Camber Estate, August 26th, 2011.
It is a dull, warm afternoon; warm enough for most cats, dogs and humans to be asleep. The sun has struck a deal with the breeze; they have decided to work together for most of the day. The asphalt is hot; not hot enough to burn through the soles of your shoes, but hot enough to get you indoors, fast. The trees stand sentinel, and the birds are silent. A bicycle lays upturned on its handlebars, the front tire spinning lazily as the streamers are caught in a light breeze, fluttering gently. A Persian cat starts to climb a fence, and then falls back down inexplicably, impaling its right hind-leg on the upturned blades of a rake left behind the fence. It yowls in pain. Its yowl pierces the afternoon, a solitary ranger walking the desert sands.
A dog barks at the sound; harsh, grating sounds. The sun shines brighter, trying to chase the breeze back into sunset. The dog barks again, then it whimpers. The whimper dies out, like someone turning down the volume of a radio. The cat’s yowl is cut short. Two pigeons, then a crow, fall from the air… And a car drives slowly down the road. It is an old, black Toyota Celica, circa early 1990s. It sputters and coughs for a moment, and then continues on its way. It hesitates in front of No 32 Donahue Street where Amber, a 61-year old woman, is hooked up to a ventilator. The car stops in front of her house.
Just then, her electricity meter runs out, and the machine dies. Her caretaker has already gone out to top up the electricity, a trip which should not normally take up to 20 minutes. She has been gone for more than 50 minutes now. She has been delayed by two friends of hers, and they are shooting the shit over a game of Bingo. She knows she should be on her way back but surely, the old woman can manage without her for an hour or so, can’t she? And the electricity should be good for another hour or so, she checked. Plus, there’s the emergency generator out back, so Amber should be fine. When she goes back, she’ll fix her some Strawberry Milkshake; she loves it.
Back in No 32, there is a beeping sound, and Amber starts to gasp for air. In the gloomy interior of the Toyota, the driver inhales, then smiles, revealing rotting, yellow teeth. Amber’s hand reaches for the alarm button, rigged to automatically place a call to EMS for assistance, wondering how the power has run out so quickly, and why in God’s name the damn generator has not kicked in yet. The driver’s nose flares. The beeping sound intensifies, and Amber’s hand falters in mid-air as her airways lock up and her eyes roll up to the whites. In seconds, her heart stops beating, her hand flops weakly back down onto the bed, and she dies. The driver tastes the air with his tongue, waits for a few seconds, and then starts up his car again. He is whistling. Old McDonald and his crazy farm.
He continues slowly up the road, eyes scanning the doors. He looks for a moment at No 43, and in the backyard, Suzie McFarland is trying to fix a barbeque for herself and her 3-year old son, Brian, whom she is carrying with one hand. She is carrying a filleting knife in one hand, and is on her way back to the kitchen to get some coal for the barbeque, when she slips on Brian’s rubber duck, the one he calls ‘Duckie’. Letting out a surprised yelp, she throws her hand out to break her fall. The knife is butt-first in her hand when she falls, and she impales her throat on the business end. She doesn’t have time to scream; she tries to call her son’s name, wondering why it is so hard to breathe, so hot, but can only manage a weak, bloody gurgle. Her last thought is that she left the sausages on the kitchen table. Still whistling – Humpty Dumpty now- the driver of the Toyota crawls slowly up to No 50, and stops. He turns off his car, and the echoes of his engine get lost into the afternoon as the air settles around him. He smiles.
A dog barks, the sound coming from a building, two houses down the road behind him. Another one barks, and then another, and another, until all the dogs are barking. His eyes flash and the barking stops abruptly. He waits for a moment, nods to himself, and then bends his head first to the left, then to the right. He reaches behind him and picks up his ID Card on a strap from the back seat, which he wears around his neck, then he reaches into the passenger foot-well and takes his black satchel, rolls up the glass – he has to fix it, but he keeps forgetting – and then opens his door. He steps out and his bony frame towers over his car. He shuts his car door, and a dove calls out, as if in warning, then falls silent as the man turns his head in the direction of the sound.
Nodding, he turns back to No 50. He knows that Mr Henry Depardieu is sitting on his favourite sofa in his tearoom –who has a tea room in their house? He knows that he will be reading through the day’s paper, an ashtray with 3 cigarette butts in it, and a cup of coffee on a stool beside him. He knows Mr Henry will have on that attitude he puts on like the coveralls he used to wear every day, for 35 years, up until 2 years ago; the one that has largely kept the neighbours away ever since his Eva died. He also knows that Mr Henry has taken a shower, and he’s had a sandwich and a glass of orange juice already. Now he is settled, and will remain in that room, getting up only to use the loo, until 5 in the evening when he will go out for a drink and a game of pool at The Gardener’s Tub, the local pub.
The Man outside knows all this. The Man looks tall due to his lankiness, but is just less than 6 feet tall. His skin is drawn and weather-beaten, and his eyes are yellow. He is dressed in a well-worn black suit, scuffed black shoes, and a black hat. He tightens his bony grip on his satchel, then he steps around his car, and walks up the driveway towards the house. The one-storey building is set on a small hill, with the trees behind it conspiring to make the house look bigger than it really is. The driveway is lined on both sides with different flowers; roses, sunflowers, tulips. A small tree is growing on the front lawn. The Man reaches out and touches a rose. The birds in the tree call out at once, and fly away in a rustle of feathers, disturbing the afternoon. The rose wilts and dies. The Man smiles, and he keeps smiling as he adjusts his ID Card. He reaches the front door and presses the bell. No sound. He knocks. Waits a moment, and then knocks again. A grunt, some cursing and a shuffle. A shadow looms on the other side of the top half of the door, made of opaque glass.
The Man is patient as Mr Henry checks him out through the keyhole, smiling all the time, his head cocked to one side. Then there is a rattle, and the door opens. Mr Henry scowls at his uninvited, unwanted, strange-looking visitor. Who dresses in an all-black attire in this sun? “Yes?” he barks, hoping to be done quickly so he can get back to reading his paper. “What do you want?” The Man smiles wider, revealing white teeth. The afternoon implodes. “Hello”, The Man says, taking his hat off to reveal lank, black hair and giving a small bow. Then he puts on his hat again. He looks up. “Good afternoon Mr Henry. How may I kill you today?”