Harry Holburn wasn’t a man who made a fuss. In fact, he had spent thirty-one years of his life trying to exist as quietly and as unobtrusively as possible.
Admittedly, there may have been a couple of early years when he didn’t abide by this rule, but after the initial shock of being pushed into the world had faded, he was sure that he fell into line rather rapidly. He had been a quiet child, who enjoyed collecting things – mostly bottle caps and trading cards with pictures of footballers on them – and who always ate his vegetables.
His mother, Greta, was very proud of raising such a well-behaved son, one who understood the true value of peace and quiet. Greta grew up with a mother who dedicated herself entirely to finding The Big Idea, two children or not. Harry’s grandmother was convinced she was some wonderful hybrid of entrepreneur, mother, grandmother, wife and talented inventor. She spent her entire adult life believing that it was only a matter of time before one of her creations would be snapped up and she would singlehandedly secure the family fortune. This meant that the young Greta spent the majority of her childhood hearing explosions in the night and dreading whatever terrifying creation her mother would place on the breakfast table the next morning. Toys and treasured belongings were never safe, and Greta quickly learned to keep her most prized possessions on her person at all times, in case her mother tried to ‘improve them’ for her, as she often did.
As soon as she saved up enough money from her job as a librarian, Greta moved out of the family home, taking her young and still rather noisy son with her. As they huddled in the small room on that first night of their new lives, Greta vowed two things then and there: one, she would never allow her mother to talk to Harry about her crazy inventions, and two, their home would be clean, tidy and best of all, so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
When Harry’s grandmother finally gave up her quest for The Big Idea aged 79, she left behind an estranged daughter and hundreds of useless, dusty inventions, which she bequeathed to her cherished adult-grandson: a good boy, who enjoyed collecting things and who still always ate his vegetables.
Aside from a grandmother who would occasionally set fire to her own curtains, nothing out of the ordinary had ever really happened to Harry in his three decades of living. That’s why it was all the more unexpected when he came home one Wednesday evening to find that his usually empty flat wasn’t empty at all.
Harry was average height, average build and displayed features that were neither handsome, nor interesting enough to be considered ugly. He was, as his aunt declared on his thirteenth birthday, ‘nothing to write home about’. The woman sitting on Harry’s sofa was anything but average. She had very pale hair that stopped suddenly at her chin, a long, thin nose, and thick eyebrows that were furrowed into a thin line when Harry discovered her.
Upon finding your empty flat not empty at all, one would normally ask a series of questions to said intruder. Like what the hell they were doing or whether they would mind leaving the property immediately. Instead, Harry asked the strange woman if she was quite alright and whether he could help her.
“You could tell me where the TV is for starters,” said the woman. “It’s too quiet in here, I can’t concentrate. How do you get anything done?”
Harry looked around his sparse and meticulously organised flat as if a television may appear out of thin air, and then explained to the woman that he didn’t have one. He did have a radio though, and after some discussion he selected the most neutral channel he could and asked if that suited the woman better.
It did. Harry then asked the woman if she would mind telling him what she was doing and whether she was in the right flat as he thought she might be mistaken. She wasn’t. She was looking for somebody named Harry and she was sure that she was looking right at him.
“And er, why are you looking for me?” asked Harry, focusing on the matter at hand, rather than how and when the woman had managed to enter his securely locked flat.
“Do you have anything to drink?” the woman said, furrowing her brow again. “It’s quite a long story and it might help if I had some water, or something stronger perhaps?”
Harry reluctantly gave the woman the single can of fizzy drink he had been saving as his Friday night treat and then encouraged her to continue.
She took a long swig of the drink, burped so loudly that Harry grimaced and turned bright red, and then she said, quite casually: “Well Harry, it started when I met your grandmother in the very last year of her life.”