During a virus that needn't be described in any detail, I found that the sort of complicit moments with others that you might sometimes have in a cafe or a bar, the looks and glances that you might resist taking further out of shyness or social decorum, became possible instead when walking or running. During those three months, I saw several people, acknowledging with a nod no more than another person who was out doing exercise. But over time when I saw them again and again I smiled with a quiet recognition that suggested if circumstances were different perhaps we would stop, talk and become friends. I enjoyed this silent complicity but found that with one person in particular the curiosity that was piqued led to playing over in my mind a series of speculations I didn't entertain with the others.
The four or five others I saw often were solitary figures: a man around my age who I sometimes passed while running up by Blackford Hill. He was usually reading a book, with a flask beside him, and sitting on a bench near the top of the hill in an open clearing a couple of yards from the path I would run along. I nodded as I passed while making sure I respected the distancing rules probably all the more necessary given the heavier breathing required to make it up the hill. Another was a woman probably in her fifties who seemed to walk every day around the same time and who suggested an immense solitude in her demeanour. The first half a dozen times I saw her I nodded to say hello yet she seemed not to see me at all. It was only after one occasion when she came out of a bush with a bundle of spring flowers that she said I am sorry as I almost ran into her. After this, she always said hello even if her manner still appeared distant, as if for the first time in a very long time she was engaging at all with other people. A third was someone well-known in the city for his odd status. He appeared to have a flat somewhere on the outskirts, where the council had housed him, but usually stayed somewhere in the centre, on park benches, in parks, in a tent. His belongings were contained in a shopping trolley and often in it too were various wholefoods that, when he engaged someone in conversation, he described in immense detail. He looked like he knew a lot about minerals and vitamins but he himself looked less healthy than the people with whom I would see him engaging. During those weeks where everyone kept their distance, I always saw him alone, as if those who often stopped to say hello and were caught in a conversation they couldn't easily disentangle themselves from, now had a justifiable excuse for refusing to engage. I always waved across at him as I ran past on the other side of the street and he would shout back to me with a remark that invited me to stop. Did you know that runners should take extra magnesium he might yell, or that I needed to watch my potassium levels? I sometimes shouted back a thank you but kept running. The other people I saw were a couple and looked as if the enforced measures hadn't interrupted their lives very much at all. I guessed they were childless and retired, that they cooked long lingering meals at home, went on extended walks, listened to the radio, read books and perhaps watched old films they collected on DVD. For them, I imagined the virus was not at all an inconvenience except perhaps for the increased number of walkers they might pass in spots they would usually have had to themselves. But the absence of traffic probably more than made up for this loss.
Yet with these five people, I offered a few speculations without giving them the weight of projection. With Emma, a name I wouldn't find out about till much later, I projected indeed. Though I knew nothing for certain there were some claims I could make with confidence. She couldn't have been over thirty and her hair looked naturally blonde. Her pace suggested under 7-minute miles, that she was not fresh to running, and she appeared either to live somewhere not too far from Blackford Hill or she drove to the spot to start her run there. I never saw her get in or out of a car and it is was possible that she walked some distance as part of her warm-up. I assumed she ran several times a week at least; at that time, I was running every day and rarely saw her less than once a week and often more than that. I assumed too that she was either living alone or with a partner or friends who didn't run: I never saw her running other than alone and during the initial stage of what was called lockdown nobody could interact with another household.
Over the next six weeks I would, with the slightest of evidence, change my perception of her life. At first, I proposed that she was around twenty-six, finishing off her PhD or involved in post-doc research and living in a flat with several others, probably somewhere near Marchmont, about a mile away from the park. My evidence for this was no more substantial than a hunch and was altered slightly when I ran past her on another occasion and saw laugh lines and a couple of wrinkles on her forehead that indicated she was around thirty. I also began wondering whether the hair might have been dyed, perhaps to cover the first signs of grey. While during the first few days I saw her as a relaxed student living with others, in this second stage I wondered if she was in an unhappy relationship or living alone. I could see her either in a compact flat at the top of Marchmont, even if I knew from friends who lived in the area as students that there were no small flats around there. Unlike other nearby parts of the city, like Buccleuch Street and Terrace, the apartments in Marchmont usually had large kitchens and substantial bedrooms and lounges.
