"Fucker! Shitty wanking stupid fuck monk!"
It is 3.30pm on September 29th. Peggy Willart is moving into her new
home, a fairly small room in a house shared by five other people, not
including herself. So far she has not met any of them. She continues to
swear, loudly and inventively. Unknown to her, door number 5, on the
landing she has just left, opens silently, an eye peering out. She
trudges up the stairs to the top floor of the house, her song of
expletives floating around the stairwell. The door closes with no
When Peggy was a child, from about the age of seven to that of ten or
eleven, she had an incredibly vivid and broad imagination. She took
care, through minor friendship break-ups, times of boredom and her
parents separation, to surround herself with a huge cast of imaginary
friends; some human, some animal, and some that didn't really fit into
either category. She had an accomplice in this area of her life -
Sophie. Peggy envied Sophie for many different things. She lived in a
pub, had a really cool older sister, Jocelyn, who gave her all her
cast-off clothes (Peggy had no one to give her cast-offs: she was the
eldest of three children). Sophie had beautiful long brown hair
(Peggy's was short and straggly) and an exquisite singing voice (and
Peggy's was only 'okay in comparison). Peggy grew up, and although her
friendship with Sophie gradually disintegrated as they led increasingly
separate lives, she never stopped envying her - she was gorgeous, had a
lovely figure, sung in a jazz band, had a string of exciting older
boyfriends, etcetera. Peggy never knew that Sophie envied her something
which could never be had via singing lessons, diets, or hair dye.
Parallel to Peggy's more materialistic jealousies, Sophie was jealous
of Peggy's boundless imagination. Peggy was the one that had thought up
most of the creatures in their kingdom, and the best ones too -
mitchits, transparent lizards with bobbles on their toes. Kwogums -
huge scary birds who were actually very friendly to their keepers, and
sounded like banshees. In Sophie's teenage years, when she was in town
with her boyfriend Lee, seven years older than herself and with a
criminal record, she would see Peggy wandering around, quiet and
thoughtful in colourful ill-fitting clothes, often writing in a red
notebook. This brought back waves of jealousy that she knew would never
go away. Whereas Peggy stopped envying Sophie, becoming more interested
in her own life, Sophie's jealous feeling never did go away. She knew
Peggy had something different that she could only possess were she
Peggy sits in her little room, 20, beautiful and unaware of it, as she
generally is unaware of anything relating to her own self, unless of
course it is significant in terms of other people or writing. She sits
on the edge of the narrow bed in her little room, busily writing a list
of words she feels describes her new abode - unpacking to do, she
mustn't write a story. Her three-year old daughter, Sunset, seems
enthralled with the change in scenery, driving her cars all over the
floor and meagre furniture. Peggy is still in the exact same position
two hours later, the only change in this pleasing little scene a cup of
coffee on the floor, next to a now half full ashtray. Sunset is still
playing on the floor. She finishes her last sentence, pauses to think
it over, decides that, yes, she does approve, then throws her notebook
aside on the bed, suddenly eager to explore and a tad shy at the
thought of meeting the five new people she will be sharing a house
with. She checks to make sure there is nothing around capable of
harming Sunset, and kisses her. Downstairs, checking out the ground
floor - kitchen and living room, plus flat number 1 - she thinks that
she needn't have bothered feeling shy. No one's around. Textbooks in
the living room, on the coffee table (physics, history and a big book
of poetry) suggest to her that at least one student lives in the same
house as her, which she wasn't really expecting. This makes her nervous
- clever people make her hands shake - so she scuttles back to her room
to unpack her numerous boxes. She doesn't see the eye that lives at
number 5, peeking at her again through a sliver of doorframe.
Peggy's favourite thing about life is that there are so many things to
amaze her. These things include trees, animals and solitude. Without
these things, she has often thought, she would probably want to not be
alive. Peggy has no idea that by moving into this normal-looking house,
she will shortly receive her biggest wave of amazement yet, and
probably for a while. Peggy will soon fall in love, which she never has
done before because she didn't want to, preferring not to share
Mark, owner of the eye of number 5, sits in his room on the edge of his
unmade bed, breathing heavily. The newcomer is pretty. Very pretty. She
looks and sounds dynamic, creative, alive. Not like him, stewing in his
unmade bed all day, every day. Waiting for his life, so painful to him,
to pass quickly, so he can get on with it and die. He scratches his
stomach, slowly and carefully, revelling in his self-pity, a friend to
him now, then slowly lies back down in the bed, checking his watch as
he reclines. Soon time for his delivery. He begins to sob, turning his
head sideways into the pillow so as to muffle the sound, which even he
doesn't want to hear. He knows he will never meet the pretty
It is the evening of the same day. Peggy sits in her room, which is at
a leisurely pace taking on the personality she wishes it to have, and
realises that she is lonely. She still hasn't met any of her
housemates, although she heard what she assumed was the students come
in, breathless with moaning about something called transgenerational
haunting. She decides she will go and knock on some doors, introduce
herself, be cheery and dapper, although cheery and dapper is far
removed from how she really feels in this unfriendly new place.
Ten minutes later, and Peggy is feeling much happier, having met the
vivacious students: Ben, Jane and Becky. Becky and Jane have invited
her out with them the next evening, to 'show her around the town'. She
is looking forward to it. Her knock on door 3 elicited no response: she
will try door 4 then go and have a coffee.
Peggy knocks on door number 4. She gives it a minute, knocks again,
then turns and goes back up to her room, humming a tuneless melody and
thinking about the coming weekend.
