Part One

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There was once a very unextraordinary house. It sat in a line of similar looking shelters on a none-too-exciting street. Many houses had been built like it before and many more would be after; a product of recycled plans adopted by architects whose creativity had long ago burnt out. You would think, at least, that on opposite ends of the continent these wet creatives stood apart in some finite detail of brick or tile or piping, but this was not so. They were, each of them, entirely predictable (I imagine that they meet up bi-annually and, huddling over old ideas, scratch through the rotting pile to salvage one or two because "this design still looks to be in fashion" or "this design is most practical" or because a certain handful of sheets is least affected by decay or the destruction wrought by scavenging mice. Then they shake hands in sober agreement never to come up with an original design again, married to the boring lines on peeling pages trailing ever smugly behind them).

As to the inhabitants of the dis-inspired house, there were allegedly four. They lived in general harmony without having any physical interaction with one another, despite the fact of a shared kitchen and only two bathrooms at their disposal. I say allegedly because of this unseen quality which most of them had and, indeed, our story barely touches on any but the fourth. Contractually, they had agreed never to actively seek out any of the other residents (and if a passive meeting occurred, not to acknowledge the other party at all). Never to host a dinner party, afternoon tea, book-club or any other such social gathering and, above all, never to stray from their scheduled habits. Not ever.­­ In this way, the fourth tenant lived in a state more-or-less akin to quiet contentment. He was happy with his unorthodox situation as it seemed a luxury compared to any of his previous housing arrangements. Becoming a tenant had been a smooth, unsocial process. Every bit of correspondence had been conducted without actually meeting another tenant, or the proprietor (which he assumed was probably tenant 2). Before you pass judgement on this man, for not noticing such oddities as these and naturally linking them with something being off in that place, I offer some small defence on his part by way of telling a portion of his story. Context, as they say, is everything.

He was raised by a small handful of mothers at a children's home in the countryside, a thing that could serve as a child's kingdom, battlefield, or faery trove. At least one of these scenes rang true- though not for a metaphor. True, he had his comrades in arms but even oaths sworn with an 'x' to mark the heart (and hope for death if ever the oath be broken) was a thin shield against a beating or a hungry tum that kept him from sleep. Still, it was a home- if not an iconic one. In retrospect, he believed that the mothers did the best that they had known how to do but he had not looked back the day that he left. Even casting back to the memory of that place was a task he seldom undertook (and it felt arduous enough when he did to keep his thoughts from straying that way again for a while afterwards). And, so it was that at 19 he packed his meagre possessions, including a watch which had long before ceased ticking (and, somewhere in the few years between his digging it out of the earth and leaving the farm, had relinquished its wrist strap), and left the farm. 'The farm' is what the orphans had taken to calling their home on account of it being a self-sustaining institution run by past orphans who, upon turning 18, found themselves without any immediate plans or prospects and so, took the job which every child received as an 18th birthday offer. Some stayed for as long as 10 years, happy or complacent with no real drive for anything else. Others, like our tenant, stayed just long enough to accumulate the necessary savings for a bus ticket and one month's rent, with markedly ungenerous portions of food, until they either got some prayed-for opportunity to work or to study or until necessity drove them back to the farm. The latter group was rare, but on the odd occasion that one returned, he or she was treated as though they had gone on a holiday -albeit a disappointing one- and they were allowed to quietly slip back into old duties. The holiday story was one that the younger orphans genuinely believed until they became old enough to move up a play-group, where the older children would dispel their fantasies.

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