THE GIRL NEXT DOOR – 888 words

 I could tell Tiffany was upset about something when I found her on the swing set in the back garden. She’d come over sometimes, never unannounced, with her hair held back in the restrictive bands of floral patterns that her mother Angela made her wear. With Susie and Jim now grown up and moved away, I didn’t mind Tiffany’s occasional visits to our back garden. She would arrive on random days, just off the school bus and take the short detour home via our front door. Her gentle knock, once answered would signal for me to wave her past the living room into the garden and send me to the kitchen to fetch the squash she never asked for but always accepted.   

On this day, I had been doing the laundry in the garage. My whites were done and I was just transferring the soaking darks from the washer to the dryer when I looked up through the window and saw her. She rocked back and forth on her toes, with such a slow momentum that had no further force than her meager effort been applied, she would have sat perfectly still. The hair from her band was loose around her face and although partially obscured, I could see a tearless expression of pain.  

I abandoned my laundry basket and went out to her, surprised and a little angry with myself for my instinctive annoyance at her being there without permission and having left the back gate open.  

At hearing me approach, she looked up, but said nothing. I settled into the swing beside her and made a note to myself to lay off the tea cakes. “Hi Tiff. How’s it going?”

  “Fine, I guess.” She said. “Mum’s had a fight with Daddy and he had to go.”  I remembered hearing a row next door that morning, but thought nothing of it. From the times I had sat chatting with Angela over coffee in her kitchen, everything seemed fine on the surface. They had been married for a long time, Kev earned a decent living as a builder and Tiffany was the light of their lives. They had their routines and their holidays like any other family.  

“What did they fight about?” I asked. “Can you tell me?” 

“It’s because of something I found. I was looking for some loose change in Daddy’s sports bag and I found a receipt.”  

She turned to me and I could see what was coming. How many times had these events played themselves out in how many families? 

“What was it for?” I asked, understanding that it probably didn’t matter what the answer was.  

“It was for a spa day at the Hilton in *******. It’s just that, the receipt had Mrs. Ferguson’s name on it.” 

My heart sank. It was a bit funny and pathetic to think of Kev playing away with some stranger, a shop girl or some bint he’d met on the job, but quite another thing when it turns out to be Alison. She and Alan lived next door, on the other side of us. Kev had rebuilt their driveway over the summer and we had all known each other for years. Although we were all neighbors, we were not what I would have considered friends, but it was surprising just the same.  

“What did you do, Tiff?” 

“I showed it to Mum. She took it from me and sent me to my room. I heard her go out and about a half hour later she came back and went up stairs and called Daddy and told him to come home. When I looked out my bedroom door, she had a scratch on her cheek and she was shaking.”  

I imagined Angela marching across our front lawn and confronting Alison. Angela was not a large woman, but she was tough. I didn’t envy Alison at that moment, but I secretly wished I had been there to see the catfight that ensued.  

As we sat on the swings, I found my glance drifting to the left, in the direction of Alison’s house. I thought of the neighbourhood parties we’d had on the gala days and how we all got drunk together while the kids played on trampoline in the Ferguson’s back garden. From my kitchen window, I had seen their comings and goings. Alison’s house was always perfectly kept, the garden well groomed and Alan, the attentive husband appeared on random days with flowers for her. 

It took a moment for me to realize that Tiffany had been staring at me.  

“When Daddy came home he said he didn’t do anything, but Mum said she knew everything. She said, “that woman” told her everything. A few minutes later, Daddy started crying and said he was sorry.” 

I petted the back of Tiffany’s head. “What did your Mum say?” 

“She told him to get out and not to come back.” 

I nodded, stood up and held a hand out to her.  “Come on, Tiff. It’ll be all right. It’s not your fault. Sometimes grown ups do silly things.” 

She took my hand and I led her to the gate towards the house.  As I handed her a glass of squash, I looked out the window and admired the driveway Kev had built for me last summer.   

© Eliza Dashwood 2007     

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