They shared the top flat together. A room each, a shared kitchen and shower shoved into the corner. Actually they didn’t really have a proper room each but stuck a chip board partition down the middle to make one big space into two. And made do. Their pretense at privacy was just enough. To help herself though, Mira read Zola, empathizing with the artists stuck in terrible living conditions in L’Oeuvre or the young girl in La Bette Humaine. There were times when she even pretended to herself that she was in Paris, that Camden really was Montemarte and that any moment now she’d turn the corner and see the Sacre de Couer and find herself in a film by Truffaut or Rohmer or on the set of Amelie.
This was how people coped now. Looking through the long lens culture provided- of books, theater and art. It kept them distant from the true reality of their lives, which if fully felt would surely destroy them Mira thought, it helped keep at arms length the coldness of the poorly heated rooms, the squabbling of benefit couples below them and the long Winter evenings Mira tried to avoid spending in the flat.
She held two jobs. In one she worked at a Vegan restaurant made famous by its celebrity patrons on Neal Street, and in the other she was an Usher at an off West end Theater. But really she aspired to be a. A something. She didn’t know what yet. She had a degree in English but didn’t really want to teach. She didn’t have the savvy to be a journalist, she wasn’t impartial enough and anyway she couldn’t write. She sometimes drew but this was of no consequence. She saw plays and either walked out or heckled from the side lines. But other than this she didn’t actually do anything. Not because she was lazy, far from it. But because there was a kind of block. A psychic block she couldn’t get over and work through. It blocked her whole life. And no one knew.
Mira shared the flat with Alex. Alex was unquestionably very clever and she wore beautifully knit woolen jumpers. She did the knitting herself. She also wore flowing preraphaelite skirts, tights and buckle shoes. Or sometimes slim jeans and chunky cardigans. Alex had been at one of the top universities and Mira was slightly in awe of her. She had inside her a kind of energy like a coiled spring waiting to be released. Each day it tightened and tightened until Mira thought it could go no tighter. Alex, unlike Mira, threw herself into everything. She taught history as a private tutor to children educated at home, scooting in between their houses in North London on her pedal bike. She co edited an arts magazine she still helped run at her old university, proof read for an online medical journal, corrected the essays of other BA students and attended yoga classes every Saturday. And she had a rabbit.
The rabbit was a Netherland Dwarf with Satanic pink red eyes. It was huge and slept in a little crate in the kitchen. Mira thought she secretly hated this rabbit although she was the primary carer as Alex rarely had time. In fact, even though she hated it; Mira had actually formed an obsession with it. Every morning if the restaurant did not require her, she would get down on hands and knees and peer through the bars at it hunched in the corner. It never looked at Mira but continually shivered, staring straight ahead. If she let it out it lopped across the room. Stopped. Looked around it and then made for the gap between the cupboard and the wall where it somehow, despite its size, wedged itself. Mira would spend hours dangling lettuce leaves, carrots, all manner of rabbit fare to entice it out. And yet the only thing that worked was a piece of dried raw spaghetti – the kind you liked crunching as kid. Hold it out and it grabbed and neatly waffled the thing down before making a dash back to its cage. Although it had been living in that flat for years it still couldn’t cope with any form of freedom.
Gradually Mira took to fancying what it would be like if Fluff- for that was its name- were able to run free. What would it do, she often fantasized; if she left open its cage and the front door and by chance it found itself in the suburbs and surrounding fields of Chislehurst and came to a beautiful green field bathed in sunlight? Would it take a sniff and then, with a wave of its paw dismiss the wildness and run back to Camden? Or would it hold its quivering nose into the air and without a backward glance and with a sudden flash of its tail, disappear down a hole?
Often Alex would walk into the flat at midnight and disturb Mira’s musings, the air of Primrose Hill and a Marxist lecture hanging around her shoulders and would ask disconcertingly-
Oh how is the rabbit? Did you have to muck her out again? I’m so sorry. Oh I went to a great lecture tonight. You should have heard it. All about who’s a fox and who’s a hedgehog, really interesting. Based on that book by Isaiah Berlin you know?
Mira didn’t know, she didn’t care about these things but she listened carefully to everything Alex said. Even when Alex moved onto spiritual writers and how she had met Ben by coincidence at a concert that evening and then again later at the internet cafe and how obviously this meant something. And her opinions on the education costs, benefit cuts, last year’s riots and the Mayor- don’t get her started. She went on and on, laboring over every last detail, proclaiming Tony Benn to be the last real socialist and Ken Livingstone to be a sham- and when she was drunk she even let slip if it weren’t for David Cameron being a Tory she might actually fancy him. There was something in that ‘public school boy act’ – for it was an act- which attracted her.
When at last Alex finally did stop talking she would look at Mira and say ‘oh well, whatever’. Or ‘hey ho.’
Then there’d be a pause. And half afraid, she’d look at Mira.
And how was your day, did you do anything?
Oh not half as exciting, was Mira’s usual reply. I got up around 11. Went to Foyles and read a bit you know; and then had a coffee and then went to the theater. Then I came home.
Oh and what were you reading?
A biography about Simon Gray.
For Mira was into reading about the lives of literary giants or at least those chain smoking alcoholics who flooded the 60s, 70s and 80s with their plays and survived their liquor run.
Oh really, I don’t think I’ve seen any of his work.
You tube. Butley is his most famous.
And Alex would look at Mira with a little smile as if wanting to say something else, her head cocked to one side as if sizing Mira up and privately thinking,
Yes but when are you going to do something Mira?
For this was the question on everyone’s lips.
Well, I’m off to bed; said Alex.
But Mira suddenly found herself speaking.
Alex, I need to talk to you about the rabbit.
