by Suzanne Wilson – an autobiographical piece
“Do you hear that?”
“Yeah, what…?” I squinted with both my ears and eyes, “Hold on. What time is it?”
“Eight o’clock.” My partner then understood, “God, they’re doing that clapping thing, aren’t they?”
It was Thursday evening, and we had been watching something I can’t remember on Netflix, draped over our sofa like a pair of drunk bumblebees, when we heard a faint rumbling from outside. My partner had paused the video.
I looked at him for a minute. “Do you want to take a gander? Just to see?”
My partner sighed that we may as well, and we both headed to the bathroom which would give us the best view of our neighbours’ homes. Sure enough, there they all were, clapping and banging pans. Someone had even brought out their didgeridoo: an overtly phallic tool to bring to the weekly ‘I love the NHS more than you and here’s the racket to prove it’-fest. My partner tensed. He plays the same instrument and was probably itching for a ‘doo-off’.
My gaze dropped to our own front garden, where I could see that most of the residents had taken to their front doors to join in. That was when I noticed one person in particular. They were standing in their doorway, clapping far too enthusiastically, head flopping from side to side to acknowledge their immediate neighbours and with a gait that was horribly familiar.
“Did you notice that blonde girl?” I asked my partner when we had returned to our positions on the sofa, “From the last house, next to the garden gate?”
“I didn’t. Why?”
I took a second to gather my words, in the knowledge that I might sound a bit mad. “I know that I couldn’t really see her face, but I could have sworn that it was a girl I used to go to Ballyclare High School with.”
He looked doubtful. “What? Back in Northern Ireland?”
“Lisa Kelly. It just seemed so much like her. The way she stood there. And her hair was exactly the same, even down to the parting and,” I gestured to my forehead, “one of those widow’s peak things.”
My partner smiled, probably thinking that the cabin fever was finally taking hold. “Think of how unlikely it is. A girl you went to secondary school with, all the way back there, just happening to live in the exact same building as you do in Leeds.”
I told him that I knew how silly it sounded, but also that Lisa Kelly wasn’t just any girl I had spent a few miserable years at school with. From the age of twelve to about seventeen, she had been my best friend.
We had done all sorts of daft things together, bonding over our strange sense of humour and ability to judge people quite harshly from a quiet distance. We thought that when we were older, in our mid-twenties, all cool, we would still be thick as thieves and living together, somewhere wonderful that wasn’t Northern Ireland. Of course, this plan never came to fruition, as these things never do. Another girl decided that she wanted Lisa for her best friend, and spent the best part of a year excluding me and worming her way into my best friend’s good favour, until Lisa ‘The Spineless Wonder’ Kelly finally dropped me. I am aware of how typical this sounds for catty teenage girls, but at the time I was distraught, and I am very good at holding grudges, even if it is to my own detriment.
It was around the third week of being trapped inside our one bedroom flat in Leeds, my partner and I. We’d only left to scuttle around Aldi in the search for a bag of dried pasta or an unscathed avocado. Sometimes we would wait until the sun was setting to go for a stroll around the park, hissing like Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People, disappearing into the shadows and leaving only a puff of cigarette smoke should any stranger breach the two-meter rule. We had established a vague routine that we were neither happy nor unhappy with. This would soon include my obsessively staring out of our bathroom window, which looked upon the front garden courtyard that we shared with the other residents of the converted tannery building.
The weather had become surprisingly warm for mid-Spring and although there were many of us off from work and school, not many could go out and enjoy it the way we would have liked to. The residents of our building are very lucky, as we have access to both the shared garden, simple as it is, and the sprawling Meanwood Park which is a ten second walk from our front door. However, most residents chose the former for their good weather pastimes, probably due to caution and the fact that a police van crawled in and out of the park four times a day. It was also at this point that we became more familiar with the faces of our neighbours.
My partner’s favourite was Mr Cool-Music. He would have had the ageing hippy look if he wasn’t in his mid-thirties. He sat on his doorstep with a cushion under his bottom all day, fiddling on his tablet and blasting unusual electro from his living room. He had rather red and shiny skin and I often worried that he didn’t wear enough sun cream. There was also Miss Understood, who sunbathed quite a bit with her book. She and her boyfriend lived in the flat below ours. Miss Understood would normally walk around with a face like thunder or, when she was reading, look as though she wanted to murder her book. However, the second someone spoke to her she would break into a genuine smile and chat away quite happily. There was a family of four, including a well-behaved Shih Tzu named Pepper, who would bring their young and often very boisterous human son out to play in the garden. We could only remember the name of the dog, so we just called them Pepper’s Family.
