It isn’t really necessary for this story that I introduce myself. It is enough to say that I am white, male, middle aged (upper band), and fairly well off. In other words, I have no prejudices.
Well, perhaps one more detail is necessary. I live in a terrace house in a London suburb (it doesn’t matter which one), on a wide street just off the main road. The wideness of the street is very important, as it allowed the houses on either side to stand further apart than houses usually do. No conspirital Dickensian huddle for us, no, ours stood back and eyed each other up, not quite suspiciously as a plain clothes policeman eyes up a group of hooded teenagers, but more snootily, like a housewife eyes up another housewife that she suspects of baking better chocolate brownies than her, that sort of thing. You know the type.
This arrangement allowed me, nightly, to view the house directly across the street in its entirety, without leaving my burgundy imitation-leather sofa, and to that we owe our story. These people you see, they weren’t really curtain people, not old enough I suppose for the soft cosiness of blackout. Nor were they turning-the-lights-off people, not quite young enough for the warm glow of environmental righteousness, the result being that, night after night, from the first hushings of twilight to the yawns of bedtime, the three eyes of the building (living room, master bedroom and box room) tended to blaze merrily like a landing strip, pulling in anyone that happened to glance towards them. Practically an invitation.
I never spoke to them, but I got to know their evening incarnations pretty well by sight. I saw Her once outside of the house, waiting for a bus on the main road, but the bright light and damp air didn’t do her justice, and made her look all wan, almost ugly. At home she was lovely. She had hair of the old type, shoulder length with natural waves and a flaxen gold glossiness, like dolls hair, particularly beautiful when side-on, reflecting the artificial hum of the father-and-son light that she did the crossword by, and almost green later on, in the blue TV haze. You just don’t get hair like that these days. As for her face, I could make out the roundedness of her cheeks (you could barely see her cheekbones!) and the contrary pointiness of her dear chin, but that was all. I curse whatever fate put me too far away to fix the colour of her eyes! I know now of course that I should have made more effort to get a telescope or binoculars, told the home help that I wanted to the at birds in the trees opposite or something of the sort: but I didn’t know then that I would have such little time. Given her colouring, her milk-and-honey paleness, I think the eyes must have been blue, but green was always a tantalising possibility; in warm lights her hair looked almost reddish, and she might have had Irish blood in her, after all.
As for Him, he was far less interesting. I never worked out what it was that he did, exactly, but he was usually half-suited, usually seated, and to me usually in profile. She didn’t half run around after him, poor dear, constantly flitting back and forth between living room and kitchen to feed his grossnesses, bags of crisps, pork scratchings, instant coffee, larger. Personally I always drink wine (red, doctors orders), and many a night I’d recline and sip my way through a good claret while he slouched over beer after beer, laughing at the TV (can you call it laughing? I couldn’t hear, but every now and then his body would shudder in what looked like one large, chesty “Humph”, which I took to signal amusement though I guess it could easily have been indigestion).
Needless to say, I gained much entertainment from watching them, so that in the end I was almost sorry…but I get ahead of myself. They were both out for most of the day, leaving well before I got up. She came home at about 4pm, usually with shopping bags, on foot, and promptly disappeared into the kitchen, which was just beyond the living room and thus (alas) out of my sight. I assume she made dinner in that missing time, for there was always a hot meal produced from stage right at about 5pm, when He came noisily home, in the car (red Honda), radio blasting like some boy racer, doors slamming. There was a small table at the back of the living room, meaning that I usually ate with them, largely envying their home cooked food as I huddled and shuddered over my delivered meals (except, of course, on liver-and-onions Mondays, at which time I blessed the fifty yard distance between myself and their table). After dinner, the plates of which She invariably scrubbed clean, She would be allowed to watch the soaps until eight o’clock, at which time the TV became His domain and She was relegated to her sofa corner and the crossword. They had tea and biscuits (which She made) at around 9. Then She would go to bed first, and He would join her (when she was fast asleep, let us hope) an hour or so later.
Those bedtimes – perhaps those I remember clearest of all. With the lights on, and the anonymous black screen of the window reflecting only oneself, one may be forgiven for believing the outside world to be as sleepy, as warm and inattentive as you, as safe as, say, the familiar friendly face of the mirrored wardrobe. Nevertheless she was self-conscious, unwilling like so many women to face the ruin of their own body, and so was never entirely naked except (I presume) in showers. First pulling off her jumper and unclasping her white bra, a precious few seconds exposed her small teardrop breasts to the mirrors before the blue cotton of a nightdress enveloped them, at which stage the trousers, usually jeans, could be wiggled out of, with never more than a teasing flash of pink thigh before the curtain fell. Some nights she would cautiously approach the mirror, making grimacing faces at it as she stretched the thin material over her stomach with both hands and let it fall again, before sitting at the frilled dressing table and removed her jewellery (which she wore too much of), and her make-up. All this time her husband sat downstairs and, I could see, never moved, never lifted a damn finger, in the blue TV twilight. Sat there as a stranger watched his wife undress. Sat there as she lowered her head to the dressing table and quietly sobbed before banishing both tears and make-up to the same Kleenex. Then she briskly, cruelly shut the curtains and went to bed.
