Our flat is basically made of cardboard. Thick cardboard, yes; but cardboard.
We knew it when we walked in – but it was one of the only negative balanced against a whole heavy pile of positives when we sat down and made the pro/con list of all the places we’d seen. Location? Price? Flexible Lease? Cats? Vibe? Yes yes yes yes yes. Possibly made of thick cardboard? Yup. Or plywood. Or really old biscuits taped together with sticking plasters.
It’s all absolutely fine. It’s a lovely flat, it’s friendly and cosy and it’s starting to feel like home.
It’s fine and lovely AND it’s made of cardboard.
The other interesting thing about our new flat is how neighbourly it is. We’ve bumped into all our neighbours in the stairway, or the entrance hall of our little 4-flat community, and they all seem very nice. Very friendly.
But there’s the rub. From the living room, you can see the fire escape that everyone uses to get to their flats, or from their flat to the laundry below us. And when they’re going up it, or down it, it’s natural to look if you catch some movement out of the corner of your eye. But often that movement is one of us, sitting on the sofa, looking up to see what movement we just caught out of the corner of our eye.
Suddenly you’re sitting there. In your house, your private space, nodding at a person outside it.
“Stoppit!” I whisper sharply at My Beloved, when I catch him doing this. “Stoppit you’re breaking the fourth wall, stoppit!”
Because, in my mind, it’s a barrier you don’t breach. For the person outside, it’s like inviting yourself into someone’s flat without asking. For the person inside, it’s like realising you live in a dolls house, and any moment now, a giant hand might burst through, lift you up, and put you in the bath, fully clothed.
The other day we were lying in bed.
Don’t worry, this still isn’t one of those blogs. Although there will, in a paragraph or so, be quite a graphic description of an activity that My Beloved and I engage in, at bedtime, I would like everyone reading this to know that the terms “Plastic-sheathed electronic personal entertainment device” and “fast of finger and heavy of thumb” and “doggedly focused on the little man in a red car” should be understood to be NOT euphemisms. We have been together six years: they are literal.
The other day we were lying in bed doing what we often do when preparing ourselves for sleep: we were playing MarioKart on our Nintendo DS things – those plastic-sheathed electronic personal entertainment device things you can wirelessly join up with other people to play together.
“Did you just throw a shell at me?” said my beloved, nonsensically (to anyone who hasn’t played it before. Makes perfect sense to me)
“Me? Never…” I said, a demon on the race track, fast of finger, heavy of thumb.
‘Eee-ee’ He said. At least I thought he did.
“What? Nothing. Are you trying to distract me?” he said.
‘Eee-ee’ came the noise, again.
We both looked around. The cats were sleeping on the pile of clean laundry already. There was no other source for noise, apart from…
‘Ee-ee. E-eee’ It was upstairs. People going to bed, we thought. And started another race.
‘Eeeeee-EE!’ the noise came again.
‘E-ee, e-ee, E-ee, E-EE’
“You don’t think…” I started
“PLAY THE GAME” said My Beloved, blushing, doggedly concentrated on the little man in the red car in front of him.
‘Ee-ee! Ee-ee, ee-ee, ee-ee, ee-ee!’ said our newlywed neighbours.
We stared at our screens.
The race was a pretty straight forward one. And we’d done it lots of times before. Several tunnels, a few tricky hairpin bends and a couple of interesting junctions where you could choose to head up a tight alleyway rather than the main street, but nothing too hard to handle.
My beloved was in the car he always picked – streamlined and powerful, with a big thrust and an ability to handle rough ground. I was in more of a starter vehicle, picked for the handling rather than the speed.
My beloved kept mumbling things that sounded like ‘I didn’t think of this. I hadn’t thought of this’
‘Ee-ee, ee-ee Ee-ee ee-ee, ee-ee-ee-ee-ee’, our newlywed neighbours agreed.
We bumped through the familiar courses – first to three wins would be the evening’s champion.
‘Ee-ee, ee-ee, ee-ee’
First I would take a game, then he would. I’d pull out ahead, he’d catch up. “Suck it!” he’d hiss, watching a well-timed projectile knock me back. First I was top ranking, then him. He thought he could take me, but then I’d push him behind once more. He’d race up the inside, I’d wipe his smile with a booby-trap, he’d fight back by forcing me into a slick of slippery liquid. It was a familiar, and well-fought routine.
“Should we just get up and do some more work for a bit?” I asked.
“Shut up and play the game”, whispered my beloved.
‘Ee-ee ee-ee ee-ee ee-ee ee-ee’ said our neighbours.
We continued in silence.
Not really silence, obviously. The random squeaks turned into more regular ones, the regular ones turned into a steady rhythm.
“Did we have any plans for tomorrow?” I said, quietly, trying not to let my words fall into the beat of the
‘ee-ee! ee-ee! ee-ee! ee-ee!’
“You mentioned lunch with someone, but other than that, I …” my beloved tailed off, coming to the final corner of the last race, accompanied by the
‘Ee-EE! Ee-EE! Ee-EE! Ee-EE!’
He went swooping through the finish line.
As if by some crazy, wild, coincidence (the kind made all the more special when tinged with humiliation at realising you’re in your thirties and a cliche) the last
faded away just as the little man in the red car held up his hands in victory.
The man of the house had won.
And then we went to sleep.
Turns out the breaking of the fourth wall wasn’t the loosing of mental privacy boundaries I had thought it might be.
But combine it with the fact that the fifth wall turned out to be the ceiling? That was the killer.