That was a time of moving from one sleazy room to another, of trying to outwit the constant hunger.

But it was also a time of rich dreams and solitude.

Carole Morin presents a haunting short story

THE first room we stayed in was on the ground floor at the back. There were bars on the window, which we left open to begin with. The pong from outside made us close it. The room was large and dusty and stuffy. I was frightened to let the sheets touch me but every night succumbed to a blissful dead sleep.

The toast was served by a half-caste in the basement. The dining room smelled as if someone had done the toilet in it five years ago, and left the window locked. The maid's skin made her look as if she didn't wash and the plate often had food stuck at the edges and was still damp from the hasty wash between us and the last person who'd eaten off it. But breakfast was the only supplied meal.

After three days on the ground floor at the back, they moved us while we were out to upstairs at the front. The toilet in this room flushed, but left things floating on top afterwards. Sometimes it was the paper I'd just put down, sometimes things I'd never seen before. The reason why they moved us was someone else was coming who always stays in room three. The manager told me this either just before or just after he invited me out to dinner.

First he asked: ''Is that guy your boyfriend?''

''What guy?''

''The soldier you share the room with.''

''No,'' I said.

Then he asked me to dinner.

''No, I never eat dinner.''

That's true enough. We can't afford it. We have a large bag of crisps and a bottle of Highland Spring because tap water gives you kidney trouble. But we wouldn't eat much in the summer anyway. It's too dirty.

The upstairs room was better, because it's best being up high, but it was only a comparative improvement. We couldn't wait to get out of there. The manager had our passports. We sat at night planning mad escapes. Jack could come in wearing a headover with eyes cut out and do a raid on the front desk and retrieve our kit. But if he was going to that trouble he'd be as well doing the till too. And there can't be much in it. Most people are waiting for social security cheques like us. When the giro comes we'll pay the bill and move somewhere better. That's the plan but when we pay the bill there will not be much left. And for a flat we need a deposit. And a month in advance. One of us has got to get a job. Working is bad enough but working in the summer requires a regular shower and ice-cream when you want it and some clothes.

I get a job as a secretary and use the lunch hour calling everyone I know to help stop thinking about food. These people I know are from two years ago when I used to come to London for fun. They expect me in a plastic ballgown with dyed backcombed hair and big glass earrings. But now I wear cotton, military things that stay versatile. I have short hair so that I can wear it wet all the time without having to wash it. Though we keep having to buy razors. I wouldn't go round with a moustache anyway no matter how poor I was so we may as well shave our heads too. Buy a few extra razors for that. The worst thing is having to eat. And the water bill. If it wasn't for that we'd save faster.

That lunchtime chatter got me a result. I managed a freeload. Jack couldn't believe our luck. ''The cheque came today as well,'' he said, when I met him after work and told him we could go and stay at Hartley's. Hartley lives in a pre-war council estate in the East End. ''It has more charm than a Barratt home,'' Jack said. It was the only nice thing he could think of. But Hartley took offence. He was disappointed with my hair and clothes. A few days later he said to me, ''Look, you can stay here but there isn't really much space. I mean, you can stay but there isn't room for him.''

Jack went to live in Holland Park for a while but people kept calling the police so he switched to Hyde. There's a lot of jessie biscuits in parks after dark but he keeps to himself. Once he had a conversation with a man who'd lost his dog but generally he just dives under a bush and bivets up.

''You look 124 years old,'' I said to him after he'd been living there for a month.

''It's the excitement,'' he said.

Living in the park meant Jack couldn't get a giro - unless he wanted to queue all day. But if he queued all day he couldn't go shoplifting. Which meant I had to buy him food, and myself, and razors, and a present to keep Hartley happy. And my wages are low. Less than #200 a week for a seven-hour day with a Toenail. The boss. The f...wit. The one I despise but don't want to corrupt myself thinking about. I need three months' salary to afford a month in advance and a deposit and some cash for us until our housing benefit arrives once we move in and claim. Three months' salary isn't enough but it's all I can imagine in advance.

When the three months is up we can't find a place. We could get a room but there's no bathroom. It's worse than an almost-sleazy hotel. There's no breakfast, no phone. Jack prefers the park to this place we could get, if we wanted it, this room. And I prefer Hartley's. But I don't like Hartley's. I don't like Hartley. But I prefer Hartley's. I don't like being unemployed, I'm too poor. But it beats the Toenail. Solitude is best, even when it's poor solitude. Rich solitude would be better but I'm not stupid enough to think it's perfect. But I imagine it. I want it. It's my aspiration. What to do?

