I have known Dorothy since the day I was born. Actually I have known her since the day she came to visit my mother and I in hospital after I was born. She has been a stallwart, a constant that is always next door. She was never the type of neighbour that would come over to borrow a cup of sugar. She was the type of neighbour that if she had too many daisies growing in her backyard, she would put them into a plastic bag and hang the bag on a metal hook made from an old coat hanger, over the old wooden fence. You couldn’t see anything if you tried to look over the fence as it was so high but you could see through the slats if you wanted a to have a chat with Dorothy and her husband Clyde. Actually I lie. You could see their hands as they would hang on to the fence over the top so you knew they were there. Dorothy is a small lady but her house stood on land that was higher than ours as our block was sloping so by sheer luck and topography she was taller during these conversations.
Dorothy and Clyde would also put home grown groceries over the fence if they had too much. They would put lemons, tomatoes, capsicums, pears…the list was endless. Similarly if we had too many lemons, mandarins or grapes we would share them as well. Clyde started a tradition where he would mow our nature strip when he would mow his lawn. He would also bring our bins in after the rubbish was collected on Wednesday mornings, bright and early at 6:30 am on the dot. We would always reciprocate the favour as well. Even after Clyde passed, the tradition continued. Actually it turned into a competition and we would try and get up early to bring each others bins in first. We would always feel bad if we hadn’t returned the favour in a while. The cool thing was when our Vietnamese neighbour joined in the bin game too. It continued even after my father passed away some 6 years after Clyde passed. It was like he was a distant male guardian and that felt nice.
Our Vietnamese neighbour never spoke much English and he depended on my father to learn the language. Which is ironic because my father spoke very broken English. He knew how to read and write the language perfectly as his second language but to speak? Hmmm…it was interesting. I never learnt my Vietnamese neighbours name. So I always called him my Vietnamese neighbour. I should clarify that his house was situated two houses down from ours. Dorothy’s house was in between. Our houses were the only ones in the surrounding blocks that weren’t sold to build apartment buildings as they are heritage listed. I guess everyone was waiting for us to die before they pounced for a sale.
Many years ago the houses were nearly sold but my father botched the sale. You see they were trying to buy all three properties in one go so they could build a big apartment complex. My father wanted more money. Dorothy was livid! She didn’t speak to him for a while after the fact. Our Vietnamese neighbour had also recently renovated his property so that sale was definitely not going to happen.
So as the male spouses started to die off, Dorothy remained in her home with her grandson. My mother remained in our home with my family. We would see Dorothy every Thursday at 2 pm on the spot for a hours visit. The visits were always pleasant as we would learn the gossip of the block and her family in exchange for our news. Of course we knew she would be off to tell her family of our news so we were selective in what we reported.
One day, Dorothy was sitting on our back verandah during one of her Thursday visits.
“We’re sitting ducks I tell you.”
“What do you mean Dorothy?” I replied as I brought her a glass of water. She never wanted anything else during her visit.
“All the properties around us are apartments. They all look into our backyards. How are we to have any privacy? They are all watching us.”
“That is true… however I just stare back at them if I catch them watching me. I feel like I am in play in an amphitheatre and they are the audience” my mother commented. She was right I should add.
“Too right…” said Dorothy as she sipped her water. “I haven’t seen our neighbours wife in a while. You know? The Vietnamese fella’s wife.”
“Oh she’s probably in Vietnam. They go there every few months.” I said.
“It’s been a few months. Oh well we’ll see. I wonder if she’s ill.”
“I have no idea Dorothy. Since Dad died all I see is her husband and he just says hello and waves. Unless his son is visiting and he translates, we don’t speak much or see much of him.” I replied.
“Well I best be off. I have to cook my grandsons dinner”.
“Dorothy he is 50 years old! Surely not!” My mother couldn’t get over how he didn’t look after his grandmother as much as he should have.
“Yes well I have to love you all and leave you. See you next week!” and up she went with her walker, down the three stairs and around the side gate.
“See you next week Dorothy! I enjoy your visits. Don’t be a stranger!” my mother said.
The next week Dorothy called that she wasn’t feeling well and would be in next week.
The week after that Dorothy called that she was feeling alright but was tired from doing the shopping so she would be in next week.
This continued for two months. Then the phone calls stopped.
“We haven’t heard from Dorothy for a while.” My mother mentioned one morning. “Do you think she is OK?”
“She’s fine I guess. I hope” I replied but started feeling a little suspicious. Why did the phone calls stop? Come to think of it, I haven’t even heard a peep from next door. By peep I mean, I didn’t hear her leaving her house by opening her side gate. I haven’t heard the characteristic bang of the now metallic door linked to our metallic fence, as she would slowly walk down her drive way with her walker to the cab waiting to transport her to the local shopping centre, for a while now.