Then, of course, there was who I referred to as Possible Lisa Kelly, who also chose to sunbathe incessantly. When I went to use the loo, I would stand for a few minutes at the window each time, suspiciously gazing down into the garden to try to get a good look at her face. This marked the beginning of the phase my partner would call ‘ Rear-Windowing’. Although I was glad not to be afflicted with Jimmy Stewart’s broken leg, his camera with the telescopic lens would have come in very useful.
The 4th May was what I remembered to be Actual Lisa Kelly’s birthday, so on that day I spent more time than usual at the bathroom window, on the lookout for any activity that could be considered birthday-related. Sure enough, at dinner time, the suspected ex-bestie lolloped out onto the pavement in that twee manner that was all too familiar, and collected from someone what could have only been a large bag of takeaway food.
“She’s just picked up Chinese or something.” I called out, “That can’t be a coincidence. It’s her birthday tea.”
My partner popped his head into the bathroom, “It’s all a coincidence. And you’re getting a bit obsessed.”
I knew all too well that I was becoming a bit erratic. Sometimes I would even jump from what I was doing if I heard any activity outside so I could take a look. I couldn’t help it. Maybe, if the world was running as usual, I wouldn’t have been as bothered. But then again, if the world had been running as usual, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed that she was there in the first place.
I wasn’t alone in my investigation. My current and very decent best friend, Catherine, who lives up in Scotland, had also agreed to help me after I explained the situation to her. Having been to the same school and still in contact with people who I was not, she was able to investigate through social media. Catherine was not able to see Lisa’s location, but told me that she would let me know immediately if she learned anything. I don’t know if Catherine believed that Lisa Kelly just happened to live a few doors away from me, but she was kind enough to go along with it, possibly in the same manner that one might humour a child or someone who is clearly feeling the effects of being on lockdown for almost two months.
However, I cannot state that these observations came only from the direct gaze of my tiny bathroom window. There were many occasions where I would be returning home, in all of my sweaty glory, from a grocery shop, or lumbering to the recycling bins to dispose of our shame in the form of pizza boxes and empty wine bottles. She would be there, sunbathing or reading or even the strenuous activity of doing both at the same time. At these times, I would be thankful for the bright sunshine and my light sensitivity leading me to always be wearing large sunglasses, which I was convinced obscured my identity while still allowing me to have a good look at Possible Lisa Kelly.
No matter how many times I stood watching from the bathroom window or how many fleeting glimpses I captured while hurrying through our front garden with my head bowed, I still could not be certain. I think that my Catherine found it humorous and, to an extent, so did my partner, but he also had to live with it and my excessive yammering on the subject.
Then, Catherine served me well. She sent me photographic evidence that Lisa Kelly was lurking uncomfortably close to the outskirts of my life. There she was, grinning away at me, enjoying the good weather with a friend she presumably had not seen since lockdown began, with our building sitting in the background and our bathroom window in clear view. I was surprised that I wasn’t in the photograph too.
I showed my partner.
“Look! I was right. I was bloody right. See, there’s our flat in the background.”
“Okay. You were right. It’s whats-her-name.” He wasn’t as excited as I was. “So what now?”
My triumph switched to irritation, “Why? Why is she here? Leeds is my town. I live here. This is my special place. I don’t want it infected by her. Why does some girl, from a middle-of-nowhere town in Northern Ireland have to live here?”
Of course, my long-suffering partner couldn’t answer me.
Now that I knew I was right, my only options were to avoid her, just as I had been doing, or actually approach her with a, “Lisa? Oh my god. I didn’t know you lived here.”
There was absolutely no chance of the latter. I couldn’t hack the fakery of it or the knowledge that she would tell the awful people that she was undoubtedly still in touch with about me and my life now. However, I knew that I shouldn’t feel unable to come and go to my home as I please just because Lisa Kelly might be outside. It was a decision I never did have to make.
As it all started with a noise, it too ended with one. I was home alone, breezing about the flat on one of my weekly dust-busting missions, when I heard a lot of clatter and commotion from outside. I rushed to my usual spot at the bathroom window to be greeted with a wonderful sight: Lisa Kelly taking boxes to a removal van. A week later, there was no sign of her at all, and a week after that, a smiley young family of three moved in.
I was once again at peace with my home. I took great pleasure in telling the news to my partner and best friend. Catherine shared my glee; my partner was just glad that I wasn’t obsessing over an insignificant person from our bathroom window anymore.
“Well, you don’t have to worry about her again. Lisa’s gone.”
“And I didn’t even have to do anything. She never knew I was here all this time.”
My partner laughed at me. “It’s not as though you could have made her move.”
“I’m sure the flaming bag of shite I sent her played a part in it.”
We laughed again, then my partner looked at me, “You didn’t, did you?”
“Of course not. That’s disgusting,” I wrinkled my nose, “threatening letters would be far more hygienic.”