''Get motivated,'' Jack says. How? ''Run, get yourself some sand.'' He always carries 30 pounds of sand in his bergen. The SAS use bricks, but people get upset if you take their bricks. It's easier getting sand. Jack got his at a golf course late one night. He left me holding the extra spade while he piled damp sand into his rucksack.

''What if it has beasts in it,'' I ask.

''The more the better,'' he says.

I hate people who have no money. I hate people who have just a little money and they cling to it. They go in and out of their box and make a farce of their responsibilities. They have children and encourage it to go on. They poison themselves. They are lazy. They can't even be bothered to stand up straight. They're too tired.

We don't have to stay here?

Where do we go? We can't go back there. They hate us back there. They suspect us of being successful. Someone else's success is taken as a personal insult in Glasgow. Here they cover it up better. Sneaky enough to be ashamed of it. Besides, they want it for themselves. The want to linger round it. But we're not successful, they just imagine it in Glasgow.

We don't even know how to become successful. We just have white, innocent faces with clever eyes and brave mouths. We have unusually long fingernails and clean-cut habits. We're just a couple of kids.

We still have fun. We kick tramps, and run out of McDonald's without paying, and enter cinemas by the fire exit. The sort of things you do in summers. We have the same haircut and look like the same dream. The one everyone has. It only works sometimes. You're only young once. It can't last. They say that all the time in Glasgow, hoping.

Another hotel. But not a sleazy one, never another sleazy one. We've made up our mind. We'll find the money someplace. #150 per night. That's the standard. It isn't tasteful but it's clean. And has a video. Showing the same film all day. Then a new one the next day. Or a choice that day if you want to buy one. And free bubblebath, but breakfast's extra. Clean towels. Less frightening sheets. An arduous cleaner. White working-class waitress.

People are impressed when they meet me in the foyer. There's a chandelier and a high-tech lift. And a lot of Americans about. There's me in my military greens and combat cap over my hair and a Chinese red mouth on. A ruby earring if I wear the thriller dress but the earrings are flat now. The thriller dress is when we're hopeful. The man I'm meeting is going to give me a contract. When you have a perfect face it's your obligation to market it. I have no strong faith in my face but Jack does. He believes in it wholeheartedly. It's easier when it isn't your own.

There must be something you want to do.

They were always saying that. ''Something realistic,'' my mother added.

''I do,'' I said, ''I want to do lots.'' But I couldn't give an example.

''Always give examples,'' they write at the bottom of your composition. I can give a million examples of things I hate. But I don't want to be another negative. I hate that. Those weaklings, I thought, sitting in my room. I can hear their television going. They're always at it. They know all the programmes. There's no fooling them when it comes to who's up to what.

First I went to a lot of parties. As many a night as possible. I met Jack at one of them. All his friends liked me. He didn't speak to me for two years. Then one day I saw him in a churchyard. I had followed him there, but he remains convinced it was coincidence. He was taking photographs of a pink marble tomb.

''They must have really loved each other,'' he said. He meant the two names on the tomb. I hadn't known he was a romantic before. It made me feel less ashamed. But later it annoyed me. Two old romantics against the world. And then I knew. I have to get a practical man. Someone who's already got money or knows exactly how to get it. A dreamer's no use, even a motivated one. Even someone strong. Being sensitive and overcoming your fears is fine and honourable, but not having the fear at all; that's handy. That's the damned route to success.

He guessed all this, he knew, but we stayed together during the hotel summer and a bit longer. Because he arranged an income, and we found a better hotel, and had wild arguments watching television. Because we wanted something else. Always waiting to get away from the present place into the next place, never getting rid of the last one. Blocking out the sounds of the outside, the people downstairs, each other. Worse, the awareness that they're there. The awful knowledge. I don't want any part of it, I don't think dying's horrible. That's the biggest con. But I don't want to do it yet. Not until I try. I must know I was brave first, I did it, whatever it is. Still looking in the mirror checking my looks. Losing your looks, that mysterious happening described by my mother. Losing your looks happens when you least or most expect it.

We got up early in the less sleazy hotels. We got up around nine. We had to. We didn't know if we could afford another night. Or if they could keep us in the same room. Or if they'd have to move us to another room. The same decor, but a different number, which makes it confusing for me at night asking for the key, if I get back first, myself, without Jack. Jack always remembers the room number, I don't.

