Kate Morris

Kate Morris is a journalist and novelist and also works as a community manager for The British Red Cross.  She has contributed features and columns to national newspapers, including The Times and The Guardian and supplements including Stella Magazine, The Saturday Guardian MagazineWeekend Telegraph, The Observer Magazine, Spectator Life and many more. She has published three novels with Mandarin, Penguin and Short books, and has embarked on the MA at Goldsmith’s in order to branch out in a new direction.


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A young couple and their baby moved into the flat above me a couple of months ago towards the end of June. I knew the baby was a girl long before I met her, because I  had found a tiny pink cardigan, mud-stained and sodden, on the doormat. It was an effort to bend down and pick up it up, but I retrieved it and draped it over the handle bars of the pushchair, which was folded against the hall wall.  

I first heard the music coming from their flat a few weeks ago; around 1.20 in the morning. It was stirring and nostalgic, something you could sing along to if you were in the mood.  It could have been a tune from an American musical or a pop song, something jaunty, which was hard to place. I imagined the pair of them laughing and drinking, sharing private jokes, while I shifted from one side to the other, desperate to sleep. 

The following morning, Andy left for work about a half hour before me, as he always does.  He clumps down the stairs, sometimes he whistles, and that particular morning I thought about opening the door and mentioning the music. At that point I hadn’t come across him but I’d met her. 

She’d knocked on the door a few days after they moved in. It was quite late, about 10 o clock at night and she said she needed milk for her baby. She smiled at me, and I glanced down and noticed the holes in her black tights. She had a pale face, dark eyeliner around her eyes, a ring in her nose, and her hair up in two side buns. She reminded me of one of those colourful creatures from The Teletubbies.  What must she have thought of me? A large, cumbersome, middle-aged woman, home alone with a cat. I gave her a new carton, which of course she hasn’t yet replaced.

The following night the music began again. It sounded like a Christmas carol, which was odd because it was the height of summer. All my windows were open to try and quell the heavy heat. I was slumbering but not asleep and my small fan was whirring. The music was louder than the night before.  Anger made toxic adrenalin flow through me, jolting me out of my soporific state. I considered finding my broom and banging the ceiling, but it was too much effort. Instead I sat up and wrote my food diary, that I’ve promised I will give to the nutritionist when I next see her. She wants me to do it every day, but sometimes I forget.


Three Weetabix, cup of milky tea


Pastry, café late with one sugar.


Kit Kat one coke.


 Greek salad, Greek yoghurt. Two rolls with butter.


4 fingered Kit Kat and a cup of tea with two sugars.


Toast with marmite and a yoghurt.


Lasagne and baked potato with cheese.


Bowl of cornflakes with brown sugar


A Slice of cake and custard.

The music gave me a headache, so I rolled to my side and stretched out for my painkillers  which I keep in a glass jar on the side table, that is next to my Queen Size bed. My headaches have stages: At the embryonic stage the pain brews, coming and going, before it eventually burrows in to stay, cementing.  With or without a headache It’s an effort for me to do anything that involves movement because there is so much of me, even rolling to get my painkillers is not easy. My bed takes up most of the space. My room is small, and I usually have the brown curtains drawn. When I moved in, there were bare floorboards in my bedroom, but they seemed harsh and unfriendly and I chose a dark green carpet instead.

People can’t avoid me but on the other hand, when they see the fat, their eyes slip away and I become invisible. There are nasty comments hurled my way too. Nasty and hurtful. Just the other day a man leant out of the window of a white  van and shouted, “I wouldn’t shag you Miss Piggy.”

Everything but my wrists are big. My wrists are oddly slim and I wear several bracelets, gold ones, that I rarely take off. I keep my nails immaculate and my hair too. My hair is brown and highlighted with toffee-coloured streaks. I wear it up in a bun at work and I have a professional blow-dry, once a week with Sophie from Ruby Red Hairdressers. I enjoy the ritual, settling into the chair, and having my hair washed. I like the sensation of switching off and the touch of her fingers when she massages in the conditioner.  Sophie feels the need to chat: her ambition to style hair for fashion shows, her Mum’s face lift or her boyfriend’s dog. I don’t initiate conversation, although she’ll always ask me what I have planned, and once or twice I’ve made something up, just to fit in. Winston Churchill, was rumoured to have replied, ‘in silence,’ when asked by his barber how he’d like his hair cut. I would like to say that too, but I never would of course.

