Saturday, 27 November 2010

FLYING AWAY

The house was empty, but for the fly trapped in the kitchen. It flew across the middle of the room, and then swung a left turn, diagonally back and then diagonally back again, stopping just short of the rooms perimeter, as if it was protected by an invisible force. Then, as if controlled by a Kamikaze mind, it dive bombed into the window, again and again and again. It slide down the window and rested for a few minutes. The morning summer sun was beaming its heat through the glass, warming the small room, and creating new noxious perfumes from last nights breakfast bowl.

A small, blue patterned bowl stood on the wooden breadboard, alter; saluting the sun. The creamy, full-fat milk congealed with the cornflakes radiated an acrid odour that clings at the back of the throat.  

The fly recovered and made use of the delectable feast.

It wasn’t that it was a dirty house, far from it, if the fly would relocate to another room, it would find floral fragrances from potpourri bowls placed at strategic points, so as to catch the slight draft from air vents and open windows. At present, the only open window was in the bathroom upstairs which was never shut, whatever the weather. Usually the wooden Venetian blind was shut to keep the sun out and the breakfast pots were washed and left on the drainer, but this was a different scene.

He’d rushed out of the house at nine o’clock last evening, following the disturbance in the yard minutes before. He’d pulled the blind up to see what the noise was, and just caught an instant frozen image of a fox. Both were equally surprised to see the other, and neither seemed to want to move, as if they were competing in a ‘stare off’. The fox appeared to burn like embers in a dying fire, in the low evening sun. He turned respectfully and trotted off through the hole in the broken fence. Distracted by the scene, he realised he had strayed from his routine and would be late if he didn’t leave now; hence the present state of the kitchen.

A loud, metallic, sharp collision from a spring recoiling preceded a thud and a faint fluttering. A slight ripple in the air released a welcoming perfume in the entrance hall. On the doormat lay a small parcel wrapped in brown paper and string, surrounded by colourful junk mail confetti, and three letters. Some details were visible only on the parcel which read, Mr A. Stephenson, Hawthorn House.
Footsteps on the concrete slabs halted at the door, keys rattled in the lock, and the postman’s gift moved aside to make way for a man. He stood still for a moment as he noticed the parcel. A long dark shadow entered the hallway in front of him as the sun cast his negative onto the Victorian tiles, and the stain glass window above haloed a technicoloured image in the gloomy space. He gathered the parcel, letters and junk and locked himself in, hung up his Berghaus jacket on a hook and placed the objects neatly on the sideboard.

He was a tall man at six-foot-five and appeared clumsy with his slim build, all arms and legs and slow gait. Observers assumed him to be slow and simple; where in fact he was a quietly knowledgeable man. He was dressed in a navy blue uniform consisting of a heavy cotton trousers and shirt under which he wore a white t-shirt. The yellow insignia on the right breast pocket displayed two equilateral triangles, one under the other with the bases nearly touching. This represented ‘Kite Couriers’, a parcel sorting and distribution service, where the man had been working for the past twelve years. He liked his job; the routine of working nights, its predictability. Written in yellow on the opposing pocket was his name and job title; Aubrey Stephenson, Security Guard.

Aubrey went into the kitchen to get a glass of water to take up to bed, and coughed at the immediate smell. Realising what it was, his arms seemed to lengthen as his shoulders slumped in dismay. He was impatient now as this undone task would mean a delay in him falling asleep, and thus spending less time with Mary Duncan, the woman of his dreams. Aubrey managed to calm down enough to prevent carnage in the sink, and washed and dried the pots and cutlery in no time. The fly had gone unnoticed until he left the kitchen, and walked down the hall past the sideboard on the way up the stairs. It landed on the grandfather clock and remained still, giving Aubrey the opportunity to find a weapon with which to strike the annoying creature. The junk mail was within easy reach, so Aubrey put out his hand while keeping his eyes firmly on the fly but was thwarted by his frustrations and knocked the parcel onto the floor,  warding the fly to unintentional safety.

Aubrey sighed heavily with his shoulders and tired breath. He left the parcel where it landed by the doormat and wandered wearily to his bed. He was considering forgoing a shower until he remembered it was mid week, so he could look forward to his freshly applied bedding. Smiling at the thought and thinking of Mary, he stripped off and showered.

