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Doctor Henry helped me get my new flat. While filling out my application form he asked, Do you know what points mean?
I said, No.
And he said, Prizes. Points mean prizes.
Yesterday, when the TrustBus dropped me off, I brought with me a single suitcase and a memory board. On the memory board I’ve written Lithium x 3 and Olanzapine x 2, and below that, Tea Bags and Flora.
Whoever was here before me left everything; there’s a TV, sofa, table and two chairs, and a single bed. There’s even some food in the kitchen cupboard and the place has been decorated. The living room is magnolia, the kitchen green, the bedroom yellow, and the bathroom blue. I know a bit about decorating; my favourite television show is Property Ladder.
But there’s one thing that bothers me. In the bathroom, above the sink, is a white rectangle in the surrounding blue of the wall where the bathroom mirror used to be.
I’m lying on the sofa wondering why someone would only take a bathroom mirror when there’s a knock on the door. It’s a girl. She’s small with dark brown hair in a bob and she has big brown eyes. There’s something familiar about this girl; I feel like I know her, but I don’t think I’ve met her before. She tells me her name is Anna, and she says something about her brother and a letter. Sometimes when I get an overload of information I get a taste of copper in my mouth and I see snow falling.
When I come round I’m sitting at the kitchen table and she’s pouring water from the kettle into two mugs.
Are you okay? You look a little out of it.
I’m fine. Thank you.
She hands me a coffee.
I’m not supposed to take caffeine.
It’ll do you good.
I blink and continue to blink. Then I taste the coffee, but I don’t like it.
She tells me her brother lived in the flat before me. Her brother died, that’s what she’s saying. She talked to him on the phone that day. Later, she called to the flat and found him dead. He was a diabetic who fell asleep and didn’t wake up again. She’s waiting for his death certificate. It was posted to my address. She says she would have given everything she had to save him. I wonder how much that is.
Do you like it? she asks.
It tastes bitter.
Not the coffee, the kitchen … the colour?
Yes. Yes, I do.
It’s lunchbox green, she says.
It works really well in a small room.
I left everything as it was. You’re welcome to it. He would have liked that.
His name is … she stops and puts her hand to her mouth … was, Greg Warner.
I know that name. I look at the coffee. Then I remember. It’s the name on the mail I put in the cupboard above the kettle. I reach up, open the cupboard door, and hand her the mail. She takes it in both hands and reads, but I know from her face the letter she wants isn’t amongst the pile. She starts to cry. I don’t know what to do, so I hug her. Her hair smells of coconut.
They said they posted it yesterday.
Probably like taxi companies who tell you your car is at the bottom of the street. They sometimes even tell you the colour of the car.
Did they tell you the colour of the envelope it would be arriving in?
They didn’t say.
Then she says she has to go, gives me another (shorter) hug, and says thanks for everything. Before leaving she writes down her mobile number and asks if I can call her when the death certificate arrives.
After she leaves I lie down again on her brother’s sofa. She is perfect in every way, and I do look for perfection in a relationship. At least, if I were to get into a relationship, then I would be looking for perfection. However, one thing still bugs me. Why did she take the bathroom mirror? It’s the only thing that isn’t perfect in the whole deal.
That night I dream of Anna and mirrors; the ones at Funderland that make you look all funny.
The next morning, the first thing I do when I get up is see if there is any post, but the letter isn’t there. So I phone Anna. She answers on the third ring. I tell her no post has arrived but I’ll be looking into it. Then I go to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I do this every morning for reasons of hygiene and vanity. But it also helps take away the tinny taste of my medication.
As I’m brushing I wonder if maybe I should have brushed before I phoned Anna. I decide I’ll brush first in future. When I look up while brushing there’s no bathroom mirror.
I phone Doctor Henry and tell him all about it. He says not to worry and not to over-analyse things. Doctor Henry says there’s probably a perfectly good explanation as to why she might have wanted the bathroom mirror. He says I should put my thoughts on an imaginary train and wave goodbye to them.
When I hang up I try doing this but it just makes things worse. I picture a big long train like you see in old black and white Westerns. As it pulls out of the station Anna is sitting upright in every carriage, looking out of the window, waving goodbye.
I go downstairs to see Marco. I know Marco from the ward; like me he was moved to the top of the queue. He’s sitting outside his ground-floor flat oiling the chain on his motorbike. Marco says there’s nothing can compare to being on the open road on a powerful motorbike, the wind in your face, in the knowledge that any lapse in concentration could result in you being torn limb from limb. He tells me he was speeding down the motorway when he noticed a massive flashing sign. It said: NEVER EVER TAKE DRUGS AND DRIVE! He almost crashed when he read it. He says he’ll take me out on his motorbike when he gets a spare helmet. I’ll pray for Marco and in my prayers I’ll ask God not to give him a spare helmet.
I tell Marco about Anna and everything, including the mirror, and he offers me a cigarette, even though he knows I don’t smoke. He has real problems with his memory, but he’s a good listener.
Did you know Anna’s brother?
He looks up from his motorbike. Who?
Anna’s brother, the person I’ve been telling you about.
I never even spoke to him. He wasn’t here very long.