Jack is working now. ''It's my turn,'' he said. He didn't tell me what. It's the best way. Some mornings he could pay the bill quite easily and we could stay another night, another two nights. Other days we had to go somewhere else and write a new cheque, because each place will only take one large cheque; and each new place will take two cheques, a #100 and a #50. But there are plenty of places. Plenty of rooms at #150. Sometimes #140. The book has six cheques left in it. After that we get the rented room.

During the day if he's left money I buy something to eat. I buy a crime thriller. I take two baths usually, sometimes three. Taking a bath stops you feeling hungry. The water takes all the hunger away. So even if you had money you wouldn't eat anyway. Of course, it only works in the summer.

It was a hot summer. I had cotton clothes. I could wash them in the bath then borrow the hotel's iron. I got known around those hotels as the girl who was always after the iron.

A job for me? Complicated. Not impossible. I was a bit low on energy. But there were plenty of ads. I stole a newspaper once. I don't like stealing. It makes me nervous now. The only things I don't mind stealing are the ones I don't need.

If I apply for something, I have to give an old address and hope a reply will catch up with me in time for the interview. Once it did! But I didn't have any cleans that day, and I was unhappy, and didn't want the job anyway. I'm lazy. And I hate communicating with people on a compulsory basis. I'm no good at work, at the phenomenon. In an actual placement they love me. I automate myself. Enact the perfect employee's part. That's all I can do. Otherwise it gets confused. They sit me down and say: ''We have no space for individuality.'' Always it ends by me not turning up any more. They try to persuade me back sometimes. I can't. Eventually I get another one. I have to. But it doesn't last either.

But the hotel summer was perfect for not working. I had food at least once a day, with Jack. I had my bath, a bed, and a change of scene every couple of days. Space in between for the old romantic in me to flourish. To sit and think. To avoid the sun. To stay cool. To apply and touch up and wipe off and reapply that lipstick. I could do all those things. Uninterrupted. And at night Jack would turn up. He would turn up at odd moments of the day too. Or call. I'd get back and they'd hand me a Telephone Message paper in red and white. With blue ink, or black, which suits it better. I used to go out, walk to the park gate and back, then see if anyone had called in my absence.

These hotels are in Bayswater. We moved along them one by one. Until we found the room. It amazed me how they could all look the same from outside and inside some were sleazy and dirty and others clean and middle-aged. Some give a breakfast, some don't. I started to get suspicious if it was only #120. Then we found one for #100! We didn't find it. We arrived at it, like the others. It was colonial. And clean. There was breakfast. Dinner at extra rate, but twice they forgot to bill us; we felt lucky there. But they couldn't keep us. They were fully booked for the summer by other people who didn't mind not having a mini bar. We'd got in on a cancellation. They'd keep us in mind for another. But we couldn't leave a forwarding address.

The next place did a buffet breakfast. Cold cuts, croissant, toast you make yourself in a toaster. Big carafes of orange juice. Heaven. Yoghurt and fruit to take away. All in all, lots of gosh. They even had chocolate spread.

One night the manager, a man who wears a mustard nylon neck under his desk suit, speaks to Jack on his way in. ''We must ask you to leave. It's your wife,'' he says. ''She steals food from the dining room then lies in her room all day eating it.''

''How do you know?''

''I know. There are crumbs.'' It was a Swedish hotel. ''And the empty wrappers in her bin - chocolate spread, our yoghurts. It is forbidden to carry food to your room. She doesn't even finish the carton. Throws it away half full.''

Jack stared at him.

''The maid has seen it - and the housekeeper!''

''Okay,'' Jack said. ''We'll leave.''

Where do we go next? What do we have in mind? How long do we want to stay?

What age are you? What are your plans for the next five years? What do you want from life? What made you say that?

Persistent cliches making me uneasy amidst the demented trivia.

We go to live in the room. Jack doesn't stay long. The worst thing when the hotel summer was over. I knew it could never happen again. I could think it was happening, but it wouldn't be. Why would I want to do it?

What are you going to do when you're 30? They're always asking me what I'm going to do when I'm 30. When I was 16 I said, ''Die,'' utterly convinced. When it gets nearer you think, How am I going to die? Then you know you're not, you haven't got the guts, you're a coward like the rest, and anyway you want to see what happens. That's what Jack says, ''I don't want to die, I want to wait and see what happens.'' He means historically, I think. The other thing they ask is, What do you do all day? Believe me, the time passes. Passing time is not a problem. It's the easiest part. The goddam mystery.

