The Landlady – flash fiction
I had my reservations about sharing my home with students, yet this place is far too large for me to be rattling around on my own. Individually, they are quiet and studious – but as a group they tend to shout, rather than speak quietly to each other. Curtis even shouts, “LOL” instead of actually laughing. At least they are keeping me young with their energy, and up-to-date with the ever-evolving English language. But please not “some think” or, worse still, “summink”. The word is “something”. Surely you wouldn’t call a King a “Kink”?
Aside from the generation gap and their bad taste in music, I do enjoy their company. The better I get to know them, the more maternal I feel. Harriet is the one I feel most attached to. Some weekends, the other students go home to their parents – but Harriet is always here. I have listened to their conversations, and get the impression she was more or less brought up by her grandparents, so she must be used to older people like me. I have tried to engage with her when it’s just the two of us, but she seems uneasy with conversation and tries to ignore me. Her choice, of course. Afterall, she’s a paying guest. But she knows I’m always here if she wants to talk.
All these youngsters are paying more than they can afford. But with this ridiculous energy price cap hike I keep hearing about, they understand that it’s a fair price if they want a warm bedroom this winter. And a hot shower if they can be bothered. I just wish they’d all help with the cleaning. The grouting is getting grubby and it wouldn’t hurt them to wave the brush down the toilet once in a while.
Thursday evening is the one time they all seem to be here. Supermarket beer and wine is flowing, and Dylan is passing round a roll-up cigarette that smells strange and musky. Then Harriet starts whingeing to her housemates that she feels nervous being here without them at the weekends. She finds this place a bit creepy.
Creepy? A little old-fashioned, maybe, but I wouldn’t call it creepy. I hope perhaps one of her housemates will take it up, and invite her back to theirs for the weekend, but no-one does.
Then Haydn, the philosophy student, starts going on about everything being nothing more than a perception – and there’s a discussion about whether or not this solid wooden table will continue to exist after they have left room. Of course it bloody will! I stifle my laughter and tell them it’s been here donkey’s years. They ignore me – except for Harriet, who looks straight at me, but without smiling.
I go upstairs and leave them to it.
Harriet spends most of Saturday doing her course work, sitting at the solid wooden table which is conveniently still existing. It’s only when I join her in the evening and sit in my usual armchair that she mutters something about the crap WIFI connection and storms off upstairs. I can’t help feeling rejected. I’d thought maybe she needed a break from her work and, if I’m honest, I liked the idea of a bit of company. I’d hoped she might put the TV on, and we could watch a film together.
I gaze up at the ceiling. It sounds as if Harriet is packing her bags. I go upstairs and hover outside her bedroom door. I can hear her crying. The yearning to go into the room and comfort her is so strong – but it’s not my place. To enter her room would be overstepping the mark.
Sunday morning, I can hear her on the phone, sounding bright and business-like. At least she’s cheered up. The kettle boils and clicks itself off. The toaster smells of burning. Those students really should consider emptying out the crumbs occasionally!
Curtis and Haydn return together, looking tired and relaxed. Harriet greets them dramatically. Her luggage is in the hallway and they struggle to get past with their rucksacks. I watch and listen from the landing at the top of the stairs. She tells them she is moving out. Apparently, she’s had enough of this place and has found somewhere else.
“This place is haunted, I’m sure of it! I can’t stay here another day!”
“Haunted?” says Curtis.
Haydn shrugs and gets a beer from the fridge. “I guess it’s just a perception …”
“Haunted?!” I laugh out loud at the idea, and Harriet rushes away, slamming the door behind her.
I’m sorry to see her go. Harriet was the only one I felt really in tune with. And of course this place isn’t haunted! I should know – I’ve been here more than two hundred years.