The Dayes

by Paul Houghton

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[I]Her eyes are dark

Her skin is light

She has red hair

Her house is white

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There she is again - singing to me through that hole in the hedge. And she's a voice like you'd never believe, tuneful as a nightingale when she wants. Wandering around the garden in an army overcoat over nightie and wellingtons, she's sporting the regulation teacosy-hat they all wear next door. In the garden there's a stack of wooden crates, a half-inflated Space Hopper, a rusty bicycle with one wheel, a length of rope and enough empty bottles for a winery. That's nothing compared to the house with its yellowing newspapers piled in the windows. An enormous weed grows out of its chimney, and the crack down the side wall is wide enough now - I shudder at the thought - for rats to pass through.[/P][DIR]

[DIR]

'OY! OY! YOW OL BITCH!' She's screeching now, having changed her tune.[/P]

'Very nice Christine,' I say. 'That's just charming, by the way.'[/P]

'YOW FUCK OFF IN YON OWN OUSE, Y'OL BITCH!' She growls.[/P][/DIR]

[/DIR]

I do what I'm told because it's the only thing that quietens her down. I go into the house, put on Mahler rather loudly and pretend none of it bothers me. I know she doesn't mean what she says - at least not to me - I'm just there. Sometimes, at work or at home, all you need to be is there, to be open to all manner of abuse. More likely what's going through her head is about something else - her mother, for example.[/P]

I watch her from the bedroom window. It's the first time I've seen her in six weeks. Rarely outdoors, her oval face is as pale and puffy as a mushroom but she's smiling now, singing as she wanders among the debris: [/P]

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[I]Uh-oh! Up-down the yard you go -

Black, sleek and slow, uh-oh!

I love your antlers, BENDING!

Sending Sending Sending

Your messages to outer space

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[/I]Christine is serenading the slugs and since I'd rather she sing to them than me, I'll avoid that hole in the hedge.[/P][DIR]

[DIR]

'Well, hallo Mr Snail! What a nice house you've got on today. Like a shell from the sea you've carried all the way. Oh, I'd have baked a cake if I knew you were coming!'[/P][/DIR]

[/DIR]

It sounds as if she's in a good mood now and who's to say she isn't happy in her own little way? Apart from her parents, she hasn't the benefit or disadvantage of comparing her life with anyone else's. Of the two evils, I wonder if it's best to be spoilt by them or spoilt by the outside world? [/P]

She has these three voices - the screeching infant, the sweet-singing mother-daughter or growly father-bear. The Three Bears are what the Dayes family are like: fearful, frightening and rarely seen. Obviously, she impersonates her family because she doesn't see anyone else. Her parents and the slugs in the garden are her world. [/P]

Neighbours say things like: 'Oh! I don't know how you stand living next door to that. I'd never sleep at night.' It gives them considerable satisfaction that they aren't. They talk about the Dayes as if they weren't human.[/P]

Actually, I've been for weeks and completely forgotten they're there - just fifteen feet away, hidden by screeds of ivy and brambles. It's only when I hear one of them coughing, cursing or slamming a door it all comes back to me: people live there. I've heard laughter too so it's not all bad. But for the most part, day upon day, month upon month, the years pass - in silence. Its entire facade luxuriant with ivy, their house has completely fused with the landscape now, its untended garden thick with brambles and stingers. With little to no security, they've succeeded in keeping everyone out. If their front door was unlocked, no-one would dare open it. Even the kids stay well away, too scared for a dare. I'll bet their meters have never been read and it's unlikely they're on any census. It's as if they've their own country over there - a damp primitive jungle which in its own strange way looks exotic, like something from another time and place. More of a shelter than a home, their house reminds me of air raids, but if the Dayes see the rest of us as potential bombers, it looks as if the bomb fell long ago. Even their satellite dish hanging from the side wall is covered with ivy now, and birds are nesting behind it. [/P]

As television is their only window on the world I wonder what their favourite programmes are? Who Wants To Be A Millionaire perhaps? Phoning a friend wouldn't be an option they've no telephone and presumably, no use for one.[/P]

