Number 17- the seige house.


Number 17 – “ He kept her locked in there for weeks, the Police had to kick the doors in”

For weeks afterwards, the neighbours would pause when they walked past, look up at the windows and remember what they were doing when it all kicked off.
Every street, at least every street with a bad end, too many rentals and cars that have seen better days, has a house like number 16.
Tenants come and go, the paintwork becomes that little bit more flaky, cracked window panes replaced at first by neatly cut pieces of cardboard and later, when the latest group of tenants care even less, replaced by bits of fabric stuffed into the holes.
The front garden is a graveyard for dead washing machines and old fashioned televisions, with a dressing of leaking bin bags and half a bicycle, front wheel missing,the frame leaning forlornly against a doorless fridge.
Number 16 causes distress to its immediate neighbours, it is at the wrong end of the street, belongs at the bad end, would fit there, be amongst its own type.
But, here at the good end, the nice end of the street, it sticks out, lowers the tone, but does fulfil one important function.

It gives everyone something to moan about. You could even argue, that in its own shabby, chaotic way, it contributes to community cohesiveness.
It is the thing that everyone, whatever their opinion of decking, outdoor Christmas lights or garden gnomes ( even when used ironically) agrees on.

The house should not be here or if it has to be here, than someone needs to do something about it and now, after all that fuss and bother, it would be, all the residents at the better end of the street agree, much nicer if the house could be done up and sold to someone, well, someone more like them and then the subject gets changed and nobody, at the nice end of the street, talks too,much about the siege day.

The people at the rough end, the dodgy end, the call a spade an F- ing shovel end of the street haven’t held back since siege day itself.
On the day, they were out in force, camera phones held up high to capture every grimace, every scream, every moment as it happened, now, live , breaking news.

And when it went official and the real news people turned up, they were quick off the mark, trying to do deals with their own grainy filming, offering interviews, shortcuts through the alleyways to get closer to siege house .
It was their moment in the sun, their time to go viral, maybe even make the proper news and no-body was going to take it away.

The people who live in the middle houses,were, as usual, torn.
They wanted to be out there,mug of tea in hand, shamelessly gawping at the action, but, yet again, they agonised, not wanting to be too closely aligned with the bad houses.
So, they found, as they often did,a compromise.
Front doors open, tasks, legitimate tasks discovered that required them to be in and out, bin bags, gardening tools in hand, even a quick wipe of the front room window. They didn’t make eye contact with each other and most definitely looked away when the children from the bad end of the street, driven almost mad with excitement and the lack of anyone dragging them up the street to school, ran down the road, getting as close as they could to the siege house itself and taking careful aim with invisible automatic weapons.
Call of duty come to life on a damp Wednesday morning.

At the good end of the street, where all the action was actually happening, doors remained firmly closed, blinds drawn down, children peeled away for the Windows and sent up stairs to get dressed, to get ready for the trip to school, as and when the police decided to open up the street and let the natural course of the day continue.

And there was a lot going on, a lot to watch, a lot to hear.
The police formed a neat line around the crumbling garden wall, facing out, they looked blank, faces carefully neutral, ignoring the offers of tea and fags from the women who moved down the street,attempting to get a better view of all the goings on.

All the windows in number 17 were smashed, thin cheap, badly fitting curtains flapped in the winter breeze. The broken glass glittered on the pavement and for days after the whole thing was over, the residents of the better end of the street found shards of glass scattered up and down their end of the road.

And from the upstairs window music blared out, impossibly, madly loud, the bass turned up so that house itself seemed to shake and listening to it made the onlookers teeth and heads ache.
“No women, no cry” on an endless loop, each time the track finished the needle roughly picked up and smashed down again.

And behind the heavy bass, another noise, high pitched, ragged, a woman,crying, no keening in fear and distress
“ for fucks sake, let me go” her voice is blurred with drink or drugs or just plain terror.

Nobody is quite sure who she is, this woman whose voice is filling the street.
The tenants at number 17 come and go, a moveable feast of too thin women wearing too tight jeans, hair always pulled back hard across their skulls, cigarette in hand, the hand not holding onto a toddler or a semi house trained staffie or a cheap folding buggy.

The police stiffen, a more important police officer has arrived, a phone clamped to one ear as she clutches a megaphone to her chest with the other hand.
She is clearly receiving orders and when she finishes the phone conversation, she stands directly in front of number 17 and speaks into the megaphone.
“ Darren” she calls, voice carefully controlled, tone modulated to lessen anxiety, encourage communication
“ Darren” she says again and the name is repeated by those watching.
Darren is known to them, a small man, thin, quiet. A man who keeps his head down, looks at the pavement, avoids eye contact with the neighbours at the better end of the street and doesn’t join the street drinkers at the other end of the street either.

There is no response from the house, the music continues, the woman’s wailing over The Wailers and just the click and buzz of cameras and the local news channel anchor woman practising her piece to camera, but no male voice, no Darren, nothing.

There is a pause, the Police look at the more important policewoman and wait and nothing happens and then everything happens all at once.
The bedroom window flies open and the woman, mouth open but no sound coming out, not any more , begins her trajectory towards the hard pavement and at the same moment there is a terrible crash from somewhere inside the house and the police who have done nothing for hours move towards the front door.
It’s flimsy, cheap UPVC, doesn’t take much kicking in, a firm push would have done it, but it is kicked in with lots of shouting and male voices and a counterpoint of women, the women in the street screaming as the body, falling in slow motion hits the pavement and because this is real life and not Hollywood and the fall is only a few feet and she is so drunk that she falls softly, she’s immediately sitting up, her left arm at an awkward angle, but her voice unimpaired and she’s letting rip with a stream of cursing that sends the people from the middle houses scurrying indoors, their faces red.
A trail of bin liners, secateurs and bottles of windowlene left where they are dropped.

Even the women from the bad end of the street are impressed with the variety and depth of her cursing, the children,still enacting their video games pause for a moment, absorb the choicest for later use and then go back to shooting up the Police from a sensible distance.

There is a pause after the para medics have carefully and cautiously gathered up the woman, who continues to swear even when she is finally pushed firmly into the ambulance and then the Police walk out of the house, Darren dwarfed in the middle of a pond, If not a sea of blue.
He is crying,making no attempt to mop up or cover up the snot and tears on his grubby face.

The police are surprisingly gentle with him, they walk him to the nearest police car and then he is gone and all that is left is the crowd, standing, not sure what to do next.

After a while, the police go away too, all the police cars, the police van and even the local radio station news van simply drive away and so the people wander off too.

There is a sense of disappointment, of things not quite working out as they should have.
Kettles are switched on, phones put away and the day goes back to being the day it should have been.

About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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