The first thing I knew about Ellen Klages was that she made the auction at WisCon to raise money for the Tiptree Award one of the most entertaining events at the con. The second thing I knew about her was that she took odd, vaguely unsettling pictures of vintage toys that made them look like they were about to come alive. The third things I knew about her was that she wrote. She hadn’t been doing it long at that point, but I remember the poem that made a room full of people who were prepared to laugh cry instead. It’s no surprise at all that she went quite directly from starting to write to winning awards.
In September, the autumnal gales beset London with exceptional violence. For a week, the wind has screamed and the rain has beaten against the windows like beasts in a cage.
In weather such as this, few people come calling. The streets are deserted, not just in Marylebone but throughout the city. Although an inconvenience for many, it is a respite for those like myself, a woman of a certain age whose pleasure it is to sit by the hearth with a cup of tea and a good book, safe and secure from the elements raging outside.
For others, however, it is an unbearable confinement. Such is the case with my upstairs lodger. For two days I have heard him pacing incessantly across his rooms, back and forth, up and down, muttering and cursing. He has lived in my house for a score of years, and I can tell from the dull sound of his tread that his usually keen spirit is chafing against the involuntary inaction occasioned by the storm.
After I took up his breakfast this morning, I was granted a brief reprieve, but within the hour his pacing ceased and he began to play his violin. Not a melody, merely the sound of a bow being swept across loosely tuned strings. The noise is dreadful. I try to ignore it and go about my chores, dusting the shelves and airing the linens, but the infernal, funereal wailing and screeching is worse than the howling of the wind.
He is, perhaps, the worst tenant in all of London. His malodorous chemical experiments have left stains on each rug in his rooms, he is prone to insomnia, and the drapes on every window reek of his strong tobacco. Although, to his credit, his payments are princely, his rents promptly paid, and in his dealings with me he has always been unfailingly polite.
In return I provide him lodging, prepare his meals, accept packages, relay messages, greet visitors, and manage all the domestic details of his life. It is an arrangement that ordinarily suits us both.
But this noise is intolerable. With a sigh, I stopper my ears with cotton wool and go into the kitchen to do the washing up. The running water helps to cover the sound. When the last of the plates is dry, I pour a cup of Earl Grey and venture back into the parlor. Quiet? I remove the cotton wool. The screeching—oh bliss—has stopped. I settle into my favorite chair by the fire with one of Mrs. Southworth’s novels and —
I nearly jump out of my skin. On the mantle one of my little Staffordshire dogs teeters and threatens to tumble.
From above I hear faint ticks as bits of plaster—my plaster—fall from his sitting room wall to the floor. He is a man of keen intelligence, and when he is working on a case, when he has a focus, his considerable energies are channeled. But when he is idle, when he has naught to engage his nimble mind save foolery, bravado, and cocaine, he endeavors to relieve the tedium in any way he can. His weapon of choice, I know from past experience, is a revolver.
I close my book, mutter a mild oath of my own, and go to the kitchen to prepare his luncheon tray.