No. 31

part one

YOU CAN’T FAIL TO NOTICE WHAT HAPPENED TO THE TERRACE HOUSE, number 31. Aye it still gets mentioned maybe that’s why you don’t get many walking down that street.

But come on, there must be some who do, or do they?

Wouldn’t you think that those gentle souls offer that time honoured tradition and extend a token of remembrance. Flowers and the like, you know what I mean. Although many forced to give it a wide berth.

There’s nothing like gossip fuelling the many with tales taking on their own life. Especially, if you please, when passed from one person to another in a town like this one.

***

She’s folding a hand towel looking out of the window.

“I wonder who leaves the flowers? Never any card. They must spend a fortune.”

She looks over at him. No reply other than a grunt. Mr Garnett lost in thought staring at the burnt out hearth.

Mrs Garnett pulls that face, sighs, sitting down on a badly damaged dining chair. All she was doing was trying to make conversation to fill the uncomfortable silence.

Not that there’s any domestic going on between them, more like they are both waiting or perhaps thinking on that lucky escape from a fatality that’s left them stunned and lingering in this limbo for weeks.

Mr Garnett does sometime turn his head to look at her, as if he’s ready to say something. Probably the shock.

“You know, I’m sure I hear lots of different voices coming from next door. I listen at the wall.” Spoken with that shrill voice of hers.

“I know I shouldn’t. I never see anybody go in and out…” She changes tack. “Aren’t the flowers nice, they don’t last though. Turn as quick as the moon changes its face.”

They sit at different ends of the room.

The place worst for wear because of fire damage and everything dripping wet damp from the hosing.

Mrs Garnett tries to fill the void, she might as well be talking to herself, but bless, Mr Garnett, in shock. I mean they’ve lived in this house all through their marriage, till death does us part and all that…

Mrs Garnett hears a familiar noise. She listens out. Not keen on answering.

She tried to think on something else, the flowers. She’d taken in another bunch quicker than normal and for once retrieved the card. Didn’t have her glasses with her to know who they were from, they’d melted in the fire.

“Haven’t seen the stranger, next but one. Must be renting it, eh. I wonder if they hear those different voices through the wall?”

She was trying to read the card, holding it a distance before making out the words. She read it aloud and Mr Garnett looked worryingly at her.

‘To Mr and Mrs Garnett – forever in our hearts – Rest in Peace – All at No. 66’

You could say they found out then, after all this time wondering what happens next, got to a point when they didn’t know beyond the moment… They never did go upstairs.

It was the first thing to block out when it had happened and they’d carried on living in one room.

A knock on the front door had them both realise they’d better go and answer.

Nervous and flashing an anxious look at one another, they clasped each other’s hand and shuffled along to see who was at the door.

Mrs Garnett thought the shadow beyond the glass pane was the stranger from the house next but one.

They looked again at each other, Mr Garnett nodded.

The first thing they saw at the feet of the stranger, two large carpetbags, and they both thought the same thought, he’d come to collect…

story by John Riley

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