It’s Not A Money Thing

A missed call. I catch my phone ringing just as I am finishing the last of my day’s first coffee, a ritual that must not be disturbed. That first coffee of the day is of utmost important to me; I cannot function properly until afterwards: the first half hour at work is dedicated every day to waiting for the coffee to cool while performing simple tasks – such as catching up on the previous evening’s e-mails, filling out my timesheet, staring at the weather – and then drinking the coffee. I cannot stomach eating anything until I have been awake for five hours, but coffee must be seized at the earliest opportunity. I am perturbed to find my coffee enjoyment disturbed by a phone call, and so I sit there, turning my eyes from the rim of the paper cup to the flashing screen next to me. My landlord’s name. I let it ring. The next disturbance to my pleasure is the flashing of a voicemail message. I leave that, too. The sky is dark although it is only nine o’clock. Outside of the main train station into the city it was dark and the umbrellas buckled, the top buttons were done up, the few pedestrians hurried to their buildings. The clouds gather and press against each other, forced together by a strong wind. The offices opposite – all of them – have their lights dimmed; each is tomblike and alone alongside our own. Rain starts to fall, first of all in little drops on the glass above my head, and then heavily, cascading the length, wobbling and drab. I watch the rain, neck the last of my cappuccino, pick up my phone and go downstairs for a smoke.
    He hopes I am all right. He says for me to call him back.
    Although I spoke to him on Saturday, I had taken no further action and now he must surely be chasing me up to confirm my notice formally. Six hours later, after he had dialled me once more and left another message, I returned the call. He did not waste time on small-talk, and I appreciated that; straight away he offered me a reduced rent. I had been expecting an earful about when I was going to write him, but instead he was knocking one-hundred-and-thirty quid off my monthly rent, a sizeable discount. He explained to me that that would allow him to break even on his mortgage – ten-ninety-eight – and I could stay there for less during this ‘difficult time’ because I was—
    ‘Because you’re a good tenant and—’
    ‘You’re a good landlord,’ I reassured him, interrupting.
    There was a desperation in his voice that was difficult to listen to.
    ‘It’s not the money,’ I told him—‘I’ve been there for five-and-a-half years now—’
    ‘Sick of E1?’ his turn to interrupt me.
    ‘…It’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere… Yeah, a bit of that, I guess, I just need a change. I mean, everything is so fucked up right now with this virus shit, I dunno what’s going on…’
    ‘Yeah, I get it.’
    ‘But, look, if you got anything else on your books, let me know.’
    He proceeded to run through a long list of properties he knew about that I might be interested in, and compared them to my own—‘This one has a separate kitchen with a door… and a shower room and toilet, y’know, a shower room, separate living area, it’s bigger than your place… right now… and that’s in E13, out by Canary Wharf… Do you like that part of town?’ I did not. ‘There’s a gym on site and a swimming pool.’ I lived somewhere with a gym on site before, and a swimming pool. I never used either, but looked in through the window as I walked to the pub on my own to watch the Sunday afternoon football.
    I told him I would think about it, but would be handing my notice in imminently, that it was not a money thing. Saying that it was not a money thing over & over felt like –‘It’s not you, it’s not you.’
    After we finished talking – and I referred to him affectionately, colloquially – I went into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. A couple of friends were there, talking about France going into its second lockdown. Although recently separated from the continent, Britain kept a close eye on its ex-wife; whatever she did, they would surely do in time. Every announcement from Macron or Merkel was greeted with tremors, nervousness, a foreboding of their own inevitable fate. I relayed to them this strange news—
    ‘My landlord just reduced my rent…’
    ‘Wow,’ said one.
    ‘Fuck landlords,’ said another – a unionist I had a lot in common with and had been talking to a lot during developments within the office.
    ‘Normally I would agree, Mikey,’ I said—‘But this is a good landlord. I mean, shit, he’s not increased my rent in five years… any problem I get, he deals with it straight away – my boiler will be fucked up in the morning but it’s sorted by the time I get home. I agree, fuck private landlords, but this is a good one. And so I’m gone give him the time of day.’
