It was mid evening, I was at home, and I had already drunk half of a bottle of gin. I felt sleepy and I wanted to lie down for a bit, but I knew that if I lay on my bed then I would fall asleep for the rest of the evening. I instead sat down on my bedroom floor, and then I keeled over and lay with my head resting on the floorboards amongst the threads of dust. My eyes wandered over the patterns of paint on the far skirting board, which I had never previously studied before. I would remain here very briefly, I told myself. I wanted to smoke, but I felt too tired to organise it all.
I had heard the music earlier in the evening, but I had been unable to tell whether it was coming from above or below me. Now it came hard from the floorboards below my head: Thud! Thud! Thud! I dislike the sort of people who pump out grinding music into all of their neighbours’ homes, like a wild animal claims territory by pissing all over it. I often think that there is something weird to their declarative carelessness – it involves the same anxiety for horrified attention which drives men to expose themselves to women in supermarkets – and it is unclear whether one should summon a policeman or a psychoanalyst to deal with such characters. I was certain that the students in the flat below, however, were simply careless. They were a raggedy troop of overgrown boys with dreadlocks, camouflage pants, and dopey stoned faces. One of them had once recognised Polly in the supermarket and helped to carry her shopping home.
There was a knocking at my bedroom door. I wanted to ignore it, but it got more insistent. I hauled myself to my feet.
It was Claire, my wife’s sister, who has lately invited herself to stay at my apartment, apparently indefinitely and for free. “You’re going to have to go down there and speak to them,” she told me.
She glared at me. “Yes.”
“What shall I say to them?” I asked. I just wanted to annoy her.
She did not blink. “Tell them to turn their music down. We can’t hear the television.”
I put on my slippers and traipsed downstairs. Perhaps I would have felt more certain of myself if I was not wearing my dressing gown. They did not have a doorbell, and so I had to knock. After knocking, I was suddenly anxious that they had not heard, and so I knocked again, probably too loudly.
The door was opened by one of the students. “Hey bro!” he cried happily. He wore a olive-green t-shirt and had one dreadlock, which hung over his eye. I wondered what sort of high I would get if I set fire to his shoes and then inhaled from his single dreadlock. We rapped fists and he said, “you’re Maxim, right?”
“Sure,” I replied. I thought that Maxim must be an eccentric individual if he turned up at parties in a dressing gown and slippers. We went inside. The music was still pounding. There was a room full of students passing a joint around. They made room for me on the sofa and I took the extended joint.
“Pete said you’d be here a bit earlier,” somebody remarked.
“Pete doesn’t know shit,” I said. The students laughed.
“So you were skiing up in the Pentlands today? At Hill End?”
“Not quite,” I said. “Do any of you go skiing?”
There were blank looks. I didn’t think that any of them would.
“Well the thing about skiing is the adrenaline. It’s like taking heroin, the high that you get from it. And so I thought why not instead just stay at home, sit in an armchair, and take heroin? And that’s what I did…”
There was silence.
“It seems sensible,” somebody said finally.
A student in a white t-shirt, who was presumably Pete, entered the room. “Maxim’s here,” his friend with the dreadlock told him brightly.
Pete looked at me. “This isn’t Maxim,” he said.
There were gasps and confusion. Some of the students tried to stand.
“There must be some mistake,” I countered. “Because this isn’t Pete.”
There were further gasps. The students who had tried to stand collapsed back on to the sofa.
“What’s going on?” Pete demanded.
“This is not Pete,” I told the room. “It looks nothing like him!”
“What?” Pete exclaimed.
“I think that you’d better be going,” I suggested to Pete, nodding at the door.
“But this is my flat. My Dad owns it!” Pete protested.
I stood up and started towards him. He bolted like a rabbit. I waited until I heard the door slam before I sat back down again.
“So who was he?” somebody asked.
“Some loser,” I replied.
The real Maxim never turned up. I took Pete’s bedroom and I have now been living in the flat for over three days.