by Anne Goodwin

The straps of our backpacks bit into our sagging shoulders as we left the reception of yet another cheap hotel. It seemed there wasn’t a vacant room in the entire city; not within our budget, anyhow. So our spirits soared when a woman beckoned from an alleyway. ‘You need room? For tonight?’

We imagined an attic brightly papered for a grandchild’s sleepovers, with a cartoon-character duvet on the narrow bed. We imagined a student’s study, with a sofa bed surrounded by book-lined walls. Even as the woman let us into a dingy hallway, it didn’t dampen our hope.

We followed her up a ramshackle staircase, along a corridor with skirts of pine. Our boots clattered on the bare floorboards as she led us deeper into the maze. Did it matter there was no sign of a fire escape? We’d risk it for one night.

At last she unlocked a panelled door and flicked the light switch. The unshaded bulb in the ceiling exposed everything: everything that wasn’t there. No window, however tiny. No wash basin, however grimy and cracked. No bookshelves, desk, chair or any other furniture. No grandchild’s toys.

No bed of any description, not even a hammock or sperm-stained mattress on the floor. The woman cackled when we voiced our disappointment. ‘You wanted room. No-one mentioned bed.’

Streetlights spangled the drizzle as we left her. Our choice was stark: drain our credit cards for a night at the Sheraton or head back to the station for the first train out.

Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, appeared in 2017 and her short story collection, Becoming Someone, in 2018. A former clinical psychologist, Anne is also a book blogger specialising in fictional therapists.

Twitter @Annecdotist.