There were petty variations, of course. There was that night that they went out after dinner and didn’t come back till 2am, at which point needless to say I was on my third bottle of claret and half mad with pacing, with the result that I was forced to spend the next couple of days in bed in a room that faced the back; though I did have the consolation that they were clearly not speaking on their return. Then there were some nights when He would move from TV to PC when she went to bed and no doubt looked at dirty pictures while his wife cried in the bedroom. His stupidity was unbearable, and sometimes we sat up late into the night, I staring at Him, He staring at one screen or another, ignorant, grunting, barely wishing to be otherwise. If I plotted, it was only the human thing to do, and I dedicated hundreds of those night-hours to the problem of freedom, of how to kill the dragon without harming sleeping beauty in the process. Fire was out of the question of course: any flame that could take Him enough unawares could only entrap her further, and while suffocation was a possible release (she would cough quietly in her sleep, poor thing, turn over and finally away) it was by no means what I had in mind. And firearms weren’t possible, distant as I was, even if I had one, which I didn’t, not in the house at least. Something with the car, perhaps, a severed break-line to severe a life-thread, but that was also unsafe, as she sometimes would take the car for the day and it was by no means predictable (as far as I could tell) which days they would be.
And so for a time we lived quite cosily together, in our shared loathing. I could tell that she loathed him as much as I did, as indeed who wouldn’t. There were little clues, the quality of her dinners fell drastically (he complained), and it was only with reluctance that she rose to bring the biscuits, which were no longer the best biscuits, in the evening. And there would be longer and longer between her going to bed and Him joining her, more night-hours in which to plot and plot and plot.
But despite my close watching, she managed to surprise me. It was as if something of my plotting had been communicated to her, some little brain spark that flicked over the fifty yards between us and made her suddenly conscious of me. I always felt that she was somehow conscious of me, took comfort from my presence. Believe it or not, it was her that came up with the answer. One night, after changing into nightwear (I remember, that night had involved a particularly long self-examination by mirror and, unforgettably, the raising of her nightdress to see her pink-knicker-enclosed bottom), she sat down at the dressing table as usual but instead of continuing to disrobe, she sat and sat for some minutes. Then she opened the draw to her right, took out a little bottle, and placed it on the table. It was brown, and until she shook out two tiny ruby-coloured pills it didn’t occur to me what it was. At first my heart leapt and I clutched dramatically at my throat; you see, I thought that they were for her. How I underestimated my darling! Wrapping herself in a fluffy navy dressing gown that usually hung on the back of the bedroom door (I had thought it was His) she disappeared an agonizing few minutes and reappeared, unexpectedly, in the living room with a cup of tea. He had been feeling unwell, poor dear.
I knew then that the pills, sweet little bullets, were dissolved in that tea. He took it gratefully, and I was perched on the edge of my seat as I watched Him sip it down, grossly as was everything He did, slobbering on the dainty rim. My ingenious love had gone back upstairs, to bed, and I eagerly kept my eyes on him, waiting for a reaction, anything to confirm what I had seen. But of course, she was too careful, the poison too subtle, for anything like that.
He started to go to bed earlier and earlier. No sooner had she brought Him his tea, beautifully laced, then He gulped it down, switched off the TV and went upstairs. There were a few days where I lost sight of Him; a persistent chest cold confined me my bedroom for a space of three days. But when I came back I found that the pills had made fast progress. There was even a day when He didn’t go to work at all, but pottered around the house and (I assume) the garden, looking fragile and forlorn. And every evening there were the red pills, and the cup of tea. I could have danced for joy, had my health allowed it, and it was that night that I decided to move my bedclothes to the sofa, in order not to miss a single thing. Since then I haven’t moved, except to visit the bathroom and answer the door to the home help who needless to say tutted exasperatingly at the new arrangements but was eventually persuaded to humour the whims of a sick man.
If only I could end my story there! For the truth is, I cannot certainly end it, though I can assume, and as I trust her I do assume. He must have found out, or guessed, what she was doing. There was one evening a blazing row that, for all I strained my hearing, I couldn’t make out the words of, only the accusatory tones on both sides. It ended by her running up to the bedroom and flinging herself onto the dressing table. After sobbing for a few minutes, she opened the draw and, taking out the little bottle, emptied the pills, all of them, into her fist like a cluster of jewels or the ripe flesh of a pomegranate. But then, possibly seeing at the last moment the stupidity of her plan, she fell down again in fresh sobs, and it took all my self-control not to throw off the bedclothes and run to her, oxygen-tank and all. Before long, thankfully, she got up and went to bed.
But, horror of horrors, the next day the For Sale sign went up. If I had had that firearm I would have shot both Him and the smug salesman that erected it, right in the middle of her rose bed. But I didn’t, and so I simply lay down and cried into my pillow like a sick child. It takes all my strength to continue to record this. When she came home that day she stood looking at the sign for ten full minutes, and I could tell from the rising and falling of her shoulder blades that she knew I was there, and mourned as I did.
The sale was quick. Within four weeks (oh how his health visibly and tantalisingly declined in that time!) For Sale had turned to Sold and the packing begun. In what seemed like no time at all, an afternoon came when she stood outside, directing three hairy men in the art of handling her furniture. Out came the armchair in which He had sat night after night. Out came the TV and the father-and-son lamp. All that stayed was the mirrored wardrobe (in-built) that stared at me sadly from the exposed and humiliated bedroom, lying numbly as I was on my leather sofa. My breathing was weak that day, and I dared not get up though I longed to finally say something to her, a neighbourly show of goodwill that would secretly (we were always so secret) acknowledge my pain, give some sort of sign for her to let me know, when it was all finished. But I couldn’t. And before long the van, carrying everything I held dear, was pulling out of the driveway, and after it their red Honda, Him driving, Her in the passenger seat. Yet one comfort remained for me. As the car sped up, she…did she? Yes, she turned, caught my eye, and (desperate girl) waved at me! And I understood. He would be dead within a week.
That was two weeks ago. I am getting rather weak, and I notice that the home help has started coming every day instead of three times a week like usual. But I wrote this so that they will know, when they come for me, that she meant to come, and will come before long. I hope I can stay here long enough for her to find me. She will come. You know whom to blame if she doesn’t. I know that she will come.