It could be argued that when creating in my mind a reality for another person that there was no reason why I couldn't create a small flat wherever I liked, but sometimes I think that while our imaginative faculties are free they also seek a coherence. The point is that our daydreams often try and create a world and if there is no consistency to that world we can no longer dream so easily. So while I believed she was living in Marchmont, I also saw her sharing either with students or a partner, while thinking, initially, if she was, it was with a group of others; when I added a few years to her based on one moment, I decided it was a partner and that she wasn't happy. She was still in the same area but the flat had shrunk to a three or four-bedroom apartment to one bedroom with a boxroom. I even found myself looking online at properties and during that first week or so when I was sure she was in a large flat-share, so I looked at various apartments that were for sale or for rent and imagined her living in one of them. When I decided that she must instead be a bit older and living with a partner, I started viewing one-bedroom flats in the area, imagining often a boxroom where she would escape into, unable or unwilling to talk to her partner.
I am not so sure if after such thoughts I didn't react a little differently when we passed each other running, offering a hint of a sympathetic smile that indicated I understood an element of her predicament. She always smiled back but it was after about four weeks of the lockdown I decided that she wasn't living with flatmates in Marchmont, nor with a partner in the same area, but that she may well have been living alone in a smaller flat like the ones on Buccleuch Street or Terrace. By now I had also shifted her area of research and work from the more sociable one of the environmental or scientific, to the literary and the philosophical. She was a solitary person I decided and yet in need of company. While I initially saw her as a person trying to get out of the flat to get away from people; now I saw her as someone who went running partly to be able to see others, even if for no more than the occasional hello or smile that we shared.
While what I may be offering might seem like obsession or madness, I wish to make clear that every shift in perception coincided with an actual incident that led to it. When I decided she wasn't living with a partner it came about because when I ran past her on one occasion she didn't say hello at all, and I supposed that she was becoming so involved in her own world, so lacking in company, that she failed to acknowledge even familiar company if company isn't too hyperbolic a word for such occasional and minimal communication as we happened to share. When the next time she smiled broadly I wondered if it was because she realised too late the last time that she had passed someone she knew and wished to make amends, wished to acknowledge that I was someone she didn't at all want to ignore, or didn't recognise, but that she was merely preoccupied with her own thinking, inevitable when alone so much. I am sure I did this on occasion too, recalling a time a week earlier when I was running around by Blackford Hill and it wasn't until I had passed the couple I often saw, and that I had been so lost in my mind thinking about if and when I would run past the young woman running, that I forgot to say hello to them.
But of course, such a rationale was not devoid of anxieties. If I ran past the couple without acknowledging them because the presence of the woman I wanted to see, who was she thinking about when she ran past me without saying hello? Was another man passing through her mind, another runner she was hoping to pass? But I couldn't recall any other runner who might be likely to fulfil the projective possibilities for her that she fulfilled for me. As far as I could see of the eight or nine people I would witness when out running during the times that we both ran, most would have seemed I believe either too old or too young for her. There were three teenagers I sometimes saw two boys and a girl all of them running alone but as though competing against the clock. Then there were four older people again running alone and who might have had running partners were it not for the virus. They were all in their late fifties or early sixties, people who jogged leisurely. No, I decided that she was lost in her thoughts because she was spending so much time alone that her thoughts had become the place she mainly existed within. I suppose the same could be said of me too, even if I was keen to believe that any thoughts I happened to have were closely associated to the reality I was given to witness.
I supposed that for many during this period of enforced solitude, loneliness was evident but also abrupt: that many people who lived alone nevertheless were part of a broader social network of employment: offices, schools, building sites, cafe employment, restaurant work and so on which had all been suddenly curtailed. I had no such feeling of immediate social loss, as though I'd been preparing to lock down for years.
Almost a decade ago, my brother had finished his medical degree at the same time I finished my Master's in Art History and, by way of celebration, and since we were both single at the time, we bought a camper van between us, a tent and a sleeping bag each, and various camping necessities like a mini-stove, camping mats, waterproof gear and good walking boots. We decided to visit the Highlands and also some of the islands. We had camped as children frequently but our parents were no longer around to cajole us into the activity, and throughout our university years neither of us had camped even once. But there we were, buying the gear and the van and visiting various places we had been to as children. Our parents would think it money well spent, Jonathan proposed, and there was still plenty of it left for other things beyond the university education it had already paid for.
