Our neighbour died last month. Roy.
We moved in to number 49 nearly four years ago. The only time we saw him was when he drove his red car back and forth into the driving space out the front, eventually he’d give up, a metre or more sometimes from the path. He’d haul himself out by holding onto the edges of the car door frames and then avoid eye contact as he ambled towards his front door. I reckon, embarrassed. We did smile at his parking and it was our little joke when Robin got home, how far he was from the curb that day. Never mean though, I looked forward to that little familiar joke between us, a ‘thing’ about our new house.
Not long after we’d moved in the car was gone, sold or scrapped. Roys son told us that we could park our car across the drive from now if we wanted. And we stopped seeing him, instead we saw people with bright orange tshirts calling by. One at first, then maybe 5 or more each day, a security key box added to the outside of the house. And things moved along like they do, we parked across his drive and forgot it was ever his. The only time we were reminded of him was when he’d call for his cat, Daisy, in a raspy voice. (Daisy got in fights with our cat repeatedly and we all held a personal grudge against her).
So a couple of months ago we heard shouting from in his house. I couldn’t get in but we called to and fro through his cat flap, he’d fallen and I called an ambulance.
A week or so after that a neighbour from the other side of his stopped us in the street, did we know he’d died? No, no I didn’t but I’d been thinking to knock round, see if he needed anything. For the last three years I’d been meaning to pop round in fact. Then we chatted about the roadworks, said goodbye and everything continued as it always had.
So we’ve started the long overdue process of clearing our garden. So many brambles everywhere, nettles knee deep and enough snails/worms/slugs to keep Ned happily filthy for the next month. So, one Saturday as we’re hacking at branches, black smoke starts to plume through the trees.We all excitedly rush to the end of the garden to see a massive bonfire blazing in Roys garden. The frame of a mattress with flames licking at the exposed springs, and the legs of a table upturned. And Roys children, all together throwing the furniture on. At first I think how the hell can they do this -it seems so cold. But they’re so kind, they’re standing together talking and you can feel that childhood closeness that once existed. They offer to burn our sofa that we’ve had outside for the last six months and we heave it over the breezeblock wall and watch it go up!
They’d called several charity shops, they were inundated with things and couldn’t take more. Paying someone to clear it but it could be in the thousands. No-one wanted his stuff. Would we like to go over and see if we’d like anything? So we went inside, the same house as ours but oh so lived in. Pale greens, pinky oranges, carpets that reminded me of an ‘old mans pub’ in the 90’s. Cat fur everywhere. I’d never once knocked on the mans door to ask if he needed anything and now I stood in his house, walked up his stairs and was free to look at his things, take what we wanted or it would be burned.
So, two beautiful lamps, one with a clamp that sat on his sewing machine table, we carried them to their new home. He’d been a sewing machine repair man. Boxes of bibles, little markers throughout: He’d also been a preacher. I looked through them, understanding how precious they must have been to him -we had no place for their words in our home but the thought of them being swallowed in flames and sent as ash and smoke in to the sky felt poetic, or something like that. Olive leafed through boxes of ornaments and photographs, Roys wife had collected bells. Olive gently plucked a Kingfisher, a grey china cat and a little blue bird from there, carried lovingly back to our chaos in a dolphin flower pot and placed in a row along her window sill. Two dining chairs, a suitcase full of scalextric and trains for Ned. A new toaster so we wouldn’t have too use the grill anymore.
All of these beautiful things, once his treasures, now ours. I’m heart sorry for not knocking round, I promise to love all of your things.