The House Opposite
The House Opposite
The little girl is dressed in a red pinafore dress. She is standing at the square window of a normal house in a normal street. She looks at the broken house opposite, where bushes tumble over rotting fences and cracked windows are patched by cobwebs. She imagines a grandmother huddled in the doorway. A glimpse of a smile and a nod of her head and the kindly lady evaporates to ash and dust, blown in the breeze and falling against the weed-scattered doorstep.
Two step-sisters tumble behind the little girl. They twist and turn in a circle: cackling, chanting and rhyming. Mother is away, on the chase for prey but close enough for the scent of trouble to permeate the distance. The yearlings are careful, cautious to maintain the hierarchy. Upstairs the young male whines.
The little girl with rosy cheeks and a pale face turns to watch her step-sisters. She stands very still. The angled arms and legs of the sisters move in stop-motion silhouette, the little girl peering through the small hole of a zoetrope.
The little boy wonders to the bottom of the stairs and pleads for water. Standing the other side of the dimpled glass of the door, his form is disjointed into a series of shapes that jigsaw together to make a too young boy.
‘Oh sisters, please can I have a drink of water?’
The zoetrope freezes.
‘Please can I have a drink of water?’ The step-sisters screech and mimic. Laughing, hysterical, they circle the door. They are stalking the too small six-year-old, twisting and turning, their eyes never leaving the cracked shape.
He pushes at the door. They push back. A tear-soaked cheek presses against the glass and distorts into an abstract brush stroke. The little boy pushes feet against wall and face against glass. A tug of war with no rope pushes one way, then another. The giggles turn to laughter turn to grunts of effort and screeches of anger.
The glass gives and the small boy emerges into the room with an explosion of crystal shards. He tumbles-down against the step-sisters and they fall to the floor in a tangle of limb and body. The little girl looks at the mess of sibling and wonders if they are finding love in this instant bond. They look quite comforted and at home in the moment. Their faces are still and they settle into the contact of skin. They seem like they could live happily ever after if captured in a cinematic lens.
Shatter. Scream. Shout. Stomp of feet on stairs as the young boy fears his world is about to be blown down. Steps-sisters stare. They begin to whisper and conspire. Once upon a time... they begin. The narrative is formed and the little boy is painted as aggressor, angry, he stamped down the stairs and smashed through into their calm world. He breathed venom and demanded they feed him, sacrifice their innocence to him. They resisted and he returned to his world at the top of the stairs.
The little girl doesn’t move when mother returns. Her silence is seen as passive acceptance of the story. Mother pads up the stairs and the little girl turns to look out of the square window of the normal house on the normal street.
The house across the way with its shadows and darkness is still.
Thud. ‘No, mummy!’
The stained glass window above the door lets no light in to shine faded colours against the wall on the other side. There can be only shadows and the floating dust of dead bodies.
‘Euck!’ Bar hits wall hits boy.
A faint wisp of wind draws up ash and dust and the ancient features of the kindly lady emerges, her finger beckoning the little girl, but then brushes away again in the next breeze. The fragments of the lady are trampled by spiders and scurrying mice.
The noise from the top of the stairs abates. Silence descends upon the normal house and the step-sisters and the little girl await the return of their mother. She comes. She splits the air in the room with her fury. She issues orders through clenched incisors for the step-sisters to clear away the shattered window.
The little girl sits stone still upon a chair. Silently, she watches mother groom and feed.