Marco has a little dog, a Jack Russell, his name’s Arthur. Arthur is staring at me through the living-room window while standing on the back of a black leather sofa. Marco calls him his ESP dog. He says Arthur knows when he’s a bit off. Marco says sometimes he thinks if he just paid more attention to Arthur then everything would be okay. Then he says I should call in at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau up at the Vivo store; they sorted out his disability claim and are the font of all knowledge.
There’s still no post the next morning, so I walk up to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and ask how long it takes for a death certificate to arrive. The man behind the desk asks me how long is a piece of string? And I say, That depends. I go over the whole thing with Anna and her brother and the flat and the bathroom mirror. He says it’s intriguing. He also says I should call in person to the City Council Offices. He says I need to look them in the eye.
Back at the flat, I call to see John. John lives down the corridor in 2C. It should be 2B but 2B seems to be missing.
John likes growing tropical plants. He’s acclimatising until he can afford to move to Brazil. It’s always very hot in John’s flat. He needs to keep the temperature at 30°C. He has a thermometer on every wall and two little red danger lines on each one of them, just like the ones you get in fish tanks. As long as the mercury is between the two red lines then everything is okay.
John answers the door in shorts and a T-shirt, invites me in and allows me to sit on his wooden chair. He lives directly above Marco but he hates Marco. Arthur’s barking keeps John awake. He says before he leaves for the rainforest he’s going to push over Marco’s motorbike. He also says he’ll let me use his computer to place my online Tesco shop and in return I can put the points on his card. John is saving up his Tesco points. When he has enough he’s going to swap them for air miles. He needs 100,000 to get to Brazil.
I tell him about Anna and her brother and he tells me he knows about grief; his favourite bromeliad died of corky scab.
Then he asks me, Is she hot?
No, just normal temperature, but I’m hot.
John finds this funny. Then, all of a sudden, he stops laughing, walks over to the wall and checks the thermometer. You had me worried there, he says.
I tell John she gave me her mobile number and also that I hugged her. He says she’s obviously hot for me and I should ask her out before things cool off. I tell him I don’t think it’s the best of times with her being so upset after the death of her brother. John says it’s the perfect time.
When I tell him about the bathroom mirror he rubs his chin.
The indigenous tribes of Brazil were lured out of the rainforest with gifts of mirrors. They believed mirrors captured the soul.
I did not know that.
Is this girl Anna from Brazil?
No, she’s from the estate.
In that case I don’t think I can help you.
Later that evening I call again to see Marco. Marco’s flat is identical in layout to mine, but his colours are different. When I walk into his living room Arthur jumps up and springs off my chest. I like Arthur and I think Arthur likes me.
Marco turns on the television. Italy are playing so Marco goes to his bedroom and returns wearing his Italy top. He tells me his mother is part Italian, which I suppose makes him part Italian as well. On the back of the football top it says, MARCO in big white letters.
When the match kicks off, Marco sits on the sofa cheering on Italy. Arthur stands right in front of Marco, barking. He does this when Marco gets excited. Then, when Italy is awarded a corner kick, Arthur jumps up in the air and does a half-spin.
Following the unsuccessful corner kick, Marco offers me a cigarette and asks if I’ve solved the mystery yet. I tell him I’m working on it. I also tell him about John and the tribe from Brazil. Marco says John needs a check-up from the neck up. Which I now know means he may have some undiagnosed mental health disorder.
Italy score and Marco throws orange toilet roll all over his living room, and Arthur.
The next morning there is a brown envelope sitting on my OH NO NOT YOU AGAIN! welcome mat. There is no stamp on it. I pick it up but it doesn’t say Greg Warner on it. It’s addressed to me. Everything slows then stops and I think I must be dead. I open it, and wonder if this is what limbo feels like, but it isn’t a death certificate, it’s from the Housing Executive. They say loud noise or barking dogs will no longer be tolerated.
I walk downstairs to see Marco. His curtains are pulled, his living room window has a long crack running along it and his motorbike is chained up. I ring the bell, but then I remember it doesn’t work. He has written above it in red pen: DON’T WORK. I knock but there’s no answer so I go back upstairs to see John.
John says, Every so often the cops come and section Marco and he goes back to the ward. Arthur goes to Marco’s mother and everyone gets a bit of peace and quiet for a while. Then Marco gets out, forgets to take his meds, Arthur starts barking, Marco throws toilet roll, and things continue as usual.
Back at my flat, I decide I really need to speak with Doctor Henry. Doctor Henry has always told me not to get into a relationship until I’m at least a year off the ward. He says I need to avoid situations where obsessions might develop. However, I’ve heard people say there are exceptions to any rule. When I phone his office he isn’t there, so I leave a long message on his answer machine.
Then I phone Anna to tell her the letter still hasn’t arrived but I’m prepared to go with her in person to the City Council Offices (this will involve a bus trip to the city centre and I hate bus trips). I also tell her there is something I need to discuss with her urgently.
She says she’ll be there in ten.
Fifteen minutes later she still hasn’t arrived. I’m about to phone her when I hear a knock at the door. When I open the door it’s Anna. I invite her in and she sits forward on the sofa looking up at me with her elbows on her knees. I can tell she’s in a good mood despite everything that’s going on in her life.
I know our whole future hangs on her answer but I just go for it. Can I ask you a question?
How come you left everything but took the bathroom mirror?
I didn’t take the bathroom mirror, she says. It was like that when Greg moved in. I suppose he just didn’t get round to fitting one.