Really, Really Dreadful

Leila had been planning to do away with her neighbor for a while now. The woman was just awful, sweat pants and plastic shoes, gnomes in the garden, a wheezy, fat, smelly dog who wore a sweater and slobbered all over people’s legs. She really let down the village, it couldn’t go on. Summer was coming bringing visitors for the garden fete and the best kept village competition, and the big house open day. What would people think? Leila had removed several of the gnomes, and pepper sprayed the dog whenever she could, but the woman was still there.

Leila had desperately wanted her friend Monica to come into the village and live so conveniently next door with her sherry and her lovely meat pies which she never minded sharing.  So after that last dreadful coffee morning she had started her planning.

She had loved coffee mornings. The vicar’s wife, dear Sylvia, made excellent coffee and served delicious scones, and sometimes little sandwiches, and they played games at which she was quite good. Last month she had been forced to sit with her horrible neighbor so hadn’t been able to stash the sandwiches into her bag for lunch as she usually did. It would be such a relief not to have to suffer the woman, so loud and shrill, asking why they didn’t play Bingo. Bingo at the vicarage? She had to go. Leila made her plans.


Today she sat in her front window and watched her neighbor set off down the road to the bus stop. She worked a few days a week with the old people in a nursing home in town. Leila always watched for her to leave. Today was  Monday, that was a bonus, it meant that she could start her week ‘in the clear’ as she put it. She would have three days to conduct her life without the awful possibility of meeting her neighbor in the village shop or walking that horrible old dog on the green.

She gave herself a small sherry in celebration and set about her arrangements. First she carefully noted the time the woman had come out of her front door, so irritatingly close to her own, and then jotted down the clothes she had been wearing; her usual nylon work clothes that barely contained her plumpness and today since it was so mild out, a shaggy, stretched green cardigan instead of the awful puffer jacket she had worn all winter and the dreadful, really, really, dreadful, blue plastic shoes with little holes all over the top and pink tags on the heels. They would have to go.

Drawing her curtains over the front window so no one could see in and anyone would hesitate to knock, thinking she must be still asleep, Leila pulled on her boots and a pair of latex gloves and took her bottle of pepper spray.  She opened her backdoor and stepped out. Untidy shrubs and hedges marked the boundary on her neighbor’s side, the fence having long since fallen down.  Pulling back a bushy mess of forsythia she slipped into the neighboring garden. She took the key from inside the bird house on the kitchen wall and let herself in. The dog, ancient, fat and smelly was just beginning to tremble into wakefulness. She gave him a quick spray and he sank back into his basket without even a yip. And then she got busy.

She opened the refrigerator and took out butter and milk, setting them on the counter in the sun; she went in to the hallway and took the phone off its base; she went into the front sitting room and rumpled up the hearth rug and moved a small table away from its chair. Upstairs she used the toilet and didn’t flush, gathered up several dirty towels and turned the bath tap to drip.

In the main bedroom she smashed the glass on the wedding photograph and turned it face down on the bed –first pulling back the bed covers.  She picked up slippers and placed them on the stairs as she went back down, dropping the towels at the bottom.

There, that was enough for today, just enough to sow unease and doubt. Satisfied, back in her own house she took off her working gear, as she thought of it and dressed herself carefully; her best tweed skirt, a rather smart knitted jacket she had liberated from the bring and buy donations  last year, and her good shoes. She crossed the green and walked along the graveled path to the vicarage entrance. The coffee was good, and dear Sylvia had made delightful little sandwiches again; when no one was watching she wrapped several into her napkin and stowed them away in her bag, she could have them for supper. She helpfully carried the cups and saucers into the kitchen and liberated a bar of chocolate. Excellent, she would eat well tonight.

On Tuesday Leila got out her journal and recorded her neighbor’s leaving time and her outfit; today a blue plastic raincoat, it was showery, and wellingtons. From behind her curtains Leila watched as the woman turned to speak to her dog before closing the door. She seemed to be upset and there was a bruise on the side of her face. The slippers maybe, or the rug?  Good.

