I would like to satisfy Webb's curiosity without necessarily laying it on for him, by, say, appearing naked and erect in front of his bathroom window, and making a grab at my wife just as she's lowering her final undergarment or unhitching her bra, things she does in an increasingly businesslike as opposed to down-to-business manner these days. I would not mind if he saw the shadow of us on the wall doing it. Come to think of it, I wouldn't much mind other people knowing how low (or narrowly I should say) in this area my wife sets the limits of acceptable behaviour which appears to give me and society something else in common. Perhaps Webb thinks a woman as self-possessed as my wife abandons herself utterly in the throes of being possessed by another. Perhaps he'd like to ask her to go to bed with him just to see how she would react but I doubt his curiosity is, so to speak, that all-embracing. The truth is that I sometimes (very occasionally) think I'd like to ask Mrs Webb the same question, but in such a way that she wouldn't know for sure that was what I was asking (sticking my head suddenly through her kitchen window and saying 'How about it then?'), not because of her expression of shock but because she might tell Webb and excite his curiosity further, thus spurring him on to satisfy it in regard to my wife. All this is only fleetingly in my mind. Mrs Webb is skinny with a tendency towards bedragglement. I would not wish to upset her in any way. She is too timid and helpless. When you speak to her, which I've so far done only twice, her eyes describe a parabola from one shoulder to the other by way of your navel.
The difference between Webb and the Hambles, whom one always thinks of as a pair, is that if you asked Webb if you could borrow something, say a screwdriver or a length of wire, he would ask you what you wanted it for. Either of the Hambles would go off in a tremendous hurry to look for it, even though they knew they didn't have it, and return later either happily bearing something else, say a pair of scissors or ball of string, or miserably empty-handed, so that you regretted not having asked them for a great deal more or something altogether different or of course nothing at all.
Webb says they emigrated to Canada when Churchill lost the election at the end of the war but soon came back on account of the prolonged absence of warmth there. Webb is probably making this up but if that is what they did do I suspect they didn't enjoy a single moment of it but didn't allow themselves even to think that, assuming that a general unenjoyability would have been their uppermost experience of life anywhere.
Sometimes I think I can hear the sound of sobbing from the Hambles' house. Perhaps they are recalling the death a long time ago of a small pet or child. They are the sort of people who have a profound sorrow in their lives they cannot overcome, who turn their grief outwards into an expression of vague loving-kindness. They are old folk, plump and grey, who came to our street to see out their retirement. I imagine they have put all their savings into their house, live on a shrinking pension and worry themselves sick about how they are going to make ends meet. They are the kind of people who go away quietly into a corner to die. I see them lying side by side, hand in hand, on the kitchen floor by a gas stove, having first made themselves comfortable with cushions. Their final talk would be of what they had lost a long time ago or of what had never happened to them, though they would believe in reunions, in spirits meeting up in lush, sunny pastures shadowed by vast oaks and cedars. They are the sort of people one cannot help because they would worry about having nothing to offer in return and because what they really need anonymous money would be too much for you to give in sufficient quantities, to say nothing of the anxiety caused by not knowing where it had come from. In the meantime they tend an immaculate garden in which the vegetables grow evenly and are as neatly arrayed as the flowers. I sometimes see Webb in their garden pointing and talking but I doubt if they answer his questions. They suspect he has guessed too much already. He borrows gardening tools from them and twice I have seen him come away with a packet of seeds. I am sure he borrows things from them so as to have an excuse for going back to return them. I'd like to suggest that we swap houses with the Webbs because the Hambles evidently give him more to be curious about than we do.
It's All Right Now. Copyright 2005 by Charles Chadwick. HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
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