    ‘Yeah, fair enough, seems pretty sound.’
    ‘I feel kinda bad.’
    Later that evening, I locked myself in my mother’s car and spoke to my therapist. She always opens with—‘And how would you like to use today’s session,’ lending the situation a strange kind of formality that, even after six months, I am not comfortable with. I told her what had happened. What a fiend I am for routine! Being back in the office full-time affords me little opportunity for talking to her, so when she presented me with a session on Wednesday night at eight o’clock, I could not refuse. The exact car that had held me in the gold blue light of summer now housed me in the pitch black of autumn. Once the door-delayed lights had flickered out, I found myself cowering in black. It was cold and I hunched over. Sometimes I believe that I speak too much during our sessions but then – as my friend told me – it is my money. Occasionally, I just need to talk, to speak. I have found myself feeling lonelier now than when I lived alone. So we spoke about my flat and avoidance and—
    ‘I moved out of my last place because it was haunted by my ex. Kinda had to get out of there…’
    ‘So would you say you associate your flat with healing?’
    Pause. ‘Yeah, I reckon so. I mean, being out of the place we had lived together really helped – I was still fucked up, but it was easier, y’know? But in my new place I could enjoy being single and meeting new women and enjoying myself, could go back to doing all the things I hadn’t done in a long time. I have a lot of good memories of that place, I do, but now – I didn’t tell you about when I went back there the other week, did I? … Did I? I don’t think so.[I recounted this story to her over a five-minute period.] And so now my flat is haunted by H—n, and I need to get out of there… I think it’ll help.’
    She paused. ‘We haven’t spoken about H—n in a while.’
    ‘What’s the fucking point?’
    ‘Are you still upset?’
    ‘Of course I am but it does no good to talk about it. There is nothing I can do about it, so what’s the point in talking about it? I try not to think about it because if I think about it then I get upset about it. All that’s happening is I’m getting better at not thinking about it. I’m doing better than I was a month ago, And maybe in a month’s time I’ll be doing better than I am now.’

    There is so much for me to talk about that I stumble over my words and repeat myself. Should I repeat a word over and over then she picks up on it and brings it to my attention. After the session, I am feeling woozy, as though I am drunk, but also a little happy. The happiness does not last. It never does. There is the smell of a bonfire in the air. I write about it all without understanding why. These words on the screen, their purpose and the nature in which they are recorded? I do not know.
    Sleep has not come to me readily lately. Four-and-a-half hours a night leaves me with headaches. If my father or brother falls asleep in front of the television set, I become very angry with them, I bite my lip and perspire with rage. Some hours later I lie in bed unable to make that most splendid of journeys from awake to slumber. A late run for the train; every minute is measured against the house outside of which it falls; a stretch of pain down the shin. The side of the houses turn orange red and, turning, one witnesses the most beautiful of sunrises. I gasp, I stumble, I walk on, I pause and turn, take a photograph, sigh, I rush and make the train with seconds to spare; it is not so grand behind glass, as if the interruption of the manmade were censoring a moment between a celestial revolution and the inside of the human eye.
    There is a homeless man outside of the office selling magazines. There is always a homeless man outside of the office selling magazines. It is a spot worth a lot to the homeless men; they even fight over it, and, from what one can tell, for so little change. This man has only been there for the last ten months or so. One day he will go and be replaced by another. Every morning as I pass by to get my morning coffee he is sitting on an telecoms enclosure playing his guitar. There are many homeless men with guitars. Eventually the guitars go missing. For months and months, he has played the same chord progression over & over: GCDDsus2. The chords reverberate somewhat off the empty buildings. The men outside smoking complain—‘Is he ever going to learn a new fuckin song?’ On Tuesday, for the first time, he started singing over the chords. His voice not sounding how one would have expected. I looked up and at him. I tried to listen in, but the rain, the rain drowned him out.