Authors: Lisa Hinsley
Also available on Kindle:
My Demon – US (coming soon)
My Demon – UK (coming soon)
The waiting room on the third floor was empty. While Connor cleaned the condensation off his glasses, Izzy tried to read a magazine, her eyes flickering between the receptionist and a long hall that ran to the left of the counter. A phone rang. Izzy started
and the magazine fell closed on her lap.
“Ready?” the receptionist said into the handset. She
towards the hall. “Interview room twelve. Mrs Roberts.” She went back to her computer, and a mound of paperwork that leaned precariously to one side.
“Come on, love.” Izzy
grabbed her backpack, and hurried away. “Let’s get this o
They entered a stark room, halfway down the corridor, where a woman sat behind a wide desk, leafing through a folder. She closed the file as Izzy shut the door.
“Please sit,” Mrs Roberts said, with a glance at her watch.
Izzy checked her own
before offering a too-wide smile. She sat down on one of the chairs, the letter clutched between her fingers.
Connor flopped on the other chair, grinding the legs back on the linoleum.
“Sorry,” he said, and half-grinned at his mother.
Santana,” Mrs Roberts said. “You’re late.”
“Only by a couple of minutes
” Izzy said, her eyes wide.
“By several days.” Mrs Roberts opened the file on the desk. “We sent you the offer on the 6
“I’m sorry – one of the other residents at the shelter took my post. I had no idea
” Izzy’s voice faded. She glanced at her son, then back at the council worker.
“Your non-communication means we offered the flat to the next person on the list.”
“Already?” Izzy restrained
herself from jumping up and shouting.
This was not fair!
“Rules are rules.”
“But I have your offer!” She thrust the letter forward.
“I’m very sorry.” Mrs Roberts closed the file.
Izzy searched the room for ideas on how to turn the situation around. “Have you sent the letter out?”
“The letter – the offer – to the next person.”
“The letter is in the internal post, to be sent this morning.”
“Can’t you stop the letter – give me a chance to view the flat?” Izzy leaned forward, against the desk, and put her hands together. “Please?”
“It’s most unfortunate, but…” Mrs Roberts sighed. “There are rules.”
The housing officer’s skin was leathery from too much sun, but her eyes were
bright. Her glance fell on Connor, she continued to speak to Izzy. “The council will in due course provide two more choices.” Mrs Roberts spoke with an accent Izzy couldn’t place – eastern European? Perhaps Polish? “But sometimes…” She drew her gaze away from Connor. “…It takes a while.”
“For accommodation to become available.”
“How long do you mean? Days? Weeks?” Izzy turned to Connor who shrugged. “We’re living, together in a bedroom.” She leaned forward and dropped her voice. “I don’t think it appropriate that I continue sharing a room with a thirteen-year old.”
“I’ll have to see what I can do.” Mrs Roberts cleared her throat. “But I’m sorry to say, some time might go by before another offer is made.”
“Yes. And it could be anywhere. We have a turnover of sorts in central Reading. You might even get a house, but here in town I can’t guarantee the respectability of the neighbourhood.”
“I don’t know Reading that well,” Izzy lied. “Are there some rundown areas?”
Mrs Roberts smiled. “Much of central Reading
I would not walk through the town in the night time – unless I had no alternative. The offer you received last Monday was for a property near the centre.” She nodded, then added slowly, “I do, however… have one other flat, but it’s rather out of the way, located in a village. It has just been… redecorated. I could, perhaps…” She glanced again at Connor, “offer that to you.”
“It’s empty, though, and available?”
“Then I’ll take it now.”
“Would it suit you? The village is too out of the way to suit most families.”
” Izzy shifted in her seat. How should she reply? Images of dilapidated council houses, gardens full of junk and long grass, kids half dressed, months of filth mottling their skin, filled her head. But none of that mattered, she wanted to say
…If you were living in a woman’s shelter, with your kid, in one room, you would do ANYTHING to get out of there. Personally, I would cut my finger and sign in blood if you asked me to, without pausing to question why. Okay, a slight exaggeration – but even if we got out of the shelter today, I’ll never forget the crying, shouting – the palpable sadness that enters with every breath. It’s just…not a happy place to be.
