Melanie’s front door is to the side of the building, down an alleyway so narrow you could put your back against one house, plant your feet against the other and shuffle your way to the top. I’m guessing the house is a couple of hundred years old. It must have been pretty grand once. Now it’s something of a housing horror, crudely divided into as many flats as could possibly fit, narrowing and contorting into smaller and smaller spaces until they ended up with rooms scarcely big enough to put in a door you could actually open. It all feels so extemporary, haphazard, fire-hazard. The builders must have been desperate, or crazy, or both.
‘Come in!’ says Melanie, retreating to make a Melanie-sized space big enough for me to enter. ‘And then turn to your left. I’m not using the right. It’s too damp.’
There’s no hall light, no windows, so I have to feel my way forwards, guided by the booming sound and flickering light of a giant TV screen in the living room.
‘I’ll turn it down,’ says Melanie, following behind. She must have been carrying the remote in her hand, because she shoots it over my shoulder.
‘There! That’s better!’
On the muted screen, two grim-faced men are standing on top of a burning rig, looking down into the water. There’s so much oil spilled everywhere even the sea’s on fire – but I guess they’re thinking at least there’s a chance they could swim underwater. There’s another explosion behind them, everything starts to collapse, they have to jump.
‘What on earth are you watching, Melanie?’
‘Oh, I can’t remember. Volcano or Earthquake or Monster something or other. It’s very busy, whatever it is.’
She takes a seat on the broken-down sofa she uses for a bed, puts the remote control to one side, and folds her hands in her lap. ‘Don’t worry about them,’ she says, as we both watch the two guys flailing around underwater. ‘They’ll be all right. They always are.’