There was a rule at the Golden Point apartment complex. It wasn’t written down, but it was faithfully obeyed by all of its tenants. It was the rule that no one would acknowledge anyone else’s current state of affairs, as that would lead them to have to come to terms with the fact that their own current state of affairs was just as bad, if not worse. And so the inhabitants of these flats went about their uneventful lives, never speaking to each other and just generally pretending that the world didn’t exist.
Golden Point was a rather misleading name. The sign beside the drive was done in olive-green paint, with flaking gold lettering. The buildings were shabby and the rooms were filthy. Even the empty ones had a thick layer of dust and water stains marking the whitewashed walls.
In Harold Spalding’s room specifically there were wrappers and beer cans strewn so thickly across the carpet that you couldn’t see it anymore. Not that you would want to; it was as grimy and as full of mouse droppings as the rest of the place. But Harold had learned not to mind the mess, and now managed to ignore it as successfully as he did his own life.
For Harold, most days consisted of the same thing. Get up, have some breakfast (“breakfast” meaning whatever was in the pantry, whether that was stale cornflakes or week-old pizza slices), mope around a bit, watch some TV, mope around a bit more, maybe go and see if he had any mail, watch some more TV, have dinner, go to bed, repeat. This was his routine and he stuck to it, except for the days when his daughter came to visit, which was about once every two weeks. He didn’t like the interruption that she created, but that night he went to bed perfectly happy because she hadn’t been round that day and wasn’t due tomorrow or, in fact, for another two weeks because she was in New Zealand with friends.
He remained content for about five minutes—then the music started. It rushed through the wall like a tidal wave, accompanied by the singing of whichever tone-deaf moron had put it on. It was ABBA, he recognized that. Harold had never been an ABBA fan. In fact, at that moment he decided that he despised the band and music in general. He did what any human being would do and banged loudly on the wall, which is the universal way of saying “Shut the hell up,” and settled back down in his filthy bed.
From through the wall, Amy Lester turned the sound on the record up. She was celebrating what small part of her life hadn’t been screwed up yet by getting drunk and listening to her favorite band. No doubt later she’d collapse on her mattress, amidst piles of unopened boxes, and cry about how pathetic she was and how unfair the world is, but right now she was feeling great.
She was finally free, with a new flat and the chance to do what she wanted with her life. This was just the beginning; she didn’t need family or teachers telling her how to achieve her dreams.
She bounced around on top of her sofa, spilling tequila everywhere and singing along to “Dancing Queen”. This is brilliant, she reminded herself. No roommates to tell her to be quiet, no professors complaining about the noise. The bloke thumping on her wall was nothing to worry about.
“Want it louder, do you, mate?” She laughed and whooped for no reason in particular.
“Shut the bloody hell up!” he screamed through the plaster. Or at least that’s what Amy thought she heard. He might have just been singing along to the music. After all, who didn’t love ABBA?
Harold didn’t love ABBA. In fact, he positively hated it after listening to the record repeat over and over, until about one O’clock in the morning. At that point, the girl next door had calmed down a considerable amount, and now sobbing noises were emanating from her flat.
Oh well, he thought, youth is wasted on the young and all that nonsense. He then proceeded to fall asleep and snore so loudly that none of his other neighbours got any sleep that night.
The next morning the sun came streaming through the thick, green curtains at about eight O’clock, but Harold successfully managed to ignore it until ten. He heaved himself out of bed and went to inspect his food supplies.
There was a can of microwavable soup that was only a few days out of date, so he chose that, even though the lumps of chicken tasted like play-doh and the greyish liquid that they floated in was comparable to petrol. He was absent-mindedly wondering when his daughter would be back to replenish his pantry when the doorbell rang. Harold was taken by surprise. No one, except her, came to see him. He checked the date, and, resolving that she couldn’t be back yet, got up to answer the door. He hoped that she hadn’t sent a friend to check on him; they never knew what to say and just stood there, taking in the state of his living room with disapproving looks on their faces, and…
“You got an aspirin?” The girl on the other side of the door had dark hair stuck to her sickly pale face and some strands were standing up on end, due to the static electricity caused by the blanket she had shrugged around her shoulders. Her eyes were red and she was still wearing pajamas.
Of course, so was Harold.
He answered her with a grunt, which could have meant yes or no, but as he left the door open and ambled towards a cabinet, she assumed that it was a yes and followed him inside.
“Nice place you got here,” she said in a subtly sarcastic voice. When Harold didn’t answer, she just plowed right on, “I’m Amy. I just moved in.” Still nothing.
Harold was rummaging through his drawers, barely paying attention to the girl. A rectangular object was obstructing his hand. He frowned and pulled it out; a photo of his daughter. Oh, yes, she had given that to him on his last birthday. The photo had a disapproving look to it, so he had put it away. “God, you people are so negative,” Amy interrupted his train of thought, “It’s like everyone here has given up on life! Look at me, I just dropped out of university, and I’m not acting like it’s the end of the world!”
