The Beginning of Everything
It’s nearly a month since I ran away, if you can call it that. I suppose you can. After almost three weeks camping damply in the cemetery—a good choice, although you mightn’t think it, a quiet, empty place (empty apart from the dead, I mean) where I was able to almost relax—I found something more weatherproof and substantial, although equally quiet and empty.
Only temporarily empty though—the house has been sold, quite recently, I think—so I can’t stay forever, but I’m really hoping I can get myself back on track before the new owners appear. I don’t much want to have to deal with anyone who might discover me lurking in their new property. That would be awkward, right?
The house is one of a long row of semidetached 1930s houses on a road that leads down from the cemetery into the town. It has a name—Sunnyside—and a big bow window. There’s stained glass in the front door; stylized flowers, a nice bit of provincial art deco. It’s been empty a long while, I think, judging from the state of the garden. The electricity’s still connected (this doesn’t seem very efficient, but I guess it’s far from being my problem), so I can charge my phone even if I can’t put a light on. And I can cook on the ancient electric stove. This is a lot better than the mostly soup- and noodle-based meals I was making with my Primus, hidden away among the graves.
I didn’t have to break a window or anything to get in; I used my lockpicks. I know most people don’t own lockpicks, but luckily I was quite an odd child. The picks were a gift from my brother, long ago. I hadn’t used them for years—not since I was at college, saving friends the cost of a locksmith when they locked themselves out—but they used to often come in handy, especially when I was seventeen or so and lived for a while with a bunch of people who sometimes required access to odd bits of vacant land, apparently secure behind padlocked gates. The sort of people who might own bolt cutters, let’s face it, but who found my facility with the picks hilarious as well as useful.
Anyway. Here I am, wrapped in my sleeping bag in the back sitting room of this house. It has three empty, dusty bedrooms, a solidly period bathroom, a bright and sunny front room, and a kitchen quite urgently in need of modernization, as they say on property programs. The whole house has loads of potential, but it does need a lot of work. Whoever’s bought the place will have plenty of fixing up to do.
I lived in a house, once, that needed a lot of work. It was exciting to begin with and eventually exhausting. But maybe the new owners of Sunnyside are the sort of people who can manage this kind of task, more successfully than we were ever able to.
I stretch out on the sofa and shift the phone to my other ear. It’s dark, and cold, and I’m wearing multiple layers. My hands are freezing. I should maybe see if I can find some fingerless gloves somewhere, or a pair of those wrist warmer things. Despite what might seem like a negative situation, however, I’m feeling quite chirpy.
“So, wait, you’re living in an empty house? Does it have a roof?” says Noosha.
“It’s empty, Noosh, not abandoned; of course it’s got a roof. And water and electricity. A palace!”
There’s no arguing that a tiny tent, two hundred miles from what was once my home, is five-star accommodation. Sunnyside, even unheated, does feel like a palace compared to where I was living until yesterday. This might explain my positive mood.
“But how? I don’t understand. Is this what you were talking about the other day?”
That’s when I told her I’d “had an idea”—and this, indeed, is the result.
“Yeah. The security was quite poor.”
There’s a pause while she thinks about this.
“Have you broken into someone’s house, Jessica?”
“Well, technically, yes.”
I laugh. “Yeah. No, okay, that’s definitely what I’ve done.”
“I guess I am, yeah. It’s a bit nicer than Wharton Road though.”
Noosha laughs. She never went to the squat, but I’ve told her stories about it. I was in my mid-teens, had just left school, when I met the people who lived on Wharton Road. It was pretty grim; I didn’t like going there. I found the chaotic nature of the things that happened—even midweek afternoons could descend into anarchy—quite frightening, although I pretended not to. Even at sixteen I felt sorry for the neighbors. This is a bit different, though; no one’s stolen all the wiring, and it doesn’t smell of bonfires, hash, and unwashed clothing. I wonder idly what the people who lived in the squat are doing now.
“What if you get caught?”
I shrug, not that she can see me, and look around the room. It’s dark, but even in daylight there’s not much to see; it’s essentially empty, although there is an offensively ugly non-period fireplace with an elaborate electric fire that I’m too scared to turn on. There’s no furniture in the house except for some unattractive built-in wardrobes in the master bedroom, a frameless full-length mirror leaning against a wall in the front bedroom, and this large floral sofa, where I slept last night. It’s not amazingly comfortable, and my back doesn’t completely love it, but it is at least big enough for me to lie full-length. And it’s better than a bedroll in a cemetery.
“Hopefully I won’t get caught. I’m seeing someone about a job later. It might only take me a month to save up enough money for a room. So with luck I’ll be gone before anyone catches me.”
“I dunno, mate, it sounds risky.”
“It is risky,” I admit, “but it’s indoors risky, and I’m prepared to take the chance.”
“Seriously, though, I could lend you some money. I don’t want you to get caught. Would you get arrested?”
I consider this. “Probably not. Anyway, it’s fine. I don’t want your money. I’m going to do this myself.”
I’ve deleted lots of people from my phone, or blocked them, and I never answer mysterious calls. All the location stuff is turned off. I blocked loads of people on Facebook, too, and haven’t been on there anyway, except to write a reassuring holding statement. I don’t want the police looking for me, after all. I’m not missing, I’m just—somewhere else. I am safe. Please do not speak to Mitch about me, I do not want to have any contact with him, it says. I will not be checking my messages here, please be assured I’ll be in touch later. I should probably have deleted the whole thing, but I didn’t want anyone to worry.
I’m lucky that a lot of my stuff never made it out of my sister’s attic to Mitch’s anyway, so I didn’t have to abandon much. I’ve been extremely fortunate. To be honest, I’ve got enough money to live on for a while, but I wanted to see what I could do, how I’d cope if I really had nothing. Hence the tent, bought in the summer, when I first thought seriously about running away.
I sent my sister a postcard of the castle when I first arrived, letting her know that I’m safe, adding: Will be in touch soon. This evening, as well as Noosha, I called Lizzie, my best friend from school, who was relieved I was no longer camping and tried to be upbeat about the whole situation. I know she’s still worried about me, though. She wanted me to go and stay at theirs, but it’s too close to where I was living before. Noosha’s the one I’ve spoken to the most since I left, messaging or speaking every day, even if only briefly. She wants pictures of the house, now, but somehow it seems rude to take any.
She was always suspicious of Mitch. I wish I’d paid more attention. I couldn’t stay with her because it’s the first place he’d look for me, assuming he has any interest in where I’ve gone. On the one hand, I can’t imagine him giving enough of a shit to try to find me. But on the other hand . . . he does have a terrible temper. So much better to disappear entirely.
I know when some people have to escape it’s a lot harder. Mitch might be a prick, but it’s not like he stopped me having a bank account, or a phone. In fact, some people probably think this whole thing is me being melodramatic, and I suppose they might be right. I don’t know, though. I think he was close to fundamentally losing it when I walked in on him. Not the best afternoon of my life. It’s funny, because it should have been me who was angry, shouldn’t it. I wasn’t, though; I was almost delighted, and relieved—definitely relieved.