We stayed a few nights by Drumnadrochit, a couple of evenings in a field near Cawdor castle, two days on Bute and a week on Lewis after staying a few nights in Ullapool. We returned from Lewis on a ferry that took us into Uig on Skye and stayed in Skye for ten days. We were bitten frequently by midges and saw that we were wise to invest in two tents that were capable of withstanding 10,000mm of rain, aided by the spray the staff recommended to us. Some days we hardly left the tent except to spend time in the van for variety, and on other days weren't in the van or the tent at all, sleeping out in our bags, looking up at stars rather than at the canvas. I remember at one hotel somewhere on the west coast, probably not far from the Skye bridge, we found a hotel that looked like it hadn't been redecorated since the 1970s but that the prices remained fixed in time too. We ordered two teas and they arrived with a plate of Chocolate biscuits that I seemed to associate with this decade before I was born, perhaps seen in TV shows, or photographs of our parents with friends. The biscuits were Club and Penguin, a fan of six laid out on the plate. We devoured them all since during this trip we never seemed to have enough food no matter how much we would eat. The price was 2 for everything. Afterwards, as we were driving in the van, my brother said for some reason the moment reminded him of our parents, that there was an odd moment of culinary deja vu, as though the biscuits had been eaten in the past by them and that we were now eating them in the present. I thought for a while about this and still sometimes do so. How often would we have eaten what our parents had eaten before us, without at all thinking of these moments at all? And yet something in drinking tea and eating chocolate biscuits in a hotel with outdated furniture, and outdated prices, brought them not just to mind but as if we were existing in the same space as they had in the indeterminate past, one that we too appeared to be caught in.
But now that entire trip is encapsulated in a loss within loss. We had been travelling for six weeks when my brother was driving along a narrow, single-track road through a mountain with a few passing places. The rain was thick enough to have tested our tent if we had been sleeping in it and the wipers were furiously trying to keep the rain off the windscreen. I had seen up ahead a sign warning us of a zigzagging road but perhaps my brother missed it and perhaps missed too the driver who came towards us at a speed modest on another road but reckless on that one. My brother pulled the wheel sharply to the right and we careened over the mountain, falling only a few yards into a clearing that saved my life but didn't quite save my brother's. He didn't die instantly and might have survived if the crash had taken place in a city or large town, but by the time the ambulance arrived and took him to the hospital he was already dead.
I am not sure whether I became so often alone out of guilt or acknowledgement: whether I have been so solitary in the last eight years because I have been unwilling to get close to anyone who might recognise how I lose everything that is close to me, or whether it was no more than in losing both my parents and later my brother I just needed to accept it was a solitude forced upon me by circumstances. My brother was always the more gregarious and there was only a year between us: his friends were also mine and while I wouldn't say they merely tolerated my company, equally they never quite became my friends. They appeared at the funeral and they contacted me in the weeks afterwards asking how I was but I replied without suggesting a further meeting and neither did they. Jonathan's death didn't only leave me without any family; it also left me without friends.
I took up running a year after Jonathan's death and would usually run at least three times a week and rarely less than ten miles a run. It clears my head one might say but that seems so inadequate to the need: I have to cleanse the entire body of stale, dead feeling that only a run temporarily quells. Within a day or two it has built up again and I run less to keep fit than to keep sane, as though insanity for me is the body clogged up with dead energy, or the energy of the dead.
I offer this without seeking pity but only to make clear that I have made little effort with friendships and people usually haven't sought me out. My father, who died when I was twelve, and my mother, who died when I was fifteen, left us a four-bedroom house in Bruntsfield and 200,000 in savings. We sold the house for 600,000 and I bought a one-bedroom flat leaving me even more spare cash and Jonathan a two-bedroom apartment that I now rent out. The tenants were paying half-rent throughout the lockdown but even that more than covered my expenses without touching the money I have in the bank, which deteriorates in value each year. I should probably invest it or buy another apartment to rent out and I may do so. I am lucky that I do not need to make a living and even luckier in that I nevertheless half-do, teaching courses through galleries in the city focusing on 19th-century art. It never paid very well, and of course, the work all but stopped during the initial stages of the pandemic, but over the years it has given me a purpose and money that I could at least call my own.
When lockdown arrived, the main fears of others were not fears of mine. I did not have a large social circle I was now excluded from, nor employment whose money I was reliant on as people wondered whether their job would still be there after the crisis, and whether the government would pay them while they couldn't work. It was as though the tragedies that had befallen me in earlier years were protecting me during the virus. But they were not protecting me from an ongoing problem that Emma exacerbated: a desire to project onto others thoughts and feelings that were subjective rather than interactive. If I have ever since my brother's death eschewed interaction with others as though in fear that I might do them harm, it may be a needless superstition when looked at objectively. But how many of us can claim to look at the world with eyes greater than our own, especially when we have seen things with them that keep forcing us back into a nightmare?
