The winner of the VS Pritchett Memorial Short Story Prizeby Michael Newton / November 17, 2010 / Leave a comment
Michael Newton’s “The premises” is the winner of the VS Pritchett prize, judged by Georgina Hammick, Jacob Ross and Tom Chatfield. It was inspired, Newton told Prospect, “when I recently wrote an essay on lodging for a book on urban life… After seven years living away from England, that essay brought back seven years I spent as a lodger in a small room in a large house in Hampstead. The story comes out of that milieu and the experience of sharing a house with strangers, knowing the limits of what we know about the people with whom we live, and the ambiguities of help.”
The first time I saw him, I knew he’d be trouble. “I’ve come to inquire about the room,” he said. I recognised his type. He didn’t look at me much, just gawped at the hallway and into the kitchen.
“You’re…?” I said.
“Nigel Milner. Ten thirty appointment,” he said. “I hope the room’s not gone.”
“No, the room’s still free,” I said.
“You’re not the landlord, are you?” he said. “I thought it was a woman?”
“No,” I said, “but I’m responsible for showing the room.”
“So, you’re in charge?” he said.
“Just responsible,” I said.
We walked all the way up to his room.
“Third floor,” he said. “Quiet is it, up here?”
“We keep a quiet house here,” I said.
It was a good day to show the room. It catches the light that time of day, the morning sun. The street looked its best too, with all those blossoms.
“I’ll need those shelves,” he said. “I’ve a lot of books.”
“And what do you do?” I asked him.
“I’m a tutor,” he said.
“What university?” I asked him.
“Not at university. TEFL,” he said. “A local college, over by Finchley Road.”
“I see,” I said.
He looked around him and sniffed.
“The bed’s not so big,” he said.
“I thought it was just you?” I said.
“Just me,” he said. “That’s right. But you never know, do you? I mean I’m a grown boy. You know what I mean.”
“I’m afraid Mrs Van Baren doesn’t want anyone bringing girlfriends into the house,” I said.
“She the real landlady, is she?” he said.
“She doesn’t like strangers in the house,” I said. “Would that be a problem?”
“It reminds me,” he said, “of my time in Barcelona. I rented a room in a big…