Little Ellie stood on the bed’s edge, eyelids still heavy with sleep, staring dreamily out the roof windows at the sharp building edges, overlapping and blending, softened by the passing of time, and graced with a fuzzy charm by the misty morning light and a cold drizzle. The cold was making itself felt in the old town square which was now part of a bustling city filled with full-to-the-brim but deserted modern skyscrapers. Living on a budget in the coveted old neighbourhood took a toll on the home comfort Ellie’s mother could afford to provide. Their living there was a matter of history, rather than choice; still, they wouldn’t trade the early 20th century converted attic for the sterile warmth of modern apartments. It was only October but two pairs of socks, a jumper and a winter duvet were the bare minimum required to sleep through the night.
Ellie pulled the covers off, put her house shoes on, headed to the window and placed her hands on the crumbling, moist plaster of the windowsill. The piercing cold brought a smile on her face. Growing up in that place, she had developed a taste for living, for appreciating the feeling of time in her body, made possible by the thick buildup of historical layer in that old town market square, which she could analyse from above like a historian turning manuscript pages with soft white gloves.
Ellie sat listless on the gold embroidered cushion of a Chippendale chair, sipping her coffee in the extravagant comfort of the hotel room. She didn’t bother to open the curtains. Although the somptuous interiors made those unaquainted feel like they were sharing chambers with royalty, the ugly truth was the hotel was a steel and glass giant, overlooking a forest of equally belittling buildings. She had spent the best part of the previous five years living in such hotels, at one point being so caught up in work affairs that she actually did not bother to call a place home. When she did have a place rented, she often avoided staying there worried she might have to make her own coffee or toast. She didn’t like this life, but she had gotten used to the sickening comfort brought by her income, and kept telling herself that once she had enough saved she would quit. She had parted ways with her old self following her mother getting a better paid job and selling the old attic flat to fund a mortgage for a warm and lacking-mould apartment. Ellie believed herself understanding of her mother’s growing arthritic pains, but she was in response drifting more and more, literally and figuratively, into the new city centre. She was fighting fire with fire, and left completely lost by her time in university, she ended up working in public affairs for a multinational corporation. She was devilishly good at it.
Once, she left the hotel she was staying in in the middle of a cold November night, took her shoes off and walked the dark alleys hidden behind bars and clubs, cutting her feet on broken glass, and talking to herself until the sun rose. She sat on a bench next to a homeless man smoking handrolled cigarettes. He would lick them soaked before lighting them on fire, producing such a thick choking smoke it clinged onto the surface of clothes rather than penetrate them. She dipped her feet in a puddle beside the bench.
Ellie felt like she had nothing left to live for. She came to understand that she had spent her life searching for that feeling of belonging, feeling which was lost temporarily when moving out of the attic, and then permanently when the old buildings were deemed unsafe for habitation, lacking historic value and summarily demolished and replaced by a new office building. She felt betrayed by her mother, then her friends, then her coworkers. After her husband left her, she went silent for months. She didn’t cry, she didn’t hate, she just felt like it was meant to happen and she deserved it. She couldn’t remember much from the past thirty years of her life. She didn’t care. She turned off the heating, opened all the windows, crawled under the covers and waited for the sparkling December air to fill the house. She started shivering violently, curled up in a ball and grabbed the soles of her feet with her hands. She read the scars like Braille. The moist and abrasive skin drew the heat out of her hands.
On Christmas morning she jumped out of bed, stretched like a gymnast, and devoured the sight of the shabby old table covered in layers of flaking drab greens, ochres, maroons, more greens, and a feeble white overcoat. On it stood glowing, proud and innocent, a red pomegranate.