“Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London”
You shared a house in Harrow and Wealdstone with Frank, Mickey, Ken, and Elaine. The place was a cuckoo’s nest of oddities. Mickey, Elaine, and Ken were all from the same small town in Northern Ireland, a town containing a large mental institution it was rumored the entire population had at one time been in. You heard Ken’s maniacal laughter on the tube to Covent Garden one night, his hoots more like a howler monkey than human being.
Elaine caught your eye in her fishnets and heels, the leather mini-skirt she wore to work, the same miniskirt Ken borrowed every now and then to wear to the Beehive Pub in Edgeware. Ken was the first man you ever saw in make-up. He might have been better at its application than Elaine, and that’s something. His lustrous black hair hung to his shoulders and sometimes when he came in the door and went upstairs wearing the heels and miniskirt you mistook him for Elaine.
Mickey and Ken did Kung Fu, drew the dole, and spent all their money on beer and take-out Indian food. Often you flinched as they threw elaborate moves at each other across the sofa in the living room. Mickey was weasel-like, a thin moustache crept across his lip and his eyebrows said more than he ever could. He was mad for Elaine and they’d been together for ten years, since they had been thirteen-year-olds in Ardee.
You laughed when Elaine came home from her workday, after slaving as a secretary in a building site office, and Mickey, fresh from the martial arts studio, beer in hand, would cry from the sofa, “Woman, woman! Where’s me dinner?” Funny, she never said a word. Only served Mickey his meals on a tray with a kiss on the cheek from her painted lips.
You watched Nigel come and go, swinging his brolly, three-piece suit and bowler hat, and a job at a bank in the City. He was the only English person in the house. Each month Nigel taped the rent and utilities bills to the bedroom doors and the itemized sheet of paper bore the exactitude of the banker.
Nigel was seeing a woman. When the phone rang in the evening he’d answer it in the hall, mumbling into the receiver. At the appointed time Nigel darted from his ground floor room and opened the front door, ushering his woman into his chamber. You never got a good look at her. She did drive a white VW Beetle.
Now and then some other traveler would stop at the house for a few days, en route from Ireland to dig for gold in the streets of London. Nigel’s patience wore thin with the steady flow of immigrants surfing the couch. With long vowels accentuated, he’d simply moan, “Oh no! More people?” And after a week they too would be added to the list of billing subjects for rent and utilities.
Kenton Road, number 143. The only address you had in London. Your bedroom was so small that if you’d stretched out your arms to yawn, you’d have broken your wrist. And the time the Yugoslav au pair you picked up at the Beehive Pub, slipped naked into your narrow bed. When you saw her body covered in a thick coat of fur…