There they are again, in and out at this hour. That’s nine days in a row now. Joanne, patronising as only someone in their relative prime can be, told me not to think anything of it, and that I’m only being this nosy because I’m not occupying myself enough. The wearisome nagging continued ‘you wouldn’t have noticed it if you could sleep’. Ah yes, sleep, now it happens when you don’t want to, and when you’re tired you can’t. So here I sit, late at night, watching them, lights off, hidden from view.
Can women be voyeurs? Maybe, but it’s a term and behaviour I associate with lonely men who have erectile dysfunction, or one of those peculiar and obsessive fetishes that precludes normal behaviour in public. Obscure preferences only seem modern because the internet has revealed their existence, but the medium teases the afflicted, it gives them access but only at a distance, so these neuroses are seldom satiated through physical interactions. My curiosity is simple and occurred organically, because I’m in its presence. What are they up to? The answer is the width of a street away, so I know I can find out.
The consequences of that don’t worry me, well, except a scenario which will prevent me from getting an explanation. Everyone seems to worry for me these days, and it’s tiring. He always said I was a worrier. I suspect it was his way of antagonising me. It annoyed him that my forms of concern were demonstrative and pleading. He never worried about anything openly, and if he did it was always something trivial. He died eight years ago, three days short of his seventy-third birthday. I should be grateful that my Jim was too generous and composed to dwell on vain introspections, being a hypochondriac is one of narcissism’s most unbearable forms.
Five more days passed, and still their routine remained the same. Intrigue and the boredom of waiting for the long summer days to pass had conflated to heighten the irritation. Perhaps tonight something new would occur, to break the sterility of their pattern which was dictating mine. I had been reduced to living for sporadic changes outside of my control, and with little to distract me from it. I realise this intrigue is petty, a distraction from facing the acknowledgement that the end’s too close, that the whole process of aging gracefully was so dire, and a lie. Reading is the best means of escape and distraction I have, yet, frustratingly, I just can’t focus on anything else until I find out, plus, modern literature is so stale and supercilious, and it’s hard to motivate yourself to read anything by Austen, Hemingway or Joyce for the fourth time.
I wonder how long it will take before Joanne finally musters the courage to openly suggest, instead of mildly insinuating, that my isolation, thanks to my compromised mobility, and on my good days my arthritic gait, is making me depressed, and that I’m wallowing in loneliness? Her ultimate aim, no doubt, is to compose a form of emotional blackmail in an attempt to justify banishing me to one of those dreadful nursing homes. They’re colonies of misery, with their small rooms and low ceilings, disabled toilets and prison cell windows. There are people living in them who are still in their fifties, and that exposes the grim truth that these places rely not on physical or mental decline, but in believing the cliché that age jades people into subservience and acceptance. What do I have in common with people who acquiesce to that, who forego any semblance of self-respect, independence or solitude for the phony notion community and security? Some may have no choice, but those that do? I still do.
Speaking of choices, I decided tonight would be the night. Joanne came over at half-eleven, totally unannounced. I hate when she does that, ‘just to see how I was getting on’. She asked me if I was still watching them. I said no, but of course I was. My lethargy likely gave me away. It occurred to me that she might think I’m imagining it all, and that would fit in with justification narrative quite nicely. Eventually Joanne left and because it was so muggy I drifted off to sleep easily. I awoke at six-thirty, had something to eat and got dressed for heading outdoors. The twilight arrived just after nine, a signal for me to begin observing. The one with the very long dark hair and wispy goatee appeared first, shortly before ten. As per usual he started to clean the back of the transit van out. One of the girls appeared, and by the way they had been interacting, is clearly his girlfriend. She was a foot shorter than he and had reddish blonde shoulder length hair that was tied up in a bandana. They carried several bags away from the van, down the driveway and around the back out of my view. The van doors were left open as they disappeared inside. With a suspenseful reticence I opened the side door, navigated that fucking suicidally steep step and reached the end of my driveway as quickly as I could while making as little noise as possible.
