THE LADY OPPOSITE by DF Lewis
Dear lady opposite, you may live in the large house across the road, but I seem to know you better than if you lived over here with me. On the other hand, it is strange how little I do know. There is of course the timing of your curtain drawing, the people who visit, the various delivery men, your doctor, tbe rare trips you make (both on your own and arm in arm with lady friends) and, of course, the smoke curling from your chimney, at times, grey, thin and uninteresting, but at others tantalisingly black and so very thick with the fuel on which you must feed it. Only yesterday, you had a visitor whom I was extremely shocked to see was a man. Your normal callers are of course people of the female persuasion, most with wide-brimmed hats and walking tall on fashionable heels. But this visitor was a sooty-faced man and, what was more, your curtains were closed before it was dark. I felt strangely worried on your behalf. None of my business, I know, but since I spend so much time watching over you, as it were, I sense invisible bonds across the street by which God meant us to be linked. Don’t you feel them? Thus, it wass indeed my business, you see. No other way about it. He left about six p.m., which gave me opportunity to prepare my own tea. Just a quick toasted cheese sandwich, an iced bun and a cup of Bovril. Then, I was right back at the window, hoping I hadn’t missed his return, but secretly praying that I’d never be faced with knowing for certain whether he spent the whole night with you. He may have only popped out, you see, for cigarettes or matches – or both. I cannot imagine you smoking, of course. Well, I must come clean. I stayed up all night, staring at the angular blackness which was I knew was your house opposite. I doused all my lights, so you wouldn’t suspect. The aura of starry mist upon your rooftop became the only clue that I wasn’t totally blind. Then, suddenly, just before dawn, when the world was darker and more silent than I had ever known it, smoke could be discerned billowing from your house. Could this, I asked myself, really be blood in the form of a black gas? Needless to say, strange thoughts strike one at the dead of night. I awoke with the arrival of the milkman. I must have dozed off. But what worried me was whether the smoke had been in my dream or in real life. Blinking bleary eyes, I bent my cricked neck upwards and peered through the early morning mist. Your house, dear lady opposite, looked as if it had become simply waste ground! The milkman did not even attempt to deliver your usual one and a half pints. He ignored your house, as if he really believed there was nothing there. He waved at me as he placed the gold tops on my doorstep. Then, as the milk cart trundled out of sight round the end of the road, I spotted a dark shape sweeping something up, so indistinct I later couldn’t make out whether it was a person or even if your house still appeared to be waste ground and, indeed, if that shape in its vicinity was still sweeping. Smartly, I closed my curtains. Us ladies cannot trust folk these days, especially strangers and people like that. Why do I worry about matters that don’t really concern me. But I can’t help cringing when I hear the door knocker go. And as I catch painstaking noises descending the chimney, I’ve decided to chop up lots of wood from my meagre sticks of furniture and lay them in the disused fireplace. But not a match in the house! It’s a pity I don’t smoke, either, dear lady. The sticks are jagged, though, and I’ve laid them pointing upwards. I won’t post this letter, since the postman now probably ignores your house as much as he has always done mine. Yours sincerely, the lady opposite.
Printed in Print 1990s