The bedside radio read in green neon, eight-fifteen. Not too far behind schedule he thought and took a sip of water and placed the glass back down on his dog-eared copy of The Art of Dreaming. He nestled himself on to his left side away from the window, into a semi-foetal position, and thought that it wouldn’t take long till he was in REM. He shut is eyes and breathed rhythmically, to help induce sleep.

Aubrey never used to dream, he thought, or at least never seemed to recall any, except those nightmares that all children keep hidden in the basement of their minds. The door was often prised open by psychologists, or nailed shut by a hypnotherapist. Aubrey had chosen the latter for the childhood incident. He didn’t recall the exact date he realised he’d started dreaming again; or rather started remembering them, but like the changing of the seasons, the subtly grew into certainty. Aubrey became a happy man once again.

And now he was dreaming.

‘Look for your feet. Look for your feet. Look for your feet.’
‘I can see my feet…I’m awake.’

He looks around at his new environment, which waxes and wanes, and with a rush of energy he’s catapulted into…

‘Oh, that funny pain in my eye again. It feels like someone’s stabbed my eyeball with a pin. It’s almost blinding.’

‘Hadn’t you better see a doctor about that? You don’t want to crash the mini bus at work with all those old folk in, do you?’

‘No, I suppose not. Am sure it’s nothing. It’s only for a split second, anyway and it’s not all the time is it?’

‘Well, every Wednesday when you pick me up your hand goes up to your left eye and you’re complaining about those pins. And, it’s about this time too, about eight-forty-five.’

‘You’re right. How weird. What are you laughing at?’

‘I’m waiting for you to tell me you can hear voices next.’

‘Oh shut up Julie. Are we off into town then or …?’

‘Town. The weatherman says it’ll be a fine day.’

Sarah is such a funny girl. I love their Wednesday weekly trips out together, like Thelma and Louise. I’m glad I managed to catch them in the car. Now I can see Mary looking in the rear view mirror. Mary Mary Mary. I never see all of her face, just the eyes or her mouth, never the whole picture; much like a fractured Picasso image. She’s older than her sister whose face I see clearly, but from my impressions, they aren’t much alike. I see what she sees and follow her every move like one of her lost sheep. I wish I could speak to her but so far it’s never happened.

She’s parking up now and they’re off; probably to Café Royale. They always start Wednesday’s with a coffee and a muffin, despite having had their breakfasts. If the lightings right today I might get a glimpse of her in the reflection of the window or at least a smudged one.

What is that? I can feel something on my face. Damn. That fly’s going to wake me up.

‘Oh, my ear. I thought I heard a buzzing noise.’

Aubrey woke up confused as to the time and place he was in. The clock stated it was nearly ten o’clock. He was disappointed to find himself awake. He’s not worried about falling asleep again, that’s easy, but he may have to wait another week to see Mary. If he wanted to he could drive into town, to the café, but he thought that’s too much like stalking. Admittedly, when he first started dreaming about Mary he felt more a peeping Tom than an innocent observer of these real characters. It started off as a new kind of entertainment for him like channel hopping, and then he tuned into the regular visitors that he now sees.

When he goes back to sleep he’ll be spending time with Mavis’s canary, Colin, named after her dog who died. Her family thought the bird would be a good substitute as she no longer walked long distances anymore, and that wouldn’t be fair on a new dog, they said.

Aubrey was dreaming again.

There’s nothing much going on here at the moment. The Jeremy Kyle Show’s on full blast and Mavis is asleep in her recliner chair. Colin seems to be acting a bit weird today though. It’s almost like he wants to get out of his cage, all that fluttering and hopping he’s doing, and he’s not taking his eyes off Mavis. He’s more frantic now, squawking, trying to get Mavis’s attention I think.

A spotty face comes up from nowhere, a girl with badly applied makeup, laughing and hissing, and shaking the cage stand now. She looks behind her at Mavis who is still asleep, and then her pierced tongue pokes out the corner of her mouth in concentration as she unlocks Colin’s door. She races to all the internal doors of the flat and kicks them shut with her booted foot and grabs her stomach as she rushes to the window; it’s a battle between opening the window impeded by fits of laughter. She opens the cage but Colin backs away from the chubby, yellow stained fingers.