About six months ago, some letters for them came here by mistake. No doubt the new postman couldn't believe anyone would live in such a hovel or perhaps he couldn't actually see the house, so camouflaged now. Anyway, the letters looked like two copies of the same thing - a bank statement or bill, so I took them round. [/P]

Up close, the house's deterioration shocked me anew. The moss, so thick and soft underfoot had an unearthly, moonlit luminosity. It grew in great clumps up the wall; I'd never seen moss growing so high and as I stood there, I had an impression of darkness all around, as if it was nearer midnight than midday. Despite a rising sense of dread, I stepped forward. [/P]

The window sills and porch frame were bloated with dry rot and the drawn, torn curtains reminded me that the Dayes had been living in darkness for years now. The curtains were so thick and stiff with pleurococis, they looked as if they were made of plaster. Several tendrils of Virginia Creeper had crawled through chinks in their frames and into the fabric of the house, as if pulling it under. It looked like something from the bottom of the sea and as I stood there, mesmerized, the silence seemed to be gathering force. [/P]

As if I was in a dream, before I even knew it, I was ringing the doorbell - it made a peculiar, muffled sound like a fly in a cup, as if it had been wrapped in something. Perhaps it had - to spare their nerves? I simply wanted to explain the mix-up with the post and see that they were all alright. You can't live next door to people and just be indifferent. It's not natural. And besides, we all have our faults, foibles and fascinations. After all these years the latter had got the better of me and these letters provided me with the perfect opportunity to satisfy my curiosity and put my mind at rest. I only hoped it would be Mr Dayes who came to the door as he'd be easiest to talk to, but of course no-one answered. They never did, but it was as if I'd conveniently forgotten that.[/P]

The letter box was stiff with rust and when I forced it open, a great blast of stale air came out with a smell like tomatoes in a greenhouse. I dropped in the letters and peering in, saw tufts of dust like tumbleweeds moving across scuffed linoleum. Somewhere, deeper in the house, I heard a tap dripping and it sent a shiver down my spine. The wallpaper, a faded design of tiny little flowers was, I remember thinking, very beautiful. [/P]

Sometimes I think they're there as an experiment or a reminder. For most of us it's best foot forward: make sure we appear to be winning, keep it all together, body and soul, house and home. Meanwhile, by doing nothing at all, the Dayes are championing something else. What, I'm not exactly sure but it's more than just neglect. Just by being there like that, it's as if they're seeking to mortify decent people. But then maybe they've discovered hidden reserves and inner fortitude that no-one else has the time to? Certainly by hiding away they're criticizing the world we live in, as if plainly stating it has no attractions.[/P]

There's always the notion that whatever life we're leading, it's only one and there's sure to be a better one somewhere else. But, if to one extent or another, most of us feel life passing us by, I doubt this ever occurred to the Dayes. They live the only life they know and that's it. I can't say this hasn't affected me either. I've even fantasized about going into a spectacular decline myself: just letting it all go. The pleasure of letting the weeds grow under your feet. They can be quite luscious in their own way. Dandelion leaves are lovely in a salad and the dandelion flower is itself, a little burst of sun with gold at its centre. It's just we're not used to appreciating them. After all, there's no such thing as weeds only the flowers you don't want. Yes. Letting go: that would give the lane something to think about. After all, it's difficult to scapegoat more than one household at a time.[/P]

For the last ten years the successful have been moving into the lane and what was 80,000 five years ago is double, sometimes triple that now. The old locals have died off and younger couples have moved in with their flashy cars and mobiles - they want everything and they want it now. For detached houses these are as modest as can be, so people convert and extend. Mine's no bigger than a terrace but it's the position, the locality. The breathtaking views of soft hills are nothing short of mystical; they can really lift your spirits. None of the houses are overlooked and just three miles from town, we're surrounded by sheep. Still, never satisfied, people have complained there's no streetlights even when that's how the stars stand out so brightly in the dark blue and black. I for one don't want a blaze of orange around here, like a city street in the middle of nowhere. Some people want to civilize everything. Before you know it, there will be no wilderness, no beauty left anywhere. I try not to think about the mock tudor housing estate creeping ever closer. I like to think of the lane as a river, rambling and free-flowing. This month, the council resurfaced it with lovely black tarmac, fresh-smelling and slightly sticky underfoot. The lane hasn't a name so our houses have. In fact we have names instead of numbers and I like that. Our postal addresses are just followed by the nearest village and town. My house name, West Bank, is cut into a lovely slice of oak mounted on the front wall. Next door is simply called The Dayes. Mr Dayes painted it on a big, upright stone in the front garden. It's like a homemade gravestone and their house could well be a grave as, silent for weeks, they could all be dead in there and no-one would know. [/P]