With the new metallic fence, that was put in just before Clyde died a decade ago, we couldn’t see much of what was going on over there. Not even a peep through any slats. The metallic fence provided good privacy.
“Why don’t you take some cake I just made to Dorothy and see how she is?” asked my mother.
“I just woke up Maaa…” I just got up for the day, I had’t had my coffee. Really?
“Come on….ok after breakfast. Pleeeeease?” begged my mother. Seriously, since when did septuagenarians decide to whinge like teenagers?
“Fine! I’ll go.” I was just about to wake my son and husband up but they weren’t home. I must have slept in and went to school and work without saying goodbye. Oh well. I got ready after having my coffee. Took some cake in a plate covered with aluminium foil and went to visit Dorothy.
Dorothy’s house was quiet. The lawn was mowed, the bins were at the gate. It is funny as you knew who brought in the bins that week. If I did, it was near the front door. If our Vietnamese neighbour did, it was near the gate. If Dorothy did it, it was at the edge of the property.
I rang the doorbell. A synthetic musical tune rang out. And it kept going and going as if it was playing a whole song. It wasn’t a familiar tune but it was annoying. Like a tune that would play on a toddlers toy. Why are synthetic tunes so annoying?
A sound of keys opening the door, broke my train of thought.
“Can I help you?”
I looked up and saw a stranger. Who was this man?
“Um Hi,” I started.”Who are you?”
“Nancy…” he replied as if he was bored with me already.
“I’m Nancy. The next door neighbour? Where is Dorothy?”
“Dorothy? There is no Dorothy here.”
Is this a dream? I pinched myself. I lie, it would look stupid. So I clench my toes and bum muscles. I found it grounds your energy and wakes you up. Also brings you into the present if your mind wanders.
“Yes Dorothy Michaels. She lives here? Ninety year old woman, short, grey hair, walks with a frame?”
He stared at me. His eyes blank and cold. Then a spark of recognition ignited in his eyes. “Oh! Dorothy! Yeah she used to live here. She died about a decade ago with her husband. Tragic really. They both died in their sleep, holding hands in their beds. They thought it was a double suicide but the autopsy’s showed they both died of natural causes really. Shame…yet sweet hey? After 60 years of marriage to go like that. They must have really loved each other. Ummm are you ok? You don’t look so good.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. What. The? Then who the hell was visiting us all of this time? And in broad daylight? I explained how long I had known Dorothy and that she would visit us every Thursday at 2 pm for years until a few weeks ago. How was this possible? How could a ghost visit you in broad daylight? Was I dreaming? Were we all dreaming? Were we seeing a ghost every week? Aren’t they only supposed to appear at night time?
“Nancy…” Jeff started.
“Yes” I whispered. “Sorry what is your name?” I said more coherently.
“Sorry Jeff, did you know Dorothy?”
“Yes she was my aunt. I inherited her house.”
“So why haven’t we seen you at all?”
He stared at me intensely. Did I have a booger under my nose?
“Look around you. What time is it?” he asked.
“It’s day time. What does that have anything to do with it! Where is Dorothy?”
“Nancy, really look around you. It is the middle of the night firstly. Dorothy has been dead for 10 years…,” he started. “And so have you.”
Silence. What is he talking about?
“You have been knocking on my door incessantly since I moved in here. I am a medium and can see dead people. You and Dorothy and your mother keep haunting these houses. We ‘new’ tenants are used to it as you are nice spirits. We living tenants are OK with it as, I as a medium, can communicate with you. The others living in ‘your’ house can’t see you but they can hear you and they are OK with you haunting the house as you keep quiet at night. I know why you can’t see Dorothy. She has moved on in the spirit realm but it may be time for you and your mother to move on too.”
My ears were ringing with the silence that filled the void of when he wasn’t talking. Dead? We’re dead? Surely not.
“I don’t understand. If we are dead then how did we die?”
“It was Halloween, 10 years ago. There as a gas leak in your house. You and your mother were the only ones home.”
Silence. “And my family?”
“Last I heard they are alive and well. It was just and your mother at home.”
I turned to look at my house. At Dorothy’s house again. They did look different…new almost… It was in the middle of the night.
“Nancy,” Jeff continued. ”Don’t you see any light to go into?”
“No. The only light I saw was the sun. I just got up this morning.Had my coffee and Mum said to take a slice of cake in to Dorothy to see how she is…”
“Yes…well apparently you were baking a cake that day too. Your husband said it was the last thing you said to him on the telephone before you died. You keep coming back every few nights and we have the same conversation. I’m OK with it but I really wish you would go into the light…”
The silence returned. It was loud silence and I just couldn’t understand. I couldn’t listen to this shit anymore. I started to feel faint….Everything went black.
“We haven’t heard from Dorothy for a while.” My mother mentioned one morning. “Do you think she is OK?”
“She’s fine I guess. I hope…”
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