Love Thy Neighbour...


LESLIE entered his room and closed the door behind him. He felt slightly dizzy and placed his hand on the wall to steady himself. The sunlight pouring through the window threw a dazzling patch of white on the ochre wall. He blinked. Feeling better, he crossed to the table and sat down on a mahogany chair. He looked round at surroundings he knew should seem familiar: the mocha armchair, the single bed with its umber coverlet against the back wall, the alcove where the coffee-coloured wash basin stood, the shelves loaded with books bound in dark leather, the brown tablecloth, the sepia carpet. Furnishings and accoutrements were all sombre browns but the brilliance of the sun transformed them to treacle and honey gold, gave them the mellow comfort of an old master varnished by time.

It was quiet in the room, the only sound being the ticking of a walnut veneered antique wall clock, and a faint medley of traffic from the street several stories below. Slowly the fog cleared from his brain and his surroundings really did feel familiar. He sighed, remembering things. He'd been to work, another tedious day in a life uniformly unexciting until...

Abruptly he recalled the girl in the house opposite. Leslie rose from his chair and approached the window.

The street was not wide and the windows of the building over the way mirrored those of his own. He stood by the bronze velvet curtains and looked across to the green velvet curtains of the room opposite. He saw one of them twitch and there at the open window stood the girl. Their eyes met and they stared at one another. Leslie felt he had known her for a long, long time, whereas in reality it must have been quite recently that he'd first seen her. He'd never spoken to her, never even seen her in the street, although he'd varied his times of going in and out and had even gone on meaningless walks up and down the street in the hope of meeting her.

After a while she withdrew into the hidden recesses of her room. He waited a while in case she reappeared, but eventually he too retreated into the loneliness of his abode.

Leslie went into his kitchen where he noticed he had left his breakfast things unwashed, and made himself a cup of tea and some slices of toast. He remembered that it was Friday. Tomorrow, he thought, I will remake my life; I will no longer wait upon events, but will create opportunities; I will visit the house across the street.

The morrow was a dull day. Leslie ate his breakfast slowly, postponing the time for action, then cleared away hurriedly suddenly fearful that a chance would be lost. Without pausing to wash up or to put on a coat, he hastened down the stairs and stepped out into the street. He glanced up at the window opposite but there was no sign of the girl. He crossed the street, oblivious of the grey sky above, the grey concrete beneath his feet and the grey blur of traffic swishing past. He was isolated in his own small world where all was silent save for the beating of his heart and the hiss of blood in his ears.

Beside the door to the house opposite was a row of buttons labelled one to five, and he guessed the girl's flat would be five like his own but there was no need to ring because the door was ajar. He pushed it open and entering the darkness of the hall began to climb the stairs which rose steeply into gloom - hesitantly at first but then with increasing confidence.There were four flights to the top landing and there was the door to her flat, also slightly open.

Inside, the furnishings were almost identical to those in the flat on the other side of the street, but the pre-vailing hue was green: a moss-coloured carpet, jade walls, olive chairs, an emerald coverlet on the bed.

Feeling a little dizzy, Lesley entered her flat, crossed to the window and looked out. Across the street she caught a glimpse of the man in the flat opposite. Would she ever get to meet him she wondered; would he never try to get to know her; dare she take the initiative herself, and cross the street to call on him? Perhaps tomorrow?

...As Thyself

JOHN LIGHT, who lectures in Chemistry at Queen Mary College in the University of London, is the author of two novels (The Well of Time, Hale, 1981; Death on Dorado, Overspace Books, 1992), of over 500 short stories, poems, drawings, articles and papers, and of the Light Reading series of children's books, which are published by Child's Play International, in English, Welsh and Italian. He has had some of his poetry broadcast by rhe BBC and recently held a one-man exhibition of paintings and drawings entitled "Light Work" at Gallery 273 in London. He has had three poetry collections published, the most substantial being Lines of Light from Salzburg University Press (1994). He has compiled and published Light's List of Literary Magazines annually since 1986.

This story originally appeared in the magazine Works. and has also previously appeared on the internet on Gina Ivy L Snowdoll's website.

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