The Tenants Try to Cope by Jess Conway

The Tenants Try to Cope

It’s summer, it’s hot. There are two sets of ladders blocking the stairs and the builders are smoking outside. When they come back in there’ll be a kerfuffle with the ladders. They took them up the stairs as they were going outside, but didn’t think about needing to get past them to get back inside the flat. It’s not impossible, it’s just annoying; they’ll have to take the ladders back downstairs before they can go upstairs. Then they’ll have to get the ladders upstairs again, because they are needed, but it’s harder to do this when you’re already upstairs than it is when you’re downstairs. It’s going to require some co-ordination for sure. They’ll suss it out, though.

John and Anna are in Anna’s room. Anna sits cross-legged on her bed; John is over at her window, watching the builders smoke in the street below. He’s noticed the ladder/stair dilemma. He laughs; “do you think they’ve realised what they’ve done?”

Anna laughs too, but she’s not happy, not completely. She turns her laughter into a cartoonish growl of frustration. She flops onto her back, hands over her face. “I feel so fucking miserable, John. It’s this house. This mess.”

John moves to the bed and sits down. He senses that Anna may be about to start crying and stiffens. He tells her that there’s not long left, and that soon the mess will be cleared up and everything will be back to normal. Then, he says, they’ll have a big house re-warming party. He laughs; they’ll go wild, and trash the place!

Anna smiles. John leaves her room to make them both a cup of tea. He’s glad he’s cheered her up. He knocks on Tom’s bedroom door to ask him if he wants a cup of tea too. There’s no response, so he walks away. Anna hears this happen and knows that Tom is in his room. He told Anna that he hasn’t left the house much recently, despite the building work. He just hasn’t felt like it.


When her bedroom wall was knocked down, Judith moved into Anna’s room. The first night that the kitchen was felt to be too dirty to use she and Anna sat on Anna’s bedroom floor eating takeaway pizza. Judith had been made hyperactive by this sudden rupture in her domestic life, excited by the novelty of sleeping in the wrong room and eating dinner on the floor.

She said to Anna that there was something literary about it, about the incongruity of soft fleshy sensitive human bodies living in rubble. She said that there was something romantic about having to make do, having to be flexible and share beds and cook dinner round other people’s houses. She said to Anna, “it’ll probably bring us all much closer, as we all have to kind of co-exist in a new way”.

Two days later she took what items she needed from beneath the blue tarp and went to stay at her parent’s house for the three months it took the work to be completed. She said that it was a money thing more than anything else.

Tom accepted the mess. He examined his new surroundings with a gentle, extra-terrestrial curiosity, handling discarded screws and chunks of plaster as if they were pieces of unfamiliar organic life. John took to snapping at Tom when he did this, despising without inhibition Tom’s effortless lack of concern in the face of disaster.

John made comments to Anna about how he kept expecting to see Tom sitting in the dust-thick kitchen at dinnertime chowing down on insulation foam. Anna decided not to tell John that she hadn’t seen Tom eat anything much for weeks now. Evidently, John had not noticed.

(John has noticed; he just doesn’t feel like mentioning it, at least not directly.)


It’s evening. Anna sits on her bed. It’s warm, so she has her bedroom window open. Her window looks out upon the rooftops and chimneys of the residential street to the east of the house. Smoke is curling out of a chimney. Anna thinks, what an idyllic scene this is, these Victorian rooftops in the dusk with the smoke. She thinks about everyone beneath the rooftops going about their evening routines, their meals and baths. Then, she thinks it’s surprising that anyone in this part of London has a functioning open fireplace.

Tom, John and she are all in their bedrooms, alone, but online in the household Facebook chat group, so together. They are talking to Judith. Tom writes nothing, but small blue writing below the messages tells Anna that that they have been seen by all. Judith is asking about the state of the house. John writes that it is still terrible, completely shit, there’s dust absolutely everywhere, it has to be illegal making them pay rent through this. Judith asks to see photos.

Anna hears John’s bedroom door open and his footsteps on the landing, then the whirring noise of his phone camera as he takes photographs of the house. His bedroom door closes and three photos of the landing appear in the group chat. He has used his finger to write DUST in the dust. The message is seen by all. There is a response from Judith: hahahahaha!! Anna starts to laugh, and she too types hahahahaha!! John does the same; Anna can hear him laughing from her bedroom.

Tom sits and watches the laughter appear, he hears it, too, but as he turns to face his bedroom window, and sees the same curl of smoke that Anna sees, he’s not really hearing it, not really.


The Tenants Try to Cope


Jess Conway lives in London. She has had fiction published in Occulum and Open Pen. She is on Twitter @Jess_RConway.


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