MUSED Literary Magazine.
Fiction

Neighbourhood Watch

Gwenda Major

Ray and I live on the edge of a very desirable development. We’re very lucky. Not that we haven’t worked hard for what we’ve got. Especially Ray. Sales area manager is a high pressure job – meetings, conferences, seminars, there’s always something on the horizon. I see it as my job to smooth his path, to make life easier for him. Yes I know that’s an old-fashioned view nowadays but that’s the way I was brought up. And it makes me happy.

That’s partly why I work in the evenings. It allows me to be at home in the day time, keeping the house tidy, having a meal ready for Ray if he’s coming home. That was entirely my choice; you’d be surprised at the satisfaction you can get from talking to ladies in their own homes and introducing them to premium quality products. I often get messages thanking me. I remember one email from a client telling me that my advice on cleansing and nourishing had transformed her life. It can be rewarding work.

Naturally I have to look after my own appearance, doing the work I do. It would be ridiculous for me to expect people to believe in the products I’m showing them otherwise. I always wear a smart suit and good quality patent leather shoes with a discreet heel. I think your shoes say such a lot about you don’t you? My legs are one of my best assets. Ray often says so. He calls them my ‘glams’ so he never minds me spending money on shoes. And I have my hair colour done every month –it took a long time before I finally found the right shade of warm strawberry blonde for my complexion, so I stick to it now. At the moment my nails are red with tiny little embedded jewels – I’ve had a lot of comments about the way they sparkle when I’m demonstrating. The varnish is one of our lines of course – Ruby Desire. Very popular.

So we moved here about four years ago. We bought off plan so we had the advantage of deciding all the little details for ourselves – the tiles, the kitchen units, the door handles, the style of bath and shower and so on. Ray insisted we could afford it although I remember being worried at the time.
“This is when you should feel grateful we never had kids” he said. “We’d never have been able to live here if we had.” I knew he was quite right of course, although I couldn’t see it that way for a long time. I always pictured myself with two little girls in matching dresses and shoes, but it wasn’t to be. I’ve accepted it now. You have to don’t you? There was no way Ray was going to go down the route of IVF or anything like that.

“Look at all the couples knee deep in nappies and bankrupting themselves” he said. “You don’t see them having two foreign holidays a year and living on a prestige development do you?” It’s all in the past now anyway so that’s that. End of story as they say.

The estate is laid out in the American style with wide sweeping streets and quiet closes like ours. Lots of trees, lots of shrubs – all well tended and attractive. There are no fences or hedges between the houses at the front, only at the back. It gives a lovely open feel to the houses, but of course it also means that we’re all very aware of each other’s front gardens – especially the grass. The lawn is Ray’s relaxation. He’s not interested in other aspects of gardening, just the grass. There’s nothing he likes better than a nice quiet Sunday weeding & feeding. He keeps the edges in sharp order and woe betide any daisy that decides to spring up overnight. Ray spots them before they can get established and out they come. No mercy.

There’s a very strong sense of community here. I love the house but it’s the people who make the place at the end of the day isn’t it? On our first day Gerald’s wife came over with a cake to introduce herself. I remember thinking how kind that was. And that evening Gerald himself came over, just to talk us through the unspoken rules of the close - sensible things like always putting your car in the garage overnight, not having any washing hanging outside at any time and keeping the exterior of the house in tip-top condition. I particularly remember him using the phrase ‘tip-top’ which made me smile as I hadn’t heard it for years. He said we all owed it to each other to maintain the value of our properties. We’d all worked hard to be able to live somewhere as desirable as this, so it was important to keep it like that. The final item on his list was about lawn care and not letting standards slip. Well he was talking to the right man. I could see he and Ray were kindred spirits right away.

Actually Gerald has had to give one or two people a friendly warning in the last couple of years – about parked cars, noise or weeds in the lawn and so on. We all call him ‘the King of the Close’ – just as a joke. I think he’s quite flattered really and of course we’re all grateful that he’s taken on the role of community leader. You need a strong central figure to keep things as they should be. He gives us all a standard to live up to.

