I dim the headlights before the approach. No other vehicle has passed in the last ten minutes. The rain is all but a splutter now; the wipers cease their tormenting drag and slide. The wet gravel sinks silently under the tread of the tyres: perfect conditions.
The windows glow at opposite corners above. I navigate to the very back of the car park and pull in under an unkempt bush. Sliding out, I walk towards the building, satisfied that the car is out of sight. The back entrance is clear. I ease off my boots and pad up the stone steps in Lycra-soled feet, reaching the doorway of the flat I have been familiarising myself with for a fortnight now. Carefully easing down the handle, no need for a key and hence no jingle, I sink to my knees and enter on all fours. The deep scent of wood smoke emanates from the rugs, raising recent memories. I feel for the sofa, the one between two windows, benefitting from the join of the wall to evade prying eyes. Retrieving the flashlight from my bag, I am finally ready to digest the passages I began over two weeks ago.
Too late. A tapping at the door. There’s no time to react. A sudden glare above my head, shaming my skulking. He advances.
“I brought your post up. Was on my way home. You do know how the light switches work, don’t you? It’s not as difficult as the stove.” My neighbour doesn’t even smirk. He gives me a look reserved for the very strange of this earth. I thank him, and he informs me that my car has been borrowed by Jack from the butchers; it was the only one free.
It’s not free, but, in my attempt to integrate, I left the key in the ignition as everyone in the village does. I don’t lock the door on my flat for the same reason. I keep the lights off when I get home for a bit of peace.
The flat fills up: Bren has brought me fresh vegetables from her field, Doreen has brought wood and borrowed some milk, and Jamie has made us both a pot of tea without asking.
I get the tube home, squashed against someone’s armpit, thankful for the lack of intimate eye contact. After stomping upstairs, I slam my front door behind me. I flick the light switches in every room, safe in the knowledge that no one cares I’m home. No one knows me. I grab my book and nuke a microwave meal for one. I’m just collapsing onto the sofa in full view of the world down below when the doorbell rings. Shaking off that familiar feeling of late, I answer it.
“You couldn’t lend me some milk, could you? And a teabag? And maybe some sugar? I just moved here from the countryside. Maybe I could come in, and we’ll just drink a cuppa together.”
Claire lives in Austria and escapes back to her mother tongue through her fiction writing. She has short stories published or upcoming in print and online at places including Funny Pearls, Fudoki Magazine, Blinkpot, Grindstone Literary and Reflex Fiction. She won the Shooter Flash monthly competition at the start of 2022 and has been shortlisted and longlisted in various international competitions. Claire tweets now and then @SchonClaire