Back down South Lambeth Road, Charlotte was beginning to put the kitchen together again. Having changed the lock on the front door, she crowbarred the plywood away from one side so she could get out without having to climb the fence. After having assessed all the damage thoroughly, she went off to the local DIY shop and bought piping and joints to replace what had been ripped out. Luckily the bailiffs had not touched the electricity so she had a lamp to help her work under the sink. Despite this rapid progress, she knew it would take weeks to get the house back to how it had been only a few days before.
Charlotte worked on, absorbed by the mechanics of plumb¬ing, her radio tuned into a local pirate station for com¬pany. She was single-minded in her determination not to be removed from the house again and was trying to for¬mulate some kind of plan. Approaching the council for a licence, contacting local housing associations; it was all so time-consuming and often completely futile. She needed a new trick to get the council to ignore her, or better yet, a miracle to get them to accept her.
When it finally grew too dark to work by lamplight alone, Charlotte put away her tools and locked the front door behind her. After she pushed the plywood against the door it looked as if the house had been deserted since the day of the eviction. She walked up South Lambeth Road, past the Portuguese pastry shop, the library, and the car mechanic’s on the corner. On the Spring Gardens a group of men had started a fire behind the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. They were holding their hands over it, rubbing them together, despite the warm summer night. Charlotte thought the men were probably permanently cold and felt she knew what that was like.
When she eventually knocked on the door, Mary sat up in bed abruptly, knocking Finn on the chin with her head.
‘Ouch. Jesus, Mary, what’s up?’
‘I don’t know. It’s probably the police. They’ve caught up with me after all these years. They want all the shoplifting back.’ Finn tried to pull Mary back down into bed.
‘Let me go,’ she said, standing and throwing open the window. She looked down into the street. ‘Who’s there?’
‘Oh Christ, Charlotte, you scared me. Don’t you have a key?’
‘I would if you’d given me one. Am I disturbing you again?’
‘No. Don’t be so paranoid. I’ll be there in a second.’ Mary grabbed her dressing gown and ran down the stairs. ‘Come in. How did it go?’
‘Fine. It’s a terrible mess, will take me weeks to fix. But I’m well into it now. I’ll move my stuff back tomorrow.’
‘Oh,’ said Mary, dismayed. ‘Why so soon? You won’t be able to bath or cook or anything. Why don’t you stay here until it’s more comfortable?’
‘You know what it’s like, Mary. I’ll come here to bath. I’ll go to the cafe to eat and I’ll muddle by when it comes to the other bits. I just really want to be back in my own place.’
‘Oh, Jesus, I remember that feeling. Still, I wish you’d stay.’
Charlotte remained firm. ‘I’ll have a bath. You go back to bed.’
‘Who’s there?’ said Finn from the top of the staircase.
‘Just thought I’d see if everything was all right.’
‘Thanks a lot, Finn;’ said Mary, rolling her eyes. ‘Good night, Charlotte. See you in the morning.’