Love, Your Flatmate
by Stephanie Burgis
I understand that you didn’t actually believe there would be a lockdown when you agreed to let your friend’s daughter stay at my flat ‘for just a week.’ (Remember that promise? I do. I also remember that you didn’t ask me first.) (You also remember, I am sure, that I sent you SEVERAL ARTICLES about that possible lockdown in the weeks beforehand. But…moving on. Deep breaths.)
I know that cultural exchange is healthy. I’m glad that you and Lady Silvana had such a wonderful time as flatmates all those years ago, and I understand that humans and fey have different attitudes because of our different lifespans and expectations. I get it, okay? As you’ve always reminded me, I haven’t done much travelling, but it’s not like I’ve made my assumptions about the fey based on trashy shows like Fey Nights. I grew up on your anecdotes, remember?
So many lovely anecdotes. SO many…
But Maxi and I are never going to be BFFs and penpals for life like you and Silvana. I’m sorry, but it is just not going to happen. It’s not only that we have nothing in common. It’s the amount of time that she spends in my bath every day, running the hot water over and over again…and the fact that she has NO IDEA how much my water bill will cost and – let’s face it – she doesn’t even care, no matter how hard I try to explain to her that a junior editor’s salary is not going to cover it, especially if I end up laid off by the end of all of this – and frankly, it’s not as if I’m getting much work done in the meantime…
Not to mention the endless harp and flute music playing in the air around her all the time, so I never get a break to listen to my own music or think about anything else but her – oh, and the fact that my living room is now covered in leaves! Dear God, even if I could focus on my work, I can’t even find most of the manuscripts on my desk under all of her rampaging greenery. I’m having to take all of my Zoom meetings in my bedroom now – and YES, don’t worry, I took down all of those fabulous girl-band posters from behind my bed, because I am an adult professional and I understand the concept of maintaining appearances. Some of us actually have jobs, unlike spoiled fey aristocrats who swan around taking baths and listening to pretty music all day.
I might have survived a single week with Maxi. Possibly. I truly cannot take much more.
I know she can’t stay with you two at the moment, but please, please, please will you use your connection with Lady Silvana to find out when the border between London and Faerie will finally reopen? I am begging you. I need to know when this will end!
Love, your desperate daughter,
Posted on the door to the bath in Emmeline Heatherton’s flat:
Quick Note: My water company will not accept money that turns into leaves as a monthly payment. Also, we both need time in here every day. Just a polite reminder! :) E xx
Subject: Aid in my time of need?
Are all humans so impatient and so tediously focused on their useless little strips of paper money? Or is Emmeline Heatherton particularly greedy? She has spoken of little else since I arrived. I’m not certain she understands the concept of relaxation, much less art or pleasure.
You may have marvellous memories of your nights spent carousing in London with Emmeline’s mother, but I cannot pretend that my own memories will be nearly so pleasant. Not only are we restricted to Emmeline’s uncomfortably small residence for most of every day, but she hasn’t even bothered to create the most minimal of gardens in her home. I’ve done my best to create one for her as a polite gesture in return for my accommodation (such as it is), but her reaction when she awoke to find a beautiful silver apple tree from Faerie growing from her bedroom carpet…was, I must say, anything but grateful.
Honestly, I give up on even attempting any meaningful rapprochement with a creature who has so little in common with me, no matter how deceptively appealing her snub nose, freckles, and (rarely seen but admittedly astonishing) smile may be. Instead, I have turned my thoughts to my next symphonic creation in the hopes that I may perfect it by the time that I’m finally allowed back into the serene halls of home. Unfortunately, I have so little space to myself that I’ve been forced to spend hours every day hiding underwater inside Emmeline’s small white bath simply to achieve some semblance of isolation for artistic focus…a necessary habit that has apparently driven my temporary hostess over the edge into madness. Can you even imagine any fey being so petty as to place a cost on water? It is inconceivable.
Please tell me that the border with Faerie will soon reopen. I can easily promise that I am not infectious, as I of course stay well away from humans on my single allowed daily walk, and my landlady and I are hardly maintaining kissing contact.