‘Get out! Get out, you dumb bird. Fly away home, Tweetie Pie.’

She grabs Colin and I can feel his panic as she squeezes a little too tight. She drops him to the floor and pushes him around with the toe of her black boot. Colin looks at her but remains still. His eyes follow her to Mavis who remains still. As he scans the area I notice two hearing aids at the bottom of the fish tank.

I know you can’t hear me Colin, but I’d get out of there if I were you.

He’s looking at her and rousing now, flapping his wings and taking off, flying round her head and out the window, knocking off a few feathers in the process.

Oh my goodness. I can hardly talk. I know something bad has just happened Colin, but this is the best feeling in the world. FLYING.

As Aubrey enjoyed his new dream experience, the fly navigated into the bathroom crashing into the frosted glass as a yellow feather floated through the window and rested in the sink.

SILVER LADY

Despite my early Friday finish I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be putting my feet up this afternoon.


I’d got home from the office, parked up, and glanced at the adjoining house. The heavy wall to ceiling velvet curtains remained in their ever ready position, open and guarding, like two regimented soldiers. The pristine, white, lacy net curtains moved as if touched by a ghostly hand, and then raised up to reveal the artist behind the theatrical performance; Mr Roger Bruce, waving a piece of paper. His little round face beamed, as should his head but it never did. I thought all bald men had shiny heads, almost like it was compulsory, but he didn’t.

I told my husband, Derek, that I reckoned Roger had rummaged through his died wife’s belongings (when it was the right time), and stumbled upon a stash of compacts with shine control powder. He could have used a long handled powder puff to apply a liberal amount of the cornflower concoction to his noggin. In fact I recall commenting to Derek that Roger had a ‘makeup bag’ odour about him, and joked it was Jean’s ghostly aura lingering around her husband. She’d died before we moved in, four years ago, so we never knew her, though thanks to Roger we felt we now did.

Roger was at the door now, stood in the threshold, waving the paper at me like he was surrendering. It’s funny because he never set a foot out of the house, not even onto the steps until he’s changed from slippers to outdoor shoes. I waved to him in acknowledgement as I exited my silver Mini and opened the boot to gather the fruit and veg that had spilt out of their bags.

‘Hello,’ I said, walking up the steps to my house. I looked over the short hedge that divided the path up to the Victorian terrace and put the shopping down.

‘Hello Donna. Have you had a good day?’

‘Yes, thank you, Roger. How about you?'

‘Yes. I’ve been in the garden sorting out those weeds and repotting…’

‘Very good,’ I interrupted. Get to the point. I’m dying for a brew, I thought.

‘Sorry, I do veer off sometimes. Well I was potting up at the front, when the postman turned up. Not the usual one, the one in the delivery van, and you were out at work, obviously, and so I have a package for you.’ He gave me the delivery note he’d signed.

‘It’s a heavy thing you’ve got there. I don’t think I’ll be able to pass it over the hedge, plus it’s quite bulky packaging. Do you mind?’ he said stepping back and welcoming me with his arm.  

‘Yes of course. I’ll just pop these away,’ I said indicating to my shopping, ‘and then I’ll come right over.’

I can’t think what the package is. I’ve not been on Amazon for ages so it won’t be books. I pop the kettle on ready for a cup of tea.

Roger is right where I left him. I walked down my path, turned left into his. At his threshold I removed my shoes and popped on a pair of moccasins. He gave me his apologetic face which I remembered him showing me the first time I entered his house.

‘I’m sorry, but my wife insisted on this policy of outdoor shoes outside and indoor shoes indoors. I know she’s gone now but I just can’t bring myself to change that habit.’

Roger guided me into his front room where the package was lent on the side of the sofa. I’d forgotten how modern his house was. He’d totally refurbished his house after his wife’s death. He’d said he liked how I’d done ours and he wanted a fresh start to life. I remembered thinking that I’d hoped he wasn’t going to copy my style. He’d only wanted to borrow my design magazines he’d seen me throwing out. Actually, Roger had done a fine job. Café latte walls and brown leather sofa set, plain carpet and a complementing rug in front of a chrome fire. A few bright art pieces on the wall, cupboards and shelves finished off the room. I never paid attention before when he’d invited me for an inspection; I was distracted by deadlines.

