It doesn’t matter how many times I visit Canterbury Court, I always get lost.
Outside by the keysafes there’s a gravestone to a dog incorporated into the wall. Bogie – Most faithful of animals. Died 1905. I wonder if one of the keysafes is for Bogie, because I’m certain that most faithful of ghosts would be able to take me straight to Beatrice’s flat.
The problem is, Canterbury Court fundamentally and demonstrably does not make sense. It has mezzanine anomalies called -1 or +2. It has one main staircase leading up to the first mezzanine, then other, smaller stairways leading off from that, in ways so random you’d have to think, in the event of fire, the idea was confuse the flames not confine them. I can only imagine it was put together by a team of architects who were at war with each other, or possibly one architect having an existential crisis. Either way, Canterbury Court is a living nightmare to navigate.
A postman passes me on one of the landings. He looks haggard, a marine veteran of the labyrinth, gripping his bag with a thousand-yard stare, marching with a death or glory kind of vigour towards the lift. He must surely know the way to flat fourteen, so I stop him to ask. He pulls the ear buds out of his ear (I think he’s listening to a self-development app: You are a confident and generous human being, afraid of no-one and nothing … ). He frowns, then nods dismissively to the far end of the corridor. ‘Take the stairs’ he says, then screwing the buds back into place, he crosses himself, turns and throws himself into the lift as the doors slide shut.
On the next floor the numbers pass in illogical sequence, like one of those intelligence tests where the answer could be anything from 27 to a chicken on a bike. But luckily enough – before I run out of water and die – I find myself standing outside Beatrice’s door. I knock quickly, in case the magic ends and the door changes again. Beatrice answers. I go inside.
I’m sure if Bogie the ghost dog had been leading the way, he’d collapse down in a grateful heap in front of Lovejoy. (It’s always Lovejoy when I come to see Beatrice – which sounds like a particularly cruel kind of Purgatory, but there’s actually a perfectly rational explanation: Beatrice always has her Tinzaparin injection this time of the morning). Or maybe with one howl of anguish, when he realised what it was he was watching, Bogie would jump up and throw himself through the window. Even if he did stay, though, he wouldn’t be able to help me over the next hurdle. Finding Beatrice is a cinch compared to understanding Beatrice.
The stroke Beatrice suffered a few years ago has affected her speech. That, coupled with a strong Norfolk accent and the fact that Beatrice only has one, large tooth displayed as flagrantly in the middle of her mouth as Bogie’s headstone in the wall outside – all this means that I find it almost impossible to understand what she tries to tell me. It doesn’t help that Beatrice gets irritated with me, too, and speaks more quickly, so that in the end I’m desperately using every sense I have to divine what it is she wants. Mostly I’ll just ask her to speak a little more slowly, or write down what it is she wants. But today for some reason I steam ahead and try to understand by letting the sounds wash over me and the sense filter down by weight.
Beatrice shakes a handful of opened letters at me.
‘You want me to file them?’
– – – – – – – – (shakes the bundle)
‘You want me to throw them away?’
– – – – – – – – (shakes the bundle harder)
‘You want me to recycle them?’
– – – – – – – – (holds the bundle forwards / pulls the bundle back / shakes the bundle)
‘You want me to check the letters to make sure there’s nothing important in them, and THEN recycle them?’
(big sigh / shakes head / hands me the bundle)
I look through the letters. The first one has a marmalade sandwich in it.
‘What do you want me to do with this, Beatrice?’
She raises her eyebrows.