6.14 Short story_To Let: Charming Stone Cottage

Stooping damply in the porch, Ade does a quick check of his external shots. Two up, one down, slate roof, wonky windows. The standard half-falling-down cottage that some desperate Victorian farmworker threw up to keep his wife and children dry, never dreaming that a hundred and fifty years later it would be renting for five hundred quid a month.

He knocks again, and fiddles with the exposure settings, checks the name on the slip of paper in his anorak pocket.  A young woman, thin, almost transparent, stands in the doorway, holding it open just enough for politeness. ‘Yes?’

‘Hello, I’m Adrian Morris. From the estate agent in Oswestry. Mr Dudek is expecting me. Mr Pavel Dudek?’.

‘He’s gone’. A Polish accent. Making to shut the door on him.

Ade puts out the hand holding the camera.

‘Sorry’, pleading now, ingratiating. ‘It’s a long way from town and I have to do the photos today. It’s got to go on the website tomorrow and I don’t want to have to come back.’

She glances over her shoulder at the room behind her.

‘OK, but I have to make tidy upstairs.’

Inside, he takes it all in at once. The old carpet, the dralon sofa, the bin bag in the corner. His problem, how to make it look halfway decent. On goes the wideangle lens, and Ade presses his bulky frame into the corner by the kitchen door and sets the lens as far back as he can.  These sodding rented holes. Poky as hell. He takes a couple of shots, then slips into the kitchen.

Through the misted window he sees the looming hillside behind the cottage, a walled yard, wispy remnants of a bonfire at the end. Why even bother to try burning stuff in this weather?  But then everything is permanently sodden here, if it’s not actually dripping.

He can hear the girl moving about above him. Safe to indulge in his game.He takes another camera out of his bag, this time with the 50mm lens, the one that doesn’t lie. He deftly opens the kitchen cupboards and snaps inside.

Ade doesn’t think there is anything wrong with what he is doing. It is more a kind of social history. It’s almost art. People live in unbelievable tips, chaos even, clutter everywhere. Then a photographer turns up and they suddenly see the mess they are living in. Ade sees them running around like crazed hamsters stuffing things out of sight, everything just crammed into the nearest piece of furniture.  By taking pictures of the paraphernalia and detritis of their houses, he is exposing their humanity, their little vanities. One day he will have a one-man exhibition in London; setting the neat and pristine estate agency images next to the interiors of the drawers and cupboards. He’ll call it something arty, like JuxtaPose. That would be so cool, but he just has to think his way through the consent thing.

Feet on the stairs. The girl is in the kitchen, flicking her dark blonde hair out of her wild, red-rimmed eyes. She looks skinny and puffy at the same time, angular but with nice round breasts. With a good sleep and some makeup she would photograph well.

‘You moving out now? You’ve got till the end of the month you know.’

‘I go home tomorrow.’

‘Where’s home?’. Ade thinks there might be a chance to chat about his weekend in Krakow.

‘You haven’t heard of it.’  No chat then. ‘You can go up now.’

The front bedroom has a double bed, an old tallboy, and an ancient wardrobe tucked under the eaves. It smells kind of stuffy and sweet. If only it would stop drizzling and the windows could be thrown open. She stands at the top of the stairs, watching him. Do women feel nervous when upstairs with a strange man, he wonders, not for the first time. The camera fascinates them. Gives him license to be in their private space.. It’s a weird paradox. He feigns a coughing fit. This never fails.

‘Please, sorry, glass of water!’ he splutters, and she disappears.

He moves quickly, darting across the room to open the wardrobe door and shoots five or six frames, not bothering to look. That will come later. Next, the two top drawers of the tallboy.

Back home, Ade accepts the cup of tea his mother holds out, and slips upstairs to his room. His workstation. He takes the memory card out of camera body number two, and pushes it into the slot of his PC tower. Forty-eight images are registered onscreen, shot in under two minutes.

He starts with the frames from the kitchen. Two shelves in the wall cupboard. Polish dried soup in sachets, salt, instant coffee, a box of SMA formula. He feels the hairs on the back of his neck rise. Scrolls forward to the bedroom. At the bottom of the wardrobe he had been aware of a pile of sheets and blankets. He hadn’t noticed the pale little thing sticking out. A doll’s hand? The cursor fixes and he zooms in. Fingernails, cuticles, and wrist dropping at a strange angle.

A moment later, staring into the toilet bowl, Ade attempts to pull himself together. Did he really see that? The girl is standing before him again, looking back over her shoulder. He must call the police. No, better to go round in person and take the memory card with him.  But how to explain? His future life unwinds before him in fast forward like an episode of Wallander. In the first version he is the misunderstood who shows his heroic side by exposing a crime. An age-old crime. In the second run-through he is the creepy guy, the loner, always on the edge of the community.  Watching through a lens.

Back in front of the screen, he selects the pictures the police need to see.

The dialogue box opens. ‘Are you sure you want to delete these six images?’




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