Sunday, June 08, 2014

Old Friends

On Wednesday I came home to find a note slipped under our door:

Flat 3 (downstairs) asks Flat 6 (upstairs) down for a glass of wine and a chat. Any time after 7.

A chat, I thought. They want us to buy their flat.

I know to some that may seem a stretch, but I felt pretty certain of it. From our very first meeting, Jocelyn and Bill, the old English couple from downstairs, seemed to be setting us up for something.

It was the things they talked about: how they had recently incurred an enormous debt, how they had been forced to vacate their flat and rent it out for cash, how they were now having trouble finding a tenant, how real estate agents had told them they could sell the flat for such-and-such a price, and how it seemed much harder these days for young people like us to get into the real estate market.

And other things: They wanted to know what our professions were, and they kept trying to gauge exactly how much we enjoyed living there—what we liked about the building and our flat. (Jocelyn took every opportunity to highlight the advantages their flat had over ours.) Also, they were getting on a bit in years. Jocelyn had been born in Paddington tube station during The Blitz, and Bill seemed much older than that even.

Yes, a chat meant buy our flat, I was sure.

But we didn't want to buy their flat, did we? To my mind it didn't have a great deal going for it, no matter what Jocelyn said about their views of surrounding buildings being better than other flats' views of open air.

Regardless, it was a problem for another day. Shelley had to work late that night, so I could put them off until another time at least. Jocelyn had put her number at the bottom of the note, so I called to postpone.

'Oh, well you should come down,' said Jocelyn, 'if you're not doing anything.'

I saw my opportunity to think fast present itself, and then zoom into the distance.


'Yes yes yes,' she said. ‘Now I can't feed you a meal, but Bill might have some wine he can bring out.'

Did I ask for a meal? And is the wine just a maybe now?

I arrived to find Jocelyn quite dressed up—big gold bangle earrings and a bright floral top—and Bill wearing what looked to be a brand-new yellow polo shirt. He brought out some wine, crackers and a chocolate bar cut into four pieces.

Jocelyn talked. Oh man did she talk, and I don't even know what about, but two things were becoming clear: she was going to say whatever popped into her head, and I was going to listen.

And after half an hour, something even more terrible was beginning to dawn on me. Here I was waiting for the other shoe to drop—the sale of their flat— when all the while … there was no other shoe. When they said 'a chat', they actually meant a chat. On a Wednesday night. Who were these people? Here I was drinking white wine, chowing down on the last of some seaweed crackers and a cut-up Snickers bar, and she would not stop talking. The air kept flowing from her lungs, and there I sat like a jellyfish, quiet and boneless, at the mercy of the current. And across from me I saw another jellyfish — he was wearing a brand-new yellow polo shirt, and he had that look on his face like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, post-lobotomy.

After one hour and twenty-four minutes had passed, I cut Jocelyn off mid-musing and said I had to go make dinner. She asked me for my email address and both phone numbers, and I gave them to her, because despite having learned many years ago at the hands of a sociable hitchhiker named Rasheed that this is not a good thing to do, I still haven't learned how not to do it.

The following morning I received an email from Jocelyn with Test in the subject field. I thought to myself, Julian, you deserve everything you get.


Quirky Comforts said...

You are a funny little man.... Leisa

Ben said...

Your funniest tale yet! I can't wait to hear how this plays out.