Friday, 21 February 2014

The Lodger


Formerly published in The Sunday Post.
If I had mixed feelings about taking a lodger, they disappeared when I first set eyes on Brad.  He looked reassuringly average and even slightly cute.  He had a crop of short hair, stiff like a nailbrush and a wholesome, fresh-faced bounciness.

            ‘He’ll do,’ I thought.  ‘I’ll take him.’

            I’d heard all sorts of lodger horror stories from friends.  My friend, Emma, divorced, and lured by the prospect of a lucrative side-line was driven to pasting notices all over her house to keep the lodgers under control.  When filling the kettle, think green, said one.

            ‘Just imagine - they fill the kettle to make one tiny cup of coffee,’ she complained.  I tutted at such wanton waste, determined that wouldn’t happen to me.  I’d make a contract.  That was the sensible thing to do, and so I wrote one.  The terms included being sure to shut the garden gate.  I also insisted on having privacy when entertaining.

            Brad arrived with his three thousand DVDs, a pine shelf and two furry monkeys.  I hovered in the doorway of his room as he poked around the cupboards and inspected the drawer space.  Then I thrust the contract under his nose.  Brad raised his eyebrows and I fidgeted.

            ‘How often do you have people to dinner?’ he asked, looking not-quite-so-friendly.

            ‘Well, it sort of varies…’

            ‘I’d find it claustrophobic being cooped up in that little room.’

            ‘But that’s why the rent’s so cheap.  House-shares are much more expensive,’ I insisted.

            It was not an auspicious start.  All the same, he was the best of a bad bunch.  He was neither a woman-hater nor a dog-hater.  Pedantic perhaps, but I reckoned I’d cope with that.

            ‘If you expect me to keep to my room, I’ll need a chair.’

            And so I picked up a chair for him in a local second-hand shop.  How I begrudged that fifteen quid!  Brad said it was rather small and more like a child’s chair.  Of course, he was right but his comfort wasn’t my top priority.  By this time I was pretty fed up with the intrusion on my life.

            Brad moved around so silently, in his soft-soled shoes, disturbing nothing.  I prefer to hear people coming and going.  There was a spookiness about the way I’d suddenly feel his presence behind me.

            ‘He’s such a creep,’ I confided to Emma one day on the phone.

            ‘You’ll have to have it out with him,’ she said wisely.  ‘Remember, it’s your house and he’ll have to toe the line.’

            But how could I tell him he got on my nerves simply because he crept around everywhere?  Said out loud it sounded like nit-picking.

            A few days after Brad’s arrival, Jerry came to dinner.  The wine was chilled, the tablecloth pristine white.  I opened the glass patio doors wide onto the garden.  Brad was sitting there on a deckchair, pretending he could do the Telegraph cryptic crossword.  He was wearing a pair of the longest shorts I’d ever seen.  I shuddered, but I wasn’t worried.  We both knew where we stood.

            Surely even an insensitive clod like Brad would not remain there playing gooseberry while I was entertaining Jerry.

            Jerry arrived, looking as sultry, dark and gorgeous as ever.  I glared at the back of Brad’s head with its nailbrush hairdo and little-boy’s neck and almost burst with the intensity of my hatred.  Jerry looked up from spooning his asparagus soup, and asked about Brad.

            ‘He’s here because his marriage broke up and he needs time to look around for a new pad for himself.’

            ‘Poor chap,’ Jerry muttered tenderly.

            ‘Poor chap,’ I repeated through clenched teeth.

            Jerry offered Brad a glass of red wine, which he accepted with a broad smile.  He then hovered until Jerry left around eleven.

            I phoned Emma next day.  ‘Do you know what that numbskull did last night?’ I fumed.

            ‘No.  What?’  Emma was agog.  She was horrified when I told her.

            I was cool towards Brad after that and sensing it, he withdrew into himself.  For a couple of weeks all he did was go to work, come home and sit out on the patio.

            ‘How Jerry getting on?’ he asked casually one evening.

            ‘OK.’

            ‘Haven’t seen him around lately.’

