Weary and a bit delirious, I’d lost my marriage and my Dad in New York City so I bundled myself up and headed back to London.
An old friend, Matt, whose marriage had also failed had a room going in his house, I shipped all the treasures that didn’t fit in my suitcases there and turned up to sleep on his sofa for a few weeks until one of his previous housemates moved out with her new beau.
Another girl would be staying on in the house with us and her name, was Annette.
Annette was a nurse from Hungary. She worked nights and I saw her rarely but when I did, she didn’t speak and looked at me coldly. She cleaned obsessively, she often wore only white. She loathed Matt and had an infuriating way of saying ‘credit crunch’ that gave me a pain in the back of my legs.
I waited for my treasures to arrive from New York, started planning my room and buying furniture. I looked for work and a boyfriend and eventually these things came. My treasures did not. All my books and journals, toys and trinkets along with Alice bands I’d loved did not arrive.
Matt had given me the wrong address to his house by one digit and our neighbours had returned the boxes to Brooklyn, where they were auctioned off. I had no idea that that was the policy of the US postal service. I ignored the grief I felt at the loss my things. They were just things and Matt hadn’t done it intentionally. He had, however, not discussed with Annette my presence in the house prior to my arrival. It turns out that they didn’t speak at all unless Annette was asking Matt to clean something that he’d soiled. He’d felt so henpecked by her that he hadn’t bothered to tell her that I was the new housemate. In the end I introduced myself; this didn’t improve her warmth toward me.
All the usual trails and tribulations between a very untidy man and an obsessive compulsive woman ensued. I tried graciously to smooth a way between the two; I could see both sides but Matt was the saner of the two and several mediations ended in Annette screeching at me. I felt an utter failure and was incredibly stressed by it.
At times I would come home to find her furiously scrubbing our kitchen floor, which was already clean, in order to calm herself. I’m not really sure what she got up to in the bathroom but she had decided in order to punish both myself and Matt for some unknown crime that she would remove the device that held the shower head in place saying she had broken it with a glimmer in her eye, only for it reappear later when she felt less upset.
Then I left a bowl in my room for a 24 hour period. It was her bowl. I knew the moment that she came to ask for it that the last ounce of sanity in the house had slipped away. I bought some cutlery and dishes on the way home. I had a feeling.
Whilst Matt and I were both at work, Annette had packed up the entire kitchen. There was literally not a teaspoon left; she had stored everything in boxes in her room.
Her face was a smug as it is possible for a face to be.
It took Matt and I a little while to get our heads round it. She had refused to pay a deposit for her room and was not on the lease. We asked her to move out. I tried to reason that we were all unhappy but she did not take the news graciously and threatened legal action. I checked with Shelter and then issued her a notice to quit. I had felt at different times that one or both of my housemates were like clients I support in homelessness.
In the end she left without a fight but taking with her every light bulb, hook and curtain. She cleared us entirely out of Lambeth council issued recycling bags. In turn, Matt hid raw fish in boxes of her belongings. Both these people had been working night shifts for years, just saying.