‘Here it is. I was trying to figure out what it might be,’ he said as I went to lift it. It was heavy and would have been manageable but for the packaging.

‘I think I might have to open it here, if that’s okay.’

Roger rubbed his hands together like a giddy school child receiving a gift. His eyes lit up as he went into a kitchen draw and returned with a pen knife and a black bag.

‘After you,’ I said and let him unravel the parcel. 

He cut the plastic cords and wound them up tight; securing it with tape he produced from his waistcoat fob pocket and dropped it into the bag. Next he prised open the flaps and opened the tall upright rectangular part like a door, and revealed a similar but slightly smaller shape disguised under layers of bubble wrap and brown tape. Roger pricked a bubble with the knife and jumped at the sudden sharp sound and turned to me as if to gauge my reaction. Another time I would have readily popped the wrap but he was eager to see the prize and I felt uncomfortable getting a cheap thrill in Roger’s front room. I indicated with open palms for him to continue.

He scored the brown tape artfully and peeled off layer after layer after layer. The object was now a third of the size. Roger lifted the rectangular object from the protected nest and laid it on several cushions on the sofa. He kneeled down and continued with his task as I stood over as foreman.

‘It’s still a weight. Could be a finely framed painting,’ he said much to himself.

The last of the bubble wrap came off leaving some generous layers of white tissue paper. Roger stood up inviting me to reveal the object. I tore the paper gently down the middle like two curtains and pulled them apart. I jumped back startled for a moment at the pale determined face looking at me between the tissue paper. It was me; my reflection. Pulling back the paper further showed off the silver frame. It was a posterior relief of a naked woman, stood on tip-toe holding onto a branch, as she leaned back holding the back of her head. A veil draped off her arms and shoulders to the ground. The tree moulded round from the right of the frame showing off some of its bloom, as roots and branches reached out to the left, framing the bottom and top of the mirror. I lifted it up and rested it carefully on my right hip as if it were a small child.

‘This,’ I said, ‘is Great- Aunt Hilda’s mirror. Something I always admired as a child. I would spend ages in the summer when we’d stay over wondering who the naked woman was.’

‘What a fine example of Art Deco. I’m right, aren’t I?’

‘Yes. It belonged to her mother; a wedding gift, I think. I don’t know how I’d forgotten about this, even after hearing about her sudden death. Fit as a fiddle in her late nineties and then she was found dead in bed.’

‘I’m sorry. It’s a blessing though, in her sleep.’

‘Oh yes.’

I looked across at the rubbish and suggested I returned to tidy it up after taking the mirror home, but Roger insisted I find the perfect place for it at once.

‘I’d like to see it hung, if you don’t mind. You know, see it up on the wall in a setting; appreciate it beauty.’

‘Of course you can,’ I replied, understanding his sentiment.

At home I placed the mirror in the armchair so that it sat cradled by the left arm.

‘Cup of tea first and the shopping away,’ I said patting the frame.

I had started a new tradition to cook something new from my many cook books, every Friday and if it was successful, incorporate it into my monthly menu schedule. Today I’d chosen gammon poached in cider with clove and mustard glaze followed by fruit crumble and vanilla ice cream. According to the recipe, after preparation, I had approximately two hours and twenty minutes, plenty of time to find a place for the mirror.

Everything had a place in my house. If it was bought by Derek and me it was chosen with a lot of thought as to how it would fit in with other objects and the black and white art deco theme. Of course Great-Aunt Hilda’s mirror was perfect. I stood in the living room and turned full circle. I never did like mirrors above fires for obvious reasons but they always seemed perfect there.

Opposite the fire place was the open arch of the hallway leading right to the front door and left to the kitchen and backrooms. There was a copy of Hopper which I loved but was always unsure of its location there. I took it down and replaced it with the mirror. The atmosphere seemed to change instantly as if the mirror had come home to rest.

Wafts of gammon and cider entered the hall on the slight air current and dispersed in the main room. I went to the cupboard under the sink for a yellow dust cloth and Mr Sheen. I dry dusted the silver form and polished the smudged glass. When I looked in the mirror my mind wondered about the many faces that had been reflected there and the many different rooms that the bare, silver lady could have gleamed.

‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall, when will Genie come to call?’ I laughed at the chant I used to sing as a child when I was given the task of cleaning it.
I refocused and looked at myself and saw I had an onion skin stuck in my fringe. As l leaned towards the mirror to remove it a shadow seemed to dart behind me. I spun round but saw nothing. I walked through the arch but again, nothing. I shrugged and looked back in the mirror and teaselled my Pre-Raphaelite hair before the aroma reminded me I needed to check on the food.

A little while later, after washing the pots, I opened up an extra bottle of cider I’d bought and enjoyed this rare treat; I usually drank wine. I put my feet up on the kitchen chair and leafed through a magazine. Engrossed in the gossip, I was startled by a heavy crash and clinking of glass, as if something had fallen. I knew it wasn’t the mirror, that would have knocked off several ornamental figurines from the sideboard underneath and probably break the Tiffany lamp in the process.

I wasn’t going to get up as all was now silent and it was probably outside anyway. I then became aware of an overpowering scent of blossom and a soft quick padding sound across the oak floor in the hall. I got up and went to investigate and gasped at the vision. There were pink petals covering the floor leading through the arch to the living area. I followed the trial and picked up a white shimmering veil, discarded on the back of the leather chair.

‘Derek?’ I called.

I spun round at a noise coming from the archway. The mirror reflected my shocked expression as I saw a silver hand cover my sight and felt it’s coldness on my eyes. An icy breath whispered mockingly, my husband’s name, in my ear.

‘Genie?’ I asked.

A chilling hand covered my mouth as I dared to question my tormentor.

We froze as keys turned in the lock.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

CHANGE OF SCENE


Emily, forty-eight, have-a-go-hero, unwittingly foils robbery plans of a notorious gang who plotted against our historical village post office. Local councillor and city mayor presents unassuming office worker, with a cheque for five hundred pounds for her gritty nerve, at the town hall.

‘What exactly did you do to foil the plans of the ruthless gang?’

‘I was waiting for the number ninety-two bus home from town, outside the Soup

Spoon pub. I could hear raised voices coming from the air vent in the cellar. The road was quiet, you see, because of the heavy rain earlier; most people hadn’t ventures out yet.

‘So what did you hear?’

‘Everything. I took out my note pad that I always carry with me and recorded their conversation in short hand. I gave it straight to the police the next morning, you see, I wanted to get home to see Harry, my dog.’

I sigh. If only this were true. Nothing remotely exciting happens to me. I get up, walk the dog, have breakfast, go to work, come home, walk the dog, have tea, watch T.V, go to bed, get up…so on, and so forth. Emily Stead’s conveyor belt life, going round and round, with me wanting to jump off and experience another whirl, maybe like a Ferris wheel or the waltzers. I can imagine the latter being an adrenaline rush and the former a little less sedate than my own.

I sigh. I’m in the park with Harry, my Jack Russell, sat on the bench next to the butterfly garden. Anyone observing me now, will know; if they’d being surveying me for months; the exact detail of my every move.

It’s Thursday. It’s summer. It’s ten minutes past eight. Every eight o’clock finds me entering the park, past the car park, towards the playground and the benches by the butterflies. I let Harry run around on the retractable lead for ten minutes and then I sit down and observe the parks members, and pet my dog.

Most days I wear my trademark wraparound dress, cardigan and flat shoes. I do a lot sighing, and pondering about how I can change the predictability of my life. Sometimes I bring a book with me but it always stays in my handbag as I feel too self conscious about reading out in the open air. It’s as if I might get too comfortable on the bench and then scratch my bottom, forgetting where I am. I’ve brought Jane Eyre with me today and it’s well worn after years of rereading; I never tire of this favourite of mine; of her story.

Harry sits patiently by my feet, eager for another round of exercise. I take off my glasses and rummage in my bag for some lens wipes. They don’t need a clean really but it gives me something to do. As I’m indulging in this mundane task, I over hear a brief conversation, as a couple walk along a path high up behind me, towards the lake.

