The couple in the flat above were going at it like a Viking blacksmith.Bob tossed a can of lager in my direction, I caught it with one hand and settled back onto his couch. It foamed as I opened it. He’d been here two months, I’d just made the 200 mile journey over with the rest of his gear.
“So have you met your neighbours, then?”
He‘d found a flat in one those big city townhouses, you know the type. Goes back forever from the road, several flats up a couple of flights of stairs.
“Oh yeah. Well, you’ve seen the front of the house? How all these terraced houses all look the same”?
He took a swig from his can, flicked some ash from his cigarette into a tin foil ashtray that may once have lined a cherry bakewell.
“Well I moved in that first morning, dumped my bag and set off for work. Did a long shift, finished around five in the morning, you know….”
“Finished with a thirst”.
“Aye. So I’m pottering around the city, trying to remember which road I live on, looking through all the windows, thinking there’s got to be a place, with the doors locked and the ashtrays on the tables…”
“Still serving at that time.”
“Yeah. It’s a city, after all”.
“D’you find one”?
“I did, down in the Caribbean quarter up the road. Knocked on the window, showing willing…”
“They let you in?”
“Well, after looking me up and down a few times, yeah. So I go in, get a beer, settle in the corner, light a fag, and this fuckin’ BOOMING voice goes ‘OI! YOU CAN’T LIGHT THAT THING IN HERE!”
“But they had the ashtrays out?”
Thudsqueech thudsqueech thudsqueech went the bed springs upstairs.
“They did. This big geezer comes wandering over, says ‘you can’t light that in here, it’s nothing but TOBACCO’. So I dock it out and before I can process what’s happening I’ve got a joint in my hand that’s bigger than my left arm. Anyway, next thing I know, it’s 7.30 in the morning and I’m staggering home.”
“Welcome to Cardiff”.
“Bloody right. Anyway, I lurch up to the front door, whip my key out, and think ‘that’s funny’, key doesn’t fit.”
“So I potter about a bit, trying to stay on my feet, try the other key, and in I go.”
“So I go up the stairs, up to flat 3, put my key in the lock and it happens again. Key won’t turn. So I try the other one, and that fits, but won’t turn”.
“Yeah. Anyway, I try the handle, and it’s open. Well, now I’m thinking, ‘I’m SURE I locked this on my way out’. So I step into the hall, and I’m thinking, ‘something’s not right’”.
“Hairs on your neck standing up?”
“And my bollocks. So I open my door to my room, look around, and I’m thinking ‘something’s DEFINITELY NOT RIGHT. I don’t remember having this much stuff. I don’t remember leaving that kettle on the side, or that cushion on the couch, or those two girls in the bed’”.
I spat out some beer through my nose.
As if in agreement, the couple upstairs gave a series of enthusiastic grunts, growing in intensity. Something crashed to the floor and we both shot our gazes to the ceiling. Bob could have been an expert at poker.
“Well, that’s what I thought. Anyway, they both sit bolt upright, covers up to their chins, you know – ‘what the hell are you doing here?’ and I say ‘what are YOU doing here’?”
“And I say, ‘I fuckin’ LIVE HERE!’ And they say, ‘you FUCKIN’ DON’T!’ And I say, ‘hang on’, open up the door, check the number and tell ‘em ‘I do! This is Flat 3!’ And they say ‘We know! We live in flat 3!’”
“So what did you do”?
“Well now I’m thinking that the landlord’s pulled a fast one you know, took six months rent then let it out to someone else”.
“It does, and it’s not much fun at half seven in the morning when you’re full of weed. So I’m getting on my high horse, ‘I’ve just moved in today’ and all that, when one of ‘em says ‘are you sure you’ve got the right house?’ and I look out of the window and realize I live next door.”
I folded up.
“So what happened?”
“Went home. All these houses look the bloody same round on this street”.
“Have you seen them since”?
“Oddly enough, no. But at least I know where there’s a spare key if I ever lock myself out”.
The hammering from upstairs grew more pronounced, swifter, and increased in volume, accompanied by a great deal of shouts of affirmation by both male and female. Someone was getting close. We looked at one another. I headed it off at the pass.
“Something similar happened to me once”.
“As bad as that?”
“Worse, I think. There was this girl – Jane, her name was –“
“There’s always a girl.”
“Well, yeah, and in this case, Jane. I don’t know what it was about her. She was about four feet tall, never washed her hair, and she spoke like Nancy Spungen, but…”
“But there was something about her”.