My days are surprisingly full. Although the house is the last word in low maintenance I do spend time each day on housekeeping. Sometimes I wonder where the dust comes from and I can’t bear smeary windows. If you do everything in a rota you can be confident everything is being cared for.

Naturally I’m aware of most things going on around the close and beyond. We’re a Neighbourhood Watch area so we have those little signs on the lamp posts and a meeting with a community policeman once a year or so. It makes sense to look out for each other doesn’t it? I’m more than happy to do my bit – accepting a delivery for someone who’s out at work or letting workmen into a neighbour’s house. I like to keep an eye on other tradesmen too, like the window cleaners – I know their days and how long it should take them and so on.

There are no young children in this part of the estate – it’s not that sort of area. Our closest neighbours are Betty and Charles; he’s a retired accountant and they’re away a lot at their timeshare in Cyprus, so I often pop over to check their property for them. Then there’s Gloria and Ralph who run their own business, a high end florist´s in town. They have two teenage sons and I know Gloria is always grateful if I let her know who’s been in and out when they’re not there. I find noting the number plates of any cars that pull up outside is a good idea. Well you can’t be expected to memorise such things can you? And then of course there’s Gerald and Cara. I believe Gerald sits on the board of several companies and he plays a lot of golf as I often see him loading his clubs into the Range Rover. And Cara does a lot of charity work, when she’s not playing tennis.

So that’s us, the neighbours in the close. Apart from Suzanne and Barry of course. They arrived about eighteen months ago and none of us were sure they were right for the close even then. Barry works on the oil rigs and is away for weeks on end and then home for long stretches. Suzanne works in the arts centre in town. Ray and I have never been there as the type of film and theatre they advertise isn’t for us, but Suzanne told me a while ago she’s a youth drama worker - whatever that entails.

We did all try to get to know her at first. We always make the effort. I even suggested she might like to host one of my sales parties but she said it ‘wasn’t her thing’ and declined. To be honest she would definitely benefit from a little of my professional advice – she’s the type of woman who could do more with her appearance. If she would listen to me I would tell her to get rid of the long hair and find herself a good colourist. And her skin’s not good either – typical combination skin, greasy around the nose area and dry on the cheeks. But it was obvious she wasn’t interested so I didn’t pursue it.

When Barry’s away Suzanne often works on her computer in the upstairs front room. She never pulls the curtains so she’s there most of the evening for everyone to see. She goes to work early (7.55) and gets home quite late (anything between 6.45 and 7.30) and doesn’t seem to go out much once she’s home.
I first started to notice the car a few weeks ago – it was outside the house on Saturdays at first and then on occasional evenings. That went on for a while but then last weekend the car arrived on Saturday afternoon and was still there on Sunday morning. I’d seen the driver several times by then – tall man in a leather jacket with a gingery beard. Nobody around here has a beard so he was easy to remember. The first few times he came, Suzanne would stand at the door and wave to him when he left. Then last weekend I saw them embracing when he left on Sunday morning. Bold as brass on the door step.

At first I didn’t know what to do. I thought of consulting Gerald but then decided not to worry him with it. After all he’s a busy man and can’t concern himself with everything that happens in the close. Instead I decided I could handle it myself. I knew Barry would be expected home in a few days so I popped a letter to him in the post. I didn’t sign it as I didn’t want any fuss. I just thought he had a right to know what was going on. Two days ago I saw him arrive home by taxi as usual, so I imagine he would probably have read the letter by yesterday.

The police have just left. I saw Barry getting into the back of the patrol car about an hour ago. The constable pushed Barry’s head down as he got in the back seat, just like they do in TV programmes. The ambulance had taken Suzanne away earlier. What a terrible noise the siren made. I’m sure there was no need for all of that. We’d already had all the shouting early this morning – you could hear Barry right across the close. Ray was just having his breakfast and he wasn’t best pleased.

“What the hell is all that noise? A man should be able to have his breakfast in peace for God’s sake.” I told him I thought it was coming from Suzanne and Barry’s house. “Doesn’t surprise me” he said as he poured himself a second coffee. “They’ve never fitted in here.” I was busy frying Ray’s egg and bacon and didn’t reply. After all it’s nothing to do with me is it?