The neighbour's daughter is watching him from the window. Nothing is as it seems.
|I lived in a quiet area and not much ever changed. The terraced houses were over one hundred and twenty years old and apart from a few minor changes to the windows and doors, the old red bricked structures remained much the same as they had back in the Victorian era.
The couple that were moving into the house next door to mine were doing a lot of renovation work, bringing their new home up to date. All day, morning to evening, I could hear the banging of hammers and whirring of drills as they turned the old house into something fit for the twenty first century.
For two months I endured the noise of workmen gutting and revamping the inside of the house making it difficult to concentrate on my work, ironically, drawing architectural plans for new houses.
A Friday morning at the beginning of September, I woke up and it took me a while to notice the fact that the banging and drilling hadn't started. I looked out of my window and smiled to myself, no work-vans were parked outside my front door. Instead a blue truck was parked with the words, in bright red, Collins Removal Services.
Two men exited the house next door, smiling and laughing. They walked over to the truck, opened the door and then walked back towards the house, carrying a wooden table.
It looked as though the new neighbours were moving in at last.
Before they came back out of the house, I decided to go and stand outside and have a quick smoke. It would be a good chance to meet the new folks that would be living next door and maybe I could offer a little help carrying things.
I lit my cigarette and took a few puffs on it before the men came out of the house next door, heading back to the blue van. They didn't seem to notice me standing there until said "hi," to grab their attention.
Both men seemed to get a small fright and turned to look at me in sync. I nodded at them and one of them smiled at me.
"Hey," he said and walked towards my front gate. He strode towards me, long legs carrying his large muscular looking frame with his arm outstretched, "Carl."
Sweat was running down his face from his short brown hair and he kept blinking his eyes to prevent it from running in. I took his hand and shook it firmly, he had a strong grip and I could feel the sweat that had built up on his palms, a combination of the heat of the day and hard work I supposed.
"Stephen," I greeted him, releasing my hand from his grip. "Moving in at last?"
"Yeah," he smiled. He seemed like a friendly enough chap. He indicated towards the van, "hell of a day for carrying things."
"Yeah," I agreed, "Lovely weather. Need a hand?"
"No, no. We got it covered, not much left to bring in. We've been at it all morning."
I stubbed my cigarette out in the ashtray I always left on my window ledge just as a black Fiat Punto pulled up and parked in front of the blue truck, outside my house.
Carl looked at the car and then turned and winked at me, "I better look busy, here's the wife."
"Talk to you later, mate. I've got a few tins in the fridge if you fancy a beer later." I offered as I watched his wife step from the little black car.
She swept her long brown hair back out of her face and looked in my direction, a large smile spreading across her face. She raised her hand towards me and said, "Hi."
"Hi. Stephen." I said trying to resist staring into her striking green eyes.
"Claire," She pointed her thumb at Carl and smiled, "His wife."
After the greetings and the offer of a drink was extended to his wife, they both went and started carrying things into the house and I went back inside my own house to get some work done.
There were no drinks that evening. The bright sunny day turned into a windy wet evening and I worked longer than I planned too, listening to the rain batter my windows and wind blow down the old disused chimney shaft.
I'd seen the blue truck pull away from the house earlier in the day and seen Carl and Claire go into the house, both smiling with the enjoyment of finally moving into their new home.
I could hear their muffled voices coming through the walls, not loud enough to understand what they were saying, but enough to know who was talking. I could hear the odd bang and scrape of furniture as they moved things around, making things right for themselves in their new home.
They seemed like a nice couple. They weren't shouting at each other, like the couple across the road from me, who I was pretty sure that my new next-door neighbours were going to take a dislike to. Everybody in the area disliked them. They were nice enough to talk to, but they were loud; arguing late into the night usually after being out drinking.
There was a third voice from next door, it sounded like a child. Then I heard footsteps running up the staircase, lighter and faster than the footsteps I had heard all day from the other two.