“Yeah. For some reason, I found her fascinating every time I met her when I was pissed. And this one night, we’d all been kicked out of a club in Warrington…”
“What had you done?”
“To get kicked out of the club?”
“Nothing, it was closing time. Anyway, somehow, there she is, amongst the throng of bodies all gathered around outside the club, not ready to go home yet – “
“And you zeroed in on her”.
“Yeah, and she gave out in THAT voice, the one that sounded like a fork scratching on a plate, ‘oh Jim! You’re SUCH a BASTARD!’”
“Big fan of yours, then”.
“Well, of course, I was pissed, but I didn’t know what I’d done, so of course I HAD to find out. Or maybe my young ego just couldn’t understand that a woman didn’t like me”.
“Dodgy ground, here”.
“You haven’t heard the half of it. Anyway, somehow I manage to convince her into letting me walk her some of the way home, so we can talk, and I can indulge my strange fascination, and we’re right on the other side of town from where I live, but I’ve just gotta keep talking to her. So when we get about half way up Wilderspool Causeway – which is this fucking enormous seven mile long straight road, she stands on her tip toes, gives me a quick peck on the cheek, says goodnight and disappears off into the night.”
“This doesn’t end there, though”.
“No, sir. Because I’m drunk, full of spunk, and vaguely enamoured. So I go to the all night garage for some fags, and somehow, by the time I’ve stepped out, I’ve decided that I MUST tell her how I feel about her, even if I don’t quite know what that is”.
“Nothing bad can come from this…”
“That’s what I thought. But where did she go? I hadn’t been paying attention. So I come up with a plan which you, my friend, are bound to approve of”.
“I march right down to where the road begins – terraced houses on both sides all the way up for seven miles – and begin banging on the first door”.
“At two in the morning”.
“Four. Eventually a light comes on, there’s the sound of heavy feet clattering down the stairs, the door opens, and I say ‘Is Jane there?’ ‘FUCK OFF’ booms a loud male voice, and the door slams in my face. So I step across the path to the next house, and start knocking on that door”.
“It’s a fucking great plan”.
“I thought you’d like it. Anyway, much the same response there, too. So after about seven or eight more doors, all with similar occupants, I realise as I stare up the road at the rows of houses snaking off into the distance that I’m going to have to refine my search or I’ll be there all night”.
“And that’s when I see it! I walk up the road, wondering what to do next when I spot a door that’s been left slightly open”.
“…and I think, ‘well this clearly must be her house. She’s gone in and left the door open, expecting me to come in behind her. So I quietly open it up…”
“I’m not sure I want to hear this…”
“I tiptoe in, and have a look around. I look up the stairs and see that there’s a plain white door next to the landing that’s firmly shut. ‘Best not to invade a lady in her bedroom’, I think – “
“Thank fuck for that”.
“So, I head into the front room, sprawl myself out on the couch, boots still on my feet, and settle in for a night’s sleep. ‘By the morning’ I think, ‘I’ll have worked out what I’m gonna tell her anyway, and she’ll be thrilled and drag me up the stairs and miracles will happen”.
“I can’t possibly see anything going wrong with this”.
“Well, anyway, next thing I know it’s daylight, and I’ve been woken up by the sound of feet walking around in the room directly above me. And I’ve still got my contact lenses in, so everything’s blurry, but…”
“But without even moving my head from the position it’s been sleeping in, as I open my eyes, I can see on top of the tv, a wedding picture. And in it are two people I don’t recognize. And next to that are a couple of pictures of some kids, also unfamiliar”.
“So all of a sudden newspaper headlines start appearing in my head, you know – ‘Handsome Guitarist Jailed For Burglary’ and such like. And then I hear some footsteps coming down the stairs…”
“I went from nought to sixty in less than a second, straight from my sleeping position to out of the front door. I must have covered that entire causeway in under a minute. And ironically enough, I left my fags on the coffee table. Someone must have thought that the Cigarette Fairy had visited during the night”.
Bob tipped the ash from his fag into the top of his beercan. Upstairs, a lady REALLY appreciated whatever was happening, and kept yelling in the positive.
“And you know what? I never did see Jane again. Funny, innit?”
I drained the last of my beer, scrunched the can against my forehead, and tossed it into the bin without getting up. He decked out the remains of his cigarette. A buzzing sound had joined in the cacophony above, and a female voice REALLY appreciated it.
“Shall we go for a pint, then?” He asked, almost yelling above the din.
I whipped a fag from my inside pocket.
“Why not. Where’s that Caribbean pub you went to?”