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Margaret & Richard

Written in 2014, I guess? 

…and I’m still working on the feature at 4am when it starts to get light again. I miss the dawn I’m writing so hard, lightening paragraphs with sips of akavit. By 5.30 I’ve finished it, so I celebrate by playing some CardHunter (a site I will soon have to block, being Warhammer Quest on squig juice), and read some fiction on the sofa. I roll into bed at 6.30am, next to a sleeptalking V, and doze off…

…”MARGARET” comes the cry, jolting us both awake. It’s 8 or 9am. Richard, the drunk opposite, is crying to be let in again. (He doesn’t seem to be allowed keys). But it’s odd this time. He’s yelling, almost apologetically. The door draws open. It’s the son, F, the one with the rebuilt face. “Can I come back?” the drunk asks. No, says the son, shaking his head. The drunk gets mad, but eventually leaves.

Half an hour later there’s a shouted argument about crack. One of them, mother or son, is accusing the other one of being on it. Which explains a lot. We’re not getting any sleep, so we’re prurient, peeking out of the window. I will learn, soon, to sleep through noise. It’s also worth noting that we’ve picked up all this information about them from shouted arguments with each other and the police.

Weeks later, when V’s lost a lot of sleep and track of who’s fighting who and who’s actually living there, the whole family comes around. It’s a big clan, and we’re suddenly happy that they’re not actively aggressive outside of their kith and kin. There’s shouting, crying from drunk Richard and a big fight. (V tells me this, as I managed to sleep through it all).

In the morning… silence. A police car pulls up. The copper says that they’re all gone, the door’s been smashed in. He says that some of them were squatting, as a council builder turns up to nail the doors and windows shut. V sleeps well for the first time in months.

Two days later Margaret is back, with her daughter (the one who’s just got out of jail). V watches aghast as they buzz the neighbours to be let in – but no-one will let them in. The daughter climbs the spiked railings, and tries the windows (which had never been locked before), but they’re sealed shut. She smashes the topmost pane to try to unlock them – but they’re nailed shut. Finally she climbs through this tiny sharp hole and lets her mum in.

The police are, of course, called. The daughter comes out and starts shouting at V, watching despairing: “why won’t you leave my mum alone?”

(I’m writing the rest of this five years later. My memory isn’t perfect.)

They’re out and they’re in. Even the drug dealer in the basement flat next to them gets sick of their antics, but is smart enough to not report them to the police.

(He’s not smart enough to hide his operation very well. We memorise the whistle his runabouts make when they come to pick up or drop off, and learn to imitate it.)

After more antics, eventually just Richard is left in the flat, drinking alone. He becomes less and less coherent. He stops recognising people – he comes up to me at the pub, begging for change, and I remind him who I am.

And, one day, there are no more noises. For weeks, it’s quiet. Then a neighbour calls the police, not from noise, but from the smell.

The police have to smash the door down. Across the entire block, window after window is open, people peering out – it’s become a soap opera and everyone wants to know how it ends.

From the inside, the police force the boards off the window desperately and run back out. As the smell spreads, windows snap shut across the block. After a minute it reaches us – sulphur, rot and death. We slam our window shut too. Poor Richard.

Other people turn up in, yellow whole body suits. They clear out the body in a bag and the mattress, with its winedark stain. They leave. Someone comes back later, to board it up again.

Margaret turns up, weeks later. Can’t get in. Cries.

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