Kensington Mews

By Bridge Lower

My new flat is on the first floor of an old building. The front door has stained glass and four locks. I only use two, which means I’m either half as safe or twice as likely to be in danger. 

The front hallway is long and narrow with a high ceiling. A musty smell persists. There’s a little cupboard with a washer-dryer combo, though it does neither—it just spins. Here the smell is more intense, but I’m no expert on moisture, mold, mildew. This cupboard is also where I store the tools to get back to New York: three suitcases that nest like Russian dolls, some boxes, and clouds of bubble wrap. This cupboard is my escape hatch. 

The windows in the bedroom are so tall that I can’t reach the dowel to turn the blinds, so they stay shut. A previous tenant left a long orange box of Hermes-scented drawer liners inside the wardrobe. This means the previous tenant was richer than me—can even I afford this place?—and that after just one day, all my clothes smell like an arrogant Frenchman. 

When I arrived, the furniture was oddly configured, put in place by someone who had clearly never seen a house. I moved the desk from the bedroom to the lounge and nestled it in the corner by windows. This is where I will become a real person. I sit and inhale, the new me filling up like a balloon. Although I sense it’s a revolving door for expats, this flat is promising. I look out the window and see a cat deftly walking the fence. Smoke and music travel up from the flat below. This is my home now. Here I will find a job—nay, a career—and community and love. Here I will send carefully crafted emails telling my friends how weird London is (so much tea! pants means underwear!). Here I will Google everyone I ever met and read Yelp reviews for my favorite restaurants across the ocean. Here I will watch old episodes of Sex and the City and feel homesick. Here I will cry when I discover New York is on the rebound and doesn’t miss me at all.

I’ve made two friends, a couple. Their house is down a picturesque mews with worn cobbles. Alessandro is waiting for me beside a large potted boxwood. He kisses me on both cheeks, his cologne smelling of citrus and cloves. We go up to the kitchen and out to the terrace where a few people are gathered. As always at these lunches, everyone looks stylish and sophisticated. Clem and Alessandro seem to collect only very fine people. 

The new me has tricked them. 

We eat sausages and bruschetta and the sun pops out from behind clouds just long enough to warm my skin and make the wine go straight to my head. The trains pass every fifteen minutes or so and sometimes we yell above their noise, but usually we just wait. Clem reclines on a lounger, making sweeping circles over her enormous belly. She has a light British accent and an L.A. face. Alessandro pulls her small, bare feet into his lap and rubs them. The baby is coming soon. Very soon. A baby means the invitations will dwindle and die—no more weekday aperitivos, no more Sunday roasts. No more afternoons wandering the Serpentine Gallery or sorting through antiques in Richmond. The baby will come, like spring, like green shoots emerging from the soil, and I can’t stop it. I’ll just be me, the odd acquaintance who perhaps attached far too much meaning to the friendship Clem and Alessandro extended. Be prudent when offering friendship; it’s much harder to take it away. 

Clem shows me the nursery. It used to be her art studio, frenetic and messy, her paintings covering every surface. Now it’s sage green with a crib and a small lamp shaped like a duck. Back outside, one of the guests climbs up on the railing overlooking the train tracks. She reaches out toward a tree, fingers the leaves, holds them softly, and pets them. She speaks to the group in Italian, gesturing wildly at the tree. Her expensive sneakers grip the brick ledge of the terrace as she bends to pick a wild blueberry from a pot. Her body waves in the breeze as she inspects it. I imagine her tumbling over, a train coming through and flattening her. My chest heaves but no one else seems concerned. She pops the blueberry in her mouth, says something in Italian, and everyone laughs. She climbs down, pours herself another glass of wine. 

“You don’t speak Italian,” someone says, and I shake my head no. I turn to see a man, just arrived. He’s dressed in white, straight from playing polo. His trousers are streaked with dirt and it’s impossible not to picture his thighs gripping the horse. He smells of sweat and, faintly, manure.

“I’ll translate,” he says, smiling. “She said she’s just decided not to kill herself after all.”  

Clem and Alessandro’s cats cause trouble at lunch. One sits inside the kitchen window and mews to get outside. The other joins us on the terrace but claws at the kitchen window, mewing to get inside. They do not know what they want.

“How did he get out?” Clem asks, framing her belly with her hands. Her nose is sunburned and freckled.

“It was when I left the pie on the windowsill,” Alessandro says in his thick accent. “The way they do in cartoons and in America.” As if they are, or could be, the same thing. 

We eat the pie with ice cream and a little boy walks around with a shoelace, pretending it is a stethoscope. He holds one end to his ear and places the other on our hearts.

About the author

Bridge Lower is a writer, educator, and graduate of The Writer’s Foundry MFA program at St. Joseph’s University. She is currently a Best of the Net nominee and was a finalist in the L Magazine’s Literary Upstart competition. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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