Number 34 – The Harrisons live here.
And I know this because there used to be a China plaque on the wall next to the front door, the 3 little pigs, in a circle, trotter to trotter and in the centre and brick house with neat cloud of smoke billowing out of the chimney and red gingham curtains at the Windows and underneath, the legend “ The Harrisons live here”.
I sometimes wonder what inspired them to choose that particular plaque or if someone else, someone with a sharper sense of humour or a streak of unkindness had gifted it to them and if so, why had they taken the time and effort to drill holes, find rawl plugs and put it out there for everyone to see .
Because the Harrisons, mother and son were fat,not quite the stare at in the street fat, not shut ins with a shadowy feeder, but fat enough to make crossing their legs a distant memory, fat enough to mean they wore jogging bottoms to cover up the joggling bottoms and crucially fat enough to make the jaunty name plaque move from comedy to quiet domestic tragedy in less time than it takes to eat a family size bar of dairy milk.
I used to walk past their house at night, and although I tried not to stare, tried not to judge, somehow I would find myself transfixed.
Curtains open, lights on and both of them, mother and son planted on the green leather sofa, those sofas with the strange nobbly green buttons which see to have no function except to make the sofas simply uncomfortable, staring straight ahead at the TV, back in the days when TVs lived on tables and sideboards and had not learnt to climb walls and become slim line.
They each had their own end of the sofa, the remote in clear view and democratically placed in the very middle of the space between them.
But, it was the tray meals that I couldn’t help but stare at, I would find myself slowing down as I neared the tiny front garden, trying to calculate if I was passing at the right time and feeling a moment of small victory if I saw them, trays resting in more than ample stomachs, sometimes the odd item placed on the shelf of bosom or man boobs and their hands clutching forks, creating the perfect circle.
They never seemed to look down at the food, but stared at the television screen and when I think about it, try and capture that image of their evenings together, I don’t get any sense of conversation , just the noise of cutlery on plates, the gentle or maybe loud enjoyment of another meal and always the TV, filling the spaces.
And, yes, afterwards, I did try and recreate what they looked like together, evening after evening, tried to understand how she had felt, what had made her do the thing she did.
But I couldn’t and I still can’t.
It’s not the suicide that bothers me, I don’t have a high moral stance, each to their own I say, but to kill yourself that way, it just seems too uncertain, too tricky, too bloody painful.
She did it one day when he was out at work, climbed to the top of the stairs or maybe she was on her way down, less effort that way, less far to travel.
She jumped from the top stair, landed in the hallway.
She was the first thing he saw when he got home, she fell awkwardly, partially blocked the front door, he only managed to open it by giving it a good shove.
And just in case,in case people called it a tragic accident, a domestic disaster, she left a note,telling him exactly what she planned to do and why.
Wait a minute.
Does this ring true? Do you really, truly believe that someone could actually commit suicide by jumping from the top of stairs in terraced house.
Such a well padded,almost cushiony woman, surely she would land softly, perhaps even bounce.
Tragedy flicking over in a split second into a prat fall, the shameful hobble into the kitchen for ibuprofen and the bag of frozen peas. The slow, painful collection of that note, pushing it deep into a dressing gown pocket and then weeks later left to disintegrate on a 40 degree white wash cycle.
Or, is something else happening here ?
How reliable is this voice, this story/storey teller ?
Am I about to shoehorn in some clumsy,heavy handed reference back to the little pigs, make a statement that its not just a wolf that can blow your house down, suggest that behind the stone cladding of this midland terraced house that lives of quiet desperation are lived out and sometimes, just sometimes not lived out at all ?
Or, am I simply mistaken, fooled by a urban street myth, wanting to believe a story rather than a prosaic truth, a fat middle aged wOman who lost her footing and fell to an undignified death.
Or, was I lied to, sucked into a story told by another neighbour who Wanted, just once to be the bearer of something, something so tragic that some glamour, some essence of a truth that should be true, needs to be true would somehow cling to them, give them the authority, the gravitas of an undertaker, the heavy knowledge of the coroner, the status that this much proximity to misery brings.
I don’t know, I wasn’t there.
You don’t know, you weren’t there.
But, if there is a truth, this is what I want it to be, that on that morning, the last morning, when she stood on the top stair, balanced on the balls of her feet, poised like a diver, waiting to make that dive.
I want the truth to be that as she leapt into space, before she twisted and turned, before she banged and bumped and finally landed, before that, in that split second, she felt lightness and weightlessness and for that second she flew in the air,gossamer in an impossible breeze.
The house has changed hands twice in the last 10 years,finally, just a few months ago, someone removed the little pigs plaque, but if you know where to look, you can still see the drill holes in the brick work, still see the faint outline of the chimney and the cheerfully billowing smoke.