‘What’s that word when you keep saying you’re going to do things but you keep putting it off? Well that’s what you do. I’m sick of it. We are going to do it today. We’ll feel so much better, just you see,’ she said. ‘Come on, say something,’ she encouraged.

‘You’re right. If we just take the plunge we’ll find tomorrow will be much easier. Yes, we’ll do it today. We haven’t been married all these years for us to be tied down like this,’ he said. They trundled past, partly camouflaged in the noises of nature and the far off engine of the plane passing overhead.

I wonder what they’ve decided. I really wanted to turn around but I didn’t want to appear nosey. I bet he’s been procrastinating about moving to Spain as part of their retirement plan. She sounded all for it but had to wait for him to realise it was a good idea.

I should take I little of their courage on board and live a little myself. I’ll make a list of all the things I long to do and just do it. Tomorrow I’ll make an appointment at a hair salon and maybe get some makeup tips and style advice from that department store, too. But I must start with something today.

‘Right, come on Harry.’ I yank at the lead and inadvertently knock him off his feet. He looks up surprised but happy for more exercise, more fun.

‘Do you know? We’re going round the lake today. I know we usually do this on a weekend but I think we could both do with a little change, what do you say?’

I feel good with this new mental attitude and I can actually feel my body relaxing some. Small steps for big changes; that will be my motto. See, even I get a smile back in return from those kids, unless they are humoured by my gawky appearance. No, take it as it is. I smiled and they smiled back. Harry yelps with excitement and rallies between running ahead and patrolling my side. This is good exercise. I don’t know why I don’t do it everyday. It’s a generous walk round the lake which I usually save for our weekend treat. I wonder how far round it is.

We pass mums with pushchairs going the opposite way, in twos and threes, chatting about the latest theories in child rearing. Joggers glide by from all directions in various colours and attachments of water bottles and iPods. There is the odd cyclist and some elderly gentlemen with sticks, taking their daily walk to boast about at the social club.

I let Harry go further ahead on the retractable lead and then he gets out of sight round a curved wall and encounters an obstacle in his path. A man and woman sit on a concrete bench guarding an elderly man in his wheelchair. They appear to be rocking him too and fro when Harry runs in front and gets his lead caught up in the front wheels. He sniffs at the man’s gloved hand and nudges it, leaving it to swing like a pendulum. The woman pulls the chair back abruptly and places the hand back on his lap. He almost appears unreal, like a Guy Fawkes dummy stuffed with newspaper. He seems overly dressed too for this type of weather, but I guess that the elderly do feel the cold, don’t they?

I apologise to the guardians and the man, as I untangle Harry from the chair, but he doesn’t respond or appear to acknowledge me under the wide brimmed hat. When I pat his shoulder, softly and reassuringly, he slumps sideways and a long, deep sigh escapes him.

‘He had a stroke,’ the man said flatly, grabbing his shoulder in a half hug, righting the man.

‘He liked dogs, though didn’t he?’ the woman stated, as if she is remembering how he was. She sniffs.

I apologise again as I shorten the lead and tug it sharply for their benefit. Harry looks up at me, cocking his head to one side, confused, and then trots off close by.

We just near the end of the circuit when a loud splash erupts, causing a flight of birds from the lake. I see a few in the air to start with, but they increase, creating a ripple effect as more and more birds exit the water. Wings beat hard and feet slap on the water, as birds race for space, squabbling as they go. I turn briefly looking up at the long necked beasts glowing white against the blue sky, remembering something my grandfather told me as a child, about swans mating for life. The disturbance subsides and the birds return to the water. Calm is resumed.

I notice an ice cream van and buy myself and Harry a small cone each to eat before we leave the park, eating it by the same bench. Harry doesn’t eat the wafer cone so I pick it up and throw it in the bin by the park map. There’s an abandoned wheelchair fully opened on its side, behind a tree, by the bins, with its large, left back wheel still spinning. I look around to see if I can see the owner, probably that couple left it; they can’t push it over the gravel.

A car reverses slowly creating a loud crunching noise, as rubber rolls over stone, in the sparse car park. I squint as I try to make out the passengers. As they drive off the convertible Beetle roof folds back to reveal two passengers; a man and a woman. She reaches out to the back seat and I think she is waving. I wave back involuntary, but she throws something out behind her.