I understand that trials are meant to strengthen our inner resources, but I cannot imagine many fey facing such a trial as Emmeline Heatherton’s ‘helpful’ little talks on human money. Just the sound of her voice – adorable though I first thought it to be – is beginning to make me twitch in despair at the lectures ahead.
Yours in tribulation,
Note that appeared on Emmeline Heatherton’s laptop keyboard, written in golden ink on a leaf that puffed into a shower of glitter after being read:
I do beg your pardon, but would you terribly mind putting on headphones when you listen to your own music? I’m afraid it is disturbing my concentration. As you would put it: just a polite note! :) M xx
A series of texts between phones:
Emmeline: Hi Maxi, of course I’d be glad to buy myself a pair of headphones – but to be quite fair, perhaps you could buy yourself a pair to use for your music as well? Or we could take turns and each play our own music for an equal amount of the day? Just a thought! :) – E x
Maximiliana: I’m afraid there may have been a cultural misunderstanding. I am attempting to create a symphonic harmony that will enlighten the ages, soothe the immortal soul, and fulfil my life’s vocation. Are you genuinely claiming that it is every bit as important for the flat to echo to the deafening beats and banshee screams of your favoured ‘rock music’ when you – unless I’m very much mistaken? – are not even the originator of that sound? – M x
Maximiliana: How is it possible that those hellish drumbeats are now even LOUDER? The windows will surely break at any moment.
Maximiliana: Are you now ignoring me AND all of the ancient laws of hosting? I am very much surprised that your mother would raise you in such ignorance of tradition.
Emmeline: I’m afraid I couldn’t hear the sound of your text arriving on my phone, Maxi. What a shame. Perhaps you should turn your own music down? Then I’ll be more than happy to do the same with mine.
Emmeline: Dear God. Have you actually added TRUMPETS to that mix?
Emmeline: I’m fairly certain that those ancient halls of yours will EXPLODE if you add any more elephants. Won’t your mother be proud then?
Emmeline: There have to be laws of guesthood, too. Are you even going to answer the damned door? Or is THAT beneath you, too?
Subject: I’m going to kill her
FYI, I was just given an official warning from my landlord because of your old friend’s daughter. Apparently, the building operates a three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy…and I’ve just hit the first strike.
This is not something I have ever had to be told before. I have never been so humiliated in my life.
Please tell me you’ve at least asked Silvana when that border will reopen. I need to know how much longer this torture will last!
Subject: Re: I’m going to kill her
Darling, please try to calm down. I know you’ve always had a tiny little issue with anxiety, but I really do think you’re taking it just a bit too far. No one’s going to evict you during a lockdown! Really, just try to take your mind off all those worries and let yourself relax for once.
Your father and I have taken up making our own cocktails every evening, and it is such a soothing hobby! I’ve attached our five favourite recipes for you to sample, too. Enjoy!
Diary of Emmeline Heatherton
I can’t believe I was bellowed at by my slimy landlord with every neighbour in the building listening in…and now my mother wants me to solve all of my problems by getting plastered!
Perfect. Just perfect.
I officially give up on everything – including bloody cultural sensitivity. I gave myself a headache watching Fey Nights on my phone last week to be polite, but I’m not doing that again. I’m watching tonight’s episode on the big telly in the living room, and I don’t care what Maxi thinks of it. (It’s not as if I could take out my headphones to watch it in silence – not after everything else that’s happened today. Those headphones are LOCKED DOWN until she’s gone. That is non-negotiable!)
If she gets too offended by all of that trashy fun and rampant on-screen fey-human sexing (in the most implausible locations), she can just find herself another damn flatmate who thinks that glowing green eyes, cute pointed ears and shimmering, hypnotising hair make up for EVERYTHING ELSE about her personality!
…OK, and maybe I will make cocktails, too. Why not? What’s the worst that could happen? I might finally relax near my new flatmate? Ha. That is never going to happen!
Diary of Emmeline Heatherton
Oh. My. God.
What was I thinking? What the hell am I going to do? What do I even say when she finally comes out of the bath?