Mark closes his door, taking great care to ensure it makes no noise. It
was the pretty girl, knocking. Knocking on his door! Hadn't the other
people who lived in the house told her about him? That he never went
out, or opened his door, except to deliveries? The rumours, the
stories? They couldn't have told her anything. She would not have
"She might have done," remarks his other voice. "You don't know her -
she might not be like them. She might be totally different. You don't
know, because you've never met anyone totally different, because you
never go out, because you're ashamed."
"Shut up." he says. And means it. He puts his tagliatelle meal in his
tiny microwave, and tries to forget about her. Someone knocks at his
door. He freezes, the only sound the grinding noise of the pasta
turning in the microwave.
"Please open the door," she says. "I - I live here now, I want to meet
you. I'm just upstairs."
Mark feels very panicky. His other voice tells him to open the door -
he ignores it.
"Are there two of you living there then?" she asks, curious. "Please
open the door - I know you're in now."
He staggers over to the door, quick and jerky, and stands right next to
it, fingertips splayed across the cracked paint, imagining her face on
the other side.
"I don't want to."
"I don't want to open the door."
That should get rid of her, he thinks, wanting to get back to his tea
"I'm not leaving 'til you open up" he hears. He walks over to the door
and stands next to it again, this time pressing his ear to the thin
wood. He hears her singing a little song:
"I'm not leaving, I'm not leaving, I'm not leaving 'til you o-o-pen
He takes the handle in his hand, looking at it and wondering what he is
doing. He slowly turns it, opening the door a tiny fraction, as he is
used to doing. Not so with Peggy - this mystery just won't do, she
wants to taste it and breathe it in. He barely has time to register the
sight of her before she is in the room, his space, and his private
territory. He fleetingly realises that there has not been anyone except
him in this room for over three years. She is staring at him with a
quizzical look on that pretty face.
"Why wouldn't you open the door?" she asks, puzzled. "You're human
He manages a weak smile, struggling to twist his mouth into the right
shape. He sees her eyes darting around, quick glances, and knows that
if he doesn't get rid of her, there'll be a price to pay. All of his
things, the things she looked at, will be full of bullet holes.
"Go away" he says simply. She shakes her head.
"What's your name? I'm Peggy. My daughter is called Sunset - she's
Daughter. He hadn't seen, or heard, a daughter.
"His name is Mark," says a third, muffled voice, "and mine is Horatio,
although he refuses to acknowledge that fact, being a somewhat
Mark knows he is still smiling, feels his face stretching wider. His
room, place of comfort and existence previously, is killing him. The
air burns his face and chokes him. He starts to cough, seeing Peggy's
outsize face in a flash, a downward smear, as he bends over.
Eventually, clearing his throat, he straightens, watching her looking
at his stomach, where the third voice had come from.
"Mark," she says, sounding not repulsed as he had expected, but merely
mildly interested, "what have you got under your T-shirt? What's that
He cannot believe this is happening to him. He wants to grab her, push
her out, or go back to before but not open the door, not even speak. He
says nothing, doesn't move, as she closes the gap between them with a
single step and reaches for the hem of his T-shirt. He wants to cry
again, to fill the room with tears so she is swept out on the crest of
a wave like Alice in Wonderland. She lifts his black T-shirt. Horatio
Peggy wants to go and write down what she is seeing, this instant. Mark
has a small person growing on his stomach. Horatio is smiling
graciously at Peggy. He says hello to her. After a short silence, she
says hello back, then carries on staring. Horatio in every sense looks
normal, except he is about 8 inches tall and growing on Mark. Peggy
remembers Mark and looks up at his face. He doesn't see her, his eyes
and face scrunched up tightly, as if he is a child waiting for a hard
smack. Peggy is swamped with an emotion she doesn't recognise, nor does
she want to go and write it down. She is still holding his T-shirt, so
she stammers a short apology to Horatio before letting it go, covering
him up again. Mark's face is still all screwed up, and he looks like he
is trying hard not to cry, his face turning red. Time is empty for
Peggy for a while, as she ingests everything, then she gently touches
his face, smoothing the creases and undoing the knots. With his face
open and flat, Mark does start to cry. Peggy sits him down on the edge
of the bed and hugs him, fiercely and protectively, taking care to mind
Horatio. She rocks him in her arms, thinking of how Sunset would love
Mark, and Horatio. Sunset seemed to have an inbuilt knowledge, superior
to anyone she had ever encountered. The girl never asked questions,
always seemed to just know.
After a while, Mark's tears dried up. Peggy lifted his head, looking
into his face.
"I think, Mark and Horatio, that it's time you met my daughter."
At first, Mark thinks Peggy is mocking him. He watches in shy disbelief
as Peggy introduces him to thin air, smiling proudly, then bustles
about the room making coffee, all the while taking great care to step
around the child that is not there. It is when Peggy has a small
conversation with herself that he begins to realise that Sunset is
real, to her. He can feel Horatio, under his T-shirt, softly chuckling
to himself. He feels annoyed by this, already protective over this girl
who seems to have somehow protected him. He is scared to mention that
he cannot see Sunset, but when he looks at Peggy, he thinks she already
knows. All she says is "I didn't tell any of the others about her." He
nods, knowing it was the right thing. He feels very different, sitting
in this room at the top of the house, out of his own room after so
long. He feels full of air; his body has become a balloon. Peggy looks
up, seeming to sense what he is thinking as he rubs his stomach
tenderly. She smiles at him. The smile comes to his face before he has
to think how to do it.