Living at Number Sixteen Evelyn Mews, Tilda often thought, was like living in a poem. Number Sixteen was a townhouse of bright whitewashed brick with black shutters and a glossy black roof. The slender chimneys were black too, as was the lamppost that watched over Tilda at night, bending its glowing head through the trees. In the morning the sparrows twittered in the leaves and the sun shone in pools in the shallow gutters.

Tilda had moved into Evelyn Mews three months ago, and since then she had adopted certain habits. She took to wearing gloves to work, taper-fingered black kidskin. At breakfast she poured her milk from a curved china pitcher instead of the bare carton. At bedtime, she read the poetry of John Keats, occasionally glancing at the sliver of moon through her curtain, which winked as if in sympathy. She loved these Romantic whisperings from a bygone time—the zephyrs and nightingales and Grecian urns; she loved the smell of the splendid leather-bound volume, which she marked with a red ribbon before putting out the light. She had altered certain mannerisms, too. No longer did she show her teeth when she smiled, bold white teeth that used to gleam atop a flame red underlip. She had mastered a close-lipped smile, which involved lifting and pursing them, coaxing forth dimples; the smile was accompanied with a light lift of the eyebrows and a mirthful narrowing of the eyes. As for the lipstick she’d worn in Chelsea, she’d done away with it the day she moved. Razzle Dazzle, it was called.

“All the lovely people who live in Evelyn Mews,” she thought to herself as she slid back the lacy grid of the elevator with a black gloved hand. Slowly she began to descend, as if down a great iron vine. A verse would describe each tenant. Mr. and Mrs. McCauley on the first floor, aging and pensive with all their books and clocks. Herself, dark and gay, on the third. On the second, Mr. Barrett with his frank, gentle face, boyish despite the thinning hair.

She often met Mr. Barrett in the elevator on her way to work. He carried an alligator briefcase with a dull brass buckle; he was probably an attorney or a financier. Tilda looked forward to the meetings. He would be hurrying out too, but he always had a friendly word, asking how she was getting on in her new apartment or commenting on the smell of rain in the air. Tilda would give a soft, rapturous reply and smile her new smile. When Mr. Barrett smiled back his eyes were very blue, but Tilda noticed the fine lines that gathered beneath them, etched there by some unspoken melancholy. Melancholy about his wife, perhaps—Mrs. Barrett, who would have to be included in the poem.