Butdisappointmentonly one note of interest had answered her advert, silently hand-delivered yesterday evening from a Mr. Chartwell requesting a viewing in the morning. The lettering was savage and strange, pressed so hard into the paper the commas were torn through. It seemed to Esther this note had been written by someone deeply unfamiliar with a pen, someone who held it like a pole they wanted to bang into the ground. Finding the note, Esther had creased it in a fist, stunned suddenly at the idea of sharing her home, the idea of the intrusion making her gently seasick.
Maybe, thought Esther, now in the front room at the record player, she should put some music on to insinuate that she was a hip landlady as well as a calm one. Mr. Chartwell was probably a music fan; he would appreciate the charts. The Rolling Stones were number one with Its All Over Now, and Esther had bought the single. She busied herself with this task, supremely confident. With the needle on the record, the song blared at an obscene volume, Mick Jaggers voice screaming through the tissues of her head. Esther snatched the needle off.
The music was abandoned and silence restored. Then, just as quickly, it was overthrown.
The doorbell buzzed. In the kitchen, Esther stood motionless, feeling the hoof-kick of nerves. A few seconds passed. The doorbell called again.
Right, here we go, I suppose, she said to a photograph of Michael on the windowsill. That funny chin angled left, broad-shouldered in a blue denim shirt, the top two buttons undone. His big face was captured in a moment of serenity, grey eyes trained on something beyond the sights of the camera. Esther imagined what he would say to her and then his voice was in her ears, summoned from a library of memories, talking as if through a seashell. He made a few comments, all practical. His words were encouraging, so she stayed there, listening. I miss you, Esther said to Michael. He whispered something, a hand on her cheek. Then the doorbell issued its instructions with new ferocity. Michael clicked off. Esther went to let Mr. Chartwell in.
The first thing she noticed was that Mr. Chartwell was a colossal man. He filled the porch with the silhouette of a mattress, darkening the pane of frosted glass. As she walked towards the front door a weird odour developed and intensified, emanating from the doorway. It smelt like an ancient thing that had been kept permanently damp; a smell of cave soil.
Esthers instincts transmitted high-frequency pulses of intuitive information. They told her that someone odd and kinky awaited her, someone with a rare kinkiness that rode off the spectrum. They told her to hide. But hide where? There was nothing in the hallway to dive behind, it was a wasteland. And what about their appointment? Her dutiful feet pushed forwards.
Opening the door was as violently traumatic as anything could conceivably be, the shock of it blasting out like a klaxon. Esther mashed herself against the wall. She watched with billboard eyes and didnt move.
Mr. Chartwells black lips carved a cordial smile. Mrs. Esther Hammerhans? He extended a paw the size of a turnip. Hello, Ive come about the room.
Excerpted from Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt Copyright © 2011 by Rebecca Hunt. Excerpted by permission of The Dial Press, 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 publisher
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