But I have nevertheless viewed others as though with an intimate preoccupation that they need know nothing about without feeling that I have been voyeuristic or at all predatory. I have never followed anybody home nor would I try to gaze through their windows, which is partly why during the early months of the virus I never found out where Emma lived. It wouldn't have been difficult after I passed her on a run to take a path that would lead me to fall behind her, and then follow her home, but that would have been to violate her privacy, while my thoughts were my own.
Over the years it has been my way of remaining safe from others and safe for myself and when I say safe from others perhaps I also mean from the law as well after all, following people to their homes is a crime. By choosing to think through the various permutations of someone's life based only on a few details that were garnered, without any effort on my part, I only wish to know what anybody else could know with equal ease. I may subsequently choose to apply my imagination more vividly than others but that is no doubt because I have more time available, a greater sense of solitude and a fear of other people that most do not have. Yet that fear comes with a fascination, as though where most people are merely interested in others and interact with them, I am fascinated and flinching, determined to take from people what I need for my psychic preoccupations. Not for a long time had anyone preoccupied me as much as Emma, perhaps because under the restrictions there were only a small number of people one would pass on a given day, and running past Emma usually no less than twice a week allowed for so specific a fascination to develop.
I also found myself wondering if the strength of this projection would weaken as restrictions softened: that with more people out on the streets so my interest in Emma would be diluted by the possibilities available in thinking about others. As people began to venture out what happened wasn't that I became less interested in Emma; it seemed Emma became less interested in running; that it was perhaps an activity she took up as a way of getting out of the house when the government was allowing us to do so for little more than exercise, no matter if she seemed an experienced and quick runner. A new set of speculations came to mind: I decided she was no longer British and that when it became possible to leave the country she did so, returning to France, or to Spain, or perhaps to Italy or even Germany. I couldn't see her as German, Spanish or Italian so decided she must be French, as I thought she possessed a delicacy of manner an expensive English education occasionally provides but seems to come for free in France. It gave her in my mind a slightly less privileged but at the same time more special sense of sophistication; more organic and mysterious simultaneously, and the feeling for her deepened. I gave her another boyfriend and he too was French and was throughout the initial lockdown living in France as they spoke every day online. I imagined him as more frustrated than she was and not only because they were unable to see each other but also because he wasn't sure if he trusted the science and had a greater interest in economic matters.
I decided he was doing a PhD in hospitality modelling, trying to find ways to maximise profit in the restaurant trade: wondering amongst many other things how to fit as many people into a restaurant space without giving the impression of the diners feeling cramped. Usually, you can only get two sittings per evening so many a restaurant needs to get as many diners in as they can but not quite put them off by suggesting they have half the elbow room they might have at home. He was interested in why so many people ate out in Paris despite so often having little space to eat and mused over whether it was a necessary evil or an opportunity that could be expanded elsewhere; that cramped eating could be chic since this is what the Parisians often did. He knew that one reason why many in the city ate out in confined spaces was that their homes were as cramped as the restaurants they ate in, and at least they could meet with half a dozen friends outside as they couldn't in their tiny apartment. Nevertheless, if Parisians are synonymous with fine cuisine then could the association not extend to elsewhere, and that dining in confined spaces ought to be seen as the way one ought to eat.?I could see Emma's boyfriend getting quite excited by this idea a year ago but then not only were restaurants closed, when they did open they were moving in the opposite direction to his ideas: social distancing and half as many diners became the norm, and perhaps would be so for years to come. Nevertheless, this needn't have been a special hindrance to his theoretical model I assumed.
I suppose I hypothesised him into this role based on an article I was reading around the same time Emma went missing. It wasn't enough that I felt the absence; I also had to fill it, and filling it meant also giving a broader context to her life, one in which I had returned her to France and to a boyfriend interested in a world very different from mine. Perhaps that was my way of creating a distance between Emma and myself, a way of believing that any projection on my part was futile since we occupied very different realities; that indicating her boyfriend was a mathematician would have been very different from assuming he was a writer, a painter or even a musician.
