The Beast Next Door* ** (excerpt)
The neighbours’ front door slammed with such force his mother’s photograph fell off the shelf.
Gerald shuddered, closed his eyes and sighed. He knew what came next. He rolled his wheelchair nearer the party wall and listened.
There it was. No dramatic sobs or screams, only the subdued moans of a woman with nowhere to turn. He yearned to jump over the low fence that divided their gardens, take her hand and lead her out of hell. Just as well his legs were next to useless. He might cause even more problems for the frail, bruised creature he imagined cowering less than an arm’s length away.
He knew the routine. The grunt of the van as it mounted the kerb and dropped back into the gutter, the stumble of the leather-jacketed driver up the overgrown path, a can of Special Brew dangling from one paw. Then came the part Gerald dreaded. A thud and curse as the man fell indoors, followed by raised voices, the thump against the wall, a cry of pain. He could almost tick them off a list. Finally the noisy exit, after which Gerald held his breath until he was comforted by the sounds that informed him, once again, she’d survived.
He didn’t, couldn’t, call the police. Previous dealings made him reluctant to draw their attention and he knew the victim could easily become the villain, the informant a pariah.
She was in her late twenties, as far as he could tell. On the rare occasions she went out during the day, she kept her head down and her fair hair pulled over her face. Back a few minutes later clutching a small bag of shopping, she had her key ready for a swift re-entry. Gerald longed to speak to her, to reassure her he was there and that he knew.
He turned round, shaking his head, and gave his attention to the plants on his table. His part-time carer, Michael, had brought him a small bag of compost and he’d spent most of the afternoon potting his seedlings and setting them in neat rows on wads of newspaper.
Gerald planned, with Michael’s help, to put out a display around his door and to hang a couple of baskets from the canopy above. He had no idea how long they’d last before they were vandalised. Not very long if the new bus shelter outside his flat was anything to go by. But he’d give it a try, because it was his fervent prayer that the beauty of nature could cleanse the soul and win over those who would destroy it.
He pressed the soft, black earth around the tender plants and reached for his watering can. Gerald found peace in plants. His years as a Council gardener, then a Parks and Gardens Maintenance Operative, had been the happiest of his life. He missed the peaty smell of wet leaves and chrysanthemums, and the shrill laughter of schoolgirls as they took a shortcut across his newly mown grass. But after the incident that caused the loss of his position and confinement to a wheelchair, he couldn’t get that kind of work any more. He tried to believe that each phase of life brought new opportunities and he always had his memories, like selected video clips, to fall back on whenever he felt sad.
He wheeled back to the wall and concentrated, screening out the soothing clicks and hums of his own kitchen. The clatter of pans on the other side reassured him and he exhaled. Normal life had been resumed.
The complete story is published in Triclops. To order a copy, please go to the link below. It won Circalit ‘Story of the Month’ and is published on the Ether App by Ether Books.