It began on a Sunday afternoon in late summer, and Kelly and I were out in the garden, working. I use this term loosely; we were, in fact, doing just enough in order to keep things under control. This consisted of mowing the lawn and pulling a few weeds from the bedraggled flower beds.
We had been in our semi for several years but had added nothing to the garden and, if it had changed at all in that time, it was only from neglect; the lawn, weedier and a little patchier, and the flowerbeds even more infested.
‘We really should do something out here,’ Kelly said. It was the beginning of a conversation we had had many times before. ‘I don’t know,’ she continued, looking around. ‘Plant a tree maybe and some shrubs. Get something established or sorted at least, lay a patio and get some pots. I don’t know, but we should do something,’
‘We will,’ I replied.
‘You always say that’ she sighed, ‘but how long have we been here now – three years, four years?’
‘Two and a half,’ I snapped.
Turning, Kelly walked to the end of our lawn. I followed and together we stood beside the fence and gazed over into the adjoining garden.
The houses in that part of town are all pretty similar, but we were unable to see the back of the house directly opposite the back of our own. About five metres in there was a perfectly manicured hedge. Although there was a gap at its centre, all we could see through it were the painted boards that formed the back of a summerhouse. There was a composter on our side of the hedge and a large tree, an oak I think.
One of the fence panels had worked loose from its post and, pulling on it, Kelly managed to squeeze through. Stepping from out of the bright sunlight and into the shade cast by the tree, she shivered.
‘Come on out of there,’ I whispered.
‘Don’t panic.’ Stepping backward, Kelly giggled. ‘They can’t see us and they hardly ever come up here.’
‘Just come out,’ I repeated.
‘No, I’m going to take a peak first.’ Kelly made her way over to the hedge and peered through the gap.
‘What can you see?’ I hissed.
‘Nothing, I can’t see a thing.’ She turned back toward me, disappointment etched on her forehead.
‘Can’t see a damn thing,’ she said.
It was a week or so later when Kelly once again stepped across the boundary at the bottom of our garden. It was just nine in the evening but already it was getting dark and at the tail end of a long hot summer it felt much later. I had wandered into the kitchen and, standing over the sink as I filled the kettle, I noticed Kelly standing beside the fence. She was watching the window, waiting, and only when she was certain I had seen her did she pull on the panel and push her way through.
I joined her by the break in the hedge and together we made our way through it. We edged our way cautiously around the summerhouse until the back of our neighbours’ semi was clearly visible. We felt no need to duck or take cover, the garden was busy and we were just two more shadows. As long as we didn’t venture too close we wouldn’t be seen.
The lights were on in the kitchen and the lounge and the couple were sitting on their sofa, watching television. I realised that this was the first time we had managed to take a proper look at them. They were older than us, ten years at least, and I was pleased by this. I remember thinking that it wasn’t too late for Kelly and I, that we still had plenty of time to get something started, established.
We moved a bit nearer, finding a spot from which we could see most of the room. There is really very little to tell. They sat and watched television and at one point she got up and went into the kitchen and made tea. As I had done earlier that evening, she stood over the sink and for a moment or so she leant in close to the glass and peered out into the darkness, but I suspect she could see little more than her own reflection.
Eventually they switched off the lights and went up to bed. We watched them moving about in the bathroom behind the frosted glass and briefly in the bedroom before he pulled the curtains. And then we lingered, for half an hour at least we stayed put.
Back in our own house we went straight up to bed. We didn’t talk about what we had done and, doing our best not to touch, we tossed and turned.
In the morning we were still restless and throughout the course of the day we made awkward small talk until at last it was dark enough.
I was first to push through the gap in the fence this time with Kelly close behind and once again we stood in the shadows. The man was asleep on the sofa and behind him his wife moved, fussily tidying the already perfectly tidy room.
In the kitchen she made herself a drink and, nursing her mug, she sat beside her husband, studying him as he slept. Eventually she switched on the television and when he awoke they watched together chatting and laughing.
Kelly and I never did get anything established; we didn‘t get out there and work on our garden. It wasn’t to be, not for us. No Sunday afternoon visits to the garden centre and no long winter evenings in front of the TV.
Occasionally Christine and I will bump into Kelly and her husband in town or in the aisle at the supermarket. We always stop and chat for five or ten minutes. It is easy to imagine that we are the characters in one of those American sit-coms.
And whilst Christine and Kelly’s husband stand and politely make small talk, Kelly and I glance at each other and smile.