Doctor Maclaren was grave when he informed me that I was risking my life– 22 stone when I last stood on the scales in his consulting room. I am not sure if he noticed that I took off my gold bangles before climbing on.  I would like to curb my appetite and have tried to survive on less food, but the constant feeling of hunger gnaws at me and is impossible to ignore. I joined a gym once and on the first session after my induction, I fell off the running machine and landed on the floor. Someone sniggered.  A kind man, Andreas, one of the trainers, came over to help. I could see the strain in his face as he tried to pull me to my feet before a girl, one of the gym instructors, came over to help him. Two of them lifting me up. I wanted to disappear.

The nutritionist instructed me to write down every single thing that goes into my mouth – all snacks, meals and sweets.  She says there is no point ‘fabricating’ the truth. It’s a small comfort writing things down, to actually see what I am doing, but it’s alarming too, to note how much I eat. I’ve slipped a few things out, like the doughnut from yesterday, the box of chocolates on Saturday evening.

My mum is big too, but I don’t remember my dad. He left when I turned five. Mum heated up things, never cooked, not really.  Nan cooked, a bit. A roast on a Sunday, but she boiled the vegetables on a raging gas ring until there was no taste left to them. Mum lay about, smoking and eating crisps and I resolved not to be like her, but after my first heartbreak, when John wrote me a card telling me his ‘heart wasn’t in it any more’ I retreated and began to binge. Then the fat crept upon me, encroaching, lump by lump.  

I work for the NHS and my manager, Eileen, has not mentioned my weight, although I know she disapproves.  She is tall and striking and wears layers of mascara and dark eyeliner. She has this way of glancing at me when I pop something in my mouth with a mixture of disapproval and disbelief. 

Rita from the radiotherapy department is my friend.  Once a month or so, I am invited over for supper with her family and for the last three years, I’ve been to her house for Christmas lunch. What a lunch! We have bread sauce, carrots, brussel sprouts, red cabbage and roast potatoes and a turkey. I bring a Christmas cake and a stilton with port. I am happy because I am not alone and because it’s a festive day I can eat without guilt. She has twin boys, and a husband who works in IT.  Claudio has extremely hairy arms and hair sprouting out of his shirt collar. He’s jovial and I like him very much. 

Rita confides in me about her husband. She knows that I won’t be indiscreet. She tells me that ‘behind closed doors’ he doesn’t communicate, except to complain. He leaves wet towels on the floor, and his shaved beard hairs in the basin. They seem like small misfortunes. 

After a few nights of music, I began to dread going home. I usually look forward to my flat which is small but neat. I like the way Lionel, my cat, greets me with a slinky wrap around my legs. I enjoy the galley kitchen, and the sitting room that looks out over tall trees. My sitting room is tidy at all times. I sit on the pistachio coloured sofa and stretch my legs on the matching foot-rest.  Lionel often sits on my lap and purrs. But after the couple started playing loud music, the flat became hostile. I could hear them thumping across the floorboards, perhaps they were dancing. I wasn’t sleeping much and to get through the days I was surviving on coffee and chocolate and a can or two or coke plus headache pills with caffeine.

One of those nights the pain pills spilt all over the carnation pink bedroom carpet – yellow for pain, white for acid reflux, orange for the heart and I began to weep.

I work in a small stuffy room on the ninth floor of a large hospital.  Luckily there is a lift or it would take me a good half an hour to get up all those stairs. I am a senior radiographer and I facilitate the bone density scans and am also obliged to teach groups of students.  

I always feel the need to justify my place in the world, so I am nice to everyone I encounter. I smile and feign interest with soothing pleasantries but some days, when I ache and sweat, it takes a huge amount of will to muster a smile.   I used to bring my colleagues cups of tea and slices of cake, but I noticed that the cake was being left or refused. The women I work with eat tiny piles of almonds and raw carrots for their snacks, even Harriet ,who used to snack all day, is on a diet.  My joy is sweet food, but it’s a momentary pleasure, afterwards the guilt and shame shadows me.