''I read books,'' I say, but it's a lie. I get books. From the library, off people. I buy paperbacks. Ones I've heard of, ones I like the look of. But I don't read them. I pile them impressively about the room. And note in my diary when the library ones are due back. Then I take them back. I walk through the park to the library, or take the underground when it's sunny.

Usually there are one or two little duties like that per day. At least one. Sometimes the whole day is full of them. Picking up the laundry, buying water, looking a job ads. That takes the longest. I have to get the paper first, then circle all the likelys in red, then read through them more carefully, then prepare a cv when I'm in the mood. And queue at the post office if I'm going to send it. All that takes about two and a half days. Sometimes longer. Sometimes I cut the ads out, but don't read them for a week or so, then I think: it's too late, someone else will have that job by now anyway.

Do you have a television? That's another one. No, I don't. Well, what do you do? I don't know what to say. Sleep? But I don't sleep much. Not like I used to. I'm in bed a lot, but I'm not sleeping. I'm lying there. I think about getting up. I used to get up and raid the kitchen. But I don't have a kitchen with this room. I don't have to cook. I don't have a bathroom, either, but I need to wash. I need to go downstairs and stand in the shower in my shoes trying not to breathe in or touch the edges.

I read everything there is about mad cow disease. Go through all the newspapers and current affairs mags in Smiths. They hate you fingering the papers, because they get crushed and untidy. But nobody says anything. The magazines you can read all day, if you like, but I get fed up standing. And none of the features interests me. Except the stuff about mad cow disease. And that's repetitive. There was one bit that scared me. Because I'd already worried about it in secret. So reading it made me shitless. A scientist with a face

like a fried egg said the virus could get stronger. Then abstaining from sausages is no protection. You get it from breathing and taking showers and all those normal everyday activities like eating ice-cream and listening to music. That's what I do! I spend a great deal of time playing selective songs using the ultra convenient repeat button on my CD player. I sit on my bed and think all through Suzanne Freitag and Edward Ball. Imagining it's myself, singing.

Do you have a boyfriend? That's another one. The word embarrasses me. What if he's not a boy? But saying manfriend would be just as bad. Like ladyfriend. No, I don't have a boyfriend. But sometimes pretend to. That satisfies them. Now they know I spend all my time this boyfriend. This enigma they haven't met yet, or aren't likely to. I'm keeping him all to myself. I'm living for him. I love him to death. All I want to do is f... this boyfriend.

People used to ask sometimes, ''Are you insane?'' But it's getting rude to ask that again. For a while madness was fashionable. Tame decadence. Now it's too common and everybody knows there's no cure. Covering it up makes it more obvious.

Well, she has a great face, they say, behind my back, when I'm not listening. That's compensation. She can live with her face a little while. Admire it in the mirror. Press the thin hard body. But it's impossible to be comforted by beauty. The closest you get is to suspect the advantage, while having it insisted by ugly rivals.

Only average women cling on to their looks. Beauties know right away it's a waste of time. Some try to get it over quickly. Others ignore it. Burn-out or apathy.

There are some things I like. Men with good voices. The hills at night with the air and cold stars and everyone else dead. Blackcurrant toe paint. In bed all afternoon, not thinking about anything, perhaps using a silver spear to clean behind my fingernails. Undisturbed. And knowing no-one is going to visit. For the slightest reason. New Year's Day is great for that. Even the most lonely of your acquaintances is too proud to offer themselves then. They assume you are busy with the family, boyfriend, and box of shortbread. They feel ashamed.

Accept your solitude, enjoy, I want to say, but they think me mad enough as it is. They say I'm strange. It if wasn't for the looks and the imaginary boyfriend I'd be shunned. How are you supposed to know when you're strange? Unless somebody tells you. And how do you know they're right? People keep telling me. You're unnatural. You're off your head. How do they know? What do they mean? What do they think I'll do?

After the hotel summer I went to the room with Jack. The room with the kitchen and bath. Then Jack went and I went to the room. Where I hadn't much to do, thank God. Those government cheques paid for it. I lay in bed listening to the relentless scuttle, thinking, I must get away from here. I wanted to get away. Jack went to Belize on a six-month military mission. He disappeared after four months and was not seen by me again. Later on I married a comparatively dull man and we talked about buying a dog.

n Carole Morin's novel, Dead Glamorous, is published by Gollancz