Rachel brings her tea over and sits with me.
‘What’ve you been up to?’ I ask her.
‘House hunting’ she says.
‘How’s that going?’
‘Terrible. I had the worst day the other day. I saw nine houses.’
‘I know. I just booked out the entire morning and went’
‘Did Ben go?’
‘Ben? No! He can’t stand it. But you play to your strengths. I’m what you might call the triage nurse in this relationship, especially as far as houses go. I sift out the crap. Which is all of them.’
‘It’s a thing, that’s for sure.’
‘I had the weirdest estate agent show me round. She was only young. About twenty, I’d guess, her hair all piled up. And she had this heavy makeup that stopped at her chin, circling her features, which made her look a bit like a giant egg. I couldn’t help asking about it. I do it like that so I don’t get raped she said’
‘What a thing to say!’
‘I know! She was wearing an extraordinary outfit. White fur jacket split at the sides, bright pantaloon trousers and leather boots. Although she was barefoot when I met her at the office. She was sitting on a chair digging her toes into the carpet. Mmm she said. Feel that!’
‘That’s not the half of it. When we got into the car she said she knew right off we’d get along because she gets a feeling about people. She said she thought I was a florist, and when I said I was a nurse, she said yeah, I’m not surprised, because you totally look like one. And anyway, she said, I’m just glad you’re not like the usual stiffs I have to show round.’
‘And then there were the houses. Honestly, Jim – it was like a roll call for the damned. The first one was a bungalow right the other side of town, down by the river. I mean literally by the river. On the flood plain. Don’t worry, she said. It only floods when it’s tidal. What – you mean like twice a day? I said. You’re up some steps so you’re good, she said. Anyway, it’s an unadopted road, which people love. It means you can do what you want with it. I reckon it’s more that the council know it floods and have washed their hands, I said, but she ignored that and showed me round. A dismal, lightless hole that should’ve been condemned, let alone put on the market. No? she said – okay – I’ll show you some more.
The next one was worse. It had this terrible atmosphere, creepy and sad, like someone had died or been murdered. I asked her if anyone was living there at the moment because I couldn’t tell. There was a mattress on the floor, and the sheets were thrown back, odd things scattered about. She said yeah, a woman and her kid. She’s getting divorced or something. Honestly, Jim – I wanted to start taking some details so I could call social services. I mean – it was getting a bit like work. Anyway, that was no good, so we drove over to the next house and out of the blue she asked me if liked macaroni cheese? I said yep, love it. I said we’re vegetarian, so we have macaroni cheese quite a lot. Have you tried it with bacon on the top? she said, because that is the absolute nuts. And I said well…no, because we’re vegetarian. So she said did I know why Muslims don’t eat bacon? I said I thought there was something in the Quran about it, and she said yeah – it’s because they eat their own shit.
The next house she showed me had an enormous crack right down the middle. I mean huge, like if you slammed the door it would fall apart in two halves. Oh that? she said. That’s just subsidence. I sold a house exactly like this the other day for four-fifty. Then she laughed and said there’s no way they’ll be able to resell. I wanted to say to her – you do know that’s not a good story to be telling me in this situation, right? But what was the point?
The last house she showed me belonged to this elderly couple. The estate agent stayed outside stomping up and down having some huge argument on her phone whilst I looked round. It was run-down, like all the others, but of course I was going through the rooms making lots of encouraging noises like you do. Oh – I love what you’ve done in the bathroom. Those brown tiles are really so, I don’t know, quirky – kind of thing. The elderly guy followed behind me the whole time, breathing down my neck, which was unnerving. Every time I turned round he was right in my face, smiling. I went into the bedroom and there was this enormous cactus in a pot. I mean gigantic – the same height as me. I turned round and there he was, smiling away. I can see you like my phallic cactus he said. And that’s when the estate agent came in. What d’you think, she said, clapping her hands. Sold?’