My key never seems to fit in the door properly. You’ve got to push it right in—smoothly, though, not forcing it—then kind of lean it over to the left. Then carefully turn, whilst applying pressure to the door with your shoulder. It generally takes me a couple of tries, but one day I’ll get it first time. Maybe I already have and just forgot. It’s easier to remember the little things that go wrong—they can really bug you—while the small stuff that goes right never crosses your mind. Like the umbrella that doesn’t blow open backwards in the wind, or the puddle of muddy water you avoided stepping in.
Inside, and turn the key to lock the door again. For some reason this door is easier to close than to open. Security feature I guess. Start up the stairs. This is one of those old Georgian houses that was turned into flats about forty years ago, and nobody has had the money or the energy to turn it back into a proper house again since. The landlord turns up maybe every couple of months if something is broken to the point where he can’t ignore it anymore. So long as the rent keeps getting paid and his tenants don’t do too much damage or die in an inconvenient manner, he’s happy to let everyone just go on about their business.
The first-floor landing. Some Asian family lives through this door. I’ve seen some of them on the stairs and said hello, but I don’t know their names. Not even sure if they speak English, but they seem pretty friendly and usually smile back. I don’t know who lives through the other door; I’ve never seen anyone go in or out. For all I know there’s a dead body in there stretched out in front of the TV, but I guess someone would notice the smell after a while. Keep heading on up. Almost without thinking I skip that fourth step up that squeals when you put your weight on it. Like there’s something under there. Second-floor landing. The yellow door belongs to Stefan, this artistic-looking German guy. I guess he’s in his early 40’s, but it’s hard to tell. He has this big mane of grey hair, receding a little in front, that he wears up in a ponytail. Always seems to be wearing the same pair of baggy, faded green combats, mismatched with whatever loose-fitting T-shirt he’s picked off the floor that morning. A couple of times he’s invited me in to smoke a little pot. Can’t remember what we talked about now. Probably not a whole lot worth remembering. In my experience most stoned conversations revolve around similar topics; they just seem a hell of a lot more interesting at the time, when you’re sitting there not able to feel your lips.
Third floor, nearly there. About this point, I always tell myself that I should be taking more exercise. A couple live behind the door on the left. Very quiet. Her name is Joan or Joanne or something. I think somebody new moved into the other room. I’ve seen some guy I don’t recognise coming out of the house a couple of times, so maybe it’s him. I wonder how many people have lived in this house, all told. Say it’s—I don’t know—let’s say 150 years old. Wouldn’t it be cool to throw a big party and get everyone who has ever lived here to come along? It’d be a bit awkward at first, of course, people sitting along the edge of the room sticking to their own groups, but after a few drinks I reckon you’d hear some pretty interesting stories. Of course a lot of them would be dead by now so you’d have to suspend belief to imagine they could all come back to life for this one night.
Fourth floor, this is my stop. An old lady called Dot lives behind the blue door with the paint peeling off it. It’s an awful long way for her to climb every time she wants to go out to the shops, and sometimes you come across her standing on one of the lower landings on a rest break, giving no indication of whether she’s coming in or going out. She never seems too bothered though, and will always stop you for a couple of words about the weather. I guess it’s a way for her to get out and meet the neighbours.
I pick out the silver Yale door key from the selection on my keyring and push open our white door. Ashling’s not there at this time of day, of course. I caught a glimpse of her through the window of the restaurant, writing down whatever some guys in suits were ordering for their lunch. Close the door behind me and I head straight for the couch, shedding my jacket on the way. Shut my eyes and wait for my breathing to get a little shallower. I have really got to start doing some sit-ups or something. I’ve always loved this couch; it’s the kind of comfortable old hunk of padded furniture that seems to put its arms around you when you sink down into it.
Some music, I think. There’s a shelf stacked with columns of CDs, more scattered around the floor and on the table, so it takes me a little while to find the one I’m looking for. It turns up eventually though, near the bottom of a stack over by the TV. ‘The Virgin Suicides’, this chilled out, druggy soundtrack album by the French band Air. Every time I play this I remember one of the first nights me and Ashling moved into this dump. Sitting on the couch drinking red wine and picking at take-away Chinese food, just happy to be the two of us in here with the rest of the world locked outside. She told me she’d never loved anyone like this before, and I didn’t have to say anything back because I knew she could see it written all over my face.
Thinking of this stuff makes me think of the bedroom, and I walk over there, the hazy French music hanging in the air. You can’t even open the bedroom door the whole way—the room’s so small the bed takes up most of the space and the door bangs against one corner. This also means the room is just impossible to keep neat and tidy, and there are clothes and junk scattered all over the floor and hanging off the back of the chair and the nightstand.
I pick a pillow up off the floor and lie on the uncluttered part of the bed. You can still smell her perfume from the pillow when you lay your head down into it. I pick up a book from her nightstand: Dostoevsky. I never liked those Russian guys. The characters’ names all sound the same and I keep having to go back a chapter to try and figure out why they seem to be married to different people, or dead. Ash always liked that kind of stuff, she used to try and get me to read it, and I’d give them a go but usually end up skipping ahead and just pretending I knew what she was talking about. She used to read Jane Austen and all that old romantic shit too.
She’s got a bookmark about halfway through the book, and I pull it out. It’s a cinema ticket to some foreign movie I’ve never heard of, and now I can’t help it, I start thinking about her going to see that French movie with some guy, and I have to shut my eyes and I can feel the veins throb in my forehead and for a moment or two I can’t even hear the music in the next room. It’s time to go now so I put the book back on the nightstand and toss the pillow back onto the floor. I keep the cinema ticket though, it goes into my back pocket. I like to take souvenirs, small things, and sometimes I wonder if she ever notices they’re gone or if she thinks she’s just lost them somewhere. Maybe this evening she will spend a couple of minutes looking behind her