Over the next few weeks I still hadn't seen Emma but sometimes passed most of the others who I had first started noticing at the beginning of the lockdown. There was the woman around her mid-fifties who always now smiled when she saw me running, the childless couple who said hello and the man who I would see usually in different parts of the town with his bags and belongings scattered around him. He was frequently in the midst of a conversation that the others may or may not have wished to be having but from which they couldn't easily escape. I couldn't remember seeing the other man for a while, the one reading, and drinking out of the flask - though if I recall I saw him before any of the others in the first week of the safety measures and would see in him a serenity that only a ten-mile run could begin to generate in me. It was the sort of feeling that I couldn't locate as either admiration or envy but thought the difference between the two words lay in what one knew or surmised of the person who possessed such calm. If he had been lucky enough that no catastrophe had befallen him I would have been envious. If there were horrible events in the past and he could sit in a park and concentrate on reading a book despite them, that would be more worthy of admiration. It would be a state I could aspire to rather than a condition I must accept; that others have fortunes I don't possess, whatever money I have in the bank.
During this period my tenants, who had remained in the flat during the initial period of the virus, said that they were vacating the apartment. They had been renting the flat for three years but wanted to move outside of the city since their jobs could increasingly be done online. He was an IT technician and his partner, who was from Nimes, a private French language teacher. They may have paid half-rent rent throughout the lockdown but admitted for months they had been thinking of moving somewhere that would be commutable and, long-term, a lot cheaper. They had found a place for September and they gave me two months' notice. I told them if a place was available sooner then they should feel free to take it. It was free to move in to straightaway, they admitted. They moved out ten days later and the apartment was in perfect condition except for a broken plate they had left on the kitchen table. Alongside it, was a note saying that they tried to leave the place as they found it but ironically as they were packing up a plate broke. They thanked me for releasing them earlier from the contract and hoped I wouldn't have any problems renting it very soon. There was a ten-pound note next to the plate.
For many finding new tenants would have been a problem during this period, and while it was no less a problem for me the money was less of a requirement. I'd managed to find a way of teaching art history online several hours a week and earned almost as much as when working for the galleries. The job covered my bills and rudimentary living expenses. I had no rent to pay on my apartment and money in the bank I could draw upon for luxuries. It occurred to me that I could have been more generous still to my former tenants, letting them stay for a lot less when they first moved in. When I put it up for rent again, I suggested 750 rather than 900. I looked on various property sites and could see that a two-bedroom place in Bruntsfield was rarely rented for less than a 1,000. and around 1200 was quite normal. Perhaps they were reduced when a prospective tenant arrived and arranged a slightly better offer but I thought there was something provocative about advertising a flat for so much below the market rate. And yet at the same time, I became more discerning in who I wanted to live in the place, as if my regret at not offering it to the previous tenants who had been so diligent at paying, even though rents had been suspended and tenants were within their rights not to pay, led me to insist on finding tenants who appeared to me equally deserving of the cheaper initial rent I never gave to the others.
Over the next two weeks, I saw around twenty people arranged on two screening afternoons and it was a little odd trying to judge the character of prospective tenants when they all arrived looking like highway robbers. The very characteristics that would in other circumstances make someone look suspicious, were signs of judiciousness and respect, but it still didn't help when you wanted to scrutinise a face to see if you trust them with your property for six months or more.
There wasn't a single prospective tenant who wasn't interested in the apartment as I found myself wondering whether one reason why I offered such a low price was to feel wanted. That may sound pathetic and would have been evident if I had deliberately set the rent so low determined to extract from the many viewers praise and need. One couple said it was the home they could only ever hope to buy and there I was giving people the chance to live in it for such a modest sum. A couple of people who looked at it said the flat they just came from was 1,000 and half the size and half as nice. A professional new to the city who was looking for a place that his wife and young daughter could move into said it was like the flat he had in Nottingham but was well aware that he couldn't expect to find a similar place for a similar price in Edinburgh. He looked at me with surprise unsure whether it should contain admiration. Was I so moneyed I had no interest in what price I was renting the flat, or so mendacious that there was some hidden detail I wasn't informing him over? I did suggest that while the rent was very low there was still an exorbitant council tax that the tenant would have to be responsible for paying. This seemed to satisfy him as if he assumes that I was probably looking to sell it when the opportunity arose and that I didn't want to be the one paying the council tax on it as I tried to do so.