Andrew Dayes had seemed quite normal until he retired. With the exception of trips to BQ, he did the things most husbands do. Monday to Friday he worked nine-to-five and if his suits were slightly shabby, his shirts were always pressed. Before he got into his car he would kiss it. I've always wondered how he could be so much a part of the real world and return to them in that house, falling apart around his ears? If they couldn't see it, surely he could? If I was Andrew Dayes I would have got in that car long ago and driven, just driven, and not looked back. Now, retired for a year, slopping around in a holey cardigan and worn-out trousers, he's like the rest of his family. These days he says hello if I catch him but not much more than that. I wonder if he realizes he's the last link his family have with the outside world? Last week he said we were in for terrible frost which struck me as distressingly normal.[/P]

I've not really seen Mrs Dayes since she buried the family rabbit thirty years ago. She was a bit scruffy but not so much you'd remark on it. Her disheveled greying hair was shoulder length but in it, she wore a bright pink hair slide. She was also wearing crimson lipstick, meticulously applied. We had a brief conversation about pets as family members and if a little gruff, she seemed pleasant enough.[/P][DIR]

[DIR]

'I've gorra dig this ole, see? The ol man's at work and Christine mustn't see. She loved the rabbit.' She didn't look at me when she spoke and could just as happily have been talking to herself. [/P][/DIR]

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They tried going on holiday once. One Saturday morning, some fifteen years ago before Mr Dayes got a car, they all boarded a coach bound for Wales - Bangor I was told. But the proprietor of the bed and breakfast Mr Dayes had booked them into sent them home before they could even get a foot over the threshold:[/P][DIR]

[DIR]

[I]'You can't stay ere cos all you all need a bath!'[/P][/DIR]

[/DIR]

[/I]Just imagine! Having returned the eighty-odd miles by taxi, they were back by Saturday night, just in time for Blind Date - I heard the jingle as Mr Dayes took in the luggage. Their 'holiday' became something of a joke in the lane: 'Didn't we have a lovely day, the day we went to Bangor, and all for under a pound, OY!' The taxi fare alone must have been well over a hundred. To my knowledge Mrs Dayes never left the house again.[/P]

Up until last week, dressed in their teacosy hats and army surplus clothes, Andrew and Christine would take a trip to the local offy every Friday night. But last week was their final trip there too. [/P][DIR]

[DIR]

'Me mam needs er Sanatogen,' was how it all started apparently.[/P]

'We don't stock that,' came the reply.[/P]

'We always buys it ere,' said Christine.[/P]

'We don't carry fortified wines.'[/P]

'FUCKIN GIVE ME MAM ER SANOTOGEN!' yelled Christine. [I]'DAD! TELL ER!'[/P]

[/I]The Manager was called in. 'What seems to be the problem?'[/P]

'Me Mam wants er Sanatogen [I]YER FUCKIN PLONKER!'[/P]

[/I]'Right, that's enough - you're barred.'[/P]

'FUCK OFF YER WANKER!' yelled Christine and once outside she began singing as loud and as sweetly as you please: [I]'Wank-er! Wank-er! Wank-er!' [/P][/DIR]

[/DIR]

[/I]To think, when they first moved in, I thought we could be friends: I had thought of whist drives and cribbage. Meanwhile, the offy manager was out with the air freshener as soon as they'd left. Apparently Mr Dayes didn't say a thing.[/P]