The inside of the van appeared empty, best I could tell, as its roof and the open doors further obscured the already timid offering from the sulphur street lights. Just as I turned in swift frustration to head, well, back home, I assume, I heard the crunching of driveway aggregate under feet. My choices were all undesirable, though some less than others. The prospect of me trying to ‘do a runner’ was the least dignified of available avenues. I stood and waited, it seemed the best option of the bad bunch, and the tall long-haired man appeared in front of me. He looked unsurprised by my presence and offered an equally innocuous pleasantry. Up close he looked to be a thirty something, not the twenty-something I’d previously assumed. Unprompted and, I admit, rather brazenly given its haste, I asked him what they’d been up to. My impudence produced surprised laughter. He asked me what I was up to. I could only offer an uncomfortable silence. He then asked what I thought they were up to. Then it struck me that I had no clue, only that I knew there had to be something. ‘Everybody is up to something’ he replied, almost offended by what he inferred to be a disingenuous form of diplomacy under mild interrogation.
He offered to show me. That he was completely unthreatened by the prospect of my intrusion was impressive, his posture and tone indicating that he sees me and this as a quaint occurrence was less so, and it goaded me into giving the answer we both want. He lead me to the garage at the end of the driveway of their detached bungalow, a layout I was familiar with as all of the houses on this street were all the same size and shape. The only difference was this garage had a huge shed adjoining it. The previous owners, the Allen’s, had it built without planning permission, but nobody complained, though Bill was mildly jealous of its dimensions.
Strangely I was unafraid of following a tall stranger into a dark garage for reasons unknown, well I did have a reason, but what were his motivations for doing this? The garage was full of boxes, garden equipment, and commonly neglected items and disused tat that was no longer working or clean enough for the household. Thankfully, it was clear this wasn’t our destination and its contents the mediocre revelation that would shame me, as he didn’t dwell and headed straight for the side door that lead to the shed.
The other three were there. They were all wearing large square sunglasses and either spraying the plants with water or clipping them judiciously. The air was a mixture of manure and the odours of youthful hedonism, the room was covered with reflective material on all walls and even on the ceiling. The violet glow from the lights, having hit these reflective surfaces, appeared to permeate the colour of the air itself. In this ambiance the plants appeared as almost black as trees lying dormant in receding winter light. The plants were arranged in neat formation. All of the others stopped to say hello, no questions were asked of me, who I was, what I was doing here, or what I wanted. After the introductions and some small talk the other girl, with Asian eyes, implored me to walk along an aisle, allowing the stems of the plants on either side of the isle to caress my shoulders as I tottered along. I copied her as she held the palms of her hands up to the leaves, she was giggling, and no wonder, the edges of leaves were abrasive but the flat sides soft, a combination that offered a satisfying tickling sensation. I walked the row with my palms raised again.
In a world completely ill at ease with its unassailable drift towards rank selfishness, and a climate of pernicious hysteria that shows no sign of abating, these kinds of meetings in private locations are a potential antidote. The generosity of their youth and what they were smoking formed an oasis of charitable stimulation. Eventually we all sat in their back garden and talked for hours about a number of things, most of which I forget. I was mesmerised by the nonchalant ease with which they rolled their homemade cigarettes into such small, tight and neat cylinders. They took a similar level of care in holding and lighting them, and their technique of inhaling was amusingly elaborate. Of course I tried some, they implored me to ‘help yourself’, and it would’ve been rude not to. I had smoked it before, years and years ago, so long ago that I’d forgotten what effect it had. They regaled me in the ways it could be consumed and that it would help me sleep.
I excused myself as the sky started to regain its colour. Both of girls hugged me, I was given a small but fatly packed polythene pouch and told to stop by anytime. Somehow, without it having to be said, they knew I wouldn’t tell anyone what they were doing.
Before drifting off to sleep I felt a surge of belief that I could make tomorrow as interesting as I had made today, and I knew this elation had nothing to do with you-know-what.
© Niall Cullen (2016)