I groaned, I hadn't thought that they might have children, they seemed young. They looked mid-twenties at most and I had presumed they were newly weds. Any children they had must be very young, no more that five or six. No bother now, but would someday turn into teenage tearaways, like all the kids around here seemed to.
I heard the muffled sound of crying and it sounded like it must have been Claire. I could hear Carl consoling her in a muffled deep voice. I turned on my TV and turned up the volume and decided not to head around to offer the beer's to my new neighbours. I didn't want to go knocking when there was a problem.
I always did my shopping on a Saturday morning and I woke up that Saturday as on any other. I wasn't going to do any work; I never did at the weekend. I'd go shopping, come home and if my local football team played at home, I'd go and watch them. I was a season ticket holder and it was one of the main reasons for not working weekends, that and the fact I liked to head to the pub in the evening unstressed.
I got up and got dressed and prepared to go out to the shops. I almost forgot my wallet, but remembered just before I closed my front door. I went back in and grabbed it, mumbling to myself I did so about being a clumsy oaf.
I went back out the front door and stopped; I put a cigarette in my mouth and inhaled deeply. I smoked a lot less now I had decided not to smoke indoors and I wouldn't spend entire days working in front of my computer without knowing how the weather was outside.
I began to walk down the street towards the shops at the end of the road. I could have taken the car, but the sun was shining. All the wind and rain of the night before had cleared up and this Saturday morning, the weather was as good as anything September usually gives us.
As I walked past the house next door, I noticed a little girl looking out of the window. She had a beaming smile and long curly red hair. I waved back at her and couldn't help but smile back. I presumed her mother had dyed her own hair blonde; she would probably look as beautiful as she did now with her natural red hair and green eyes.
After walking past the house, I couldn't help but turn back around to look at the girl who had waved so happily. She was still there, smiling at me and waving. I raised my hand and waved back at the girl again. She then turned her head, smile leaving her face and left the window.
Claire's face appeared in the girl's place looking serious. She raised her hand and waved at me wearing what was obviously a forced smile. I raised my hand again and waved back at her and held the smile I'd had on my face for her daughter.
As usual, I bought too much in the shops and struggled to walk home with five shopping bags. Although the shops weren't far away, I had to stop a couple of times to change my grip on the plastic bags that began to hurt my hands as I carried them. The plastic handles left red marks on my skin where they had dug in.
I reached my house and put the bags down once again, this time so I could search my pockets for my front door key. I found it and fished it out of my jean's hip pocket and was about to open the door when I noticed the little girl next door waving at me from her window. It looked as though she had cut her head and there was a small trickle of blood running down her cheek, although the smile never left her face.
I waved at her and thought about knocking on the front door to see if everything was okay. I thought to myself that her parents would take care of it and opened my front door and carried my bags inside.
After putting away my shopping, I made a cup of tea and went and sat down in my living room to watch a little news on TV. As I walked over to switch the TV on, I glanced out the window that looked out onto the street and noticed that the little black Fiat Punto wasn't parked on the road.
I thought about the little girl smiling with blood on her face waving at me from the window. I decided to go and knock on the front door to make sure everything was okay.
It only took a moment for my knock to be answered by the little girl.
"Hi," I said to the little red haired girl who peeped at me from behind the door looking weary. Obviously she had been told not to talk to strangers. It's fine waving from a window, but answering the door was a no-no. "Are your mum and dad home?"
"They went to the shops," The little girl told me, peeping her head around the door answering my question. I could just about see the collar of the top she was wearing, green, matching the ribbons in her hair that were tied in bows. The blood was still on her face ad I could see the stain on her collar where it had dripped down.
"You know how long they'll be?" I asked, wondering to myself what kind of parents leave a child, obviously no older the five or six, at home alone.
"They said five minutes." She smiled at me and added, "But they're usually a bit longer when they say that."
I didn't like the fact that the girl was home alone and had hurt herself. "You okay?"
