It was close to midnight when I received the message that my books had arrived at my local Parcel Motel. I couldn’t possibly leave them there all night; I wouldn’t sleep thinking about them. Buttoned up against the cold, I venture forth on the half hour walk to the carpark that hosts the said motel.
In the odd light that only close to midnight knows I begin to think about the houses along the street. There’s the house with the always closed blinds, high deciduous trees, and two cars crammed into the driveway behind a firmly locked gate. There is no letter box in the front door. I know that because the postman delivered a letter to me but addessed to them. Having negotiated the locked front gate in a most undignified manner, I searched in vain for a letter box. ‘Very odd not to have a letterbox anywhere’ I thought. ‘It is the opposite of seeing things when I can’t see anything.’ I rang the bell, to no avail. A neighbour told me to leave the letter in the porch; the owners would see it that night. ‘Night duty’ I thought to myself, but as if reading my mind the neighbour said that the people in the house slept all day and got up at night. As I pass on my way to collect my books I notice that the house is in darkness. ‘Maybe they’ve slept in.’
Then there’s the bungalow on the corner. It is a sad looking house that has been empty for at least twenty years, yet it has never bern put up for sale. Every so often someone does a little work to it. A few years ago they insulated the outside. ‘Must have got one of those grants’ I thought at the time. But they only insulated the front wall which I thought was odd at the time. ‘Maybe the grant ran out.’ Double glazing, evening sun at the front, no stairs inside, easily kept garden, and near to all modern conveniences. But still the house remained empty and sad. Walking to collect my books I notice that someone has recently spent a small fortune on granite paving from the pedestrian entrance all the way to the front door, a new hedge around the walls, and several new trees. ‘Great’ I thought. ‘Someone is going to move in.’ But then I notice that a piece of granite has been used to keep the pedestrian gate opposite the front door closed. It is laid up against the inside of the gate.
There’s a new build house for retired people around the corner. It has huge glass windows that catch the south facing sun. It looks like a happy house where retired people are comfortable. As I pass I notice that the curtains are closed in all of the rooms except one upstairs. There is a warm glow from perhaps a bedside light. It casts a warm pink circle on the ceiling. I wonder whether the person in that room had a visitor that day.
A few doors down there’s a house that’s been extended so it looks like two houses. The outside is drab and dreary. The front garden is a black coated car park surrounded by an enormously high hedge, and the building itself is clad in miles of dreary brick – 1970s red brick which is closer to brown than red. But as I pass by I notice through the venetian blinds that there is a red light on the wall in one of the downstairs rooms. It is the sort of light that used to be put in front of holy pictures in guest houses all over Ireland. But that was long ago. ‘Must be a convent, or a priests’ house’ I thought, although I’ve never seen anyone arriving or leaving in all the time I’ve lived around here.
Then there’s the house with a small grey car outside. I imagine that the house is occupied by a retired person who drives a small grey car. But then I find myself thinking that the person living there is probably twenty and I shouldn’t judge a house or its occupants by the colour and size of the car in the drive.
All along the road is going to sleep, but open curtains here and there create vistas for imagination: a daisy shaped mirror on a mauve bedroom wall; someone reading at a desk by lamplight; purple flowered wall paper; a poodle asleep on a window sill; books piled high on shelves and window sills; teddy bears peering out; people moving about. Outside there are cars, some in driveways, others queued up along the verges. Santa Claus remains in situ on a chimney. Somewhere someone is dragging a bin. Every now and then a dog barks. A young fox slinks across the road. The sound of laughter tinkles in the air. Along the road home I notice that someone has stepped in paint. The white footprints leave the gate, walk down the cul de sac onto the main road, cross the road as far as the traffic island in the middle, and then disappear entirely into the dark of the night.