Yet after these two viewing sessions, I still didn't know who I wished to take up the tenancy. I arranged another two viewings and it was on the second of these that Emma came and looked at the flat with her boyfriend, the person I had seen sitting on a bench reading, with a flask beside him. At no point during the fifteen minutes they looked around the flat did they acknowledge they recognised me from months earlier and I didn't say anything either. I sensed that she did remember and that he didn't, which would have made sense since I ran past her far more often than I ran past him, but it might also have been another projection which insisted I was at least modestly memorable in her eyes. During those fifteen minutes, they revealed that the flat they were in was a very small one-bedroom apartment near the university (where they were both in the final year of their PhDs) and the only way they managed to keep sane was to make sure that every day for at least an hour the other person would vacate the flat: he would usually go off and read and she would go for a run. With a flat this size, they said, even a second lockdown would be tolerable: they could just disappear into different ends.
I chose to rent them the flat and they came back again a week later to sign the lease. This time I made some tea and the three of us sat at the kitchen table in the incline as they asked me a few more questions about the apartment that segued into questions about our lives. Emma said that she remembered me from months earlier, that sometimes we ran past each other. I said I remembered too and she said she didn't want to mention it on the previous occasion just in case I thought she was trying to suggest a familiarity that would help them get the flat. I said with a smile that I admired her integrity. I didn't doubt many would lie to get a flat so cheap; Emma didn't even want to tell the truth. There was no suggestion the boyfriend, whose name was Jonathan, remembered me at all as I said that I sometimes ran past him as well. Emma apologised for him, saying those initial months were very difficult. She didn't say more but Jonathan added that his mother contracted the virus and his father then died from it. His mother recovered but she went a little demented in the months afterwards, feeling guilty that she passed it onto him and that she couldn't even visit as he was passing away. And of course, his mother couldn't visit them and they couldn't visit her, Emma added. Jonathan glanced at Emma and she looked back at him before looking down, as if the next look should have been for me but that she couldn't for some reason offer it.
I think they were surprised they had divulged so much so briefly, and to their landlord. In other circumstances, I suspect the gap between their levels of social communication and mine would have been enormous but in recent months the loneliness some were feeling became the loneliness many felt. I sensed in Emma and Jonathan a need to get out of their cramped flat not just for the purposes of space but also because they couldn't any longer stay in an apartment they were forced to share at a moment when they needed more time alone or time with others. It must have been terrible to be unable to visit a grieving parent living only a few miles away, and perhaps out of that sense of impotence, even the person you are sharing your life with can seem like a nuisance. I thought again of Jonathan sitting on the park bench and wondered if, as he was doing so, whether it was before or after his father's death: was it obliviousness or stoicism he was practising as he sat there? I recalled wondering whether he was somebody worthy of admiration or envy.
I could at least attend my own parents' funerals with my brother at my side, could see the lowering in each instance of a coffin into a hole in the ground and receive the commiserations of a few dozen mourners who scattered after the funeral like the mud thrown on the varnished, pine boxes. Several of them wrote to us afterwards and, after our mother's death, an aunt became our guardian but only lived with us on paper. From fifteen we were alone but we had managed to say goodbye to the dead. Emma and Jonathan seemed to notice that I'd disappeared into my thoughts and said they ought to go. What I found odd was that a sudden feeling of abandonment was quickly replaced by a feeling of what I can only call assurance: a feeling that I wasn't being abandoned but that I wasn't abandoning them. We arranged to meet in the middle of the following week when I would give them the keys. As we were about to part, I found myself able to say goodbye to people for the first time in years without feeling I was the one at a loss. It was even a vague feeling of omnipotence, as though God had played with my life malignantly and I was now given the chance to play God with others more benignly, through a good fortune that had been monetary. They said they were immensely grateful to me for renting them the apartment, and mentioned too that when the opportunity arose they could have his mother visiting without feeling she was going to be in the way. No other flat within their budget could have allowed for this, they said, looking simultaneously guilty at such a thought and relieved that I had saved them from its consequences. I stood outside the flat for a moment as they walked away, observing two people who I had six months earlier watched as strangers. Soon, for at least six months, and for as long as they wished to stay in the flat, I'd be able to impact directly on their lives. As I thought this, I wondered too in a moment that felt religious but was really only financial, that my parents were looking down upon me. But then an image of my brother came to me as well. I hoped he would be happy with the choice of tenants I had found for his apartment and wondered if I'd feel calmer still if I had told them about my own encounters with the tragic.
© Tony McKibbin