‘Anna Kearney, meanwhile, her mood still elevated, loitered a moment or two on the consulting-room steps, watching the tide sidle upriver like a long brown dog; then, with the whole afternoon in front of her, made her way by two buses and a train to Carshalton. September, the greenhouse month, wrapped discoloured, vaporous distances around Streatham Vale and Norbury, where silvery showers of rain–falling without warning out of a cloudless blue-brown haze–evaporated from the hot pavements as quickly as they fell. Nothing relieved the humidity. At the other end, Carshalton dreamed supine under its blanket of afternoon heat as Anna made her way cautiously back to the house on The Oaks, approaching this time from the direction of Banstead, crossing the Common on foot–past the prison compounds which lay as innocuous as gated housing in the woods–and entering the maze of long suburban streets at a point halfway between the hospital and the cemetery. 121, The Oaks remained empty, with no sign of the boy who had disturbed her on her previous visit. When she tried the back door it proved to be unfastened as well as unlocked, opening to a push. Inside, economics–as invisible as a poltergeist, a force without apparent agency–was dividing the place up into single rooms. Evidence of its recent activity was easy to come by: stairs and hallways smelling of water-based emulsion and new wood. Bare floors scabbed with spilt filler, power cables lying patiently in the broad fans of dust they had scraped across the parquet, ladders and paint cans that had changed places. Anna wandered around picking things up and putting them down again, until she came to rest in what had been a large back bedroom, split by means of a plaster partition carefully jigsawed at one end to follow the inner contour of the bay window. In this way, the invisible hand generously accorded its potential tenants half the view of the garden–flowerbeds overgrown with monbretia and ground-ivy, rotting old fruit nets on gooseberry bushes, a burnt lawn across which the damp, caramel-coloured pages of a paperback book had been strewn. Anna blinked in the incoming light, touched the unpainted partition, drew her fingers along the windowsill. Sharp granular dust; builders’ dust. Nothing can hurt in these unfinished spaces. Life suspends itself. After a minute or two, an animal–a dog, thin and whippy-looking, brindled grey, with patches of long wiry hair around its muzzle and lower legs–pushed its way through the hedge from the next garden and went sniffing intently along the edge of the lawn, pausing to scrape at the earth suddenly with its front paws. Anna rapped her knuckles on the window. Something about the dog confused her. Rain poured down suddenly through the sunshine, the discarded pages sagged visibly under the onslaught as if made of a paper so cheap it would melt on contact with water. Anna rapped on the window again. At this the dog winced, stared back vaguely over its shoulder into the empty air. It shook itself vigorously–prismatic drops flew up–and ran off. The rain thickened and then tapered away and passed. Out on the lawn, humidity wrapped about her face like a wet bag, Anna collected up as much of the book as she could and leafed through it. It was the novel the boy had recommended to her, Lost Horizon, ripped apart, perhaps, because it had finally failed to deliver on its promises of the world hidden inside our own. None of the pages were consecutive. Anna could assemble only the barest idea of the story. A crashed nuclear bomber pilot, perhaps American, finds himself in a secret country, only to have it–and his heart’s desire–snatched away from him at the last; paradoxically, that very loss seems to endorse the reader’s hope that such a country might exist. The front cover had been torn down the middle in a kind of careful rage. Anna read: “The classic tale of Shangri-La”. A telephone, its ringer set to simulate an old-fashioned electric bell, started up inside the house.’ —Empty Space, 2012.