In my place

Words by Kate van der Borgh

Artwork by Matt Baxter






I’m in. It’s a shithole. I hoped my landlady might be too batty to realise what she can legitimately charge in North London, but I think she got wind of my status as Bastard Ex-Husband and put her rates up specially.

She did dig out some furniture for me though: a springless sofa, a dining table that only maintains equilibrium with a dictionary jammed under one leg. I asked about a particular armchair, which you might generously describe as ‘eccentric’, and she said it belonged to a tenant (French, apparently) a few years back. I said I couldn’t imagine why he left it behind, and she said: ‘he die in flat’. All in all, a warm welcome for me.

For Christ’s sake, come round for beers soon. I do at least have Sky Sports.







Thanks for having me over. I’ve been fine for 48 hours, so it looks like your prawn linguine was OK after all.

Your flat isn’t so bad. Looks like a nursing home, but at least it doesn’t smell like one. Seriously though: it’s bound to be quiet without Emma and Harry. Those blocks of flats always have a weird feeling – it’s like there’s always someone around. Things will get better, promise.

Btw, Mum only asks after you 20 or 30 times a day now.

x x x

PS Meant to say… do you think you could have mice? When I slept in the front room I swear I heard something behind the chair. Maybe check before Harry stays over…?



Handwritten note

Flat 3b

Please could you keep decorating to daytimes / weekends. The scraping sounds of moving furniture are keeping our toddler awake at night.


Flat 3a





Hi Al

How’s things? It’s another night in for me. I’m getting good at conquering the M&S meal deal all by myself (the wine helps).

Sorry I’ve been calling loads. What I really wanted to say is I’m not great. Still early days, I suppose. Emma won’t return my calls. She lets Harry talk on the phone, but sometimes I get choked up and I end up saying goodbye before I want to.

Also, I keep having the most horrendous nightmares – like when we were kids.

It’s always the same one: I’m in bed, I open my eyes, and the armchair – the one you described as ‘fucking fugly’ – is there, in my bedroom. I can just see its clawed feet as it looms there in the dark. My whole body is completely frozen, and so I just lie, staring, for ages, while the chair hums with this awful energy – as if it’s thinking.

Then I realise there’s someone in it. I can’t see their face, just their colourless shape, slumped. Feet splayed out, hands hanging. It’s sickening, somehow. And there’s something about it that almost looks like me.

Then I really do open my eyes. It’s probably the only time I’m glad to be alone.

I’ll be OK. Just feels strange. On a cheerier note, Harry is staying the weekend for football, film and pizza. I know: can’t buy his love. Won’t stop me trying.

I’m off for two portions of tiramisu.


PS Think you’re right about the mice – I can hear rustling now. Bastards. Will hunt them down if it’s the last thing I do.



Page from Harry Higson’s ‘News’ exercise book

This weekend I went to see my daddy

we had sosage pizza and I slept on a bed in the tv room

My daddy did a majic trick

I woke up in the nite and he was in the chair but then I went to his bedroom

and he was in bed

daddy says there are mice






First, this is my new email address. I’ve deleted the Higson one.

Second, I do understand that you’re fucked in the head. I would laugh, but Harry being frightened isn’t in any way funny.

He says that, when he goes to your flat, someone talks to him about you. And now he’s got it into his head that something bad is going to happen to you. I presume it’s you, or one of your stupid friends – probably drunk, either way – talking about how sorry for yourself you’re feeling these days.

A six-year-old doesn’t need to hear his father’s self-pitying ramblings. You made your bed, Tom, and you weren’t the only one in it.

If you’re using my son to play some kind of stupid game, you’re a worse father than I ever thought.




SMS from Tom Higson:

TH: Emma please don’t hang up on me. I never said anything like that to Harry.

TH: He could have been dreaming?

TH: Can you please call me back?



Note found in Harry Higson’s schoolbag

Je peux le voir







Hey Al

Not had the best day, actually. One of the neighbours was shitty with me because he said he couldn’t hear his TV last night for stamping sounds. I said I wasn’t even in last night, but he said he saw me through the window. Pissed, or maybe just an idiot.