"Yes, I'm okay. You want to come in and wait for them?"
I thought to myself about this. I couldn't really go in, a man living alone going into a house with a little girl I didn't know, it wouldn't look right.
"No, no, I'll wait here for them," I told her.
She said, "Okay," and then closed the door behind her.
I lit a cigarette and leaned against the window frame, next to the ashtray. I wondered what I would say to her parents when they came home. I was angry that they had left her alone and angrier they hadn't taught her not to open the door to strangers when they did leave her.
I waited and waited. I smoked three or four cigarettes in the time it took for Carl and Claire to pull up in their black Fiat Punto. It had been about an hour.
I hadn't seen the girl come back to the window in that time and hoped she was okay in the house.
"Hey Stephen, how you doing?" Carl shouted to me as he climbed out of the car. "Is the weather always this good around here?" He added before I had the chance to reply.
"Hi Stephen," Claire said to me, locking the car door and walking towards their house. She was fumbling in her purse and pulled out a bunch of keys as she went.
"I'm alright, how you two doing?" I asked, not bringing the problem up immediately. I didn't want to seem confrontational.
"Just getting the shopping before we go the match later," Carl replied, smiling. "You a red or a blue?"
"I'm red mate, thankfully." I forced a smile out at him knowing that he was a fellow red. They were the team at home that afternoon.
"Your daughter's got blood on her face." I said, not being able to delay any longer.
I seen a look of panic and fright on Claire's face as she almost dropped the keys she was using to open the front door. She walked away turning her back on the house, walked to Carl and put her hands around him.
He pulled her into his chest; his thick arms wrapped tightly around her and kissed the top of her head. She was sobbing and I could see her shaking as she breathed against Carl's chest.
He looked up at me and I could tell he was asking me to leave them. I could see fear and grief written across his face. He looked back down at the back of Claire's head and kissed her hair.
"It's alright love... it's alright," I heard him whisper just as I was opening my front door to go inside.
I glanced at the house next door and seen the girl looking at her parents, smiling with the blood still on her face. She looked happy that they were home.
I waved at her and headed into my own home.
A couple of hours later I grabbed my scarf, which was the red of my team. I took my scarf, no matter what the weather; I loved to show off the team I supported on a match day. I headed out of my front door to walk down to the pub and meet up with the friends I went to the match with. Carl was leaving his house at the same moment and I nodded to him.
"Hey mate," greeted me.
"Alright mate," I said back, "how's the girl?"
He stopped as he was about to close his front door. "You got time for a quick beer in here mate?" he asked and pointed into his house.
I didn't really have time; I was supposed to be meeting the boys in twenty minutes to grab a few beers down in the pub. I was curious to see how his daughter was doing though, and this beer was free, so I decided to accept
"Alright mate, make it a quick one." I told him and then followed him in through his front door.
His house was beautifully decorated, unlike mine the walls had been knocked through to make the living room much bigger. Where I had a wall separating my front door, hall and stairway from the front room, his house had no wall and all of them were all in one room.
He gestured for me to take a seat on his large beige leather couch and disappeared to the kitchen, which was through a door to the rear of the room.
I admired the decoration, the plain white walls with a blue border making the room look even larger. The centre point of the room was the original old marble fireplace, very similar to mine. On the mantel piece above the unlit fire were pictures of Carl, Claire and their daughter.
Carl came into the room carrying two cans of Budweiser and handed me one. He sat on one of the two matching chairs and opened his can, being careful not to let the fizz spray onto the couch and blue carpet.
"Looks great in here, done a good job." I said to call, after taking a sip of my own beer.
"Thanks." he replied, put his can on the dark wooden coffee table which was between the couch I was sitting on and his chair.
He stood up and walked over to the fireplace looking at the pictures. He picked one up and handed it to me. It was a picture of him, his wife and the little red haired girl in what looked like a park. They all had beaming smiles and it looked like they were having a nice day out in the sun.