Harry jumps up and I let out the lead for him to retrieve the discarded object. Harry brings it back, waving his tail at the familiar object. A glove. 

Saturday, 6 November 2010

GREEN DOOR

The woman over the road was painting her front door green. I like green, it’s my favourite colour. All calming and natural and neutral; this door was none of these. Of all the shades she could have chosen, her ageing eyes homed in on apple green; too vivid a tone for this conservative street. It cried out, Granny Smith lives here.

I always found Mrs Dailey an oddity. Like clockwork, I’d open up the roller blind and there she’d be, waving her Ken Dodd duster at me from her bedroom window. I had assumed, at first, she was dusting round the window pane and then finishing off by zig-zagging over the glass, like she was waving a wand. But no, she was in fact waving hello to me. Not only that, she’d wind up that taught grin of hers; all teeth, bright white against that red lipstick. She looked like a ventriloquist dummy.

The door looked like the football pitch on my Uncle Arthur’s T.V. We went round last Thursday, as we do every week, to have tea with him. We had a few cans and watched the semi-final of the UEFA game; Russia v. Spain. He kept adjusting the contrast and colour, so the pitch was humming a glorious green fluorescent anthem. It started to give me one of my ‘heads’, so we had to go. Luckily, we live five minutes walk away, so Brian didn’t miss much of the match.

I shouted over to Brian who was making breakfast; it smelled like coffee and toast.

‘Come and see what Mrs Dailey’s doing, and what she’s got on.’

‘Okay, I’m coming,’ he replied, sounding annoyed at being rushed.

He put down two mugs of coffee; one milky and sweet and the other Audie Murphy strong.

‘Have we time warped back to the forties, or something?’

Mrs Dailey was dressed in blue-grey overalls, with a black belt tied tight round her thick waist; black boots, and a headscarf tied up in a knot on the front of her forehead.

‘She looks like one of those land girls,’ said Brian, kneeling down on the sofa as he peered out of the window. The forties costume was fitting against the backdrop of red brick terraces.

The smell of burning toast stopped our voyeurism.

‘I knew I should have stopped in there till it was done,’ said Brian, rushing off.

‘You know that toaster’s temperamental. Does burnt toast increase our carbon footprint?’

‘Very funny. That’s the last of the bread. Shall we have pancakes; we’ve got flour, eggs and plenty of milk?’

‘Yeah, that sounds great,’ I said, clapping my hands together like a little, giddy child.

‘She must have been up early, because she’s doing the job properly. She’s even sanded down the old paint. Why on earth has she chosen that colour?’

‘Do you think she’s colour blind?’ Brian called out.

‘I reckon she’s been researching for operation Porto de Verde, by watching those do-it-up programmes, and those property developing shows I like.’

‘She won’t be selling up, do you think?’

‘I really don’t think so, Brian. She’s lived here forever, hasn’t she? Remember when we moved in six months ago and the previous owners said there’d been a lot of house moves in the street.’

‘Yeah. And Mrs Dailey had lived there, in the middle of the street, since anyone could remember.’

‘Maybe she’s trying to….Is she coming over?’

Mrs Dailey turned round abruptly as if she was being watched; which she was, and looked in our direction. I wondered if she knew we were gate crashing on her ritualistic method of painting. I noticed it first. She dipped the red handled brush into the pot three times, wiped the excess paint on the rim and applied the green colour like she was playing tennis. Dip, dip, dip; left, right, left, right; down up, down up, down up. I felt quite absorbed by it till she turned round and looked directly at us. She placed the brush across the rim of the pot and walked over with her hands raised up like a surgeon prepped for theatre.

‘She’s coming over. What does she want?’

I opened the door to a serious looking face. She looked smaller than I thought, close up.

‘Sorry to disturb you dear, but I wondered if I could ask a favour of you? You see, I have a Yale lock and when I pulled the door shut to check the contrast of the door within the door frame, I realised I hadn’t put the catch on.’

‘Oh, you’ve locked yourself out?’

‘Yes, but that’s not the problem. The key is in my pocket, and I wondered if you could retrieve it for me. You being a girl, like myself, it won’t be too embarrassing a favour? Would it?’ she said, with her head cocked to one side, pleading with her wide eyes and that toothy grin.