Beside Izzy, Connor shuffled his feet, and she glanced at him. He raised his eyebrows and gave a slight nod towards Mrs Roberts. The housing officer, her hands resting on a folder full of papers, appeared to be studying Connor, but now she looked back at Izzy.
pleasant – I’ve been there,” she said. “I would class the place as a small village, and if you own a car, driving to the western edge of Reading will take you just a few minutes. Cedham is surrounded by fields and lots of open space
and a wood that encroaches onto the back of the particular building on offer.” Mrs Roberts pulled a biro from a drawer, and wiggled it between her fingers. The tip tapped against the desk. Her eyes
dark and unreadable,
once more rested on
Connor. “Are you familiar with life in small villages?”
“Not really,” Izzy said. “What do you think, Connor? The flat sounds lovely, much better than the place Shannon was offered.”
“Didn’t they have a drug factory or something a few doors down from her flat?” Connor opened his mouth to continue. “I heard the whole house was rigged for growing pot – “
“That’s enough. Stop!” Izzy said suddenly.
Mrs Roberts raised a hand. “It is all right. I read about the factory in the Reading Chronicle. Shame how the town is turning out.” Mrs Roberts flicked through the papers in the folder. “An offer of a house or flat outside of Reading is unusual.”
much better than living in town.
And we can sign for the flat now?”
Izzy pushed a lock of hair behind her ear, the curls fighting back and falling over her face. “That’ll be fine.” She thought for a second, then said, “You’re not suggesting I wait for the next offer?”
” Mrs Roberts’ dark eyes rested on Izzy. “But if you accept, I need to point out that you will drop off the housing list. You will no longer be considered homeless, and for a change of residence you would need to start at the bottom again. So you would need to stay in the village for a time, at least.”
“That seems clear, then – I should accept this flat
“Ms Santana, it is your choice entirely.” Mrs Roberts opened the folder quickly. “To secure the flat, sign here, here, and again on this one.” She pulled out some documents and laid two copies on the desk, the biro alongside.
Izzy scratched her signature on the rental agreements.
“Thanks for all the help.”
The housing officer balanced her hands on the arms of the chair, and pushed her body into a standing position. With a smile, Mrs Roberts stared across the room. Izzy glanced over her shoulder, unsure if someone was outside the room, peering in through the glass panel. Discovering no one, she turned back to find Mrs Roberts had extended her hand. Izzy grasped it, and they shook.
“Thanks,” Izzy repeated.
“Come on, love.” Izzy turned and took two steps to the door before she realised he’d not moved. “Connor?”
Roberts appeared to be locked in a staring contest. A vacant expression
crept across Connor’s features.
Izzy put a hand in front of Connor’s eyes.
“Sorry, Mum.” He stumbled away from the intense gaze of the housing officer, and bolted from the room.
“Kids.” Izzy attempted a smile, but felt only half of her mouth curl up.
The housing officer smiled again. “Keep him out of the woods.”
Izzy stopped, halfway into the hall. “What did you say?”
“Take care of the woods. That’s all.” Mrs Roberts picked up an ornate walking stick from behind the desk. She leaned heavily on the handle, which ended in two gems that glistened between her fingers. “I mean, let him make friends first. The woods need getting used to.”
Izzy nodded cheerfully. “Umm, thanks.”
“Mum?” Connor waited at the other end of the hall.
“Coming,” Izzy said, and left.
March in this area could be unpredictable, Izzy thought, noting that the temperature had plummeted. Silvery patches clung to the ground where northerly shadows cloaked the land. She drove slowly, studying the numbers on the houses. Two children emerged from a hidden space behind a large evergreen shrub, wandered into the street, crossed in front of the car, and disappeared down the side passage of one of the houses.