It’s come to this

Flash Fiction Ep 4 by Jan Cornall

Photo by Nik Macmillan via Unsplash

When the landlord raised her rent to an exhorbitant price she is too embarrassed to even quote here, Louisa Greene decided she’d have to rent out her spare room. It was easy. All she had to do was sign up to an international website, put up a few photos, come up with a description, a catchy title, and bookings began flooding in.

It all went well until her landlord raised the rent again, and Louisa realised she would have to rent out her own bed too. Now she sleeps in the laundry on a bedroll she throws down between the washing machine and the dryer. She even has some washing and drying cycles whirring throughout the night, so her visitors will have fresh warm towels when they check in early from their international flights.

The guests don’t seem to notice that Louisa doesn’t appear to sleep anywhere. She always goes to bed late, rises early and the rest of the time is a pleasant homey presence in the kitchen or the living room, working away on her screen at something very important, as everyone does these days.

From her own observations and not wishing to generalise or stereotype her international guests in any way, Louisa has noticed:

- Korean girls like to wash their hair every night before they go to bed.

- Israelis make themselves at home wherever they are, use every utensil in the kitchen for cooking up big meals to which Louisa is always invited to partake.

- Taiwanese guests close the bathroom window tightly shut even in summer. Because it is cold? Because ghosts might get in? Because the spirits of their naked bodies might get out?

- Chinese guests never get between the sheets but sleep on the bedspread. (Louisa doesn’t mind as it saves on sheet washing).

- Indonesians are most comfortable sitting on the floor and love to sleep sideways on the bed. That way you can fit more people in.

-Filipino guests giggle a lot and like to eat fried chicken every night.

-Indian guests are very polite and just a little too fussy.

- Most, but not all English are indeed a bit whiny.

-The only ones who demand a refund are American.

-The French, despite their reputation for being snooty are the loveliest people you will meet.

- Argentinians come a close second and the way they drink tea through a metal straw is fascinating.

Happily Louisa concludes, people of all nations are generally kind, caring and considerate except for those who leave their hairs all over the bath, the toilet seat up and bang the bathroom door in the middle of the night when they get up to pee.

Louisa Greene has always been a renter. Back in the 80s and 90s when her friends were busy buying their first houses, on many occasions they tried to convince her she was just throwing money down the drain, but she stood firm. The thought of being tied down to a mortgage for the best years of her life didn’t appeal to her one bit and even though she had a boring and regular job as head librarian of a small local library, she was a free spirit after all. No, Louisa Greene preferred to spend her extra cash on travel. Not only because this quiet and unassuming person loved adventure, but because when she traveled, Louisa Greene found she could take on a new persona and become the sexy and confident person she had always wanted to be. Of course she would always bring home a few holiday snaps of architecture and famous landmarks to show to her colleagues at work, but the rest she kept for herself. The pics from Louisa Greene’s secret life of travel were safely stowed and only she had the key.

Frank likes to travel too and is often suggesting they go somewhere together, like Spain or Amsterdam so they can spend all day looking at art in famous museums and galleries. Frank loves to paint and since he retired spends his days (when he isn’t browsing bookshops and people watching in cafes), painting still life and landscape in the tradition of the old masters. He isn’t known in mainstream art circles as such, but his paintings are good enough to sell well in local exhibitions. He has one particular admirer, a rich lady from the North Shore, who on opening night, without fail, snaps up the best ones and comes back for more on the last day. Louisa wonders if there isn’t a little more to their relationship than patron and artist but she is too polite to enquire.

Louisa was rushing to get dressed for dinner with some old friends she hadn’t seen for a while. She looked through her wardrobe for something new to wear and came across a silk outfit made in the style of a Vietnamese ao dai that she had purchased on her travels a few years back — not in Vietnam as you would expect, but in the sleepy, early evening, old shophouse streets of Battambang, Cambodia. She’d seen one fluttering in a slight breeze outside a tailors shop, the only trouble being it was maroon, her least favourite colour. When she went inside to see if they had any others, all the garments were the same. What a disappointment, she thought. Still the delightful young shop assistant invited her to try one on and she did, emerging from the change room to her practiced oohs and aahs. Looking in the mirror Louisa told the girl that it was lovely but she didn’t think she could take it (for reasons already explained)and it was too big anyway. Oh, no matter Madame, the shop assistant exclaimed, as she was swiftly joined by two others as naturally poised and pretty as the first. We can fix that — and they set to immediately with pins and tucks and intricate takings in, their fingers flying as lightly as butterfly wings up and down Louisa Greene’s it’s-been-a-while-since-anyone- touched-me-like-this-please-don’t-stop body. Remembering the moment again when her ao dai was delivered to her hotel early next morning, Louisa Greene wondered if indeed she had been caressed by asparas.

Note: An apsara is a celestial dancer, a female nymph figure important in Cambodian mythology.

to be continued…

read earlier episodes here

let me know what you think either here or on Facebook

Apsaras relief in Angkor Wat, photo by Louisa Greene.

Jan Cornall is a writer/performer/teacher. She has written plays, screenplays and her books, Take Me To Paradise and Archipelagogo are available here. She is currently working on a literary travel memoir about following the footsteps of the French writer Marguerite Duras in Vietnam and Cambodia. Jan also mentors writers and leads international writing workshops and retreats.

Next trips heading out:

Moroccan Caravan, Mar 4–17, 2018. A camel riding/writing adventure into the Sahara, with optional add on 5 day residency.

Haiku Walking in Japan, March 27 -April 3. Following the footsteps of Basho along the Nakasendo Way in cherry blossom time.

© Jan Cornall 2017