I've never taken the comfort of my own home for granted and the Dayes house is a constant reminder. After all, you never know what might happen, how long you might have a roof over your head. Dry rot, subsidence, leaks, blockages. When I think of what I've had done over the years: new roof, damp-proofing, double-glazing, central heating and new floors to name a few. Most of which are considered necessities, not extras or luxuries these days. DIY is a way of holding back the years and without it, a place can really deteriorate. If nothing's ever done, it's a week-by-week decline. A place can really go to wrack and ruin in thirty years. Next door, where no change is a good change, nothing, nothing, nothing year upon year. I guarantee that much of the yellowing wallpaper from 1973 will be hanging off in tongues. It was twenty years old then. [/P]

I suppose more folks would say it was a disgrace if they could see what was going on. You'd think they'd be more concerned about the Dayes house but because it's at the very end of the lane, they're quite oblivious. If it was in the middle it would be a very different matter. Still, my nosey neighbour has assured me that a compulsory purchase order has been applied for. [/P]

A grey driving rain has come beating at my windows and I can see from here that several of their slates are missing. I imagine Mrs Dayes watching television with buckets ticking all around her like bombs, Mr Dayes reading a newspaper in his wingback armchair, Christine lying in bed, catching drops in her open mouth.[/P]

After the storm I take out the rubbish and all is quiet. That's what I like about it here. It's dark and the stars are twinkling, reminding us oh so prettily, just how insignificant we are. All around, the world is going to hell in a handbasket, but here there is peace of mind rather than pieces of it. The evenings are long and slow and I've grown used to that: I enjoy them. Occasionally, I have company another neighbour or a friend but it's surprising how, when you live alone, your own company is more often than not the preferred kind.[/P]

I hear a horse munching at the end of the field and the soft Voo-croo! of the wood pigeon. I breathe in the night air and pray for something good on television. When you get to my age it's the simple pleasures that are important: a nip of brandy at the end of the day, feet up, telephone off the hook and a cigarette, just one, after dinner. [/P]

I've just got comfortable when I hear it. At first I thought it was thunder but it sounds like fireworks. People have them all times of the years these days. An almighty rumble is followed by a loud crack and a scream. I peek out of my window but can't see a thing so put my coat on, collect a torch and go out front. In the torch beam I see a plume of thick orange dust rolling in the air. It's as if a bomb has gone off and I can hear coughing now. Next door there are lights for the first time: bare lightbulbs, hanging like question marks through tangles of ivy.[/P]

[I]Oh my God![/P]

[/I]The entire side wall of the Dayes house has collapsed. Mr Dayes car has been crushed underneath. The nearest neighbours are gathering for a look and once the brick dust begins to clear a bit, we can all see an illuminated cross-section of the Dayes house. It's so brightly illuminated it's like a stage. Upstairs, Mrs Dayes is watching television in bed, while chunks of plaster are still falling off what is left of the ceiling, pinning her to the bed. Grown obese, she is surrounded by a stockpile of food and instead of the usual bedside cabinet, has a saucepan on top of a small stove. The floor seems to be covered in bones and feathers but I could be imagining that. [/P][DIR]

[DIR]

'Andrew! Andrew!' she calls in a quavery voice. In the room next door to hers, a stunned Mr Dayes is sitting before a telescope poking out of the open window at 45 degrees. Both Mr and Mrs Dayes are stranded on the top floor as the stairs have collapsed with the side wall. Christine is downstairs.[/P][/DIR]

[/DIR]

    'Mam! Mam! The ouse has falled down! Bloody ell, I can see the outside!' [/P]

Around her, lining the downstairs walls are thirty or so interconnecting wire cages, housing at least a hundred white rats who are now scurrying around, squawking.[/P][DIR]

[DIR]

'Mam! Mam! [I]What we gonna do?'[/P]

'Andrew! Andrew!'[/I] cries Mrs Dayes but Mr Dayes just sits there, blinking through the dust. WORK UP THE CRESCENDO. [/P]

[/DIR]

The neighbours who've gathered for a look do not move until one of them phones the emergency services on her mobile. I sense them breathing more easily because something has happened, something has been resolved. The Dayes can't stay here a minute longer. Their house will have to be pulled down. Here they are, casualties of war in our own picturesque lane. Suddenly, Christine sees us there and shuffling to the ragged edge of the room, she points in our direction: [I]'Yow enjoyin lookin at the monkeys are yer? Eh? Eh?'[/P]

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