Excerpt of The Water Room by Christopher Fowler
(Page 8 of 10)
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At this end of the street, beyond the terraces, someone had dumped an
old sofa, a dead television and some fractured chairs against a wall,
creating an al fresco lounge. The walls of the school had been daubed
with luxuriant graffiti and stencilled slander, marked with the initials
IDST ('If Destroyed, Still True'). Around the next corner was a
van-repair centre, a hostel and a block of spacious loft apartments.
Different worlds abutted without touching.
Mr Singh slipped a disability permit on to the dashboard. 'I have to use
this,' he explained, 'Camden has zoned all the streets and they'll tow
me away otherwise, the greedy cash-grabbing bastards. They've no respect
for a decent educated man. What are their qualifications, I'd like to
Bryant smiled to himself. Benjamin was still confusing culture and
commerce, even though it was twenty years since they had last met.
'Number 5, you say?' He waved his stick at the littered front garden.
Although it appeared relatively prosperous, the street had obviously
seen better times. The houses had been amended with white porches, sills
and railings, probably Edwardian additions, but these had started to
corrode, and were not being replaced. Each house had two floors above
the road, one floor below. It was starting to spit with rain, and the
front steps looked slippery. At Bryant's age, you noticed things like
Mr Singh had trouble with the keys. He seemed understandably nervous
about going back into his sister's house. Bryant could detect a sour
trace of damp in the dark hall. 'Don't touch anything,' he warned. 'I
shouldn't really let you lead the way, butwell, we still do things
differently at the PCU.' He tried the lights, but nothing happened.
'They disconnected Ruth after she refused to pay the bill,' Mr Singh
explained. 'She was gettingI wouldn't say crazy; difficult, perhaps. Of
course, we were raised by oil-light, because our grandmother retained
fond memories of her home in India. But the basement here is always
dark, and the stairs can be treacherous. Wait, there are candles.' He
rattled a box and lit a pair.
Bryant saw Mr Singh's point as they descended. 'You found her down
here?' he asked.
'This is the puzzle, as you will see.' Mr Singh entered a shadowed
doorway to the left of a small kitchen. The size of the bathroom took
Bryant by surprise; it was disproportionately large, taking up more than
half of the basement. The old lady was tiny, as dry and skeletal as a
long-dead sparrow. She was seated on a large oak chair, her booted feet
barely reaching the floor, her head tilted back on a single embroidered
cushion draped over the top rail, her hands in her lap, touching with
their palms up. The position looked comfortable enough, as though she
had simply dropped back her head and died, but Bryant felt this was not
a place where one would naturally choose to sit. There was no table or
stool, nowhere to place a light, nor were there any proper windows to
look out of. The chair was a piece of furniture on to which you would
throw your clothes. Ruth Singh was dressed for going outside. She was
even wearing a scarf.
'You see, this is all wrong,' said her brother, turning uncomfortably in
the doorway. 'It doesn't seem at all natural to me. It's not like her.'
from The Water Room by Christopher Fowler Copyright © 2005 by
Christopher Fowler. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of
Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be
reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the