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This poem is taken from PN Review 226, Volume 42 Number 2, November - December 2015.

Place to Rent (and other poems) Ian Seed
Place to Rent

The concierge told us that the flat had been occupied by an old bachelor. We left our toddler daughter with her and made our way up the steep winding staircase to have a look. It was not what we expected. The walls were undecorated, and there were small jagged holes where the cold came through. A single steel bed without a mattress was the only piece of furniture. The air reeked of loneliness. My wife wanted to leave. But here was our daughter in the doorway. How had she climbed up the staircase without falling? How had she known where to find us?


The bike I’ve hired won’t go any further up this steep cobbled street. I get off and push it, until I reach a series of low-hanging washing lines tied between the houses. Sheets, shirts and underwear block my way. A girl is weaving in and out of them with a dog, which comes up to her shoulders. She throws a large stick covered in purple ribbons. It lands at my feet. When I pick up the stick, the dog jumps to wrestle it from me, playful yet determined. One by one, the ribbons come away. I see that it is not a stick, but a brownish bone, big enough to be a human femur. Now the girl is in front of me with her mother, who puts out a hand for me to give back the bone. Why do I still hold onto it so stubbornly?


Because of the train strike, I was stuck in a small mountain town. The woman in a dark blue uniform behind the kiosk window could give me only the vaguest information about how long the strike would last. She offered to alter my train ticket to make it valid for another month, though she warned me that this would be a forgery. I walked out of the station and climbed a hill by the railway line. As evening fell, I sat on a rock ledge where I could see all the way down the valley and watch the sea darkening. I would have looked odd on my own up there to anyone passing by in a train below. But all the trains were frozen elsewhere.


At dinner, I wanted to ask my father about his experiences as a naval officer, but I was afraid to do so – he didn’t like to talk about the war.

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