This is a work of fiction. A short story of just over 900 words.
Ever since she and Alan had moved to The Close, Dorothy had always tried to be a good neighbour. In the early days, she would ask Alan to help the old lady a few doors down. He would clean out her gutters to save her paying anyone to do it, or perhaps change a light bulb. When there were power cuts, she always checked on those nearby, to make sure that they had candles, something to eat, and that they weren’t cold. If they had a hospital appointment, or needed to go to the dentist, she would drive them there in her car, and every time she went to the supermarket, she happily picked up a few items for them. At election time, she would round up all the old people, and give them a lift to the Polling Station to cast their votes.
But that was almost thirty years ago. Alan had been dead for over ten of those years, and Dorothy wasn’t as young and spritely as she had been in her fifties. A combination of painful hips and failing eyesight had made her give up the car, so she now relied on the bus service to get into town, or to visit her doctor. During those years, all those neighbours had gone too. Into care homes, moved away to be near relatives, or just passed away with old age. When the first new neighbours had arrived, she and Alan had gone to introduce themselves. But they hadn’t opened the door, even though they could be seen clearly through the windows.
The people on the other side answered the door when they moved in, but a small boy explained that his parents didn’t speak English, and then closed the door in their face. Alan told her not to bother anymore, but when the new people opposite had their burglar alarm sounding for ages, Dorothy had phoned the police. After all, it was the neighbourly thing to do. The family that bought number eight appeared to be friendly. When Dorothy waved at them, they waved back. But when she went to tell them about the dustbin days, they only opened the door a tiny crack, and didn’t ask her in, or introduce themselves by name.
The Close didn’t seem the same anymore, and with Alan hardly able to go out, Dorothy began to feel very lonely. She missed the company, the chats, the occasional cup of tea and slice of cake. She missed being helpful too. It had given her a good feeling to help out, and she had never felt that anyone had taken advantage of her. When Alan died shortly after his operation, there were no flowers from anyone in The Close. Not even a card. They must have known, must have seen the funeral cars and hearse. Alan’s sister Glynis said that maybe Dorothy would be happier if she moved away. She could move closer to them. But Dorothy had said no to that. The Close was her home.
One evening, the bulb blew in the standard lamp. It went with quite a bang, and blew one of the fuses. Dorothy knew nothing about such things, so she went next door, to try to get help. They didn’t answer, even though all their lights were on. She tried at number eight, but the woman only opened the door that tiny crack, and said that her husband wasn’t at home. Dorothy was sure that she could hear a football match on the TV, and equally sure that he was watching it, but she said nothing. She had to telephone an emergency electrician, and the two-minute job cost her almost one hundred pounds.
One afternoon, she was waiting for a bus at the end of the road. It had been snowing, and there was a good chance that the bus wouldn’t come. She had to get into town, to collect her regular prescription at the chemist. As a car pulled out of the junction, she recognised the foreign family from next door. She waved madly at them, hoping that they would stop and offer her a lift. But they all looked away, so she went back home, slipping on the icy pavement.
For the last two years, she had kept herself to herself. Whenever she needed a job doing, she paid someone to do it. If she had to go to town, or to the hospital, she ordered a taxi. Long mornings stretched into the evening, and on to even longer nights. She couldn’t manage the garden anymore, and occasionally paid someone to cut the grass: at least at the front, where it would be seen. She went to the shops when she felt able, and bought as much as she could manage to carry home. When the windows needed painting, she just left it. The house that had once been a lovely home was beginning to look neglected and unloved.
Dorothy had been feeling tired all day. There was a niggling pain in her chest that she suspected was indigestion, and her back was aching too. She decided to have some hot milk, and go to bed early.
Nobody noticed that the grass at the front was over a foot high.
Nobody noticed the pile of uncollected mail behind the front door.
Nobody noticed that the curtains were always closed.
Nobody noticed that the lights never came on.
Nobody noticed that there was never a dustbin outside.
But when the police arrived to break down the door, and the black van came to collect the body, everyone was out on the street, watching.