You never know what goes on behind closed doors, do you? Well, unless you are Emily Parker, that is. She watched everybody, all the time. You couldn’t go out of your house without Emily jumping up out of her chair, strategically positioned by her front room window, and studying your every move. You could never have a guest knock on your door, without Emily’s piercing, disapproving eyes gazing at your visitor, wondering what you were up to. She watched you take your shopping from your car boot into your house, counting the bags, no doubt or trying to see what you had bought. She would crane her neck to peer into your house to see what you were up to if she saw the slightest movement in your house or your garden. Then if she couldn’t see enough she would go up to her bedroom window to see if she could get a better view.
It was creepy, being watched.
Emily Parker was a prim retired school mistress, and she and her son Gerald (or was he her lodger?) were a strange pair. Those are probably not their real names, just the names I gave them, which seemed to suit them. They lived together in our select, suburban estate street where everyone gets on with their own lives, seemingly oblivious of what is going on around them. Not Emily Parker though. She wanted to know what everyone in the street was doing, and could usually be seen peering out of her front windows every time a car pulled up anywhere in the street. It used to be the local joke that Mrs Nosy Parker was at her window watching the comings and goings of people’s visitors. She even kept her blind at a discrete angle in the evening so that she could still peer out of the gap to see what was going on. Some of us thought she might need a periscope to see out, but we could see her peering round the blind, trying not to be seen.
But that was as far as Emily’s interest in her neighbours went. She would spend ages studying any movements in the street, yet never once did she come out and speak to anyone if they were perhaps in their garden. To avoid any contact with her neighbours, and to no longer need to mow her lawn, Emily had the whole of the front garden graveled so that she would not have to go out to tend the few plants that were there when she bought the house.
Like his mother (or landlady), Gerald was never seen outside the house, except for when he left the house at precisely 7.30am and returned at 6.00pm, Mondays to Fridays. The car would disappear on Sunday morning for a few hours when we guessed from his registration number that he was out playing golf. He never cleaned his car outside his house, yet his car was always immaculate. There were plenty of car washing facilities in the area, so there was nothing unusual about that.
Years went by and there were seemingly never many other movements outside of Emily’s house, except for Emily taking her car out of the garage on a Thursday morning, and returning an hour later with her shopping, before driving the car back into the garage. Apart from Emily visibly gawping from her windows at everyone, signs of there being activity in the house were blinds going up and down from time to time, windows open on a sunny day, and lights being on in the evening. There were usually signs of moving lights from the TV in the lounge in the early evening before the blinds were closed, and Emily would wheel out her bin on a Thursday morning and return it to the back garden after it had been emptied. Most of us were not interested enough to see if there was any other activity, as we were always busy with our own lives. I only noticed her Thursday activities because I was usually trundling my bins about on a Thursday as well.
After I retired two years ago, I used to languish in my bed until 8am, but during the winter I would sometimes stay in later, not wanting to leave my nice warm bed. The first thing I would do as I surfaced was to draw back my bedroom curtains, congratulating myself on having done that before the two other retired people opposite me, Emily and her next door neighbour.
One day I, living opposite Emily, started to notice that nothing happened in the house at all. The blinds had been closed for weeks, but there was nothing really unusual about that, as Emily had started keeping the blinds down, or almost down, most of the time during this winter. The car in the driveway never moved. I started wondering if the pair in the house had gone away on holiday, or had both died somehow and no-one knew about it. Emily never got many visitors, except for the occasional visit from her family on Mother’s Day or, presumably, her birthday. Still nothing happened, save for the dustbin being put out once a week to be emptied. I never saw who put it out, or who put it back.
Weeks went by, and people carried on about their business as they always did. No-one apparently had noticed anything amiss. I decided it was none of my business anyway, and got on with my own life. Who knows what goes on behind closed doors?
One Sunday I came home from a social gathering with my friends to find three cars outside Emily’s house, the blinds up and signs of lots of movement in the house. Obviously Emily’s family had come to visit Emily again, and if there was anything wrong, they would have dealt with it by now. I let out a sigh of relief, because frankly I had started to worry that something was amiss, and thought that I should have perhaps made some enquiries at least with other neighbours to see if anyone knew if Emily and Gerald were still alive and alright. I got on with my business for the rest of the day, and missed the two extra cars leaving Emily’s property. Well, I didn’t want to be labelled Mrs Nosy Parker as well, did I?
I thought no more about it until the next day when I noticed that the blinds remained down all day yet again, and the car, that used to go out regularly every day in the past, was now parked in front of the garage doors. Now that was strange. Gerald’s car was usually in the other driveway, leaving the garage doors free.
After another week, with no visible activity around the house, except for the mysterious appearance of the dustbin on bin day, the same thing happened again. I was coming home from another Sunday social gathering and found three cars outside the house, and lots of visible activity around the house. What on earth was going on? This regular activity seemed to be repeated each weekend, as I spotted the two extra cars outside the house again and again. Maybe I should have been more nosy myself, but I am usually busy doing something at the back of the house, not studying the movements in the street.
I concluded that Emily must have died, after all she was quite old. Her family were probably now returning to the house to sort it out. But what about Gerald? Where was he? Had he murdered his mother (or landlady) and was now incarcerated in prison, or had he died with her in the house? His car was still parked outside the garage doors and hadn’t been moved for weeks.
I wished I had the guts to go over and ask the family if everything was all right, but I’m not that sort of a person, so I am just left wondering………….
Today at six thirty, I got up from in front of my computer to put on my light, only to notice that there were lights on across the road in Emily’s house. Men in suits were walking around with clipboards. I went upstairs to my bedroom to get a clearer view of what was going on over there, then laughed at myself copying what Emily used to do.
I am now looking forward to maybe getting new neighbours in the house. Perhaps they would be more sociable than the rest of the people the street. The only people I ever see are the dog walkers, who briefly speak to me when I am out in my garden, or when I am walking my dog. People lead very busy lives these days and there is not much time for hobnobbing over the garden fence, not that we can actually see over our garden fences, they are too high. Of course, there was a Diamond Jubilee street party last year when I was asked to join in with the festivities up the street, and bring my friends. All the street had been invited, but Emily and Gerald had not joined in. I had taken three of my friends and joined in with the festivities. Everyone had a jolly good time and chatted to each other as if they were old friends, sharing whatever goodies they had brought to the party. At the time, they had all said that we must all do it more often. But time passed and I never got another invite to any of the barbecues I knew were going on from the smell and the signs of smoke. There didn’t seem to be any other general social activity on those occasions either. The only signs of our particular street socialising with each other are from the children.
Maybe Emily was lonely and needed to get her entertainment from watching the activities of her neighbours. Maybe she she was writing in her retirement and studied people as characters for her stories. Will I be like that in years to come when I cannot get out and about? Am I the next Mrs Nosy Parker?
I have decided I had best go back into hibernation in my home, as no-one seems to show any interest about anyone else in the street. I am now wondering how long it would take for anyone to notice my missing activities after I have died, and if they noticed, what would they do about it?
But I’m still curious about Gerald. Shall I go over and ask the men in suits if they know anything? I think not. I’ll leave it to my imagination. I feel another story coming on………….