She pushed back the forsythia and slipped through.  She selected a handful of stones, from the graveled path, took the key out of the bird house and let herself into the kitchen. The old dog barely raised his head; he seemed more wheezy than usual and sank back into his basket when she sprayed him without a sound. Opening the fridge she liberated three nice brown eggs, a half packet of bacon and a bunch of radishes; she left the fridge door ajar. She turned the oven on and set it at warm.  In the sitting room she moved all the china ornaments from the mantelpiece to the window sill, and scratched the paint with the door key, she took a glass and two bottles of sherry out of the cabinet, tipping sherry on to the seat of the chair and leaving one bottle and the glass on the floor.  In the hallway she liberated a few pound coins from the change jar by the front door and replaced them with the stones.

Upstairs in the front bedroom she looked in the wardrobe, there were some men’s clothes hanging there; she took them down, folded them neatly and stowed them away under the bed in the second bedroom.  She moved the bedside rug to the top of the stairs. She went back down into the kitchen. She looked by the back door for the plastic shoes, but didn’t see them, she would have a better look tomorrow. The dog was breathing heavily and he didn’t move when she took down a shopping bag from the back door and put the eggs, bacon, and radishes and sherry into it.

On Wednesday she went to church early, really just a small prayer group, but there was the communion wine and often the doctor would invite the group back to her house for coffee and her husband would warm up a couple of quiches and there was usually fruit.  She always liberated a banana for her lunch. Sometimes the doctor gave her the last slices of quiche too, to take home, such a lovely woman. She looked for her neighbor at the bus stop as she crossed the green, but there was no sign of her.  Leila frowned, had the woman stayed home today? Had an accident on the stairs maybe? She wondered how she could find out. She entered the church and took her seat.

The doctor wasn’t at the prayer circle –“Been called out,” said one of the newer members, a social worker she was, and very interfering – she had actually asked Leila once if she ate enough, and if she was able to manage on her own – “it’s that neighbor of yours, fell downstairs, apparently, she seemed very confused, Claire’s called the ambulance, she’s over there now waiting with her.”

‘Claire’?  Who was she to call the doctor Claire?  Leila hardly listened to the prayers and the discussion, she was puzzled. Why hadn’t she seen the doctor coming to the next door cottage? She might have been caught.  Taking out her note book and she looked through the entries – yesterday – yes, she had noted the woman’s return, and when she took the dog out, she seemed all right then.  There was a note about her television; she had it on from eight thirty until after eleven, too loud as usual.  Then Leila had seen the lights come on in the bathroom at the back of the house, so she had opened her front door and, leaning over the wall between the gardens, plucked up another of the gnomes. Funny, there didn’t seem to be so many today. This one had a bottle of beer in one hand and a rake in the other and his pants hung much too low, really dreadful. Leila quickly wrote him into her journal, with the date and time. He was the third one she had taken. She put him in the cupboard under the stairs with the others.

The social worker was talking again. “Since Claire is held up why don’t you all come to me? I can do coffee and biscuits, and may be Claire will call with some news about Leila’s neighbor.”

The women followed her back to her house, one of the cottages behind the pub whose tenants seemed to come and go. Wasn’t this where that girl had lived, the one with the little dog and the awful tights?  Really dreadful, thank goodness she had left the village. Leila hadn’t had to work on her, though. She apparently just took herself off, when was that? Wasn’t it about the time that the parish councilor’s husband had taken a job far away?  Leila got out her journal to check – yes, here it was, that was back in September, just before the rash of break- ins.

The social worker was approaching with coffee. She handed the biscuits around and didn’t leave the plate out; irritating, no chance of liberating anything for lunch today. They were on a second round of biscuits when the doctor came back.

“She’s fine, just a bit of bruising and a sprained ankle – she is going to her daughter for a few days. But she seems to think that someone’s been in her house, taking things and poking about. Her ex husband she thought.”

“Rubbish,” said the social worker, “someone would have seen him hanging about, and what has she to take anyway? There’s nothing of value in that poky little place. “

There was a silence.

“I’ll get you some fresh coffee, Claire.” The social worker hurried off into the kitchen. Leila looked at her in amazement, where was her professional cool manner now? She seemed quite rattled. She followed her into the kitchen.

“Can I help?”

“Oh, yes I …  yes,  just pass the sugar would you? Need to top up the bowl.”

Leila looked around for the sugar.

“On the counter.”

The sugar container sat on the counter next to a jolly gnome, the one with the pipe.  On the floor next to the back door, surely those were blue plastic shoes that she had so despised on her neighbor… with the absurd tags … in fact the self-same shoes.