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The short goodbye

It started with a knock on my door. I lay in bed, staring at the sunlight dancing on the ceiling. I hadn’t got back from work until after 11pm the night before. Laden with Tesco bags, I was faced with Henry snogging some girl called Flora from Wimbledon High in the kitchen. The party hadn’t died down until five. It was 10 O’Clock.

‘Sas? Sorry. Are you awake?’

I threw my body off the bed and came to the door. ‘Hi Lil, sorry, I’m awake. I’m just lying in bed looking at the ceiling. How are you doing?’

She gave me a slight smile. ‘Fine. I’m… fine. Can I… ah, have a chat when you’re up and dressed downstairs?’

‘Yes, sure,’ I said noticing the shy cigarette resting by her side.

When I went downstairs, there was a new cigarette resting between two of Lilac’s slim fingers.

‘Everything OK?’ I asked. She gave me a faint smile.

‘Things are going to get nasty around here and I don’t think it’s fair on you. I’ve loved having you around. In fact, you’re my favourite ever lodger. Lily will tell you that,’ she said, stopping to take a drag. ‘But I can already feel how stressed I’m getting and Henry’s exams aren’t for another two months.’

‘No, I understand,’ I said, winded despite empathising. What now?

‘I know Shark Attack has said he’d be happy to have you stay for a while. He has a house by the water. It’s a really beautiful house. And Big James has also said you could go and stay with him and his boys. So you’ve got plenty of offers. They’re good guys.’

‘Yeah… I’m not sure.’

‘Why? Because they’re men? Does that make it different?’

‘A bit. I know they’re nice and everything but I’d prefer to live with a woman. I think I’ll talk to friends and have a look around first.’

Friends weren’t moving or looking to move. I looked around. A box room in St John’s Wood. And then Crazy Yank’s three-storey house by the Thames. Two weeks later, he came to pick me up.

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A touch of Lilac

Crazy Yank was just one of many of Lilac’s male suitors dressed up in a platonic façade. Another was called Howard who I never met but heard inevitably disagreeable things about; he seemed to boss Lilac about, telling her she was late when he knew she was working long hours and certainly didn’t seem to tickle her funny bone either. Of course, there was Henry’s younger drum teacher (Lilac remains 49 years old all her life) but that was all hush-hush drinks at the pub and a reckless option in her mind. There was Big James, younger in his early forties and good friends with Crazy Yank, who’d inevitably ‘just be passing’ on his motorbike from Ealing.

At the time, my joint favourite contender with Crazy Yank was his antithesis: Tennis Mike. Despite Crazy Yank playing a great deal of tennis, Tennis Mike had good contacts within the Lawn Tennis Association. He’d spoil Lilac with the best Wimbledon tickets you could get your hands on and steak au poivre and champagne dinners. Meanwhile, Crazy Yank would whisk Lilac away for daytime and late-night drinking along the Chiswick High Road.

Lilac would typically go with the flow, enjoying herself and maintaining that both Crazy Yank and Mike were ‘just friends’ and that they wanted to be just friends with her. This was just the start of getting to know a woman who, to this day, never fails to amuse me. A woman who one day, felt hungry and burnt croissants so they looked like charcoaled elephant turds on a baking tray. Another day, she got home telling me how famished she was and I went out to the kitchen to find her eating quail eggs knocked back with a couple shots of vodka.

But Lilac isn’t always so chilled out. Unlike Henry. And that became a problem when I was living there. One night in particular, 10 GCSEs meant watching Skins and crafting me a Best of Zero 7 for Henry. And for Lilac? It meant shouting.

‘Henry, what are you doing? This has to stop. You’ve got your GCSEs, Henry. Do you know what this means? Do you know how hard I work for you to go to this school?’

Henry, as usual at his mother’s outbursts, would say nothing. I sat there, looking at the carpet, shouting inside for him to say something.

‘Saskia, please don’t encourage this behaviour. He’s got his exams soon. They’re very important.’

I looked at Lilac to say something but nothing came out. Lilac was staring at Henry who was still watching Skins.

‘Henry! Are you bloody listening to me?’

Henry got up from his armchair, slung his satchel over his shoulders and stomped up the stairs. She followed him up two flights of stairs to his attic room, shouting on the verge of tears.

I switched off the TV, turned off both lights and crept up the stairs to my room.

Soon after that, it was time for Lilac and I to have ‘a chat’.

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