Short Stories

Good Neighbours

Posted on: 13 July 2021

I should have known. The first time Mrs Simmonds — call me Maureen — invited me round for coffee. She told me all about the neighbours. She told me about John at number 1, “He lives alone. A ‘confirmed bachelor’ they’d have called him in the old days. I think he’s gay, but frustrated since they closed the public toilets.” Pursing her lips, looking down her sharp pointed nose she invited me to agree with her disapproval. 

She’d lowered her voice to tell me about Carol at number 2, “She has three children by different fathers, from different continents by the look of them and her current partner, Lesley is the next in the line of hapless suckers.” 

Maureen’s view of Joe who lived between us at number 4 was that he’d never been the same since his wife died. “She was a marvellous woman. He’s lost without her guidance,” she told me. I know that he goes to the Kings Head every day at noon and comes home at three and then he goes again for two hours in the evening. He’s never drunk but he’s not quite sober either. Nice old chap. I’ve taken him a Sunday dinner a couple of times. He’s very polite, says thank you and washes the plate before giving it back, but I think he prefers his jam sandwiches. 

Maureen couldn’t find anything nasty to say about Eleanor and Mark on that first visit. They live at number five, the end of the terrace. A nice retired couple, they go away a lot. He was a civil servant, I think, and she was a nurse (very helpful when I cut my finger on the bread knife). She made up for it when they put in for planning permission to extend. The objections were endless and nonsensical. 

I live at number 3. Middle of the terrace, with beautiful views over the valley. They used to be miners’ cottages I think, but they’ve all been gentrified since then. No outside toilets and coal holes any more. They all have central heating, upstairs bathrooms and loft conversions. We bought it for the view, Alan thought it would cheer me up while he was away. It used to. 

Alan was in the army, we don’t have children (fortunately as it turned out). My mum lived nearby, that’s why we chose this village but then she died suddenly three years after we had moved in. Then, within weeks Alan was posted to Afghanistan. We kept in regular touch, well, as regular as the army allowed. I tried to be positive for him, he needed me to be strong. Maureen was such a help, offering consolation, comfort and coffee but there were some things that I couldn’t tell her, that I hadn’t even told Alan. About my difficult relationship with my mother, a lost childhood and a missed opportunity to put things right. I was floundering, I needed more. 

I found Gordon, he was so strong, we clicked straight away, he understood and he let me talk. He lived in the next village, he restored my confidence and my self worth. I didn’t talk to Maureen about him, I kept him as my secret. 

Then Alan came home. The first few days after a long tour are always difficult, getting to know one another again, allowing him to process and get over whatever horrors he had had to deal with. This time was worse than usual, he didn’t want to be near me and, on his first night back, as soon as he had showered and had his dinner, he headed straight for the pub. He had never done that before. I let him go, we had hardly exchanged a dozen words. 

He didn’t go to the pub. I found out later. He went to Gordon’s. I heard at the trial that he had gone straight there. He had knocked on the door, Gordon had answered and Alan had hit him. Behind that blow was all the anger and hate that had been brewing inside him since Maureen had emailed photographs to him of my car outside Gordon’s house, of timings of all my comings and goings and her nasty interpretation of the truth. 

At the trial his wife said she came out into the hall to see her husband hurtling towards the bannister and to hear his head crack on the wooden post, as Alan screamed, “THERAPIST, MY ARSE” 

Gordon didn’t regain consciousness. 

Alan is in prison, the sentence was lenient in view of his army service and the provocation. The judge called Maureen evil, preying on people at their most vulnerable for her own amusement. I had shown her some of Alan’s messages and photographs, I suppose that’s how she got his email address. I’m not sure what has happened to her, I don’t want to know. Her house is up for sale, like ours. Alan is going to be in prison for a long time, I visit every month. I have to find a new therapist. 

Rude Awakening

Rude Awakening by Jacqueline James

Jacqueline's debut novel, Rude Awakening, is a thought-provoking and touching tale of loss, evolving friendship and self discovery.

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Jacqueline James