Oyster Court must have been knocked-off one Friday afternoon in the Thirties by an enthusiastic but Martini-muddled architect with an Escher fetish. It looks like a smashed Rubik’s cube, split apart on three levels, with two main doorways, and a chaotic stack of windows and balconies above them all, each with a slant-ways view of the ocean.
It’s midnight, black, a brackish snap of seaweed and coming rain. I can feel and hear the sea beyond the reach of the orange car park lights, massing restlessly on the tide line.
I’ve not been here before. The two doorways seem to lead either to even or odd numbered flats. But the first also has a sign that says tradesmen’s entrance, and looks to open onto a lobby that connects to the second lobby via an internal door. So what’s the point of having two entrances? There is a lift in the second lobby.
I’m here for flat one. I figure it can’t be far off the main lobby, on the ground floor. I buzz the buzzer, but no-one answers. After a while I call Control for advice. They tell me a key holder is on his way. As soon as I hang up he’s there – a diffident, heavy man with the heft of a freshly plucked bear in a gamekeeper jacket and corduroy slacks.
‘Hello. John, the key holder,’ he says, giving a friendly bob of the shoulders and shaking a set of keys in the air. ‘Friend of Gary, Myrtle’s son. He’s … erm .. he can’t make it, so I’m going to let you in.’
He pads up the steps to the second door.
‘I’m a bit confused by the arrangement here,’ I say. ‘I don’t understand why they can’t just have one door.’
‘No-one can,’ says John, scuffling around the lock, trying to make one of the keys fit. ‘Erm…’
‘Maybe they’ll fit in the first door?’
‘Okay. Yep. Good idea. Let’s try that.’
‘Shall I have a go? They look like a new set. Maybe they’re not quite right.’
‘By all means,’ says John, handing me the set.
None of them fit – the first or the second door.
‘It’s the first time I’ve been asked to do this,’ says John with a shrug. ‘I should’ve had a dry run.’
‘Not to worry. I’ll ring one of the other flats and get them to let us in. Then hopefully the keys will work on the flat door.’
I ring flats two and three, standing back a little back so the video camera can see me. No reply. Then flat five.
‘Hello. Sorry to bother you so late, but it’s the ambulance service. We’ve been called to flat one but the keys we have don’t work on the front door. We wondered if you could let us in, please?’
Who did you say?
‘The ambulance service.’
How do I know you’re the ambulance service?
‘Can you see my jacket? Look…’ I turn round so she can read ambulance written on the back.
Anyone could have a jacket like that.
‘And can you see that ambulance car parked up by the steps?’
A long pause. Just before I ring again, the woman comes back onto the intercom.
Who is it you say you’ve come to see?
‘Mrs Logan in flat one.’
Another long pause.
Suddenly it occurs to me to mention the key holder.
‘John’s here,’ I say.
‘John. A friend of Gary. Gary? Mrs Logan’s son?’
Another pause, but then suddenly the mechanism buzzes and we march inside.
John confidently leads me across the lobby, past the lift to a door at the back. I follow him through, and it clicks solidly shut behind us.
‘I think – it’s through here,’ he says. ‘But then - I haven’t done this before.’
We seem to be in a bare service passage with a single staircase leading up to a landing with a sign that points to flat two. John marches up the stairs and tries his keys, but none fit. He comes back down.
But then we find that none of his keys fits the door to let us back into the main lobby.
We’re forced to follow the passage out into the rear car park, and walk back round to the front.
‘I think we probably should’ve taken the lift,’ says John.
‘To flat one?’
‘I know. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s the … erm ... charm of the place.’
Back at the main entrance again, we both look at the intercom. After a second or two to gather myself, I step up to it and press the button for flat five again.
A long pause.
‘Hello. I’m very sorry but it’s the ambulance service again. We took the wrong door and ended back out in the car park again.’
‘We should’ve taken the lift. To flat one, apparently. But we didn’t, and we ended out in the car park.’
Who did you say you were?
‘The ambulance service. Again. I’m the ambulance. With John. For flat one.’
I don’t know what else to say, how else to say it. Oyster Court must be built on some twisted ley line; its warped magic has stolen not only my sense of direction, but my ability to speak, to make sense, to orientate myself in the world.
Who did you say you were?
I stare at the intercom lens.