"That's me, Claire and Helena," he said to me, sitting back down into his chair and picking up his beer, taking a large gulp.
"Helena, your daughter?" I asked.
"Yeah... yeah she's my daughter."
I looked back at the picture, at the family smiling back at me. I noticed Claire's light red hair, a lot lighter than the girl's.
"Nice picture," I told him honestly and stood to put the picture back on the mantel piece. I noticed that all four pictures that were there were of the three of them smiling. All of them were in different places, but all of them looked like good times.
I sat back down on the couch and picked up my beer, "How's she doing?"
Carl looked across the room at me and wiped a tear away from his eye. "You know, I liked Claire's hair the way it was in them pictures." His voice cracked and tears began to run down his face.
"It was beautiful that colour, so was Helena's." He put his hand to his eyes and wiped away the tears.
"You alright," I asked.
"Yeah, I'm alright," he replied and continued. "She wouldn't leave it that colour, not after the accident."
I heard footsteps on the stairs and turned to look. Helena was trotting down with a huge smile on her face. The blood was still on her forehead and cheek and the drips were still on her collar.
"Hi!" She said, seeming excited that I was there and happy to see me. She skipped across the room and sat down next to her father, who stood and walked to the fireplace to look at the pictures.
"She said it reminds her too much of Helena." Carl said, looking at the pictures, ignoring his daughter. "Every time she looks in a mirror, she says she see's her."
"Daddy!" The girl shouted at the top of her voice from the couch. "Daddy, I love you daddy."
The girl began to giggle loud; she stood from the couch, walked over and stood behind her father. She began to jump up and down excitedly on the spot shouting, "Daddy... daddy... " over and over again.
Carl turned and walked towards the window, avoiding his daughter. She followed behind him, still shouting for her father over and over again.
He turned away from the window and walked back to the couch, sitting down and taking another gulp of his beer. Helena followed him, her red curls bouncing as she jumped up and down in front of him. He swiped his arm at her as if she was a fly and tried to swat her away.
His hand passed straight through her head.
She continued to jump up and down now repeating over and over, "I love you daddy... I love you daddy."
I was shocked, at first because he had swung at her and then doubly so as his hand had passed right the way through her head. She hadn't flinched, she continued shouting.
Carl spoke louder now, making sure I could hear him above the shouting of his daughter. "This is why we moved house. We thought we would leave her behind, that she would, well, go away."
I was totally confused as to what was going on. I was watching the little girl jump up and down shouting for her father, telling him she loved him and he was ignoring her. He stood again; looking irritated by the way the girl was behaving and walked again to the fireplace.
Instead of walking around the girl, he walked into her and I expected to see her fall over but she passed right through him.
"We thought she would stay there, we had no idea she would follow us to a new house." He wiped another tear from his eye and looked at the girl jumping up and down shouting his name still.
"I love you too, jellybean," he said to the child who stopped shouting suddenly.
She shouted "Yay!" and then she was gone, disappeared.
I was amazed by what I saw and almost dropped my beer can. I didn't know what to say, what to think. I was gob smacked; I had never seen anything remotely like this happen.
"She's been with us since the day of the accident." Carl explained. "She just wants us to say we love her and then she will go away for a while to wherever it is she goes to."
He sat back down on the couch and sighed, taking another swig of beer. I looked around the room half expecting the little girl to be somewhere jumping up and down or laughing.
"It was right after her funeral the first time she came."
I didn't need to hear anymore, I cut him off from the rest of his story. "We're going to miss the match mate."
He rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand, "right mate."
We both stood and left his house together and headed straight to the pub where my mates were already waiting.
Since then, I've heard all about the car crash. I've heard all about the strange events that have occurred when their dead daughter has been around them. I have also heard the child's voice come through the walls as she shouts for her mother and father.
Sometimes, when I leave the house she is there in the window waving at me, the blood still on her face. I wave back every time and I still can't help but smile at her as she beams at me from behind the glass.