            I shrugged my shoulders.  It was true.  Jerry hadn’t phoned but I tried not to get uptight about trivialities.  He was only a man, after all.  If he was busy and needed some space, then he must have it.

            Occasionally I joined Brad on the patio.  He’d put down his paper or novel and pour me a drink.  It was cosy.  I still considered him to be arrogant and a creep, but he did have a softer side.  Once, when I told him about the break-up with my boyfriend last year, he said, ‘So you’re feeling it too, then…’

            He brought home bones for the dog and once, some flowers for me.  My friends started making remarks.

            ‘Oh, there’s nothing to it,’ I said airily.  There wasn’t.  I mean, how could there possibly be? 

            Jerry still hadn’t rung.  I quietly tormented myself.

My social life improved but Brad’s didn’t and he made no effort to deal with this.  One day, as I was going to a party, I asked him if he’d like to come along.  He accepted and I introduced him to a businesswoman I knew, Melanie.  Melanie’s big blue eyes lit up.  I was pleased they got on so well. 

The next day I asked him if he’d made arrangements to see her again.

‘I’d like to, but I couldn’t,’ he explained.  ‘I’m always the same when I meet someone attractive.  I can’t seem to work up the courage.’

And so I fixed it.  The conversation went something like this…

‘Melanie, if Brad asked you out, would you go?’

‘Brad, Melanie would love to go out with you but she’s waiting for you to ask her.  She’s in tomorrow evening if you want to phone.’

Yes, I fixed it for the two of them, I really did.  Then, out of the blue, Jerry phoned and took me to an Indian restaurant.  His conversation was fast and lively, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected.  Brad wasn’t seeing Melanie that night and I’d left him with his novel, on the patio.  He looked so lonely…

Gradually, Brad got back into circulation.  One day, to my surprise, he invited me to a party.  It was a fifties night.  I went to Mum’s and rummaged in the back of her wardrobe.  I dug out the perfect dress with a red top and full white skirt.  Four-inch stilettoes and a purple fringe completed the look.

            I caught my breath when I saw Brad’s get-up.  His crop was slicked down with gel and he wore a black T-shirt, pink shirt and skinny black jeans.  He looked amazing.

            When we stopped at the petrol station, the attendant’s eyes almost popped out of his face as I teetered to the cashpoint and Brad put air in the tyres. We both laughed at the effect our gear had on the unsuspecting public.  And I loved every single minute of it.

            There was only one thing that marred a perfect evening…

            On being introduced to Brad’s friends, everyone gave me a strange look and remarked: ‘So you’re the landlady!’

            ‘What have you been saying to your mates about me/’ I asked Brad later.  He looked uncomfortable, but then, who was I to judge him.

            ‘I told all my friends you were a creep,’ I confided bravely.

            ‘I told mine you were a dragon,’ he replied.

            I began to regret my successful matchmaking as I thought about Brad and Melanie.  After all, we had more in common that I first thought.  There was a certain something about our time together.

            When Jerry rang, my response was lukewarm.  It was Friday and Brad was shortly due home from work.

            ‘I quite understand if you’ve got something better on the back burner,’ snapped Jerry, annoyed because I wasn’t immediately available after three weeks of silence.

            ‘That’s how it goes,’ I said cheerfully, replacing the receiver.  I put Brad’s favourite DVD on the player and began to think things over. 

            I worried about Brad, this arrogant guy who loved loud clothes and furry monkeys.  He was the same man who like opera, but was impatient with Shakespeare and couldn’t do the cryptic crossword.

            He asked me how I was and really wanted to know.

            He was going out with Melanie.

            I could stand it no longer.  When he arrived home, I asked him outright.

            ‘Are you seeing Melanie again?’ I blurted.

            ‘I’m comfortable with you,’ Brad said simply, ‘and I’d rather stay here.’

            That’s all very well, of course, but now I must prepare a new contract.  It’s essential to start how you mean to go on.  Know where you stand, that sort of thing.  It’s only sensible. No more Jerry-types for me.  Brad’s going to know exactly what’s expected…

© Janet Cameron.  First published in The Sunday Post 15 September, 1991 under the title My Uncertain Heart.

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