An impromptu visit from my landlady was a nice gloss on the day, which already included some intense bank related angst and a vomiting Fingers. Fingers is not actually vomiting now, of course. He has been perfectly peachy since I was summoned to collect him from school (having previously sent me running to the supermarket at half 7 on a Camembert box emergency for vital school craft projects, oh Mother's Day is shaping up nicely again) about an hour after he arrived there, and has spent the day snacking, bouncing off the furniture, asking questions and generally being on absolutely top form. Ah well, rather that than the alternative.
Into a nest of squalor and chaos, then, stalks my landlady, unannounced, slipping in behind the postman like a tweedy Nosferatu, claiming to have texted me. She is in her sixties, I suppose, but she wears it heavily, wearily, with that leathery patrician finish to her, as if she's spent the last fifty years riding to hounds. She's whip thin, with an impeccable grey helmet of a bob, and a nice line in tweed separates, often a polo neck, often with some kind of chain on her neck over the top, drawing the eye to her bony clavicles. Her lips are drawn together in a tight grimace of disapproval that she doesn't even bother to try and rearrange into any kind of greeting. Thankfully I am not wearing the Tracksuit of Inadequacy, but I am wearing trousers that seem to be made of some kind of wipe clean material favoured by hospital orderlies and a grubby hoodie. I am unwashed. My shoes - Marks & Spencer flats - have split open down both sides, mysteriously She casts a disdainful eye around the house, and over me, as well she might. The dog, totally misreading her, bounds over and jumps up, ball in mouth, pawing at her impeccable, skinny knees. I push him away, ashamed. After a brief inspection, she declares that what she has come to look at is my responsibility to fix (of course), declares herself uninterested in the collapsing wall of vegetation in the back garden for the moment and fixes me with a gimlet eye.
"The Von Trapps".
A quiver of dread shakes me as I remember them, and them, disapproving and dessicated, with their plainsong singing, saxophone practising, jumper tied around the shoulders, bouffant haired troup of indentikit Catho-kids. "Yes?"
"I have never had worse tenants. €4000 of cleaning costs. €4000!"
"Goodness. Well, they did have a lot of children".
"And they didn't even get their post redirected! I have a pile of post COMME CA (she gesticulates, her hands a metre apart) for them, Madame. The tax, the water, the Commune".
"Yes, the community policeman rang me up to try and find out what had happened to them".
"Hmm. I thought I'd hit gold there, a good Catholic family, especially when they moved the giant crucifix and the missal into the bedroom. I thought they'd be responsible, strict, have a sense of duty towards others".
"But no! Disgraceful. We're in court tomorrow morning. If they turn up. They probably won't. It's a point of principle for me now, I won't back down".
She stares at me with weary distaste.
"I've noticed, the larger the property, the more trouble I have with the tenants. I have one man who lives in a basement flat in St Gilles, a cupboard really, unpleasant little man, always insisted on kissing me. Anyway, before he went into the retirement home (and I was very glad he did, I was always scared I'd find him dead on the floor), I told him "Monsieur, you're going to have to do something about the chip fat stains here". But when he left you know what? It was impeccable. Bon, it wasn't brand new anymore, sure, but impeccable".
"Whereas this lot? Disgusting. I would have been better off renting to Roms" .
Charming. Delightful lady, my landlady.
"So. I hope you won't be any trouble when you leave". Pointed glance over my shoulder.
"Good. So. You're paying for the shutters?"
"So you tell me".
She nods, and stalks away, leaving me feeling about 6 years old, in my shabby clothes, dirty house that I can't really afford, filled with misgivings about some hypothetical future état des lieux, my mind reviewing yet again all the tiny chips and stains and breaks that I know will land me in the small claims court facing that gorgon. I flop a floor cloth about for a while but the mess is too big, too pervasive. Where did all this damn STUFF come from? I could clean and tidy for a week and she'd still find fault.
Thankfully my small boy is there to sit on my knee and hold, delicately, forensically, onto my wrist with his long long fingers, still, and tell me in mind-numbing detail about macaws. He has extraordinary eyes, that boy. They change colour every day, like those mood stones that used to fascinate me in tacky seaside gift shops. Today they are greeny grey. His roughly hacked, assymetrical fringe, courtesy of the depressive barber has grown out so he looks less like an evacuee treated for lice. He has a blush of colour from the sunny weekend, the nape of his neck is golden. I rest my chin on the top of his head. He smells every so slightly of sick, but he is lovely and alive and he doesn't give a shit about the dust. I squeeze him quite tight, though not tight enough to make him sick again. 'When I leave', I think suddenly, a weight lifting, an arm round Fingers's warm stomach, 'I'll get Fatima and her kids in for the day and we'll all do it together. It won't cost €4000'. There's usually an answer. I try and tell myself that often. I wish I were better at remembering it.