I looked at her hands, still raised in preparation for the operation. She was wiggling her fingers like she were playing an invisible flute. She followed my gaze to her hands and her mouth morphed into an ‘o’.

‘Oh. I can’t possibly get paint on these overalls, dear; they’re new. Can you imagine walking about with hand prints on your posterior?’

Brian sniggered and rushed into the kitchen.

‘I hope I’m not disturbing you.’

‘Not at all. Please step in and I’ll get the keys for you.’  

I wished Mrs Dailey had bought a larger pair of overalls and then I wouldn’t feel like I was about to entrap my hand in her back pocket. It was a brief experience and less embarrassing than I thought, after all, I was doing a neighbourly deed.

‘Thank you so much,’ she said, walking out the door and over the road to her house.

‘You’ve forgotten you key, Mrs Dailey.’

‘You will have to open to door for me, dear.’

She waited obediently as I hopped about putting my trainers on. Brian whispered, loud enough for me to hear, for me to have a nosey in her house. I opened the green door and Mrs Dailey nudged me in with her elbow, indicating for me to go into the kitchen.  I looked down at my feet as they made a rustling sound on Sunday’s broad sheets, laid out like stepping stones. I looked straight ahead as I sensed her eyes at the back of my skull burning, and daring me to waver. The layout of the house so far was like our own, so I could have done it blind folded.

‘Under the sink, there’s a tub of Swarfega,’ she was stony faced this time. ‘The other one, dear. That’s Bernie’s aches in there.’

I put in on the draining board and watched her methodically clean the paint off her hands. I discreetly manoeuvred into the doorway of the lounge, and had to give it a double take.  I scanned the room and what appeared to be ornaments, were stood in there ordinary places, but wrapped in bubble wrap. A quick turn to the right and I could see Mrs Dailey still washing her hands. I walked in a little further to investigate. The table edges were wrapped in the stuff, the T.V cabinet, in fact anything with an edge, up to two-three feet from the ground up. I was tempted to accidentally collide into the coffee table to pop a bubble, but I was worried about how Mrs Dailey would react.

Back in the kitchen she was hard at it cleaning her hands. I coughed a few times to get her attention but she seemed not to hear me, and calling her name didn’t help either. All the while she cleaned her hands in a ritualistic manner. After five minutes I concluded she may have some sort of compulsive disorder, and the bubble wrap issue in the lounge reinforced my concerns.

Then she spoke, and I was almost transported out of my body. I imagined my astral being ricocheting off the padded bookcase, with a popping, gunfire-like sound from my impact. I jumped round, startled to find Mrs Dailey stood directly behind me. She looked up, grinning with a secret.

‘I bet you’re wondering about the plastic wrapping, aren’t you? It’s poor Bernie. You’ve seen him under the sink. We were together a long time till he died six months ago. In fact I remember it was the day you moved in, because my sister Bessie commented on the irony as they drove him away down the street, and your removal van come up the other way. Out with the old and in with the new, she’d said.’  

‘I’m sorry. I’m sure you miss him a great deal.’

‘I do. I’m glad he’s safe. It’s a shame though, he was always outside enjoying nature, and that’s why I decided to paint the door green, in his memory you see. The blindness got him down in the end. He started bumping into the furniture, and then he was confined in doors. I came down one morning to find him curled up under the coffee table. He just looked like he was asleep; but he was dead.’

I gasped. ‘What was he doing under the table?’

‘He always slept there, dear.’

I was more than puzzled by her answer, though I really shouldn’t have been, having witnessed her behaviour and strange home.  

‘There he is look, with my Jefferson, just before his sight was failing him,’ she said, pointing to a photograph on the wall.

I looked at the man who appeared to be about my age. That can’t be her husband, surely?

‘He looks quite young, if you don’t mind me saying,’ I said, probing for answers.

‘Jeffy? He’s my grandson,’ she said, trying to guide me out of the house.  ‘He and Bernie were inseparable. Look there’s his lead on the coat hook; I’ll never remove it, you know. Thank you for your assistance, but I must get on,’ she said, dismissing me from my services, and shutting the green door behind me.