The House Across The Street
I was twelve years old when I first asked about the house across the street. My mother and father had moved to a new house several years before in the summer of 1999. It was a peaceful area. The kids would ride their bikes until the sun set while young couples would walk their dogs and elderly folk would embrace the warm weather. The postman would always wear a smile and the neighbours would call round with welcome and invites to local functions. We knew almost everyone within a year.
I made friends with the local children. We were young and full of energy without a care of when we would have to retire home. Our days were spent playing cricket and Frisbee while our parents sat in gardens, drinking wine and laughing of memories past. It was only until the fateful day when I stumbled across an old house that I began to question who lived there. Our neighbourhood was a modern delight. The houses were built with the finest brick and paintwork of the generation. This one however, was a crumbling mess of epic proportions. It looked dilapidated, broken and worn. The white paint was peeling in clumps while the weeds around the structure had been consuming it for years. The chimney had collapsed and the remains had not been cleared. It was a spectacle to be seen yet it couldn't be admired. I remember thinking at the time that it must be deserted, yet a lone light which shone through a murky window proved me wrong. A resident lived here.
As the years went on I used to walk past the house in the hope of getting a glimpse at the accommodator. Occasionally I would see a shadow glide past the lower floor window yet I could never see a face or any distinguishing features. The postman would regularly drop off letters but would never ring the bell. The milkman would do the same. I began to learn rapidly that this person never left the house. Shopping deliveries were made every week on Friday afternoons where a delivery man would leave a tray of items by the front door and leave without hesitation. They would stay there for the remainder of the day until nightfall came. By morning the shopping would be gone. It was a precise routine that seemed to continue and was never interrupted. No-one went in and no-one came out. Someone living there had a life though. They had a story to tell and I wanted to hear it.
By twelve I had become tired of trying to witness the resident for myself so I enquired to my parents. They were hesitant at first yet felt I was old enough to hear the tale. My mother brought me down to bed at the early hour of 9 p.m. This was early for me yet I knew the story would be far from short. She dimmed the light and brought the duvet to cradle me like a new born. After a deep breath and a loving smile, she began.
'When we all moved here three years ago, your father and I partook in many functions around town. We used to go to bake sales, charity balls and even church picnics. We had a wonderful time getting to know the locals. We would talk of your little antics as well as our hopes and dreams for the future. We wanted to know everybody and learn everything there was to know! One day we became just as curious as you are. We asked one of our friends whether we should call round to see the person who lived in the house across the street. We wanted to introduce ourselves you see. Although the house looked a bit pokey from the outside we were sure the resident would be a sweet elderly gentleman who simply lost his drive for maintance. However, our friend was very insistent. We were ordered to not visit whoever lives in that house. Obviously your father and I were slightly taken by surprise so we queried as to why such a rule applied. You see, this gentleman has rather a colourful backstory.
Back in his youth he was a bachelor of the finest kind. He would spend his days writing crime novels and indulging in evenings of respectable gambling and merriment. He was a good looking man. Women across town would look in admiration as he strolled through town with his finely tailored clothes, wearing a smile that would melt the hearts of others. He was a sight to be seen. He lived in the same house though it was much finer than what you see now. The garden would be a miraculous sight of colours and craft which passers-by would gaze at in awe as they walked their dogs and pushed their prams. His books became famous as he reached his late twenties. The eloquent blend of crime novella and character exploration was enough to land him a publishing deal which offered him more money than he could count. He pampered himself daily, getting fine clothes and body treatments. Women would be seen leaving his house at early hours of the morning wearing evening dresses and old make up. They were embarrassed yes but took pride in having spent an evening with such a fine bachelor.
As the years progressed he maintained the image he so desired. His garden still stood like Babylon while his house was quickly becoming the most attractive establishment on the street. It was only until the fateful day when he met a lady called Vera Potter when things started to change. Vera was a successful business woman and a very beautiful girl. They met at a casino where he bet almost two hundred pounds on a dice throw which somehow managed to work in his favour. She was impressed with his confidence and stature but most importantly his image. They spent the night together. A few days after, they were seen strolling in the park holding hands. Obviously this was a rare sight to be seen. It seemed he had found someone to settle down with at the ripe age of 29. The neighbours were thrilled to hear the news of how he had found love. After all, they seemed perfect for each other. He was a successful author while she excelled in business. It was a match made in heaven and everyone waited for the day when they would wed.
