He has shown you what little there is to show and has left you, unfussily going about his business. You face up to the room in which you have condemned yourself to spend six months. The earlier presentiment returns, that you are jumping voluntarily into an abyss of space and time. The newly locked-up prisoner, or the mutineer ordered to walk the plank, could feel no worse than you do now. You open out the folds of a sun bed and sit on it as if it were a bench at a country bus stop where buses halt infrequently. The latest in a long line of struggles to make a room familiar and friendly. You have to think back to the first time for one as desolate as this. Leaving home for a ground floor off Green Lanes, not far above the rumble of Piccadilly line trains every three minutes for four-fifths of the day. Cream wallpaper discoloured by patches of brown fluid, a mixture of damp and paste. An outside toilet, looked down upon by tower blocks, with a freakish cat painted on its wall. Once you had been left alone, you cried for a long while before moving to unpack. And ever since you have found it hard not to baptise a new room with tears.
Gradually your inward gaze turns out. The room is the odd one out of the three, the thatch directly above it being intact. It is empty but for a couple of old fruit crates stacked with kitchenware; plates, bowls and two sets of unused glasses. You turn over each object, making it yours by mentally noting its possible use. The floor is tiled in a pattern of beige and brown, veiled with the dust of seasons, and here and there a white mould, like flour. Across the ceiling run beams of ginger-coloured wood, the spaces between insulated with white polystyrene. There is a circular hole set in a rectangle of stone towards one edge of the ceiling, but no fireplace or hearth beneath it, only a thicker layer of dirt. A bare bulb hangs in the centre of the room. The walls are skirted with a couple of feet of stone, above which there are shreds of unmemorable wallpaper, torn away completely in places to reveal a sandy wall. There are two windows, the larger giving out onto the garden grass and apple trees, and beyond the fence, more often than not patrolled by a German shepherd, an ordinary looking house, a blue van. In the opposite wall, a single oblong pane frames the green palmy plastic leaves of a hedge that screens your cottage from another, like a sombre painting hung low on the wall.
The door is in farmhouse style, heavy wooden verticals held together by diagonal planks and split into two portions. You rise to unlatch the upper half, filling the emptiness of the room with the heat and light of the day. You pass back through the other rooms to see what they offer. Nothing in the middle room except colonies of mould on baked red floor tiles and mossy green on the walls. In the kitchen, the front door room, there is a gas cooker and canister, an unused red and black barbeque, firelighters, a bucket, and two brooms, one stiff, one soft. Next to the chimney which juts into the room, a shallow slab of sink webbed with fine cracks. The tap does not work, as Monsieur Drouet demonstrated, and would require more plumbing to fix than he thought himself capable of. There is an outside tap which stands at one corner of the cottage. In the shed beyond the three rooms, you find a soil floor littered with ageing beer bottles, presumably left by your uncle. There is no toilet.