‘So how’s your new room?’


‘So how’s your new room?’

The question startled him. ‘Great,’ he stammered, his mind taking off again like a freshly wound clockwork toy, relieved that the silence was over, and anxious not to allow its return. ‘It’s like something out of La Bohème. I don’t think Strindberg, even at his most abysmal level, ever lived in anything quite as Spartan. It’s a fifth floor mansarde and the building has no lift. I don’t have any hot water. There’s no bath or shower, not even a bidet. The only toilet is a shared one, on the landing. The bed creaks, the floor sags and the paint is peeling off the walls where the damp patches are. The only table is falling apart. The chair is okay but the wardrobe is constructed of random bits of timber, some painted and some not, and lined with old copies of France Soir. And I think the old man who runs the place hates foreigners.’

‘Sounds awful.’ Laura said, wrinkling her nose and smiling.

Peter didn’t think so, but he didn’t want to disagree with her and risk another silence. Besides, his new room did have one redeeming quality.

‘What’s that?’  Laura asked, as if it mattered to her that it did.

‘It has a window to the street. Now I can look out across the rooftops to the spire of Saint-Germain-des-Prés knowing that I really am in Paris. I can look down at a street that Henry Miller mentions in Tropic of Cancer. And I can see people passing and know that I’m not alone.’