Wednesday, 20 May 2009


My next door neighbour is a lovely little old lady named Dorothy. She has beautiful long white hair that she always wears up and brown eyes I think they call claret; I'm certain she was a real beauty in her day. Her husband, long deceased, was an engineer for DeBeers (diamond mines) and they lived for a long while in South Africa; she has no children. Dorothy is as sweet as they come.

Dorothy's sister, Margery, moved in with her a couple of years ago, probably to make visiting and caring for them easier for the nephews and nieces and paid carers. The few afternoons I've gone next door, to pick up packages left by the postman or the like, they always invite one in for a sherry and a chat.

Living in adjoining houses, one does hear noises from next door. Occasionally I hear their phone ring and I can nearly set my watch by the time Dorothy closes her drapes in the front room, the heavy fabric and the brass fittings making a distinctive scraping sound. I've always found it quite companionable rather than annoying at all. The chimney breasts also transmit the Sound of Music, Seven Wives for Seven Brothers and various other evening entertainment while we are eating dinner. Margery is much harder of hearing, though, and lately and the carers come in and shout at her every morning at 7:30, something it has taken us a while to get used to.

A few years ago when we were away on holiday, a pigeon came down through the chimney and got trapped in our dining room. Dorothy was very distressed at watching it fling itself against the windows trying to escape. She warned us when we arrived home and inquired about the bird's welfare. Unfortunately it was dead; Bill, bless him, wouldn't let me see it and cleaned up the mess before letting me back into that room.

I thought back to this one day a few weeks ago when I was sewing in the East Wing. I kept hearing fluttering noises I couldn't explain. The upstairs chimneys into the bedrooms are blocked and the fireplace mantles are just for ornament -- one of my favourite things about this house. The fluttering noise was quite disturbing, and when Bill got home I asked him about whether it might be a bird -- one that didn't squawk or scream at all -- but the noise had stopped.

Some days later, again in the East Wing, I heard scratching and I began to think rats. We do live near a river, after all, but I couldn't begin to imagine a rat with claws that large. The rat of course went quiet in the evening and I think Bill began to wonder if I wasn't going a bit potty sitting in the house by myself so much.

Earlier this week we were both woken twice during the night by the sound of someone banging on a door. One time in passing Margery had commented about a drug addict trying to get into their house - I never knew what to think about that, perhaps she forgot to take her tablets? It's not impossible, mind, but fairly unlikely. However, in the middle of the night that's just what I was thinking. I was in a deep sleep, though, and neither of us got up to look. We dismissed the drug addict idea in the light of day, everything seemed normal next door, but we continued to be mystified. The next night we took care to lock the outside porch, not just the inside front door.

It came to me yesterday, though. The bird and the rat had been explained away by the fact that Dorothy and Margery take care of a niece's dog on occasion. The fluttering was the dog shaking, it was a dog's claws scratching in the back of their closet, not a rat in mine. The banging noise was a tail wagging, probably against a wardrobe, causing a loud reverberation. In all, it's a nice, quiet dog really, but I'm to the point I wish the damn thing would just bark!

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