Part One - Derek
The first thing Andrew noticed about the estate agent was his nostrils.
He’d been married to Sarah the week before (Andrew, that is), and he was looking to buy a house. This house. He knocked.
The door – a blue affair with peeling paint and a plain black handle – opened. The man behind this action – this metaphorical and literal opening – was wearing a loose-fitting blue suit with white pinstripes, faux-leather black shoes with silver buckles, and a pink-and-blue checkered tie. Plastering his unnaturally smooth forehead was a crop of stringy black hair, combed over to the right. His eyes were glassy and distant, like a teddy-bear daydreaming, and he had enormous nostrils.
In most big-nostrilled people, the nose is unusually large as well, meaning that the nostrils appear to be the right proportion. Not so with this man; his nose was, if anything, a little too small, but his nostrils were still the biggest Andrew had ever seen. The skin around them was paper-thin and, as the man breathed in, it became dented and rippled. When he breathed out, the skin billowed like a wind-filled sail.
“Come in.” When he spoke, the nostril-skin vibrated and bobbed like the glass of water in Jurassic Park. His voice was thick and creamy, but it grated nevertheless; it was a soothing, rich voice but it sounded as though it were coming through cheap speakers.
“I’ve come to look at the house?” said Andrew.
“I know. Come in.” The man moved aside and thrust his arm towards the inside of the house, in the manner of welcoming a great king. An anachronism, perhaps, from a time when there were fewer house-buyers around. People tended to buy either castles or small holes with a bit of hay as a roof. Not much in-between. Still, thought Andrew, manners are to be respected.
Andrew bowed his head as he passed through the doorway, graciously accepting the offer of walking around a house that they both knew was the only one in the area within his limited budget that didn’t resemble a large mouldy brick.
The door, at a flick of the hand the man was using to hold it open, swung closed behind him, sealing Andrew in. In the house, in the life it represented – a wife, a house in the outskirts of London, a job you absolutely cannot lose (to quote Sarah) because you have a massive mortgage.
Andrew sighed and prepared himself for half-an-hour to an hour of pretending to be excited about sinks and fancy hinges.
“If you look here, in the corner, you’ll see they actually have a lovely carving – an insignia, if you will,” he uttered a high-pitched laugh which sounded more like something you’d expect to hear from an eleven-year-old girl than from a grown man talking about skirting boards, “– of a flower.”
The estate agent was showing Andrew the skirting-boards, and Andrew couldn’t decide whether or not to act excited. They’re fucking skirting boards, he thought. Do houses even need skirting boards? The best thing about skirting boards is the bloody name, and even the very limited humour of that has undertones of misogyny. He started to put on an excited face, and then: No actually. Fuck you. Fucking Laurence Olivier couldn’t act excited about skirting boards. And anyway, Shakespeare would never write a character who displays such excitement; he had far too deep an understanding of the human psyche to make such a foolish error. Realising he’d been silent for an uncomfortable amount of time, and was about to wrack his brains for Shakespeare characters who might have a fondness for skirting boards, he said, “nice,” and left it at that.
The man smiled in a greasy sort of way. “Come through to the bathroom and you’ll see that–”
His nostrils really were massive. Like, seriously huge. Andrew had been looking at them for so long that the edges of his vision were going grey and cloudy. Huge caves, like toothless mouths in the man’s sweaty face. He felt all the sounds drift into the background, like he was being sucked into the nasal black holes before him, the mucus filling his ears and blocking out all disturbance, deeper and deeper into the man’s nose, tunnelling straight through to where his brain should be and finding nothing there, like a bird had–
“–the skirting-boards in here are slightly different, you’ll see if you’re looking closely that the flowers actually have four petals, instead of six. This is due to the fact that–“
But Andrew never got to hear why the skirting-boards in the bathroom had four petals instead of six, because he was so bored that he stopped the tour and said he’d buy the house.
“Stop the tour. I’ll buy the house,” said Andrew, holding up his hand to emphasise the stop, which he felt was the most important part.
“Okay,” said the estate agent. His eyes dropped to the skirting-boards and he looked, dejectedly, longingly, back at Andrew. “Okay, good.” He didn’t look like he thought it was good. His lips tightened and his eyes took on a sad lilt that Andrew associated with mistreated dogs.
“So it’s on at five hundred I heard?” prompted Andrew, half-wondering if he should apologise and let the man continue with his skirting-board-monologue.
“Five-hundred K.” The man’s voice sounded close to breaking.
“I haven’t got K,” said Andrew, smiling. “Can I pay in pounds at all?”
The man’s eyes snapped up to Andrew’s face and he looked, briefly, like a child who fights laughter; determined to cry, to get their due sympathy.
“Five hundred thousand pounds,” said the estate agent resentfully.
“I know, I was… How’s four hundred?”
“No,” said the estate agent, petulantly.
“Four hundred and fifty?”
“Four hundred and ninety.”
“Four hundred and ninety thousand nine hundred and fifty?” said Andrew desperately.
“Five hundred thousand?”
“Deal.” the man smiled and wiped his hand on his tie, smoothing said article over his flat-yet-wobbly chest.
They didn’t shake.
“Nice place,” said Sarah, who’d come straight from work.
“Mmm,” said Andrew. He nodded and widened his eyes, just to emphasise the place’s niceness (it was a nice place).
They looked around the kitchen, admiring the place, marvelling at how nice it was.
“I knocked him down to five hundred K,” said Andrew proudly.
Sarah rolled her eyes. “It was on at five hundred K.”
“Yeah,” said Andrew, nodding, like Sarah had just stated the obvious.
“I love the skirting boards,” said Sarah.
Andrew frowned. “Have you been talking to the estate agent?”
“No reason. Um…” He clenched and unclenched his hands awkwardly.
They went to the pub.