Beaumont’s House (AKA The Three Kinds of People You Don’t Meet Living In The City)
When deciding to move into the city, I asked two friends for advice on where to stay.
The first friend, who had worked at the city hospital, told me, “Whatever you do, promise me you won’t go to Beaumont’s House. You’ll be tempted. You’ll think it doesn’t sound so bad – everyone thinks that. People will tell you how well it worked for someone they know, a friend of a friend or a local millionaire. But it’s a flytrap honey. It’s all a mirage. Every other patient we had came from Beaumont and they all had the same sickness about them. Like you could see through their skin. I looked it up one time - you know 18% of Beaumont’s people die of unnatural causes? For girls like you and me the number’s got to be three times that. Please baby – go anywhere else.”
The second friend said, “Oh my God Dorothy, you have to stay at Beaumont’s House.”
I don’t know how much you know about Beaumont’s House, or if you know anything at all. I didn’t. It isn’t a house. If it ever did belong to anyone called Beaumont, no one has seen or heard from them in years. It is the name given to a tower block just outside the city centre that houses over 4000 flats. Each of these flats are nearly identical. One room, with nothing inside but a bed and a bulb that hangs from the ceiling. Residents refer to these rooms as boxes. Some boxes have windows, but most don’t.
Beaumont’s choose your room for you. Although the high turnover means there are always rooms spare, they don’t like to move residents once they’ve been placed. You can ask for a room with a window, but you’re unlikely to get it. You’re free to leave at any time but if you stay you have to accept the deal as they lay it out. Beaumont’s choose the box for you, they choose your boxmates, and they choose your shift.
This is how it works at Beaumont’s House, and this is what makes it so much cheaper than the nearest alternative. Your room is yours, and it is yours every day, but only for the same six hours every day. The rest of the time it belongs to one of your three boxmates, who have an identical arrangement. Exactly six hours each, to sleep, wash, get dressed, whatever you need to do each day, and then get out for the next person. Don’t leave anything behind. Back in eighteen hours to do it again.
I was given the 6pm to 12am slot in a box on the 26th floor. It had no window.
I arrived for my first shift with only a small suitcase containing the bare essentials. As I rode up the elevator along with some sixty neighbours on the same shift, I noticed no-one else had bags of any kind.
I followed the arrows pointing, first one way then the other, towards my room. The journey there had shaken off every neighbour but one. Beaumont’s supposedly wouldn’t rent to anyone under eighteen but looking at this boy I had to question how hard they checked. I’d seen him in the lift looking at my suitcase. As he positioned himself outside the door to the right of mine, he did so again and shook his head.
“Don’t leave that in there.”
“It’s small, I’ll tuck it in the corner,” I assured him.
He cocked an eyebrow. “It won’t be there in the morning.” He jerked his head and his eyes sharpened as we both heard the lock on the other side of his door click. “But we all made the same mistake first night.”
The second the door opened, he disappeared inside as the room ejected its previous occupant. A balding middle-aged man who looked back at the room and its boy with hungry eyes. The eyes turned hard and hostile as he saw me looking, before he made his way back through the labyrinth towards the lift.
The room to the left of mine must have had a vacancy; no one turned up to wait outside. Nevertheless, a mother and a baby – neither of which looked as though they’d benefitted fully from six hours of sleep – exited the room at the end of their shift. Leaving late earned you an official reprimand and, in the event of a second violation, probable eviction. The mother shuffled down the corridor, baby in her arms, without making eye-contact.
I waited for my own door to open, feeling the exhaustion of the place weighing down on me. I was no longer as curious to see who was inside as I was desperate to get inside and rest my legs. When the handle moved I pushed my way inside, vaguely aware of a filthy, stringy individual whose knee banged against my suitcase as they moved the other way. Only once the door was shut did I register that they had tried to speak to me.
Tomorrow, I thought to myself. There’ll be more time, I’ll be less tired, tomorrow. I sent the suitcase skidding towards the wall and was about ready to collapse into the bed when I caught a look at it. A huge damp grease spot right in the centre of the bedsheets. I pulled the cover off and turned it over but it had soaked through. In fact, it was difficult to tell on which side the stain had originated. I ripped it off and laid on the bare mattress. I brought the pillow to my head but the mixtures of three sets of sweat and bad breath lingered on it and quickly invaded my nostrils. I pushed it to the floor, deciding to do without. I tried to ignore the feel of the roughly sanded bedframe pushing through and imprinting its patterns upon my head.
I didn’t sleep at all that first night. I laid as still as I could, feeling the mattress scratch away at my back and my ankles, listening to the irregular creaks and squeaks of the room. I delayed getting up in the morning in a desperate but doomed bid to seize some sleep from the night. It meant I got ready in a rush and almost missed my deadline for leaving the room. I tucked my suitcase back against the wall, as promised, and opened the door just in time to avoid a reprimand on my first night. I made my way downstairs and sleepwalked over to a job interview I’d booked the previous day.
When I returned the next day, my suitcase was, as the boy foretold, gone.
