It’s dark. Of course it’s dark in the house, it would be stupid for us to switch on the lights, but it’s dark outside too. The kind of dark you only get with a power cut. They all complain about power cuts and make concerned noises about hospitals and vulnerable people, but they love it. Candles are beautiful. The smell of matches is unrivaled. Making dinner on a camping stove outside is exciting.
Elsa, the newest arrival, suggests we play a game. “Ha-ha,” I say. It’s a cruel laugh. She has sweet ideas for passing the time, but nothing can make it pass quicker. It’s not that we never joke or eat dinner together or sing songs, but it’s all tinged with bleakness. Mostly I read. Obviously I can’t read in the dark, and it gets dark at four o’clock in the evening now. In the dark I mostly stare out of the window. It’s a sort of performance art, the way I stare. When I see one of them staring in at me I make sure my expression does not change. I rarely blink anymore. I can stare anyone down.
All the books in the house are donated. Some of them are obviously redemptive, intended to better us, or just remind us of the things we’ve done. How To Repent From Sins. Others are casually redemptive – Mister God, This is Anna. Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Someone recently sent Long Walk to Freedom. I can’t tell if this is a slight or a show of solidarity. Discipline and Punish is definitely solidarity. But it’s not real solidarity; it’s people trying to make a point by sending them in. Not a point to us. A point to Viewhouse. Real solidarity books are the best – books sent in by people who want us to have genuine entertainment. They come by the box-load. A cross-section of whatever someone found in a charity shop: cookbooks, thrillers, historical romance, autobiographies, biographies, chick-lit, self-help, travel guides, textbooks, music theory. One slow summer I read an industry accountancy book. I read it cover to cover. I can tell you everything about the rules on corporate tax evasion.
On Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve people stand outside the house and sing carols and read out loud from whatever’s won the Booker prize that year. I love the gesture. I even love the people who are doing it, but I never listen. It’s too sad. I hide in the bathroom, the only room in the house that has a modicum of concealment. The walls are glass like the rest of the house but we found some spare sheets and rigged up a screen. The press went wild. We don’t see what they write but you can tell when they’ve got a story as opposed to when they’re just hanging around waiting for something to happen. We thought we would get in trouble but there was a protest outside, banners saying PRIVACY IS A HUMAN RIGHT and END VIEWHOUSE NOW and LET THEM SHIT IN PEACE, and they let the screen stay but now you’re only allowed in the bathroom five minutes tops.
It’s midnight when Elsa says, “Wait, I wonder if the door alarms are affected.”
I say, “Well are you just going to wonder?” because I don’t want to get my hopes up, and because Elsa annoys me more than anything; I have gone full bitch eating crackers at her. She is so earnest and eager to please and of course she’s here as a political viewhouser (she killed a cop in self-defense at a protest – something they’d only let a white woman do).
Elsa goes to the door. I whistle to pretend I’m not bothered about the outcome. A stupid pretense. She presses the button. All the doors in the house are electric, but the ones to the outside open briefly before shutting again and setting off the alarms.
The door doesn’t open. But there is no alarm either.
We think about what this means for about five minutes and then I say, “We need to disperse,” because people get suspicious if all nine of us are gathered at any one time. So we go to different areas of the living room. When we talk, because we never know how much they can hear from outside, we do it through song. “We just need to smash it down, smash it down,” I say, to the tune of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” I’m so nervous I can feel sweat pooling in my bra. “One at a time?” says Jafnat, to Ella Fitzgerald’s “Summertime,” “Or should we just-all go together?”
We discuss smashing techniques to the tunes of greatest hits. Ben-Ray thinks we should score the glass first but Jafnat thinks the glass is tempered so it will shatter whatever you do. Only one way to find out. I pick up the hardback Long Walk to Freedom and run into the door at top speed. I bounce back. “It’s plastic,” I say. Maryam kisses her teeth and I realise teeth are probably the hardest objects we have at our disposal. Zinnia pulled out one of their teeth last year. I think more from boredom and as a sign of protest than from toothache.
We get the tooth. Derrick, who used to be an amateur boxer, presses it against the plastic, around and around, trying to score its surface with the pointed end of the tooth. Nothing. Not even a scratch.
“Let’s keep trying,” says Maryam. I remember reading that rats can chew through plastic. I wish we had rats.
Derrick continues. He’s made a hole about a micrometer deep when the city lights up again. I am so filled with rage that I kick Elsa in the shins. She kicks me back, and then we’re fighting, and what a relief it is, to finally be fighting her. Soon there’s a crowd of them outside, jeering and cheering, and I don’t even care.
Laura Barker co-runs runs a queer black writing group in London, UK. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, Apparition Lit, midnight & indigo, The Other Stories, Planet Scumm, Middleground, Gothic Fantasy Anthology, Love Letters to Poe, FIYAH, ongoing, Cosmic Horror Monthly, Riptide Journal, Last Girls Club, and Showcase: Object & Idea. Her favourite crisps are Ready Salted. Follow her at @LauraHannahBar.
Viewhouse is a winner of the Apparition Literary Magazine December Flash Fiction Challenge.