In London, Heathcote met me at the door of their squatted house on Westbourne Park Road. He, Diana, and China, their daughter, lived there. I’d known Heathcote for about two years, but pretty well, and that was before I knew him with Diana and China, which is another story.

They offered me the airy, blue room on the second floor, mine except at Christmas, when it transformed into the Christmas room, because of its non-working fireplace, and, on Christmas Eve, Heathcote read us A Christmas Carol.

My adventures in London were different from those I had in Turkey and Greece, less dangerous, though often foolish and usually complicated.

There were no stairs to the first landing of the house, only a long piece of lumber, a plank about a foot wide. I had a debilitating fear of heights, so I hesitated at the bottom of the stairs, and, also there was my suitcase to carry that first day, or maybe it was my shapeless, tree-green Italian Army backpack. Probably Heathcote brought it up. Somehow I walked the plank, I had to have, then I navigated it better and better, and lived on Westbourne Park Road for about a year.

Like the stairs, the toilet wasn’t working. Diana showed me how to use it: to flush it you had to fill it with water from the bathtub, there was a pail in the tub. Next to the toilet was a basket full of toilet paper and tissues. Diana didn’t say so but I assumed that paper couldn’t be flushed down the toilet, so I used the toilet and threw the dirty toilet paper into the basket.

One morning, maybe a month later, I went into the kitchen for breakfast, where Heathcote and Diana were already sitting at the table. Like English people of any class, they immediately offered me a cup of tea, and in no way out of the ordinary. Also toast and maybe an egg. But the quiet at the table was different, and there was an awkwardness.

Finally, Heathcote spoke.

Leonard, he said, solemnly. (Leonard was his pet name for me.)
What? I said.
Leonard, about this habit you picked up in Turkey.  
What habit?
In Turkey, those toilets ….your putting toilet paper in a basket….
It’s not something I picked up in Turkey.
Oh. But this custom, this habit….
It’s not a habit. You told me the toilet wasn’t working when I arrived, and the basket was full of toilet paper. So I did what you did.
Oh, he said, looking at Diana.
When I arrived, the basket was full. And it kept being full. I did what you did.
We only used the basket because you did. We didn’t want to embarrass you.
You mean all this past month you were throwing toilet paper into the basket because I did.
Because you didn’t want to embarrass me.
You couldn’t have just told me?

We finished breakfast, and it was never mentioned again.

Lynne Tillman is a novelist, short story writer, and essayist. Her most recent novel is MEN AND APPARITIONS (2018); her latest story collection, THE COMPLETE MADAME REALISM AND OTHER STORIES (2016), was published in Spanish in Argentina (2021).