, dispersing the thick orange glow of the old streetlights hanging between the houses. Headlights blinded as an old car turned into the road, sputtering as it jerkily accelerated around the corner. Inside was a girl, wrapped in several scarves, one gloved hand gripping the steering wheel, and the other outstretched behind to keep her belongings from toppling into the front seat. The small car was packed with paintings, an assortment of cookbooks, and an old purple guitar. On the front seat, there was a small dog resting his front paws on the dash, his ears pointed and his small body quivering with excitement. He yapped twice as number 42 came into sight on the left side of the road.
Charlie pulled over and switched off the ignition, cutting off all sound in the street. As she peered up into the glowing windows, she noticed that it looked identical to all of the other houses on the street. But something about the atmosphere of number 42 was different, the jagged shadows of the house not quite aligned in the darkness, the glow of the windows, so warm and inviting in the other houses, seemed forced, as though a light had to be kept on, as a trivial command of some written rule. She sighed, her breath misting in the cold air of her car. Reaching over to Paddy, she scratched him behind the ears as she contemplated her decision. Everett would be worried, the poor thing. But this was definitely the right thing to do, even if it hurt him now.
Inside the house was quite warm. As she banged her way through the front door into the hallway, laden with her bags, a feeble electric sensor light flickered on. The light illuminated a panelled door to the left, bearing a paper number one that looked as though an exuberant toddler had been given free rein and a box of crayons. Charlie smiled indulgently as she stopped to inspect it. The atmosphere here was tender and alluring, smelling slightly of cinnamon cookies and play-dough.
On the first floor Charlie dumped her bags and Paddy outside the door of number two and rummaged through them for the keys.
‘I know they’re in here, he only gave them to me half an hour ago’ she mumbled under her breath, half to Paddy, half to herself. ‘How do I always manage to do this?’
Paddy sat down on the wooden floor, like an old man resigned to his wife’s lifelong habits, and observed their surroundings. There were two doors on either side of the small hall, and the rickety staircase continued up to the attic flat, trailing up into the darkness. An old fashioned carved table sat under the window, long dead flowers in a dusty vase perched on top. Charlie produced the keys in a jangle and stuffed them into the lock. The door swung open, dimly lighting the small room, the long rectangle of light falling onto the dusty floor. She walked through, flipping on the light to show a small shabby kitchen and a sitting area, with a door off to the bedroom. Smiling, she began to unpack.
Upstairs, in stylishly lit boudoir themed room, Fleur was preparing herself to leave for the evening. She sat cross-legged on the large white bed, her dark hair tumbling down her back, her eyes closed, black lashes thick against her cheeks. Her face was serene, but her body radiated a strong, rhythmic, almost defiant energy. The room was artistic and very feminine. There was a corkboard above the dresser covered with thick squares of paper, each one displaying a different quote, all written in the same elegant, slanting handwriting. Back issues of Vogue were arranged in a fan on the desk, and a red silk robe was draped over the back of the spindly wooden chair. There was a very sensual element to the room, whether it came from Fleur herself or the furnishings was unclear, but something very sexual was imbibed in those walls.
The smooth black telephone on her bedside table rang once, twice, and was silent. She opened her eyes slowly and unfolded her long limbs from the bed. Padding across the wooden floorboards to the door, she slid on the patent black stilettos that waited there and slipped out of the door.