Sometimes, at night, Lionel sits on my chest, purring in my face. Kneading his paws on me.  The sensation of the rhythmic pawing calms me. 

Before I got Lionel there were mice in my flat. They left their droppings  behind the oven, or on the kitchen table, black, like small currants. There are people who think you should trap mice humanely and release them into the wild or in the back garden, but they don’t survive.

I bought sticky paper to trap them.  At times, they would break away in a frenzy and leave fur and blood on the paper and I would discover them dead or dying, quivering in a corner or behind the bin.  But on some occasions, they were still there in the morning, stuck on the sticky paper, squealing in terror. It was satisfying to trap them but not pleasant. I had to put on my washing up gloves and flush their tiny writhing bodies down the toilet. 

I had lunch in the canteen with Rita a few days ago, but we only managed to chat for a couple of minutes. I told her about the music in the flat above me, but we couldn’t talk about it in detail as she had to get back to her shift. She works in the basement doing radiotherapy treatments, which she tells me can be gruelling. We first met in the canteen when we were both about to take the last slice of carrot cake. She suggested sharing it, and we sat down and talked about the consultant who had been suspended because he’d had sex with a private in-patient. I’d heard about the scandal from one of my team so I was able to fill her in with small details, the fact that he was married and the patient only 17.  We were both on diets at the time, although she is smaller than me, she battles with her weight as I do. 

Maggie, my nutritionist, says it’s good to keep hydrated. Rita is always telling me not to drink Diet Coke because of the aspartame, so I’ve switched to the full sugar.

Just two days ago while I was watching the News At Ten, there was knock on the door. I thought about leaving it because I knew it would take a lot of  effort to heave myself off the chair. The knocking became louder and more urgent. 

He introduced himself as ‘Andy from upstairs.’ He’s a small man, red in the face, sleeves rolled up and he has tattoos on his arms, a thick neck and a short spiked haircut. 

‘Evening,’ he said all very cordial, ‘could you please turn the TV down?’

 ‘I turned it up because of the music and the loud thumping. I couldn’t hear.’ I was smiling at him.


‘Yes, music from your flat’

‘You mean the radio?’

‘Maybe. It seems very loud.’

‘It’s not that loud,’ he said

‘I can hear it,’  I said ‘so it must be quite loud.’

‘Nah,’  he nodded. “It’s your TV volume that’s loud. It’s keeping our baby awake.’ His voice had risen to emphasise the point. 

‘Funny that,’ I said, ‘I was wondering how your baby slept through the din?’

 ‘Din? The only din is coming from your TV. Maybe you need to get your hearing tested mate,’ he said.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘maybe.’

He turned and left and I wondered why he had called me mate? I’m not his friend. 

I switched off the TV and went to bed. I slept that night.

I told Rita what had happened when we met in the canteen for an early lunch and a coffee. Andy knocking on my door, ordering me to turn down the volume, denying he was playing very loud music and calling me mate.

‘He can’t be playing music,’ Rita said, ‘not in the middle of the night.’

‘Don’t you believe me?’  

She laughed, ‘Of course I believe you, but why would he lie? Why would he play loud music when he has a baby trying to sleep?

 I shrugged, ‘Do you think I should record it if it happens again?’

She paused for a seconds and then nodded and said, ‘yes,’ raising her eyebrows,  ‘we need proof.’

I was so glad that she was with me. An ally.

That night, I was all ready to record the music from their flat, but none came. I pulled on my dressing gown, and climbed the stairs. I wanted to see if I could hear anything.  I was standing right outside their door, when it suddenly opened and the woman who had borrowed the milk was standing there. The thing that struck me this time was her black shiny barbie-doll hair. She was wearing a yellow striped jumper and holding a rubbish bag.  She looked a bit like a bee.

‘Oh!’ she said, ‘you gave me fright. Do you want something?’

 ‘I… I wonder if you have that milk I gave you a few weeks ago? I’ve run out you see.’

‘Oh. I’m sorry, I forgot to give it you. Hang on a minute.’

She put down the bag of rubbish and went back into the flat. I heard her talking to Andy, ‘That woman from downstairs. Yeah the fat one who’s got her TV volume up.’

She returned with an open carton, ‘that’s all I’ve got,’ she said, ‘but you can have it.’