A lot of big cities get labelled ‘cities that never sleep’. This city feels like it never wakes up. It drifts in stasis, in a terrible state of insomnia. Because so many of the population come from Beaumont’s, and a fresh batch are turned out onto the pavement every six hours, the streets are always full of activity. In the way a battery could be said to be full of activity. People need jobs and places to be to fill their time, so nowhere ever closes. Night is indistinguishable from day and the bleary eyes of Beaumont’s rub off even on those in ordinary homes. Lethargy is the cornerstone of the city’s identity.
But the economy thrives. I expected to find work hard to come by, as it had been at home. Back there I spent two hours in front of the mirror before leaving home each day, only to still end up rejected by scores of interviewers refusing to believe in my womanhood. Here I was afforded far less preparation time, as every minute spent getting ready was a minute trimmed from my six hours rest. But whether it was down to more liberal attitudes or employer desperation, I had three jobs before the week was out. Between them, they accounted for nearly all my time outside of Beaumont’s. This had been the initial marketing pitch for Beaumont’s House. Pay a pittance for accommodation while bringing in a double or even triple income. It only required a few months spent at Beaumont’s to give yourself a quick financial boost. Over time the pitch expanded, and Beaumont’s became many things to many people but most of its clientele still consisted of young people taking their first steps on the career ladder.
These first three jobs of mine were a gardener, a waitress and a cleaner. The circle of life, if you will (and you may well decide that you won’t).
After my Sunday hours at Beaumont’s I stumbled out into the street and worked my way down the road to a brightly-lit fast-food restaurant with enough space inside that you were always two seats away from everyone else. There I’d eat what sometimes felt like breakfast and at other times like a midnight snack, staring out the window and trying to will some energy into my body. Then I would head into the bathroom and complete any part of my morning routine I hadn’t had time for at Beaumont’s.
From there I would catch the bus to the greenhouse. As soon as I pushed open the doors artificial light beamed down on me, tanning the tops of my ears. The greenhouse was the one job I had that wasn’t too strict about timekeeping, as long as my assignments were all completed by the time I left. Planting seeds, raking soil, distributing the water without favouritism, removing weeds. It was a big area and I was the only person there from the time I arrived until the moment I left. I normally ended up rushing the final few minutes but always had everything completed before leaving at 8am.
From there, the bus back the way I came. I would return to the fast food restaurant, only this time as an employee. Wiping as much dirt off my clothes as possible – although I was provided with a uniform, the boss still didn’t like me walking in “looking like you crawled out of your grave” as she put it. I’d work there as a server until five minutes before my shift began at Beaumont’s. The busiest times were always those either side of the Beaumont’s change-overs. Nervy residents, preparing themselves to relax as they waited for their boxtime, quickly followed by disconsolate residents who’d just had their boxtime end. The boss grumbled every time as we all prepared to clock off before 6pm but knew better than to seriously snap at the hand that fed her business.
On Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, instead of working at the greenhouse I would take a longer commute to the bus depot where I would clean the vehicles, readying them for service later that day. It was 80 minutes to the end of the line, but three changes meant I never felt comfortable falling asleep in my seat. Instead I stared out the window at the city as I passed through it. One undeniable benefit of Beaumont’s, admitted by all but its most radical protestors, was the solution it provided to the city’s homeless problem. The first two floors were dedicated to temporary residents – those unwilling or unable to sign up to permanent residency. They could sign up for a place to sleep on a night-by-night basis, though
I don’t believed they had their rooms to themselves. As a result, it was very rare to see someone sleeping rough in the city. Rare, but not unheard of – for whatever reason some still chose the streets over Beaumont’s.
The one luxury of a standard Beaumont’s room was that every room came with an en suite. They had initially tried to work with communal bathrooms but they soon became unusable. Once their shift finished, people would decamp from their boxes to the communal bathrooms, lock themselves in, and try to catch up on the sleep they missed. Even those bathrooms where residents did stick to procedure proved unworkable. Everyone rushed to use them either at the very start or very end of their shift, creating queues that snaked down the corridors. Realising they had a problem, Beaumont’s closed its doors while they worked on a solution. When they reopened, each room now came with a cupboard containing a sink and working toilet. With responsibility for keeping it clean falling to the room’s occupants – and each of these occupants unmotivated to use their six hours doing cleaning that their boxmates would feel the benefit of – this solution came with its own problems. But, crucially, these problems were no longer the responsibility of Beaumont’s who left the residents of each box to sort out their own compromise.
I quickly realised what all those at Beaumont’s do sooner or later: any squeamishness would need to be abandoned. Three days residency and maximising my time had already become essential to my exhausted body. I collapsed into my (our) bed as soon as I entered. I no longer cared about the stains, the smells and the sweat that wasn’t mine. The time dedicated to my morning routine was being eroded with each day. What could be done on the way to work was being done on the way to work.
