I woke cold, stiff, laid out, fully dressed. Ice traced the inside of the window. The sheets were grey and stale, the pillow stained with what looked like tea and was probably the dribble of former guests.

I lay for a while remembering my dream: Abanica and me, intertwined and, although I was alone, I blushed. My belly was damp and sticky.

I looked down at my hands, making empty opening and closing gestures, clutching and releasing.

I was too cold to wash. The tail of my shirt sufficed.

I descended the stairs, my elbows drawn into me to avoid contact with the grimy walls and greasy banister.

When I reached the threadbare carpet of the entrance hall, I determined to tell Abanica, or someone there, about the dilapidated state of affairs in the rest of the boarding house.

I neither saw nor heard a soul.

I reached her door, knocked and waited. Nothing. I knocked again. Silence. I was beginning to feel angry, resenting the thirteen-and-sixpence I had paid. Not even a drop of hot water!

I knocked a final time and entered.

The room was empty. Floorboards, bare windows. Dust, cobwebs. And nothing else. Odourless.

I looked out into the hall. First door on the left.

I turned back into the room. Nothing. No one.

The other rooms were empty, as well.

I was thrown. I don't know how long I stood, absent, in that empty room. After some time, I suppose, I made for the front door along the sticky strip of carpet.

On the wall, was a wood-framed rectangle of green baize, hatched with faded scarlet ribbon. In the bottom left-hand corner was a slip of green paper. I unfolded it.

In a shaky fountain-pen hand, it read, 'Received with thanks, the sum of thirteen shillings and sixpence.' And the letter, 'A'.

 

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