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Harry Lowther

The only time we viewed the flat it was inhabited by a Thai woman and her two young children, who all stayed in the same room and did not introduce themselves. We tried to have a look at the view out the bedroom window as she desperately tried to tidy the small space around us. The sound of several overlapping jingles came from under the bed as she shoved more plastic toys beneath it. The man from the letting agency recoiled at the children and the noise, and lurked back by the doorway.

It was tiny, but it was a nice enough area for what we could afford each month. The back of the tenement flat overlooked what was once a private school, now a comprehensive. We arrived in the Autumn, and the lawn outside was coated in browning leaves before the still-impressive stone Victorian building. One lunchtime, the first week we had moved in, looking out the window, we saw a fight brewing between one boy and another group of boys, all about the same age. Classmates probably. And probably less of a fight and more of a beating. We talked about going out to intervene, before a car stopped at the gate and its driver did it for us. A couple of boys from the group turned and legged it back towards the school building. The others stayed and exchanged words. There was some shrugging, the alone boy staring at the ground, and then the person got back into their car and drove away. We agreed that we felt bad for the boy, who was now walking away in the opposite direction to the others. But then again, maybe he had it coming.

I myself had never been too bright to trouble the schools, finding myself always around the middle of the class. As I wasn’t asking for help, disrupting lessons, or achieving anything much academically, I often found that the teachers had not learned my name by the end of term. I was audience. An audience to the lessons and to the daily conflict playing out with the same characters in the same roles and no resolution. But eventually I had got through a university degree and so had done enough and found my ceiling. I had what I had and knew that I had to make the best of it. My girlfriend was the one with the brains and the potential. I wanted to get a dog, probably to establish some kind of hierarchy that I wasn’t at the bottom of. But the place was too small, and we never got one.

We had come because she had an opportunity to start her career with a fledgling business, and the rent was cheap enough that we could cover it on her new salary. I could pick up a job doing whatever while we found our feet. In the end we left after just under a year for a bigger city and bigger opportunities, many of our limited possessions still in their moving boxes. Her mother had cancer. We couldn’t be too far away from her, but we also didn’t want to get too close to it. We rarely talked about it. I’d wait to see how it all came out in the wash. I always liked how that phrase made me feel. Like no matter what was happening, how quickly the world span around you, that a time would come to make sense of it all.

Several weeks after we had moved in and the nights had grown long, creeping into what could be working hours, we were finishing off a bottle of bottom-shelf wine in front of a movie, looking at some American or Italian or Spanish sunshine and men running around with guns and a damsel in distress. A train had been robbed, the getaway clean. The bottle and two glasses sat on the floor between our feet, for the lack of a table. My glass was empty. The sound of a shout and then crashing, possibly wood snapping, interrupted the evening. It had come from inside the building. Maybe now was the time.

She paused the television. The leading man’s mouth was stuck in a silent scream on the centre of the screen. There was another crash, coming from below us, and indistinct raised voices. 

“I’m seeing,” I said. “Get your phone. Just in case.”

She placed a hand on my arm as I slipped into my trainers, which had taken the place of the letting agent, then held back as I found my way down the shared concrete stairwell. No. 1, opposite the bottom of the stairs, was sealed and silent. I continued round. The action was evidently at No. 2. The wooden front door was gone from the hinges. I could see it a few inches inside the flat, a star of wooden splinters jutting from the side. The doorframe was hanging loose from the wall and the whitewashed wall all around it was streaked with red blood. There was more blood pooling on the floor. My feet printed on it as I entered the doorway and red footsteps marked my way back out.

Inside, the flat was laid out identically to ours. I could see into every room from a foot into the entryway, but I could have just as easily followed the blood which continued along the wall and floor and formed a clear trail. 

There were bunkbeds in the bedroom. Or there had been. Broken wood and bedding were everywhere in the small room, and on top of the chaos were two bodies. And a young woman, a teenage girl really, was backed into the corner, screaming. Nothing was standing in its place. Someone’s home had become the inside of a building.

There was nothing to separate the two bodies writhing together as one on the floor, both painted in a single colour. I stepped in and pulled up the one on top. They tried to stick together but I had him by both arms and they broke apart. 

He turned to look at the interloper with wild surprise and I was able to see his face for the first time. The source of the blood was clear. The front top row of teeth was gone. The incisors. The gum that remained in ribbons. Blood continued to run freely from the open wound of his mouth. The wild was in his eyes.

I pulled him back again and, outmanoeuvred, his strength went, and I was able to easily drag him out, through the carnage of the inner doorway, and out into the street. Then I closed the door between us and listened. He screamed wetly and indecipherably from the hole between his canines, and then hammered on the door. But his strength had gone. It soon went quiet.

I stepped back into it. The other body on the floor was now sat up, panting for breath. The girl was holding onto him, and crying. “It’ll be OK,” I told them. Was that the first thing I’d said? My voice sounded discordant in the room. 

He looked up at me, confusion in his eyes. He was fresh faced underneath the blood and he seemed to be unhurt himself. 

I turned to leave again. I hadn’t heard her, but my then-girlfriend had come down to see the state of the place. It was going to be a hell of a clean-up job. Nothing had broken cleanly, it was all splintered. And embedded in the splintered doorframe, halfway up, were two front teeth.

I didn’t want to be part of it at all.

The next morning I came downstairs to pick up coffees, needing something to wake us up from the night before. An older man was measuring up the doorway at No. 2. “Hey,” I said to him. He nodded and turned back to his measurements. I assumed it was his daughter who stood behind him, inside the doorway. The girl was maybe fifteen. Tall but too skinny yet for adulthood. I paused for a moment. I could sense the man slowing his measurements, waiting to see if he was going to have to be interrupted.

I wanted to ask about the rest of the teeth. Had they been found?

Of course, I wanted to know it all. The whole story. I could piece together what I thought had probably happened. But really, there were two things I knew already that I wouldn’t find out. Where were the rest of the teeth. And how the hell was that young lad feeling this morning? I kept on walking.

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