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The Lodger

By David Gardiner

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I met Mrs. Ellwood in the hallway this morning. She opened her door just as I was stooping down to pick up the letters from the mat. Iím sure she did it deliberately. Mrs. Ellwood is a very nosey woman.

ďOh, good morning Mr. Ludwig,Ē she said, all bright and cheerful, ďare you feeling well this morning?Ē

A strange question to ask that, when you think about it. A very revealing question. Why shouldnít I be feeling well? Did I ever say I was ill? Of course not. The reason she says: ďare you feeling well?Ē is that she makes assumptions. They all make assumptions. Because I donít go out at the same time they do, because they donít see me leaving in the morning, or coming back in the evening, because I donít have visitors, they assume that Iím ill. That thereís something wrong with me. They have no right to make assumptions like that. The way I live my life is my own business. If I want to stay in, I stay in. If I donít want people up in my room, messing around with my things, then I donít have them up there. My business, you see. Nothing to do with Mrs. Ellwood. Nothing to do with any of them.

I didnít say anything to Mrs. Ellwood. Just handed her her letters. Why should I answer questions based on assumptions that she has no right to make? They were all for her except one. The one that wasnít was for Mrs. Creighton, the landlady. It was just an invitation to apply for some sort of credit card. If I wanted to I could make assumptions about Mrs. Ellwood based on the number of letters she gets every day. I could assume that sheís a blackmailer, or an agony aunt for a womenís magazine, or a compulsive answerer of lonely heart adverts. But I donít assume anything like that because I donít have the right. I donít know anything about Mrs. Ellwoodís life and she doesnít know anything about mine. Thatís the way I like it.

My room is the smallest one in the house but it has the best view. Mr. Stephenís room has a front window as well but thereís a big conifer directly outside it so I donít think he can see very much. I can see right down the road in one direction. Not so far the other way because of the same conifer. I suppose Mr. Stephens should ask Mrs. Creighton to have it cut down. I donít think she would though. Her window is at the back, downstairs. It doesnít make any difference to her. Anyhow Mr. Stephens is hardly ever in his room. He just comes back to sleep in the late evening. You can tell when heís there because he turns on his radio. He listens to the news, mostly, and classical music. He keeps the volume low, all I can hear is a kind of faint rumbling through the wall.

Iím glad that my room is small. I donít like big spaces. My room at Roundways was small as well, and it had a good view from the window. Better than this one. Fields, and trees, and a little stream winding through a valley. Of course the bars spoiled it a bit.

I can cook in my own room here. I have a little electric hob and a sink to do the dishes and an electric kettle and sharp knives and everything. They didnít let me have anything like that at Roundways.

Mrs Creighton has a daughter who visits her every now and then. I think she must live quite far away because she doesnít come very often, and when she does she always stays for a few days. Mrs. Creightonís daughter has long straight brown hair, down to her shoulders, and she wears low-cut dresses and short skirts. Sheís a lot thinner than her mother. Her neck is fine and delicate, like the spout of a fine china teapot. I could snap that neck with one hand, in the blink of an eye if I wanted to. I wouldnít want to of course. Why would I want to do a thing like that? She wears those white trainers, like all young people seem to nowadays. They donít go with the skirts. Somebody should tell her.

I prefer to go out late at night, when there arenít very many people around. Spaces donít look so big at night. The scale of the world becomes more comfortable. I leave the house very quietly. I know which steps and floorboards creak and I donít walk on them. I open the front door very quietly. I oiled the hinges of the front door myself. Iím a very considerate person. I walk to the all-night supermarket on the dual carriageway if I need any groceries. I can get there in about half an hour, if Iím in a hurry, but Iím not usually in a hurry. I just take my time and enjoy the walk, make a little detour into the park, perhaps, or down the alleyway behind the flats on Leeson Street. Itís hard to get away from the street lights in a big city like this, but Iíve found a few places where you can. You would be surprised what goes on in a big city, in very dark places, very late at night.

Mrs. Creighton asked me if I was happy here a few mornings ago. I told her I was very happy. She seemed almost... disappointed. Maybe she doesnít like my being here. Maybe she would like me to leave. But that doesnít make any sense. My rent is paid monthly without fail by the Social Services. I donít smoke or drink or make noise or have strangers in my room or make a mess or cause anybody a problem. She should be pleased to have a lodger like me. Isnít it funny how people donít know when theyíre well off? Sheíll never have another lodger as good as me. Youíd think she would be grateful. Youíd think she would appreciate how considerate I am.

There are other places that I go to as well as the supermarket of course. Thereís an apartment in one of the blocks on the William Randall Estate. Thereís someone I visit there. The lift always smells of urine. But thatís private, you donít need to know about that.

I go down to the towpath as well sometimes and walk along by the side of the canal. Itís very peaceful down there, just one or two houseboats tied up, and now and then an old homeless man sleeping under one of the bridges. When I first used to go there you would see a few younger people as well. There was drug-dealing going on there. That and worse. I like to think Iíve been instrumental in some small way in cleaning it up. People donít go there very often now. Not late at night. Not after that unfortunate business with the Australian girl student. You probably read about it in the local paper. Young girls shouldnít go out late at night like that. It isnít safe.

Thereís only one place that I ever go in the daytime. Apart from the library, of course. I usually drop in at the library while I'm out. It isnít open at night, like the supermarket or the apartment on the William Randall Estate. If I didnít go to them they would come to me, and I donít want them to do that. I donít want the people in this house getting to know about my business. Or people coming up to this room, messing around with my things. They ask me how I am and I tell them Iím very well and they give me my medication for the next fortnight and I take it home. Thatís all there is to it. And for that they get paid quite a lot of money. They get to sleep at night as well. Not like the nurses at Roundways who had to pull back the blind on my door and look in every half hour. They have it easy down at the clinic.

I suppose youíre wondering what it is I do in here all day long. I know Mrs. Ellwood wonders. She thinks about me a lot. A couple of times she has knocked on my door and tried to see into my room. She makes up excuses, like thereís a package for me, or she needs to borrow something. Thatís why I like to get to the mail before she does in the morning, so that she doesnít have an excuse. In fact she doesnít seem to try it any more. I think Iíve got through to her.

No, itís very simple really. I like to sit quietly and think. People donít do that often enough you know. I read a lot too. Iíve always liked reading. And I have my albums and my collections that I like to keep up to date. I buy the papers when I go to the supermarket for my groceries, if thereís anything in them that I want for my albums. I cut things out and I paste things in. It doesnít make any noise or keep anybody awake. Itís a very considerate hobby. I cut out pictures and articles that interest me, and little mementos. Things like a student identity card and a couple of Australian dollars. Iím quite a sentimental person I suppose, where that sort of thing is concerned. I didnít really want anything but the girl insisted. As a sort of souvenir, and a mark of gratitude for tackling the man with the knife.