“But Michael, what are we going to do?” asked Jim.
“Easy for you,” I thought. “You just have to pay a bit more for bottles of Prosecco that you’ll swill down while horribly lonely. I’ll have to move into my parents’ basement in that frozen cultural wasteland known as Canada. Or worse, I’ll have to move to a decrepit apartment block outside of Budapest where everyone looks like an exhumed Brezhnev.”
“Why, who really knows, Jim,” I answered.
It was the morning of June 24, and despite having gone to bed optimistic and confident of a Remain win, we had all woken up to the grim news that Britain – and particularly England – had voted to leave the European Union. I had been living in the UK for almost three years now, first as a Canadian citizen, and then as a Hungarian. Either way, my livelihood and continued residence depended on the good will of voters and bureaucrats, and the mood was not a good one. I had been pretty passionate about Remain, and had gotten into a few arguments, but none produced as acrimonious a feeling as the one I got when I thought about my flatmate, Jim.
Jim had – allegedly – voted to remain, although I had my doubts. He was the 36 year old college friend of my ex, Sal, who was a bit of a mess. Jim was also a mess, but more on the emotional and social side. He held a damn good job, made shitloads of money and owned his own flat. He had never really had a romantic relationship based on love, though, and spent most of his free time getting drunk and shouty in pubs, bars, social clubs, restaurants… well, anywhere in east or central London that would serve him. I suspected that Jim had had a crush on me and had agreed for me to take the spare room in his flat last summer because he had hoped, according to some perverse logic, that we would end up becoming a couple. Unfortunately for Jim, I had yet to be lobotomized, and so I remained single after Sal dumped me (for being too “complicated”, in his words).
Everything had lurched along until the end of May, when I met Alex. Alex and I got together for a drink one Friday night when I was particularly convinced that I would probably spend my thirty-fifth birthday among a sea of ill-tempered cats, eating M&S takeaway dinners and watching Murder, She Wrote. We hit it off instantly, and spent as much time together as humanly possible. Alex changed my view on life, love and London. Over the course of a few weeks, the city went from a great place to escape Canada, to the home I had been craving.
There was only one hitch to all of this bliss: Jim. Ever since I had met Alex, Jim had become very weird about it all. He practically gave himself food poisoning to avoid meeting my new boyfriend the first time he was over, and converted his bedroom into an Enver Hoxha-style bunker the morning that Alex slept over. He was a tricky one to crack, mainly because a tear-drop of emotion might cause the whole dam to burst. I knew that he was upset, but, to be frank, I didn’t expect this.
“So, Michael, I don’t think that I can rent out the room to you past August. My sister is thinking of coming to look for work here, and she’ll need somewhere to stay for a few nights. Plus, um, I’ve got some guests coming too…”
“Oh… Alright. Ok. I guess I’ll be able to find something before the rush of students comes into town.”
“Well, you could always just move in with Alex, couldn’t you? Or is it too early?”
That was mid-June. You know, three weeks after I had met Alex. Gee, Jim; is it too early for you to learn you’re an asshole?
“Can you believe this?” Jim asked in his slightly shrewish voice. I knew what was coming from the tone: a complaint about something completely reasonable but that would mildly inconvenience him.
“It’s from Ildiko. I caught her parking in my space again yesterday, and I sent her this message: ‘Hi Ildiko. I hope you’re holding up with this terrible news. I see you’re in my spot again. Will you be renting it?’ And she replies this morning, like 12 HOURS after I texted her, saying: ‘Hi Jim, it is indeed awful. I’m not really sure what’s going to happen, except that I will have to relocate, since I work for an EU body. I’ll be using the space this month, but I don’t really know if I can commit for longer. I. Frowny face.’”
I stared blankly at him for a moment.
“It must be hard,” is all that I could come up with.
“Whatever, I mean, I don’t need her life story, just the two hundred quid for the parking spot. She’s so melodramatic, like I care,” he spits out while trying to balance himself, despite the hangover.
“I can’t even,” I think. “What a jerk,” runs through my mind. “Can I inject some empathy into your miserable, shriveled heart with this blunt turkey baster?” I ponder.
“Mm-hmm, well everything’s changing for everyone,” I finally manage to mutter, non-commitally, as I use the psychological equivalent of a steamroller to suppress yet another emotion I can’t bring myself to externalize to Jim.
Alex will help cheer me up, I think. I know that he’s all about feeling happy and calm and eliminating, or at least avoiding, conflict. On my way to the tube stop, I call him for some moral support.
“You know what, let’s just avoid the crowds and the heat and everything else, and we’ll stay home and watch some TV with a takeaway. How does that sound?”
“Ok,” I answer, “but we can’t watch anything like Indian Summers, or Homeland or Britain’s Best Potter or crap like that.”
“That’s fine… I mean, we never really watch those shows anyw…”
“Because jerks like Jim watch those shows. Brainless, empathy-less, personality-less slugs like Jim stare at them slack jawed, but not us!” I interrupt.
“Ok, kitten, um, maybe it’s better if we talk about takeaway when you’re here, you know, after some relaxing, soothing chat, huh?”
Relaxing, soothing chat gave way to relaxing, energy-burning sex, and that led to more, seemingly mellow, conversation. Eventually, as we always do, we got to the topic of food.
“Hungry, Mikey?” Alex asks me.
“You know that the answer to that question is always yes,” I say.
“What do you feel like? We could order in some pizza. Or Thai – you liked that curry we got from Spicy Basil, didn’t you?” Alex offers, assuming that the storm has passed.
“Oh yes, that’s good. Anything that isn’t British – you know, anything we won’t be able to get when the Brexiteers turn this country into some sort of D-rate Coronation Street. Yes, nothing fatty and sleazy, like the crap that Jim would have to soak up his hangover after a night at some filthy bear bar filled with ugly, desperate men…” I start in on my rant, to the athletic rolling of Alex’s eyes.
“Oh Jesus, not this again!” He exclaims. “Mikey – a month. That’s all you have left with him. A month, and then it’s over and he’s nothing more than a cringe-worthy story and a lesson learned!”
July 30. The van is arranged, and I’m all packed for my move out of Jim’s flat into something new I’ve found in Islington. It’s not the greatest – especially given how nice and modern Jim’s flat is – but it does have one main advantage: no Jim.
Alex is busy arranging things in the hall. He’s part curious, part scared that Jim will actually be there and talk to him while I’m moving out. Luckily for us, Jim is busy rearranging some of the crap in his room to avoid helping or interacting – you know, the things a flat mate would normally do if they’re not a sociopath.
Alex takes the first load down in the lift, and I’m alone in the flat with Jim. He’s in his room, and I’m in the bathroom, making sure I’ve taken everything, and considering leaving Jim a goodbye present in the bathtub. Suddenly, Jim comes into the bathroom to say thanks and farewell.
“You know, I’m away through much of August, but we should totally get together after for a drink!” he tells me in a voice that’s a mixture of forced enthusiasm and clear chagrin at the way he’s treated me.
“Hmm, yes, let’s keep in touch,” is all that slips out past my lips, but of course my mind is racing a mile a minute.
“Sorry, sweetheart,” I think, “but you made your bed and now you can sleep in it. No preferential access without freedom of movement. Prick.”