Harold located his packet of aspirin and turned around to hand it to her.
“Go and get a job then.”
“Go and get a job. Prove that you can rise in society or whatever. People who live at Golden Point are here because they’ve hit a bad patch and they just can’t be bothered to sort themselves out.” Amy’s gray-green eyes widened in surprise at his outburst.
“See what I mean? Negativity! I’m going to enjoy my freedom while I can. I’ll look for work next week.” She left without thanking him, and that night Harold had to put up with “We Will Rock You” chorusing through his walls.
The following Monday, Amy stood outside Harold’s door again.
“Hey, can I borrow a fiver?” she asked, only slightly sheepishly. The reply was a grunt, but this time he began to close the door as he turned away from her. “Hey, hey hey!” She caught the edge of the door and slipped inside, “It’s not much, I’ll pay you back. I just want to pop down to the pub.”
“Don’t you have a job yet?” he grumbled.
“What? Oh. No, not yet. But a few days isn’t going to matter. I’ll start looking tomorrow.” She shrugged, as if it was no big deal that she was unemployed.
In her mind, it wasn’t. Money wasn’t a pressing matter, at least not yet. She was young, she wanted to enjoy life to its fullest. She couldn’t see herself in thirty years time, but she was sure that she wouldn’t still be here, and she was sure that borrowing five pounds wasn’t important enough to get worked up about.
In any case, Harold refused to lend her the money.
Amy slipped back into her apartment. Most of her boxes were still full, and there were dirty plates on the surfaces. She was struck with a sudden urge to clear the place up a bit, lest it begin to look like her neighbor’s place. She stuck some things into the dishwasher and ran the sleeve of her jacket over a dusty surface, but then the urge wore off, and she headed off to the pub anyway.
Cassidy tucked a strand of blonde hair behind her ear and pursed her glossy lips. Harold was used to getting this look from his daughter. It was a mix of disgust and pity, and it swept over his grimy living room, taking in every stain and spider-web.
“Honestly, dad,” She began the lecture that she always delivered, but which had no effect, “You can’t live this way. Mom wouldn’t want to see you like this.” She didn’t even stop to tell him about her trip; she just waltzed in with a bag of groceries and a disapproving look.
“Cass, I can take care of myself. I am an adult.”
“Really? Why do I have to look after you, then? What about getting a job, what about getting your own house?” She opened her mouth to continue, but just then someone banged on the wall.
“Give it a rest and let him live his life, woman!” Amy’s voice sounded fed up, but that didn’t stop Cassidy from marching up to her door and walking right in.
Amy was lying on her sofa, wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants, and eating a slice of pizza.
“Hey!” she cried.
“What right do you have to tell me not to worry about my own father?” Cassidy demanded, “Is that why he hasn’t made any progress? Do you spend your time encouraging him to be a lay about? How old are you, anyway? Its pretty pathetic, to wind up here at your age.”
“I’m twenty,” Amy frowned, “I dropped out of university. So what if I don’t want to get a job right away?” She turned away, signaling that she was done with this conversation.
The sour look on Cassidy’s face dissolved into anger as she looked back at Harold, who had followed her into the hall.
“So now you’re encouraging kids to follow your example. When mom died you were going to turn over a new leaf. You were going to go to college and get a better job, but as soon as you saw the workload you gave up! Why couldn’t you just try again, or at least have one back to your old job? Now look where you are!” Her voice cracked, and her blue eyes teared up. Hugging her father and choking out a goodbye, she left.
Harold sighed and went back to his moping, but Amy sat up.
She sat on the edge of her sofa, lost in thought for a long while. That night, there was no music.
Two days later, Amy looked back as she walked out of her front door. There were still a couple of boxes lying about, and she hadn’t cleared all of the dust away, but there were no more plates lying about, and the whole place just generally looked better.
She sighed, and knocked on Harold’s door. He answered, looking as untidy as he always did.
“Look,” She fingered the sleeve of her neatly ironed jacket, “I’m going out for a job interview. Wish me luck?” He grunted. “I know… I know it really isn’t any of my business, but if I get this job can you promise me that you’ll try to work your life out? For your daughter, at least?” His beady eyes scrutinized her, but then he nodded. At least Amy assumed it was a nod; it was more like a brief bob of the head, but she smiled anyway and walked off down the hall.
Harold stood at the door for a few minutes, then walked back inside and put on some clothes. He had no idea where to start first, but he dug around in a drawer until he found what he was looking for. Then, with a degree of determination, he set to work.
The photo of Cassidy smiled at him from its new place on the coffee table, as if to say “It’s a start.”