Fay hadn't meant to leave her boyfriend in storage.
Ex-boyfriend, she should say. Definitely ex.
They'd been downsizing and it and he had broken her heart. Such a lovely little flat! But of course they could only afford it together. He was moving back in with his mother--that should have been warning enough--and she had found a soulless studio flat on the borders of zone 3.
Which meant they both had too much stuff and, in one last act of togetherness that she hoped she wouldn't regret, they'd agreed to split the rental on a storage unit.
It was only as she was driving the hire van back from the industrial wasteland which was still not entirely convinced by the Olympic Regeneration Scheme, that she realised the van was a little too empty.
She fumbled for her mobile at the lights, but there were no messages, no missed calls.
Well, let him sulk then, she thought. It was his pig-headed decision after all.
Guilt set in mid-afternoon, once she'd finished cleaning the old flat. Typical that she'd had to do it alone, though in reality she'd been rather glad. There was useless and there was resentfully useless.
She extracted the card tucked into her purse, traced the numbers into her mobile.
“E-Z-Stor Stratford,” came a flat voice from the other side.
It should have been amusing to them, as they'd pulled up at the brightly coloured container park, the ability of a company to mangle both the four letter and five letter parts of their own name. But, as they'd sat a silent moment in the cab of the van, the contents of their shared life in cardboard boxes behind them, she'd been unable to find the humour.
She thought she recognised the owner of the telephone voice: the spiky-haired receptionist who had handed over the card and the paperwork. Veronica, she'd introduced herself as.
“Um, yes, hello. I was there this morning and I think I might have left my boyfriend--”
“Office hours are 8 until 4.30, we're just locking up for the evening.” Veronica sounded bored.
“Ah, I don't think you understand. My boyfriend--”
“Which unit did you rent?”
“Ms. Morris was it? Your boyfriend is settling in nicely with the others.”
“Others?” Fay echoed.
“He's fine. But if you want to drop in tomorrow, I'm sure we can put your mind at ease.”
Fay pocketed the mobile. She'd been relying on her ex to return the van. Plus, E-Z Stor Stratford was in one of those out of the way tube deserts. This was just like him, the selfish sod, so damned inconsiderate. If they hadn't just split up she'd be sitting him down for a long talk on responsibilities and commitment.
She sighed and pulled the door of their once happy flat shut for the final time.
At eight sharp she was stood outside the portakabin office of E-Z Stor Stratford. She couldn't help noticing the other woman, tapping away on her iPhone, carrying a supermarket bag-for-life stuffed full of crisps and other snack foods.
Eventually the lights went on and Veronica let them in. The other woman signed the visitor book, took a key from reception, and then stalked off on high heels without a word having been exchanged. Veronica turned to Fay with a polite smile.
“Is this your first, is it?”
“Boyfriend in storage? Some women have a half dozen or more.”
“They live here?”
Veronica laughed indulgently. “Let me show you around.”
The unit she'd--they'd--hired had been one of the smaller ones, arranged like the cells of a prison on multiple levels of iron-latticed gantry flooring. Veronica took her a different route, plasterboard walls with no windows but with double-sized doors. Male laughter echoed down the featureless corridor, along with the sound of distant explosions.
“Here we are,” Veronica said, stopping outside unit 3. She opened the door--it wasn't locked--and Fay stuck her head inside.
Eight or nine men looked up from a random assortment of sofas and cathode ray TVs. But they quickly lost interest in her and went back to doing whatever it was they were doing.
“What are they doing?” Fay asked.
“Oh, they read comic books, play video games, listen to old vinyl. Mostly they sit around and talk, though I'm never quite sure about what. Yours not in there? Never mind, he can't have gone far. Have yourself a wander. Just don't go into unit 17.”
“What's in 17?” Fay asked, alarmed.
Veronica leant forward. “The biggest porn collection in East London.”
Fay grimaced. She had thought that porn was all online these days. No less palatable, but at least discreetly hidden. She guessed that wasn't the case here. “Whose is its?”
“Belongs to all of them. The boys like to share, so it made sense for it to be housed in the same lockup. We don't go in there.”
Veronica was making it fairly obvious she wanted to head back to her post at reception, but Fay wasn't entirely happy about being left alone with a load of rootless men with an extensive porn collection. “Who pays for all of this?” she asked, as a delaying tactic.
“Oh, we have the space,” Veronica shrugged. “Loads of it at the moment. And the rates, after the first introductory month, are actually quite generous--in the company's favour.”
The other woman from reception walked by. Her carrier bag was empty and there was something different about her. More relaxed, somehow. She still wouldn't make eye contact, though.
“That's Mrs. Lindley,” confided Veronica. “Rents 27a. She comes in every Thursday morning for sex with her ex.”
Fay pulled a face and Veronica laughed again. It was, Fay decided, not a very pleasant laugh.
“Oh, we don't judge people on what they leave behind, Ms. Morris. Or on what they can't leave behind, can't get rid off, I should say! On which note: if early mornings are no good for you, we do open late on Fridays. Date night.”
There was a shout and a triumphant “gotcha!” and her ex-boyfriend came round the bend of the labyrinth at full pelt. He was clutching an oversized Nerf gun.
“Isn't this place great, Fay!” he said, poking his head back round the corner and loosing off a few bright yellow rounds.
Veronica raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow and Fay frowned. Did he really think that she hadn't left? That she didn't have something better to do than to hang around storage units all day and night?
In a moment of sudden clarity, she thought she'd actually quite like it if she never had to come here again.
“What if someone doesn't want to hire a unit anymore,” she asked, “but they haven't got anywhere to put their stuff?”
“You sure?” the receptionist asked. “Don't forget its dirt cheap for the first month. That's how they get you, you know.”
Fay nodded. She did know. And she was sure. If her ex wanted to spend the rest of his life in boy-limbo, so be it. But she wasn't going to pay for it. Not even half of it.
“There's a skip,” Veronica shrugged. “It's a free service. That way, no-one can complain that we're holding them, or their belongings, to ransom.”
Outside, in the constant drone of traffic from the A-something-or-another, she bumped into a tall, well-dressed man by the skip. She was momentarily wary, did their fun and games extend to outside? But he was, it appeared, alone.
“You always think you're going to want it again,” he said with a deprecating smile over the sound of something formerly fragile being thrown onto the pile of rubbish. “But you never do, do you?”
Fay looked down at the box of books in her hands, the last of her stored possessions. These were books she'd read already and realistically was never going to read again. They weren’t in the small set she’d recommend to friends, colleagues, lovers, the ones safely back at her new flat. The only reason to keep them was because she'd dreamt of one day having a whole room dedicated to books, a space where space didn't matter.
Pipe dreams, at London prices.
“Fay,” she said after she'd hoisted the paperbacks into the skip, sticking out her hand.
“Adam,” he grinned, an easy grin, a charming grin. “So, Fay, got time for a coffee before you rush off to work?”
She didn't, she was already late, but she was fairly sure her boss would understand. Adam really was rather attractive. And, if it didn't work out, she could always put him in storage.
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