This has got to be the most awkward morning-after in the history of the universe.
What if she tells her mum – who tells mine – what happened?
Oh. My. God.
No more cocktails ever again. Especially not while watching Fey Nights.
Oh, no! Another note.
Deep breaths, Emmeline. I am a strong, courageous woman. I can read whatever she has to say. After all, it can’t be any worse than everything that we said to each other yesterday afternoon. Right?
Right. I’m going to open it.
Note that appeared on Emmeline Heatherton’s bed, written in golden ink on a leaf that puffed into a shower of glitter against her bare skin after being read:
For the purposes of improving our mutual cultural understanding, would you consider summoning up those Fey Nights online archives again and bringing them in to watch together in the bath? M xx
Diary of Emmeline Heatherton
Oh, what the hell. I have to wash this glitter off my skin now anyway, right? At least this way, we’ll save money by bathing together.
A sign posted on the refrigerator door of Emmeline Heatherton’s flat:
Agreed Schedule of Events from Now Onwards:
9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Maxi’s music takes precedence in the flat because it is her actual job (which probably should have been mentioned earlier, to avoid misunderstandings), while Emmeline will focus on editing so as not to lose her own job.
3 p.m. – 5 p.m. Emmeline’s music has precedence in the flat, and Maxi will NOT make any negative comments about it if she ever wants to watch Fey Nights together again.
Supper will be cooked on an alternating day-by-day basis.
Addendum in golden ink:
I agree to open my mind and restrain musical critiques – but ONLY if you agree to share every manuscript you edit in the vein of Fey Nights…and preferably by reading them out loud. – M xx
A series of texts:
Emmeline: You know, your music is really growing on me…for some reason. x
Maximiliana: Would you care to provide me with more inspiration for it? x
Emmeline: Promise you’ll reheat the bath water with your own magic this time, for the sake of my poor water bill?
Maximiliana: To make you smile? DONE. xxx
Emmeline: I’m coming. xxx
Subject: Re: Good News, Darling
Thanks so much for letting me know about the border! Unfortunately, I won’t be able to take you and Dad up on your invitation to Skype-with-cocktails in celebration of the big reopening, because – for once! – I won’t be here. Maxi’s bringing me along for her big performance in her mother’s halls, and really it would be so rude to miss it when her new symphony is actually dedicated to me.
Luckily, I had plenty of holiday time saved up from work, so you don’t have to worry about that. (You always told me I should take more time for travel and adventures!) I’ve asked one of my neighbours to water the new cluster of apple trees in my living room, so those should be perfectly fine as well (as long as my awful landlord doesn’t hear about them).
I think I’ll only be in Faerie for a week…but we both know what happened last time that promise was made about a fey-human visit, don’t we? ;) Anyway, Maxi’s promised to introduce me to some of her favourite fey authors while I’m there, because we have surprisingly similar tastes when it comes to lowbrow entertainment. So – who knows? Perhaps I can leap up the publishing ranks in a rather different way than I’d expected.
Btw, Maxi’s still learning (slowly) to appreciate human music, but she’s turned out to be an enormous fan of cocktails. Her very favourite is your Devon Special. Mine is one that she invented herself – she calls it the Emmeline Surprise. Perhaps I can bring her along with me next time we’re allowed to visit in person at your house? Then she can teach you the secret of how she makes it. She won’t tell me any of the ingredients! She’s so ridiculous, she actually claims—
Sorry, Mum, I have to go. Fey Nights is about to start, and it’s become a vital part of our mutual cultural understanding. J
About the Author
Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, but now lives in Wales with her husband and two sons, surrounded by mountains, castles and coffee shops. She writes wildly romantic adult historical fantasies, most recently the Harwood Spellbook series, and also fun MG fantasy adventures, most recently the Dragon with a Chocolate Heart trilogy. She has had over forty short stories for adults and teens published in various magazines and anthologies.
About the Narrator
Pippa Alice Stephens is an actress and voiceover artist. She is soon to be seen in ‘The Invisible War’ playing Rose Berkeley and ‘Spiralling’ playing Natalie.