A year had passed and they had moved in together. They were not married yet but everyone recognised them as a couple. She had changed a few aspects of the house of course. The garden stood even more magnificent than before while the interior design was supposed to be a glorious sight to be seen. I would have loved a house like that! Your father and I went shopping the other day and we just can't get the colour blends right! Sorry, I'm getting side-tracked. So anyway, they were a great team. It was rumoured that around this time, Vera fell pregnant with a child. They never held any social events though. For such an outstanding house and cause for celebration you'd think they would show off but apparently not. The elderly couple who live next door used to call round occasionally to bring welcome and cheer but they rarely entertained. It seemed they didn't have the time for anyone.
One morning, Vera was seen leaving the house with a suitcase. Now, as you'll come to learn over the next few years; the people round here like to gossip. I don't know whether it's because they don't get any excitement from their own lives but it seems they're very interested in other people. Well, at the time everyone thought Vera had left him. It was a big suitcase you see and no-one had seen or heard from them in weeks! It was hinted for ages that they were having relationship troubles and it seemed she had finally had enough. It was only until the morning a few days after when a young girl was seen leaving his house in an evening dress when they knew for sure that Vera had left for good. He became a bachelor again. Almost every day for about two weeks a new girl was seen leaving his house. Things had gone back to the way they were!
Mrs Hoggart over the road was tending to her daisies one afternoon when who does she spot coming up the road but Vera! She was wheeling the same suitcase she had when she left and wearing a business suit with a hanging name tag. Obviously Mrs Hoggart was thrilled to see her. You know what she's like; you can never talk to her briefly can you? They caught up and talked about her garden and cats until Vera implied she was going to unpack and relax with the man she had left almost two weeks ago. Mrs Hoggart looked confused and startled. It was none of her business really yet she still felt the need to ask if they had got back together again. Vera laughed and informed her that in fact they had never split apart; she merely had gone to Thailand for a business conference. You see, the man who lives in the house across the street was having numerous affairs while Vera was away. He intended to get away with it too. Sadly for him, his neighbours were far too gossipy. Mrs Hoggart liked Vera and didn't want her to be fooled by such a lying rat so she told her everything. She listened with quiet patience without letting her emotions run wild. She was angry of course but it was brewing within her steadily. I imagine she was saving it for her confrontation with the man she loved.
What happened next is a somewhat mystery. Some say they argued until the sun came up. Some say she didn't return to the house at all but the story that seems most fitting goes like this. Remember, you can always stop me.
Vera returned to the house to find her lover cooking chips. He welcomed her with a smile and a kiss to which she accepted. He asked of her trip and she replied to every question obediently. Vera was taking an odd approach to confronting her cheating partner. It was only until he moved away from the deep fryer when she began to take action. She asked of his time while she was away. He innocently remarked having spent the time writing a new novel and tending to the garden. She laughed quietly as she moved her hand over the dripping fryer handle. You see, Vera loved everything about him but it was his looks which heightened her passion above everything else. She knew that if he didn't have his looks then she could walk away happy, knowing she would never return. She threw the scolding oil over his face. He cowered on the floor, crying a fit of pain as the intensity of the burn moulded and crushed his features. His flesh melted as he began a slow transformation that would change his life forever. Some say she laughed a hysterical fit of taunts as he knelt before her in agonising pain. He was no longer a man of image. His face was torn in orange and red while his hair was scathed off in patches. It was only until he muttered the only words he knew would save him. Under all the intensity of the pain and the fight for survival he still managed to muster a quiet 'sorry' to the woman he betrayed. She left the house with her suitcase after phoning an ambulance. The rest is what you see today.
It was rumoured that after his recovery he took to the streets of town in the hope to rebuild. He wasn't the same man though. A child had cried at the sight of his face while eye contact was rarely met with anyone. Some people even shouted 'monster' at him. His friends and neighbours shunned him as he tried to mend. Passers-by were afraid of him. Dogs barked, children cried and young couples looked in horror as the monstrous figure walked about the park. It was then he knew that he could never repair the damage. Now he sits in his house, never leaving and never revealing his face. Some say he's waiting for Vera to return. Some say he's waiting to die but I think he's simply waiting be accepted again. Now go to bed, it's getting late.'
I clenched the duvet tight as my mother stood up and moved towards the door. I was frightened yes but I felt sadness as well. As she went to switch off the light, I found myself asking one final question.
'Mum? Do you think Vera misses him?'
She smiled before switching the light out.
'I'm sure she's keeping a close eye on him from somewhere '