Once her husband, who had escaped a hero’s death, died from fury, Trudy’s grandmother married the quiet widower next door. It seemed to the neighbours of that close community, that they had crept home from the Register Office with utilitarian smiles and sprays of heather, only minutes after her husband clutched his chest with one hand and the table cloth with the other. In those last minutes, he had been sure it was the only thing standing in the way of his death, and so he had let it go.
There was speculation of course that the affair was going on long before the heart attack occurred, even that the bereaved couple had engineered it somehow, but no-one could prove anything . Though it was equally true that one or two wondered where she’d have had the opportunity since the brute had had eyes in the back of his head.
The truth was that as Arthur grieved for his lack of a wife, he had heard the thumps and the bumps and the sobs refracting through walls; a shard of violet disappointment piercing the mantle-piece, a shot of yellow iodine streaking across his radio, the red curve of denial filling his living room with blood and overarching hopelessness . How could anyone have something so precious and treat it so cruelly?
With little else to do except work, he had kept an eye out for his unfortunate neighbour. He’d watch the sadistic bastard come home from the pub, fag ash balanced on his lip like a diver lost his nerve. Arthur could hear the singing turn into the street followed by cursing. He felt the house next door hold its breath.
He and Aggie had lived a childless life. He often found himself shaking off the ridiculous notion that his children had been placed in the wrong house. It was an easy mistake to make - only a digit out.
The first time she noticed him was when she stood in the front garden with tears and a cloth soaked in antiseptic.
Her husband had passed out face down on the bed, stinking of his own piss and unhappiness, which had given her time to attend to the desolation of her children. Her sons had thumped muffled fists into pillows and finally exhausted themselves with the effort of silencing tears. Later, she would sleep upright in the chair.
Arthur had appeared in the dark with silent support and tea laced with rum. Saying, nothing at all, he took the cloth from her hands and hung it over the fence between them before gently closing her fingers round the mug. Then he left, leaving his door slightly ajar to allow a comforting glow in his stead.