You know. I’m thinking, she doesn’t seem so happy. She’s getting very irritable. She nearly bit me earlier, I’m sure of it.
Alex looks at Mira.
But Mira, why are you worrying about the rabbit?
What do you mean? countered Mira. I’m the one who looks after it.
You certainly don’t. And no one asked you to either, you just took it upon yourself. Anyhow it coped alright before you came.
What, just sitting there in its cage?
That’s what rabbits do Mira.
They don’t, not in the wild.
But Fluff was born into captivity. It’s all she knows.
But it’s not good for her.
I can’t understand why you’re so anxious about her. She seems perfectly happy to me. Anyway look, I have an interview tomorrow about my MA, can we talk about this later? I need to go to bed.
Alex gets up and goes to her side of the chip board. And then
You know if I get the MA funding I’m moving to Oxford. I thought I’d better tell you. It’ll mean changes here. But I’m so excited you know?
May be she needs to run around a bit more? Get out a bit?
Well how about the local park? We could get her a lead. No seriously its going to be so political too you know, I love that. Did I tell you, I might be applying for an internship at the White house. I mean seriously.
As Alex talks, taking off her clothes- Mira can tell by the swish swish in the air- the rabbit seems to become a little frenzied. Its red eyes seem to bulge and roll to whites, its elongated ears flatten against its head, it fluffs out all its hair. It seems the cage will no longer contain it.
And then there’ll be shit loads of parties. Shit loads. I’m so looking forward. And who knows I might at last find a boyfriend. I mean it’s my way out of all these crappy jobs I’m doing. By the way how’s the restaurant?
Mira can’t stand it. She gets up and lets out a wail. Silence. Then Alex pops her head around the partition to look at Mira. Mira stands there clenching her fists, making a hissing sound.
Have you been drinking again?
Mira lets out a small sob.
Oh sweetie, what’s wrong?
Alex comes towards Mira as a torrent of tears rushes down her face.
I just can’t, I just can’t.
Mira can’t speak. She turns to the wall, buries herself in it. No one must see.
Alex sits there and watches Mira.
I can’t do it, I can’t do it; says Mira finally.
What? asks Alex.
My life. As it is. I can no longer do it.
Of course you can, don’t be so silly.
I can’t. I hate it.
Then change it.
But how? I’m not like you. I simply have no idea what to do. Where to go. I can’t feel a future.
Then wait for it to appear.
But I can’t continue in this life. These never ending jobs with the endless shit I have to put up with and the waiting. God the waiting! The waiting for people to finish their meals, to get up and go and leave and walk out into the next chapter of their lives and washing their plates and the saliva on the spoon and my touching that thinking just now he kissed her and she kissed back and both of them are now on this spoon I have to wash and that’s it. That’s what my relation to life is, has become! Touching the intimacy of other people’s lives through their saliva on a spoon! And then onto the theater. And the waiting again. And the stupid bloody pathetic awe everyone holds anyone who is anyone in just because they are deemed to be someone, the fucking reverence people pay just because everyone else does and no one questions it. It’s just a bloody play. It’s just art. It doesn’t matter. Like the fucking food in the restaurant doesn’t matter because it’s all a sham. A fucking sham. What matters, what really matters; is how people treat each other day in and day out. How they speak. How they talk to that taxi driver, whether they push past people in the bus queue, whether they give the assistants in Sainsburys the time of day or not. That’s what matters. That shit matters. Nothing else.
pause. Mira sits down exhausted.
Wow, says Alex. Wow, you’ve really thought about it a lot.
pause. Mira cries. In order to cheer her up, Alex;
I really like your opinions, but what about the rabbit?
Mira, I think you should see someone. You know, someone to talk to? I think you need help Mira.
What, for expressing my emotions?
That wasn’t expressing! That was hysteria/
But you always say I never talk and now I have
for women in the 1800s this was fine. The outburst. But not now. You have no need to take things out on yourself. We are freer now.
I wasn’t aware I was taking anything out on myself.
You’re just frustrated. This is how things are in a restaurant, in the theater. In Sainsburys or wherever. Just get over it and get on with your life. Look tomorrow, after my interview; we’ll see if we can find a private counselor OK? I think you need one.
Alex goes to bed. It’s all childishness to her. She was going to Oxford to do her MA.
Mira remained trembling on the bed. She wasn’t stupid, wasn’t stupid to be upset by these things and it wasn’t right for Alex to insinuate it was because she was personally frustrated and disappointed. Even if she were more successful she would still be upset. She looks across at Fluff who has quietened. She lets it out and for the first time it comes and clambers onto her lap. Its gentle breathing soothes Mira. She strokes it as it curls into her. Mira suddenly decides what to do. It is very clear to her now.
In the morning Alex wakes up to find Mira gone and the rabbit cage empty. There is a note on the kitchen units-
‘me and fluff left to go somewhere where we’ll both be happier.’
Miles away, for she was up at the crack of dawn; Mira walks down a sunken lane in Wiltshire. The sun is out and hot though still with a winter chill. She carries Fluff in her arms, the rabbit alert and sniffing; surprised at this turn of events. Mira comes to a gate. Rabbits, real brown rabbits bolt in all directions.
See, see where I’ve brought you to? says Mira.
She climbs over the gate and places Fluff on the ground. Fluff waits a moment twitching. Then scampers into the middle of the field and waits. Mira turns away walking back up the road. She plans to go and stay at a friends. A huge sense of relief flows through her. A burden, a block has been removed. Behind her, the wilder rabbits peering from their burrows look like they might deciding whether to attack Fluff or not. Mira does not see. She steps out, stronger and happier, able to sense some sort of a future.