For a while the houses on either side of us were empty. Then at about the
same time the 'For Sale' signs were taken away and people moved into them.
We live in a (just) detached house in between, which I've come to assume,
perhaps my wife has too, we'll be living in for the rest of our lives . . .
Well, one has to begin somewhere, on any old scrap of paper. I'm not sure
what the point of it is. We shall have to see. It may take quite a time.
Webb, our neighbour on one side, suffers from too much curiosity but it lacks malice, I'm sure. On our other side live a man called Hamble and his wife who display in their demeanour a constant long-suffering which I suspect in each other's company alone they find something of a strain. Webb is married too. His wife is hunched, wan and bespectacled and seems to keep out of the way as if in her time she has been too much the object of curiosity.
I often, not all that often, wish we could afford to live without close neighbours instead of here in this unnoteworthy north London suburb where to try to keep to oneself is to draw attention to oneself. Too much neighbourliness is forced upon me in my place of work without my having to put up with it in the long periods in between. My wife would regard such theories (if at all) as anti-social. She is whatever the opposite of that is. Society is something she is decidedly pro, having theories about anyway both the one that is and the better one we should all be trying to bring into being. She practises what she preaches the other way round too which some might find, well, anti-social perhaps the word is. I don't. I admire what she does very much, namely good works in another neighbourhood, asking herself now and again, only in theory thank the Lord, whether she ought to be paid for them. Between us therefore you could say we are trying to bring a better world into being, a wider neighbourliness. At any rate that's the theory and I won't let it come between us.
When she sees the Webbs or the Hambles she waves briskly at them without pausing in what she is doing mainly striding resolutely up or down our front path and she answers Webb's enquiries with a sideways pull of one half of her mouth that only Webb might mistake for a smile. My wife does not enjoy entering into discussion about our neighbours when there are topics more far-reaching to be talked about, such as our children's progress and growing social awareness, my total lack of them (which are talked about only by implication) and the world's way of falling somewhere in between.
It wouldn't much matter to my wife where we lived, within limits of course; I think she'd prefer greater poverty and hardship to having to classify herself more evidently among the privileged. So, equally often, I am glad we live where we do, midway, roughly speaking, between the two i.e. not squalidly and not too stricken by her conscience. The neighbourhood where she works has a lot of squalor in it, about which she tells me as I go 'Ts ts', shake my head, silently count my blessings and say nothing. These are the early 1970s and things seem to be getting worse and worse which makes them better and better for her, I'm glad (sorry) to say.
Up to a point, I like to imagine that Webb married his wife purely out of curiosity, to discover what the intimacies of wedlock with someone so shy of them would be like, or because she seemed docile enough to experiment a lot with. I also imagine he is curious about my intimacies with my wife, though he might guess they wouldn't make him curious for more ad infinitum. One of my speculations is that when we go up to bed he is in the bathroom opposite our bedroom window with the light off in the hope that one night we'll forget to draw the curtains and turn our light out. This is not at all the kind of notion I can share with my wife. It would make her think me frivolous on top of lacking in imagination. It would also make her despise Webb for being somebody anybody could have that kind of thought about. So far I think I like Webb enough not to want him to be despised, especially (even?) by my wife. Also, without going to the lengths of hanging about in unlit bathrooms, I am not that much less curious than I imagine Webb to be to know what he and Mrs Webb get up to together. When I go to bed I sometimes slow down a lot without actually coming to a complete stop, and glance across at their bedroom to see if anything interesting is going on, on the off-chance they are more careless than we are. I mean than my wife is it is she who draws our curtains and always with an extra two tugs to shut out the tiniest possible remaining chink of light between them. Generally speaking, my own curiosity is limited to holding myself in readiness not to turn the other way and hurry past should something going on present itself to me. When I go for walks after dark I look nonchalantly up at lit bedrooms with undrawn curtains. I've never seen anything.
It's All Right Now. Copyright 2005 by Charles Chadwick. HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
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