One night, while Mitchell had been trying to sleep in his car, the woman from the flat upstairs had passed him on the street. She went in through her front door, but after five minutes she returned, knocking upon the passenger’s side window. ‘There’s no room for you to stay, but at least I can get you some hot food.’ They’d sat together in the kitchen, the woman drinking lemon squash while she watched Mitchell pick his way through a plateful of curried lamb. The woman’s talk was entirely of the house. The problems with the piping, bindweed in the garden, disputes with the council, who owned the freehold. She told him about the couple downstairs, how she’d hear arguments late at night, the empty wine bottles put out for the recycling. ‘I mean, to advertise it like that? No thank you.’ She patted long fingers against the places where her hair crinkled away from a purple Alice band. ‘If I drink like that, I put the empties in the bin. Not my kind of people.’
Her expression was shrewd, tired and sad. At some point, her son had appeared at the doorway, listening to their conversation. He’d grown coltish and gangly since Mitchell had last seen him, a reminder that for the past two years, life had continued. Eventually, he came into the room and clambered onto his mother’s lap, perching awkwardly as he stared at Mitchell from behind the thick lenses of his glasses. He had waited for his mother to begin talking again before he spoke, timing the interruption for effect.
‘Were you in prison?’
His mother pulled at his arm. ‘What did I say? Did I say not to mention that.’
‘It’s fine.’ Mitchell said. ‘I was in prison, yes.’
The boy was laughing. ‘So are you a bad man?’
‘No,’ Mitchell said. ‘I’m a good man, I think.’
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