As my head hit the pillow it found a bump too hard to ignore. There was something embedded somewhere within the pillow. I tried to claw it out as quickly as possible so I could get back to sleep. Enclosed within my hand when I drew it back was a single adult molar. It was clean white – the cleanest thing I’d ever seen in the room. No blood, no plaque, just a wisp of fluff that had clung on from the pillow. I rested the tooth on the floor and stared at it there for a couple of stupid seconds. I instinctively ran my tongue across my own teeth to check nothing was missing
I left it there on the floor while I slept that night. In the morning I replaced it under the pillow where I had found it. It felt like the right thing to do.
A crucial part of the Beaumont experience is speculating on the identity of your ‘Shadow’. While you will encounter – however briefly – the boxmates directly before and after you, you will never knowingly meet the room’s fourth occupant. You can ask the two boxmates you do know, but that would mean someone willingly surrendering a cut of their precious six hours. Your curiosity is not their emergency.
The only clues available to you are any discrepancies within your room. In such a small space you quickly become familiar with every scratch in the paint on your white walls, every change to the room’s stale scent. Of course, these alterations could be down to any one of your three boxmates, but your imagination creates a backstory for every mark. Anything that doesn’t match your conceptions of the other two is assigned to the Shadow, who is capable of being anyone and therefore becomes the room’s Frankenstein’s monster, doomed to shoulder a disproportionate share of the blame.
On my second day at the greenhouse I was examining the petals of a tulip, weighing up whether I could afford to give it some of the water intended for a much healthier-looking rhododendron, when a crash knocked me into the soil. Looking up I saw a hole in the window where a rock, now laying by my hand, had been thrown through. I gritted my teeth and went to write it up in the greenhouse log.
When I returned to the tulip, I saw the offending rock had split neatly into two. Its inside was hollow, with a bundle of cloth sheltering inside one of the halves. I unwrapped it and found a rather grandiose but definitely outdated golden coin. I turned it over in my hand. Written on the inside of the cloth were the words “FOR YOU” in uneven block capitals. I had no need for the cloth, so tied it to the stem of one of the sunflower supports. The air conditioning made it flap around like a flag. The coin had captured my interest, and I slid it into my pocket.
The next day the tooth was still there. Exactly where I had left it. I could see the little bump in the mattress from hours of pressure.
I picked it up and replaced it with the coin from my pocket. Some part of me felt superstitious about wanting to keep the weight balanced. I put the tooth back on the floor and brought my boot crashing down upon it. I heard a crack and, when I lifted my boot, the tooth was no longer there.
The next day I forfeited some of my time to ask my boxmate about the tooth as she left the room. She claimed no knowledge of it. She hadn’t been aware of it, hadn’t felt it under her head. She seemed pretty close to denying all knowledge of what teeth even were. I left the room a minute early to question the boxmate after me, but he jumped at the chance to enter the room ahead of time and left me standing outside without an answer.
“Your suitcase is gone.”
I turned and saw my young neighbour from before, having also just left his room. I nodded.
“Yes. You were right.”
He smiled sympathetically.
“Hope you didn’t have anything valuable in it.”
“I don’t have anything valuable anywhere.”
He chuckled and made for the exit.
“Good girl. That’s the way to do it.”
When I returned the next day, my coin had vanished too.
Stop making sense.
You’re in the aftermath of a train crash with your skull smashed. Lying on bricks and stone and strips of bone. Limbs akimbo. Over there is a mathematician with severe PTSD from the numbers he’s seen. We
really need to treat him first or it’ll get much worse.
You just sit here with your panic attacks and your nerves snapped and let the electricity wash over you. Rush out of you. You’re allowed to scream and bleed and whistle - if you like. Form a sentence - if you have to - but you don’t have to, you could just
Stop making sense.
It’s midnight at a bar and you’re missing your flight. All based on a hunch and the grin in her eye. And you’re fizzing, you’re fire, you’re explosive, you’re wired. You could run through the jungle while your parking expires.
She grabs your wrist and the truth shifts.
“If I were a killer would you love me? If I was a King trapped in time would you love me? If I was the last hound dog to swim to the moon would you even like me, or tolerate my scent?
“(If you mean what you say and you think we’re soulmates then you really should).
“If so, then that’s great, ‘cause my license is fake. I’ll abandon my date. Let’s abscond. Getaway to a place where I’ll be quite prepared to meet you in the bathroom and we can
Stop making sense.
I pray silence. Let us commemorate the air miles and the brief fires of a true pirate. Those who aren’t getting choked up are busy coughing up blood. Words come in a rush in a bounce in a thud
But at some point you’re sure, you think, somebody said
That your every emotion will fight ‘til you’re dead
Eight billion people reside in your head.
Get ready ‘cause here comes another odd one – for the lovvaGod would you
Stop making sense.
Anticipation of those happy days when you travel alongside a band of aliens. Unlearn the basics, ignore frustrations. Have faith in patients to pull their thorn out and let it all out. Shed the rules and bomb the pool.
Chaotic and you think you’ve not got it but you have got it, it’s in your back pocket.
you’re an earthquake
Get the equator shaking
The train’s awaiting
Any way that’s feeling good.
Bend it break it
Anyway you wanted to
Just stop making