Feels kind of lonely. Haven’t seen Brendan in ages – tried to catch him for drinks, but he seems pretty busy.

It’s given me time to think about the last few months with me and Emma. I don’t seem to stand up to much scrutiny. I don’t know what I was doing – it’s like I was walking around with my eyes closed. I don’t recognise the person I was, the things I was saying – I just sat back and let everything fall apart. No wonder Emma thinks I’m a dick. I think I’m a dick.

No worries about the weekend. I just fancied getting out of this flat for a couple of nights. Been a bit claustrophobic. Have a good time on your mini break though.

Tx x



SMS from Emma to Tom Higson:

Yes, if you must know, Brendan and I are seeing each other. He’s kind to me. And Harry loves him.



SMS between Alexandra and Tom Higson:

TH: Can I meet you for a drink after work?

AH: Defo – 6pm at the Eagle?

TH: Make it 7pm? Got opticians at 5:30pm

AH: Cool – replacing your Jack Duckworth specs? x

TH: No, got a weird shadow sometimes at the edge of my vision – just checking it out x

AH: Ugh x

TH: Probably just tiredness. Is worse at night.



Excerpt, T Higson – medical notes:

Reports sleepwalking – no history of previous episodes

Sleeps at usual time, but wakes up later elsewhere – always in same location (chair in front room)

Likely stress-related – patient recently divorced

Low dose sleeping pills





Al I need to talk to you

I called but you’re not answering

Oh Christ how did I fuck everything up so bad?? I’m so sorry for everything, I’m so so sorry and I can’t change anything – because he’s there now, he’s in my place, and I can just feel him grinning at me, grinning grinning grinning

I don’t know why I’m writing this – I just need you to know, I need you to know how sorry I am, for everything


I wake up

And I can see him

God help me, he’s getting out of the chair



Transcript of 999 call made by Rebecca Neal, Flat 3a

Operator: Police, what’s your emergency?

Neal: Yes, hi, erm I’m not sure but I think there’s a dangerous man in our building.

Operator: OK, what’s your address?

Neal: 3a Cranbrook Park, N22.

Operator: Thank you. Can you tell me what’s happening?

Neal: There’s a man in the flat upstairs, he’s a bit weird anyway, but he’s really freaking me out tonight…

Operator: How do you mean?

Neal: There’s been banging noises all evening, which is pretty normal…

Operator: Right.

Neal: But he’s started shouting, I don’t know who at because he lives on his own. And now he’s gone outside, and come back in with something sharp in his hand.

Operator: OK, we’ll send someone round now just to see what’s going on.

Neal: That’s great, thanks.

Operator: Are you in the building now?

Neal: No, I’ve come outside in the garden with my daughter, I don’t want to be inside… He’s just a bit, I dunno…

Operator: Can you see anything?

Neal: He’s – he’s walking around like he’s agitated. Looks like he’s been crying. Jesus, he’s waving his arms around.

Operator: OK, we’re on our way.

Neal: Actually I think I just saw…

Neal: …

Operator: What?

Neal: I thought there was someone else.

Operator: Is there?

Neal: I – I don’t know, it was just – someone sitting. Er, sorry.

Operator: Pardon?

Neal: Sorry, I can’t see. It’s dark.

Operator: Are you-

Neal: Oh Christ, I can see him-

Neal: …

Neal: Oh God- help us-


  1. I like the way this story subtly unfolds through the use of modern social media but also really creeps you out with more traditional methods of communication: Harry’s schoolbook entry about his dad’s ‘majic trick’ in particular, and the 999 call at the end. A really interesting mix of the old and new which works.

  2. Agree with Tony – another benefit of the sms/notebook/transcript form is the multi-dimensional point of view: It really expands our sense of the situation and brings the characters and backstory into focus. Genuinely and oddly uncomfortable.

Leave a Reply