Mrs Considine is currently at the market. Not a big-chain kind of supermarket, a street market that has been there since the 1940s. Since moving to Number 12 she’s never bought her food anywhere else and makes a point of going every morning to buy the exact ingredients for the day’s meals. No more, no less. Today she woke up craving fish, so now she’s sniffing them out. One stares bug-eyed back at her as she brings it level with her nose.
When Mrs Considine was a younger woman, she spent time in a coastal town fishmongers, where all the staff were trained to smell the catches of the day for any odd odours. Some of the seafood would come in contaminated with oil or drugs and some were simply diseased. Either way, these bad batches couldn’t make it as far as the counter, or the whole town would be done for. The only thing anyone ever ate there was fish and the majority of them bought it at Mrs Considine’s shop, the Golden Fish Bowl.
Frank Blatter ran the Golden Fish Bowl and taught Mrs Considine everything she knows about sea life. It would be fair to say that Frank was a weathered man. His face was scored with wrinkles that’d hardened in the sea air. His brow sat bushy and low, much like his moustache. And his hair, although grey, was thick and matted like a Komondor and sat just below his ears in a shaggy bob.
Despite his rough features from the neck up, Frank always dressed smartly in 1950s casual attire. At any one moment you could rip off his fishy overalls and he’d be wearing carefully ironed slacks and a crisp, fitted, short-sleeved shirt underneath. Mrs Considine did it often enough to know. There must have been at least 15 years between the two, but that didn’t stop her and Frank rubbing their bare flesh together in the cold, tiled bathroom stalls. Whether the other Golden Fish Bowl employees walked in to find them Mrs Considine couldn’t say. As soon as her and Frank swapped saliva she would get lost in a passionate fog and to this day she can’t smell fish without tingling.
Batting away pangs of desire, Mrs Considine returns to considering the fish in her hands. ‘Yes, this’ll do nicely,” she thinks as she jabs a shimmering, silver mackerel at a portly fishmonger. “This one,” she grunts. The man rolls his eyes and begins to wrap the mackerel, which looks just as unimpressed. Pulling some notes out of a black leather snap-purse, she trades them for the fish, which she places in a red tartan shopping bag. Then, before heading home, Mrs Considine picks up some spinach, a handful of new potatoes, and slyly plucks a clove of garlic from a bulb without the stallholder seeing and slips it in her bag so she doesn’t have to buy the whole thing. It’s not that the aging woman particularly needs to save her pennies, but she’s always found a sense of adventure in frugality.
Walking back to Number 12 Mrs Considine passes gaggles of Asian prostitutes who stare at her with a mournful sense of longing. The sun is out and the temperature is nearing 20 degrees celsius, but the women are in thick tights and cheap, fake leather jackets. Their skirts just about cover their knickers and their hair hangs lank. Most of them wear black pleather knee-high boots, but some of them are in plain pumps that resemble ballet slippers. They don’t look how prostitutes are portrayed in movies, but Mrs Considine has lived here long enough to know. The women are there day and night, hanging around the same spots, and she’d seen them speaking sotto voce to a tense array of men a number of times.
This isn’t a bad neighbourhood, though. The streets might be lined with ladies of the night – or day and night, rather – but there hasn’t been a mugging, a robbery or a bar brawl that ended in a stabbing as far back as Mrs Considine can remember, which these days isn’t as far back as she’d like. “I guess that’s a little odd,” she thinks as she keys in the code to open the big green door of 13 Rue de la Presentation.
With a quick check of the mailbox – still nothing – Mrs Considine makes her way up the wooden steps. She puts her tartan bag down outside Number 12 and takes in her surroundings for a moment. Something feels different but she can’t tell what. The door to Number 11 is on her right and to her left, along the corridor, are the doors to 14 and 15. There’s no Flat 13 at 13 Rue de la Presentation, but Mrs Considine gave up questioning why a long time ago. Nope, everything at least looks the same, but her gut is telling her that something is awry. With a sigh, she roots around in her tartan bag for her keys, unlocks the door and steps tentatively inside. Scraping her shoes on the mat, Mrs Considine furrows her thinning brow and looks suspiciously about before heading into the kitchen.
The place is dimly lit, even though it’s midday. The sunlight never reaches Mrs Considine’s apartment, which she has always found weird and depressing. In fact, this is probably the reason why she’s so surly, but the flat was so cheap, it’s almost worth giving up natural light for.
Placing her shopping on the counter with a soft thud, Mrs Considine flicks the switch by the doorway and fills the modest kitchen with light. “Something’s definitely different,” she thinks as she casts a gaze over the cupboards, the small camping stove and briefly back towards the front door as she turns full circle. There’s a faint but frightful fishy odour souring the air and it’s not her dinner. Mrs Considine’s nose wrinkles as she sniffs a few times and steadily reaches towards the sink to wrap a few firm fingers around her axe.