Tuesday, 22 January 2013

A Book to Read when your Flatmate Moves Out

Posted by Daisy

I BOUGHT my own home two years ago. At 31, I thought I was ready to live alone. Until then, I had lived with an assortment of flatmates, most recently spending three years with two friends in a three-storey house near the sea. Even though we had the typical flatmate arguments about household chores and whose turn it was to hoover, I loved the camaraderie of it all.
I loved pushing a trolley around Lidl together on a weeknight, and having ham and cheese toasties from a newly-replenished fridge while watching five episodes of How I Met Your Mother in a row. I loved helping each other compose text replies to men we were newly dating, trying on suitable outfits in the sitting room, and giving each other pep talks in the car on the way to the date. I loved tripping over glittery high heels discarded at the end of the stairs, and inviting the taxi driver who owned the disco-cab back to the house for a party at the end of a night. I loved eating boiled eggs and toast perched on high stools at the kitchen counter on a weekend morning. I loved the red flower fairy lights strung across the bannisters, and the stiletto-heel pock-marks on the laminate wood flooring, testament to the fun we had.
I both loved and hated my new duplex apartment, with its left-over furniture from the previous owners – brown pleather couches, a fake pine coffee table and a record player sneakily left in the hot press. Without a TV connection, I watched the first series of The Wire lying on the squeaky, slippery couch under the glow of the fake plastic candle chandelier. I became obsessed with home décor blogs, bought ‘Ideal Home’ magazine monthly, and painted and de-stressed as much of the furniture as I could.
But I couldn’t understand living alone. Who do you say good night to, or good morning to? Who do you watch ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ with on a boring Tuesday night? Who raps on your bedroom door in the morning when they realise you’ve slept in? And who comforts you when you watch a programme about hirsutism and convince yourself that you have it and that you’re growing a moustache and arrive downstairs crying in the morning, only for your flatmate to examine you and tell you not to be so silly, before rushing out to work?
My two biggest fears are ghosts and spiders. The first week I moved in, a huge spider crawled across the sitting room floor. Eventually, after a few hysterical phonecalls, my mum arrived and crossly hoovered him up. The same week, the neighbours had a late-night argument, and I sat at the top of the stairs, listening through the wall as a woman screamed ‘My baby, my baby’ and a man shouted ‘Shut the f**k up’. After a few months of solo living, I really wished there was a ghost, for a bit of company. Freddie Mercury was right - I WAS lonely, living on my own. So I advertised for a flatmate, and a red-curly-haired stranger moved in shortly afterwards.
But now my lovely flatmate, Em, has moved out to live with a man. After eighteen months of sitting on the balcony drinking cava and smoking, and sorting out boyfriend and family issues, discussing whether or not we should go for a walk in the rain (I think we went three times), cooking up huge bowls of pasta with bacon, mint, crème fraiche and lemon, and sniffing the week-old wine in the fridge, wondering if we should just risk it and drink it, knowing instinctively when one of us is in a quiet bad mood and simply waiting for the floodgates to open, there’s nothing left of her except a pair of black runners discarded in the boxroom.
But funnily enough, I think I may be ready to live alone. It’s tentative. I still don’t go into Em’s bedroom because it’s hers. But because she’s already been here, and created some happy memories, my little apartment feels more like home now. I love reading the papers on a weekend morning with the sun flooding through the kitchen windows. And I like being able to leave my laptop and notes permanently on the kitchen table, and fake-tanning while watching TV. I’ll give it a month.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
‘The Snow Child’ tells the story of Jack and his wife, Mabel, who have moved to Alaska for adventure on the new frontier. They can’t have children and are growing increasingly apart. One night, in a rare fit of fun, they build a snowgirl outside, complete with scarf and gloves. And the next morning, she’s gone. It reminds me a bit of Laura Ingalls Wilder ‘Little House on the Prairie’ books, with talk of coffee pots and dinners, and relatives ‘back east’,  and neighbours helping each other out with frosty morning chores. It’s a re-telling of a Russian fairytale, and, in a very post-modern way, Mabel has a rare copy of the fairytale in their log cabin, which her father used to read to her as a child.
Although it’s not a gripping book and the ending is predictable, somehow I couldn’t stop reading it and broke my golden rule of ‘No reading on a Work Morning’ to finish it. Ivey writes beautifully, and this book simply makes me want to visit Alaska even more than I did before I read it.
Here are a few links from around the web about solo living, if you'd like to read them:

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