Picture by Nicobobinus: Becontree Heath
Pinkett is tired of the city: harried sighs, suspicious glares, shouting, pushing, crowds. He heads to the suburbs instead, west to Kew on Monday, Richmond on Tuesday. Wednesday he goes east instead, no real destination in mind, but sunlight and warm red paint lure him out of the train at Becontree.
He’s hoping for a leafy hinterland idyll, so he’s disappointed to find a vast council estate; and he’s not very pleased by the slow, persistent drizzle that displaces the sunlight almost immediately. Still, he’s here now. Might as well make the best of it.
He tucks a clipboard under his arm and knocks at the first door.
No answer; nor at the second, or third. A teenager in pyjamas at the fourth.
“Hello,” Pinkett says. “I’m Richard from InQuire, we’re a market research company, and I was wondering if you had a few minutes to answer some questions. You’ll be helping us out, and we might even be able to help you. We put all our respondents into a monthly draw, with prizes ranging from a new toaster to a new home!”
The teenager shuts the door.
Next: small man with a beard and several children. Next: nobody home. Next: tall old woman wearing a raincoat, talking too quickly for Pinkett to understand. He thinks about grabbing the coat and running away; the drizzle’s coming down heavier now. Instead he loops around the block and heads back toward the station; and that’s when he sees the house.
It’s halfway down the street, and it’s painted light purple, surely against estate regulations. The front garden has a tiny green lawn, and a birdbath, and miniature rose bushes lining a mossy path.
The bell ding-dongs when he presses it, which disappoints him a little (he was half-expecting “Greensleeves”), and the door is opened by a dumpy woman in her — forties, maybe? Old enough that she should have grown out of hip-length purple-streaked hair, anyway. And the cheesecloth dress isn’t doing her any favours. Pinkett decides she’s probably named Amber.
“Hello,” he says. “I’m Richard from InQuire, we’re a market research company, and I was wondering if you had a few minutes to answer some questions. You’ll be helping us out, and we might even be able to help you. We put all our respondents into a monthly draw, with prizes ranging from a new toaster to a new home!”
“Ooh,” says Amber. “What sort of questions?”
“Well,” Pinkett says, standing under the overhang of the roof and flipping open his clipboard. “Could you start by telling me what you do?”
“Sure,” Amber says. “I’m an alternative therapist.”
Pinkett writes it down. “Great,” he says. “And can you name three brands that you consider reliable?”
Amber thinks for a moment. “Lindt, the BBC, and Marmite.”
Pinkett ticks a couple of boxes. “Lovely. Now, which would you say,” he asks, “is the most patronising hot drink?”
Amber frowns and leans against the doorframe. “Low-calorie hot chocolate,” she says. “The Cadbury brand. Highlights.”
“And which is the most corruptible?”
“Ooh. Strawberry tea.”
“Which fruit do you buy for its serenity?”
She smiles, conspiratorial. “White-flesh peaches. It’s the fluffy skin that does it.”
White-flesh peaches cost a pound each. Pinkett ticks another box. “I’m now going to read out a list, one item at a time. I want you to give me the first word or phrase that pops into your head. Gun.”
“Um, Rush Hour?”
Housemate prompts sitcom, alarm prompts clock. After pet prompts unicorn and a gust of wind through the open door sets windchimes tinkling inside, Pinkett decides he can afford to skip attack, boyfriend and husband. “Okay,” he says, drawing a knife and pushing into the hallway. “There’s one last thing I’d like you to do for me, and that’s to put all your jewellery and your other valuables in a pillow case.”
Amber sighs; Zapphirea charges out of the kitchen and gores the nice man right through his heart.