‘Don’t worry,’ I said handing it back to her, ‘maybe pop down a new one when you get it?’

‘Yeah sure,’ she said looking a bit vague, ‘Yeah. What number are you?”


‘Could you turn the volume down on your TV please? It’s doing my head in.’

Before I could reply she had shut the door.

I heard them laughing and talking, mocking me, as I sat on my sofa.  Then the music started up again, not quite as loud but still noticeable.  I stroked Lionel, but he leapt away from me and scratched at the door demanding to be let out. I fell asleep and when I woke I wondered what would happen if I died in the night? Would someone hear Lionel meowing? Would they have to knock my door down? I made a note to myself to give a copy of my key to Rita.

‘Wow,’ Rita said the next day, ‘You look tired. ‘

‘It’s the music, they were playing it all night long, and I’m gathering proof, just like you said.’

‘Are you sure?’ She asked, ‘did you get a recording?’

‘Yes, I am sure there is music, but I didn’t manage to record anything.’

‘Ok.’ She looked at me with disgust or doubt, or something like that.

She hurried away, and I was left with a  lurching dread. I wanted to run after her.   I wanted her to come to my flat and meet Lionel. I needed her to sit with me and hear what I was hearing. But I stood very still and didn’t move for a few minutes. 

I am very tired tonight, but managed to eat a shepherd’s pie for two and a tin of rice pudding. All is silent from the flat above me. No voices, not even a murmur. I called Rita but her message came on straight away, ‘it’s only me,’ I said ‘checking in.’

 There was  a knock on the door and I heaved myself up to open it.  It was the girl, the mum with her baby clamped to her hip. ‘What are you playing at?’ She asked looking defiant.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Why have you got the TV volume up so high?  Edie can’t sleep. I can’t think.’

It was unnerving, her standing there, like a hand grenade about to explode. ‘There has been music, coming from your flat, it’s loud, and I can’t hear the TV,’ I said. ‘Not this minute,’ I added, ‘but usually.’ 

‘Well let me tell you something. We haven’t played any music at all. Do you understand?’

There was a rise in me, like a strong surge of heat.

‘I can’t sleep at night,’ I wanted to cry. ‘I don’t sleep a wink.’

‘You are never awake all night,’ she said, ‘because we hear you snoring. It’s that loud. Like a fucking drill. It keeps us both awake. And now we’ve got your TV too.’

‘Snoring? I don’t snore.’

‘Yes you do,’ she shifted the baby on her hip. ‘You’re overweight, you’re gross, that’s why you snore.  And your TV volume is too high. ‘Haven’t any of the other neighbours complained?’

I nodded no, but Mrs Anders in the flat below me, is away on a sabbatical.

The dyed black hair, the pallor, the long fringe. She’s tiny, like one of those dollies hung from the rear view mirror in a car. She was judging me, calling me fat, and insulting me. I raised my hand and slapped her across her face, which was a shock to me and to her.

‘Fuck! You mad bitch,’ she shouted, toppling backwards, the baby screaming,  ‘What is wrong with you? I’m calling the police.’

‘Go ahead. Who are they going to believe anyway?’

She turned. The baby was crying and her face was the colour of beetroot.

‘I will’ she hissed shifting Edie up her hip. 


Three Jammy Dodgers

A cup of hot chocolate

Half a cold pizza

A beer.

A cigarette.

Box of chocolates.

Two yoghurts

Cold chicken


Half a cold pizza

Two jammy dodgers

Two bowls of cereal.


Half a bottle of wine


Two Bars of KitKat

2 packet of crisps

Cold noodles.

A packet of Jam Tarts.

A Cigarette.

It’s 2.07 now and police haven’t arrived.  All around me is chaos: squashed yoghurt pots, two pizza cartons, five crisp packets, Kit Kat wrappings, a plate smudged with baked beans, an empty bottle of wine, two cereal bowls, and an ashtray with spent cigarettes.  I call Rita, but her message comes on straight away. It’s the third time I’ve tried. Lionel is refusing to sit with me. I turn up the volume on my TV to drown out the music that has started up again and double lock my door. Then I sit and wait. I’m waiting for Andy or his wife to come down again, or the police to arrive or Rita to ring.